It is 2012.
I am starting to get noticeably sick but I don’t know what from. Not all the physical symptoms have arrived. My tinnitus was always present but mild. I put the vertigo down to heat, bad ankles or alcohol. My teeth and gums are still good. My face hasn’t gone red as yet. The fine tremor in my hands hasn’t started. I could develop epilepsy. A former CO tells me I might have brain damage. All in my future.
In 2012 the black dog never goes away. It has been with me for a decade or more. It was accepted by the Army although they blame me for its occurrence. Over the years my family has become inured to its silent damage. My marriage hasn’t collapsed but the writing is on the wall.
I am watching the new Simon Schama series the Power of Art. We get to the episode dedicated to the life and works of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio.
I don’t know the first thing about Caravaggio. Some people are turned away from him. He is unstable yet he has a power to turn art into majesty. He pioneers the art form of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shadow. He is constantly in trouble. He drinks too much, prefers to sleep in cheap rooms and hang out with his cronies, who are little more than local bully-boys.
His art reeks of the dirt, sweat and blood of everyday life. In Young Sick Bacchus he makes God human. The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is portrayed as the brutal murder it would have been. The victim lying on the floor on the cusp of shadows, his assailant highlighted with blade in hand ready to finish the killing. It’s all too real for the Catholic Church.
Caravaggio kills a man in 1606 in a duel but it is actually little more than a cold blooded murder. He is exiled and tries to paint his way out of trouble. In a cruel twist of fate he is pardoned but imprisoned on his way home. He gets out of his prison but misses his boat. He dies walking back to Rome with the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. It is a gift for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Prince of the Catholic Church who has pardoned him.
I am captured by this painting. Caravaggio is Goliath. He has painted himself as a villain. The young David is surrounded by light. I finally get art because I see an artist I understand. I totally get Caravaggio. It helps explain what is going wrong in my head.
Caravaggio’s descent into madness mirrors my own. I only wish I was so talented, yet I feel like Goliath in his painting.
As Simon Schama noted in his documentary:
In Caravaggio’s time it was believed that artists were given their talent by God to bring beauty to the world and to put mortal creatures in touch with their higher selves or souls. Caravaggio never did anything the way it was supposed to be done.
In this painting of the victory of virtue over evil it’s supposed to be David who is the centre of attention, but have you ever seen a less jubilant victory? On his sword is inscribed “Humilitus Occideit Superbium”, that is, humility conquers pride. This is the battle that has been fought out inside Caravaggio’s head between the two sides of the painter that are portrayed here.
For me the power of Caravaggio’s art is the power of truth, not least about ourselves. If we are ever to hope for redemption we have to begin with the recognition that in all of us the Goliath competes with the David.”
Image: David with the Head of Goliath (1601)
The date mentioned in this letter, the 16th August 1996 is completely wrong. No date was actually written by the RMO because it was all moving so quickly. The soldier in front of me was used as a writing board, and then it was my turn and then the next. 100-odd strong.
That said, thanks to the Surgeon General, ADF for her letter of support.
We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.
There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.
We finish the practice session.
On the return to Campbell Barracks we read the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 1996 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.
One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.
Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.
I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.
Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.
“Fuck off you idiots”.
We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.
To the Lost.
Image: The West Australian
Mefloquine wasn’t just given to Diggers [Australian slang for Other Ranks]. Colonels and Generals got it too. They get sick and they die. They don’t believe the diagnostic overshadowing of PTSD makes any sense either. Some are even voicing their concerns.
Here is a list of Colonels and Generals who either received Mefloquine on Operations OR (more telling) refused to take it. Correct as at 20th October 2019. I’ll update accordingly.
Confirmed Mefloquine Exposure and Symptomology
18th October 2019 (Canada): Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire. UNAMIR (Rwanda 1993/94). Via W5. Romeo Dallaire joining lawsuit against government over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:
In a W5 exclusive, Dallaire announced that he is joining a lawsuit against the Canadian government and Defence Department over an anti-malaria drug that he, and other soldiers , were forced to take on missions to Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Dallaire, who led the international peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, has become the highest ranking soldier to join an unprecedented legal action by veterans over the use of the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine. He joins nearly 900 other veterans who claim the Canadian government and Department of National Defence “willfully ignored and concealed the risks” of the drug, which is marketed under the brand name Lariam.
Dallaire has been hailed a hero, both for his attempts to stop the genocide in Rwanda, but also for his outspoken admission that he struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
30th January 2019: Colonel Timothy Dunn (USA). Deployed (Sep – Dec 2006). Via the Military Times. ‘I plead with you to look at this very closely,’ retiree tells panel studying health effects of anti-malarial drugs. Excerpt:
Timothy Dunn, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was among those who told the committee they’d be willing to provide information.
” I open my self, my heart and soul and medical records to you,” Dunn said. “You have to do something to look at this closely and make a fair and just determination … there are many more than I who have had this problem.”
Dunn said he still suffers from insomnia, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.
22nd May 2016 (UK): General David Julian Richards. Operation Pallisar (2000). Via the Independent. British armed forces set to ban most prescriptions of controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam. Excerpt:
Lady Caroline Richards, the General’s wife, had also taken a keen interest in matter for a long time. She added “Wives and partners of people who had been affected by the use of Lariam approached me and described what had happened. There were some terrible, sad stories of trauma, of relationships ending, psychological problems. We heard about other forces which have stopped using Lariam, so this is obviously something which needed looking into.”
23rd November 2015 (UK): Major-General Alistair Duncan. Sierra Leone (1999). Via the Daily Mail. Has this highly decorated hero been driven mentally ill by an anti-malaria drug tourists are still given? Excerpt:
Today, however, he is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit near his home in Somerset. Tragically diminished, he has been incarcerated for ten months. He has lost the capacity to read and write; outbursts of aggression are punctuated by periods of torpor. He can be sweet-tempered and affectionate; remote and belligerent by turns. His wife, and a growing body of expert medical opinion, believe his psychiatric disorder has been caused, in part, by the controversial anti-malarial drug mefloquine, or Lariam, which he was given for six months in 1999 before being deployed to West Africa.
31st August 2016 (UK): General Francis Richard Dannatt. Refused Mefloquine. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:
Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.
Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.
This is a weird one, even by my standards.
I have bought a type writer over the weekend. It is a Lemair Deluxe 850TA. It comes with a travel case (so I guess I’m travelling at some stage). It comes with an additional ribbon. It is ancient like me.
I’m going to practice thank-you letters before I start writing my mefloquine memoir. No one will read my memoirs but I don’t care. I write for myself these days.
On my wall sits a photo of a beautiful young actor. Dakota Fanning. I ripped the page out of magazine a day before I get hospitalised in March. It has occupied a place on my memory board for months. I don’t know why I do some things but they all tend to turn out in the end. Vogue Australia has titled this cover ‘Full Bloom’.
As I wonder who to thank first I look at my memory board and I am taken back to early the early 2010s and a package I received from Naomi Bloom.
I’m still doing Workforce Planning at this stage but also thinking about exiting. She is a legend in the industry. On the cusp of retiring. Although I have never met her you get a real sense of who she is via her online presence. She is small and smart. Rather than pursue a career in astro-physics in the 1960s she writes one of the first programs for Human Resources. Before that is even a thing. Back then anything to do with technology was for men only. She trail blazes a career in this male dominated hegemony. When she retires in 2016 the internet is full of interest and kudos. She writes still. Her most recent piece is on the importance of memory. How they sustain you in the tough times. How true!
When I meet her online I am trying to convince my final workforce planning organisation to use its data in a much smarter way. I am trying to embolden them to use Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) rather than their dated technology and processes. I’m not having much success.
I must have lamented to Naomi Bloom at some stage because after that she sends me a copy of her book on the subject which she wrote in the 1980’s/90’s. I go through it with some amazement. It is her Magnus Opus. Her little bit of history. The technology she talks about in her book becomes standard practice across the world of Human Resource Management in the decades that follow. It is an amazing piece of writing which gets lost in the rush of history. She also sent a copy of her book to one of the young up-and-comers in the industry. I’m sure his copy has a proud place on his bookshelf.
Her book and short letter comes as a surprise. They are a tonic. When she mails these books, the world is in a hurry but she has made time to send them all the same.
Those small acts of kindness throughout my struggle have kept me going. Naomi Bloom, you probably don’t even remember sending that book to me but thank-you all the same. Your book is currently in storage but I am looking forward to returning it to a bookshelf soon. It is a part of my history and a good memory.
Good memories sustain you in the tough times.
14th Oct 2019: Naomi kindly commented on Twitter about my post. I had to add the Magnus Opus part. A new memory!
What does acceptance mean when you start to lose your memories?
The cruellest of memories is not having any. I’m glad for those that I have.
An old ‘soldiers-five’ on Mefloquine. When I first thought I was given Mefloquine I wasn’t sure where to look first. I initially got some good and some bad information. I’m not the tree of knowledge on Mefloquine but here is a suggested reading list and resource guide concerning Mefloquine. I’ve focused on veterans because that is my lived experience. Remember, this is a guide only. Consult your doctor.
Last updated 7th October 2019
World Health Organisation
8th August 1989: World Health Organisation. The original warning from WHO way back in 1989.
Consumer Medicine Information
9th October 2017: The Consumer Medicine Information guide for Lariam (linked here: 171009_ConsumerMedicineInformation_Roche_Lariam). A veteran mate has underlined the important health warnings.
Mefloquine Articles (non-specific)
27th April 1996: New Scientist. Malaria pill stands accused – Lariam fends off malaria more effectively than any other drug, but growing evidence of disturbing side effects may soon land its manufacturer in court (via 960427_Article_NewScientist_Mefloquine). Thanks to the veteran mate who sent this through. He was given Lariam in 1994 and 1999 without the serious side-effects.
Mefloquine Articles for Veterans
27th January 2003: CBS News. The Dark Side Of Lariam. How Dangerous Is It? One of the first ‘deep-dives’ into mefloquine by a news outlet. Discusses the Fort Bragg suicide cluster where mefloquine was a factor.
19th September 2013: CBS News. Elite Army units to stop taking anti-malarial drug. The US Army’s Special Forces banned from using mefloquine in 2013.
25th September 2013: Huffpost. Mefloquine: The Military’s Suicide Pill. Dr Remington Nevin writes about mefloquine including the 2013 FDA’s ‘black-box’ warning. The world is waking up to the dangers of mefloquine. Dr Nevin is one of the leading experts in the field.
12th October 2014: Army Technology. Mefloquine – the military’s deadly malaria treatment. Dr Remington Nevin discusses the downside to mefloquine including his own personal deployment experience with the drug.
11th August 2016: Military Times. Malaria drug causes brain damage that mimics PTSD: case study. A different take on mefloquine exposure from the USA.
22nd August 2016: Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Defence force admits soldier shouldn’t have been included in East Timor anti-malaria drug trial. One of the first articles I read. Also includes a link to a 2016 7.30 Report about the Australian mefloquine/tafenoquine trials.
30th August 2018: The Irish Times. Vivid nightmares and suicidal thoughts – ex-soldiers blame drug for destroyed lives. An Irish perspective. With a standing Army of approximately 10,000 they have still administered Lariam to approx. 5,500 – 6,000 over the years.
12th June 2019: The Medical Republic. TMR podcast: Can this anti-malarial drug really cause “brain damage”? Thanks to my GP, Dr Mary Lamond for sending this to me. Along with other subjects the podcast covers mefloquine/tafenoquine exposure and its risks in simple language.
23rd January 2014: ‘The Answer to the Riddle Is Me’ by David Stuart MacLean. The Washington Post book review can be found here.
Official Mefloquine Sites (Information & Policy)
Dr Remington Nevin (USA). Possibly the leading expert in the field of Quinism in 2019 when I suspected my exposure. US Army (Major – Retired). A Vermont-based physician epidemiologist and expert consultant in the adverse effects of antimalarial drugs, particularly mefloquine and tafenoquine.