This story was sent in by Stephen Beardwood who was a medic with the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia. Because of mefloquine, he lost a loving relationship, four children, his physical and mental health, his career, and the ability to support himself. These are his own words, and the only changes I have made have been around the formatting of the text. This is his story.
We began loading doses of Mefloquine approx a month prior to departure. It would have to have been late Nov early Dec. I cannot be sure of the date. I do know that we took the dose and went on debarkation leave shortly after. As I remember not being able to sleep at my brothers house where I stayed on leave. The drug was distributed to us at the Airborne Unit Medical Station (AB UMS), and was handed out in “Field Fashion” A large container broken down and counted out per section and distributed by hand. At the UMS it was distributed through our NCO’s and the Medical Officer. There was discussion at the time that we would all have weird dreams, which was interpreted as erotic wet dreams and dismissed. My symptoms were immediate lack of sleep. I would be up all night and unable to rest or remain still. Initially we were still doing pre-deployment training, I was also on my own as a single father with two children. I had hired a live in Nanny who had just begun residing with us, most of my symptoms, I dismissed as exhaustion, pre-deployment jitters and anxiety on whether my plans for my children would hold for the deployment. Initially I had no dreams as I was not sleeping, so dismissed the nightmare scenario that others began describing as not applicable to myself. Throughout the deployment any such symptoms, I dismissed as job related and mission based. Even episodes of Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, were seen as Shegela, or fecal bacteria in the soil spread by dust storms. These were treated with Cipro or other heavy antibiotics with limited results, most cases my own included were repetitive with limited treatment success. My first nightmares began on return to Canada after getting off the drug. My body would heat up, I would be soaked with sweat, screaming and waking the house. I would dream of descending into a pit of mangled body parts, or having to fight my way out of a pit of mangled body parts.
This progressed to several incidences of “Flash Backs” or hallucinations in time and place, where one minute I was in Canada in November on exercise or out in the community and the next I was walking a dessert path, thinking to myself that I wasn’t supposed to be in Somalia anymore. Or in a town surrounded by Somalians in a busy market covering arcs of fire. The “Flash Backs” were consistent with my experiences but not a reliving of an event. They were simply in the Somalia Setting. I relived smells that were consistent with experiences treating wounded and dealing with the local population medically but were far more intense and foul then what I actually experienced. The smells were often accompanied with gastrointestinal issues. I suspect but cannot confirm my lack of dreams initially is secondary to not sleeping at all. At best I would get an hour to 2 hours sleep per 24hrs after several months, I was able to get up to 4 hrs of sleep, but never consecutive, always interrupted and never more than 2 hrs at a time. Once off the drug, as I stopped adding it to my system I finally began to sleep long enough to experience the “Meflomares”. The Dreams were not related at all to events. They were so far beyond reality or experience, they were pure horror.
Following “Flashbacks”, I had navigated a trench system through wooded areas and found my way from one trench to another, or I would come to and be in a sweat and have a massive anxiety attack. I would then crash mentally from exhaustion and engage in high risk activity and maintain a state of constant hyper-vigilance. For example, following a mental melt down I hopped on a unlicensed motorcycle and drove for a couple hours at 120 on northern highways. I then left the road at 120kph into a ditch impacting barely 50 feet from the road in the ditch. When the pain subsided after a few minutes and I was able to breathe again, a rage took over and despite a broken R shoulder and tore up L shoulder, I picked up the motorcycle and threw it a few feet. During these rages, I would then have extreme gastrointestinal attacks.
After several years in Feb to May of 1997 I was treated at Scott’s Clinic in Kingston Ontario by Dr Robert Oxlade, Dr Oxlade has long since returned to England and do to his age at the time is most likely dead. Oddly enough I did not see his report on my Med Doc’s. He introduced me to the term Mefloquine Toxicity and placed it as a diagnosis. He placed me on an anti-convulsant, and within 2 days, my symptoms were manageable and under control. 12 years later, I reacted to the anti-convulsant (Tegretol) and had to stop taking it, All my symptoms returned. It then took me the better part of the last decade to adjust my diet and routines to maintain control and not be reactive, and allow myself a proactive role in my life.
Throughout the deployment all distribution of Mefloquine was done as initiated on the first loading dose, by hand with no documentation, no prescription written, no 2016 Med Doc filled out and no pharmacy order submitted for resupply. I was the pharmacy rep for the Airborne Regiment for the deployment and at no time was any accounting done for this drug. As to why and why not with regard to our actions and the actions of others within the medical deployment. The only answer is trust. Interestingly enough upon return our Regimental Medical Officer had us place on every med doc for everyone deployed a warning of exposure to Mefloquine. At no time would I (outside of disgruntled comments to peers) or any others have considered breaking rank. As for symptom complaints, the only one that was every discussed or attributed to Mefloquine was the nightmares, and that was dismissed as a side effect, not a precursor to a deeper malady.
In 1989 I was in a relationship with my first wife, we had a child together (a girl) in 1988 and another (a boy) in 1990. My first marriage ended when my wife decided she no longer wanted to be a wife or a mother. She abandoned her children and our marriage for a singles life style. She did this in Sept of 1991. I had no Mental Health Issues and was able at the time to continue to serve and deploy on exercises and courses as a single parent.
I reported no pre-deployement problems, and no deployment problems. If I had I would not have been deployed or return to unit (RTU’d). This would also have affected my career progression and future employment. In addition, during that time I dismissed the symptoms as job related. Post Deployment, I was attempting to re-adjust and connect with my children, I was also slatted for a Combat Leaders Course. I initially dismissed my symptoms, as needing time to adapt to a non combat environment. At one point during the investigation of the Matchee Affair, a group of Mental Health Experts came to “Evaluate” us. We asked if we were “Normal” they responded. If you were experiencing what you are experiencing and you behaved normal, we would be concerned. We took that to mean not reacting would be the problem. I reached out for help following my Combat Leaders Course. During the Course is when I experienced My First Hallucination while walking the trenches. The other hallucinations occurred over the next couple months while awaiting counselling. Following the episode I went from Top Candidate to has an attitude problem in the field. Knowing I was on my own with two young children, forced me to recognize I had to accept help.
Dr Oxlade’s diagnosis in 97 woke me to the fact that my symptoms were not just PTSD. But up to only a few years ago, I never attributed many other inflammatory problems, gastrointestinal or balance issues with Mefloquine. I believed these were secondary to medications and or injuries but not to Mefloquine. For several years I took literally handfuls of pills for breakfast, knowing full well that they have side effects. It wasn’t until 2011 when I got off all medications and reordered my existence without drugs and with nutrition and balanced activity that I began to realized all my symptoms date back to Somalia. With or without medications, I still experience the same symptoms and no diagnosis has ever answered the questions surrounding the symptoms. In every case the Diagnosis leaves more questions needing answers.
I ordered my med docs a year ago and just got them. Upon re-reading the reports and responses a very clear pattern with a very clear start point emerges. That start point is Somalia, and all the unanswered questions posed by the myriad of specialist are answered if you look at the side effects of Mefloquine. All my symptoms until 1997 were believed to be PTSD related even my bowel issues, and muscle skeletal/nerve conduction issues as per the specialist reports (on my Med Docs) were suspected to be PTSD or an unknown infectious disease process.
My Mefloquine Symptoms
Bold-what others have seen
Underline-What I have NOT experienced
Italics-What I experience with different frequency or others have not observed
• Aching joints and muscles
• blistering, loosening, peeling, or redness of the skin
• chest pain or discomfort
• convulsions (seizures)
• cough or hoarseness
• hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
• irregular, pounding, slow, or fast heartbeat or pulse
• lower back or side pain
• mental depression
• painful or difficult urination
• pinpoint red spots on the skin
• red or irritated eye
• sore throat
• sores, ulcers, or white spots in the mouth or on the lips
• stiff neck
• swelling of the ankles, feet, or lower legs
• unusual bleeding or bruising
• unusual tiredness or weakness
• Blurred or loss of vision
• continuing ringing or buzzing or other unexplained noise in the ears
• disturbed color perception
• double vision
• feeling of constant movement of self or surroundings
• halos around lights
• hearing loss
• hearing problems
• loss of balance
• loss of bladder control
• muscle spasm or jerking of all extremities
• night blindness
• overbright appearance of lights
• sensation of spinning
• severe or continuing headache
• sudden loss of consciousness
• trouble sleeping
• troubled breathing
• tunnel vision
• emotional problems
• stomach pain
• Abnormal dreams
• loss of appetite
• skin rash
• Loss of hair
• Acid or sour stomach
• flushing or redness of the skin
• skin rash with a general disease
• stomach discomfort, upset, or pain
• unusually warm skin
An Interview With Stephen Beardwood
Veteran’s House Charity Facebook Page
Veteran’s House website