TB & Me

Every 20 seconds someone dies from a disease that is totally preventable, treatable and curable. It is a disease that nearly killed me but actually does kill 1.7 million others every year.

I am talking about tuberculosis (TB); a disease that has been around since the Egyptian pharaohs and notably has claimed the lives of author Robert Louis Stephenson, artist Paul Gauguin, US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Nurse Florence Nightingale and British King Edward VI.

It is not too big a stretch to say that TB changed my life.

While one can never be sure where it was contracted, my best guess is Northern Africa during the early ‘90s. I had just finished a stint in the Australian Rowing Team and was a fit, strong and energetic young man.

Over a number of years, TB sapped my strength, wasted my frame and stole my energy. Despite developing a hacking cough, the changes were gradual enough that I found myself justifying them as the product of ‘working too hard’.

I recall one Christmas when my mother expressed serious concerns about my health and urged me to see a doctor. On this occasion I took the good advice and went to see my local GP. Despite an array of symptoms, my TB remained undiagnosed and it was suggested that I ‘get a bit of fresh air by playing some sport’.

As I coughed and spluttered my way through the changing room and around the field, I finally approached another doctor friend on the sidelines and told him I thought something was seriously wrong.

He agreed and shortly thereafter I was in hospital. For the next several months I was in an isolation ward, taking up to 50 tablets per day to kill the bacteria that was taking over my body.

When released, I was sent home to remain in isolation for a further six months. Active treatment continued for a full year and follow-up consultations for five years after that.

Despite the gruelling ordeal, the experience of having TB changed my life for the better. It altered my focus from pursuing goals of personal satisfaction to those that could benefit others. It was through TB that I resolved to engage in public affairs rather than private benefit. It reminded me that whatever else one may seek to achieve, good health should never be taken for granted.

Despite the positive experience that I took from my TB experience, it is a disease that no one need suffer from.

The fact that millions are still afflicted every single year by this preventable disease and many of them die from it, should concern us all. In Australia we are the lucky ones. We have good treatment and follow-up action but many others are not so fortunate.

This Thursday is World TB Day. It is a reminder that a disease that many consider to be consigned to history is still with us and that there is something we can all do about it.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Confidential Daily.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.