Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David Stuart MacLean

The Answer to the Riddle is Me
a memoir of amnesia
by David Stuart MacLean
4 stars - a cautionary tale regarding medication side effects and life
ALR Green - fuzzy dog who is a loyal companion to her master

I'm going to fall back on the dust jacket synopsis for this one.

On October 17, 2002, David MacLean "woke up" on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity.

Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his family, his friends, or the woman he was told he loved. All of these symptoms, it turned out, were the result of the commonly prescribed malarial medication he had been taking. Upon his return to the States, he struggled to piece together the fragments of his former life in a harrowing, absurd, and unforgettable journey back to himself.

Not only did something awful happen to David MacLean, he's also a writer. That means that his memoir is a interesting and well written. 

First and foremost, not everybody who has something bad happen to them is a nice person. I grow weary of tales told of people who are involved in dreadful natural disasters, acts of war, or illness, who are portrayed as delightful survivors.

Imagine getting amnesia, only to discover as your memory returns that you were, well, kind of an ass. So it is with David MacLean. Photos from his past reveal that he was always leaning away from those he professed to love, and making ruinous faces at the camera. His friends and family are circumspect in their words to describe his past relationships, but it's clear he was a womanizer. 

Mr. MacLean slowly pieces his life back together, but the lingering side effects of the drugs are an ever present threat.

Now then, about those drugs...

Mefloquine (Lariam) is, as far as I can tell, still prescribed as a malarial prophylactic. It was heavily used by the US military. This despite the reported side effects of severe mental disorder, violent behavior, suicide. Many of the cases were chalked up to other causes; PTSD, pre-existing conditions. What's the deal? The deal is that a side effect that appears unrelated to the drug in most cases is dismissed by the medical community.

I know of what I speak. Statins cause me to suffer horrific insomnia. Thank goodness my primary care doctor believes me and she has noted statins as a no-go on my medical record. But many others do not and you will find insomnia at the very bottom of the potential side effects. 

Interspersed with his vivid depictions of the Lariam induced hallucinations and struggles to remember, Mr. MacLean gives the reader an overview of malaria and attempts to control it. He also has a postscript with more information about Lariam side effects and the continued use (and abuse) of it by the US military. 


  1. I heard this guy's story on This American Life - had no idea he'd written a book. I found the story really interesting. Hello? Kindle? Are you there?

  2. Wow. A quinine based drug has that side effect? Just wow. And then when you find out who you are, you learn that you're an ass? Extra wow.