The Hepalogue

Sussan Ley, Depression, Tooth Decay, Alcohol & A Happy New Year!

by The Golden Phaeton on 16/01/2017

Around this this time last year Sussan Ley made an announcement changing thousands of lives to the good.

Because the whole process was so shrouded in secrecy, it’s hard to say how much personal credit she can take for the new Hep C treatments being included on the PBS, but it’s fair to say she became the visible face of the government’s world-first health intervention.



However, things have changed for Sussan Ley. No longer hero but villain, she has resigned her portfolios of Health, Aged Care and Sport after falling afoul – like so many before– of a scandal involving parliamentary travel entitlements.

I suppose she was an unlikely hero from the first. Somehow this self-described ‘recovering punk-rocker’ evolved into a conservative with a sense of entitlement sufficient to believe that the Australian taxpayer should support her search for investment properties on The Gold Coast.

Small change when compared to the outrages being committed in the US, but still…

Who knows why the Turnbull government funded the Hep C treatment initiative. Is it conceivable that they looked at the facts (and beyond the 3 year electoral cycle) to see that it would be cheaper than treating the unpleasant, drawn out consequences of the disease? It seems unlikely to a cynic like me. Too humane. Too goddamned sensible.

Whatever the explanation, Australia has been gifted with the world’s leading Hep C program and we should be grateful for it. And how did I get drawn into politics?

So, Sussan Ley has moved on to the next phase of her life. Well, what about me?

It seems that simply not having Hep C may be insufficient to kick start my existence into a brave new period of productivity and health. It is seeming more and more likely that I need to introduce a little more fuel into the equation to have that happen.

This time last year I experienced one of the most reduced periods of my life. For what I think was two months, I could not get out of bed. Depression certainly played a predominant part of this nightmare, but I also believe that Hep C was weighing very heavily on my system. It’s hard for me to drag memories out of that time, days were leaching into each other, each one no different to the one before, but I do recall how the prospect of a Hep C cure was a shining light down at the end of the tunnel.

Now, a year later, in the post-Christmas lull (during which so many people seem to die) I’ve been determined not to be dragged back down that black well.

Aside from some generalised anomie, some bitter regret and a little melancholia , I was succeeding – until I crunched down on an Arnott’s Shape in the wrong way. Shape as in the biscuit. If it really is a biscuit. And, more precisely, one of the novel varieties which caused such searing controversy through 2016.

I happened to put pressure on a sensitive tooth and it reacted with spiralling, mind-numbing agony. I held my poor face all night as the pain throbbed to the beat of my heart. My dentist prescribed me antibiotics the next morning. The morning after that he prescribed me the ‘forte’ version of those antibiotics when I presented at the clinic in my bedclothes, terrifying the occupants of his waiting room with the angry grapefruit-sized excrescence on my jaw.

Having a feculent, oozing lump like that appear in one’s system, so close to the brain, is a serious health concern. On top of the pain, I became feverish, nauseous, and fatigued. I battened myself down for the long haul and now, two weeks later, I can almost imagine feeling well. The tooth is doomed of course; it’s still sore, I still feel deeply infected, but I’m sitting here writing this, am I not?

In the past this would have been a perfect occasion for my depression to latch on, leading to months of hebephrenic idleness, but this time, touch wood, not so much.

Depression is heavily associated with Hep C. The dynamics and the mechanics of this are doubtlessly very complex, but the link seems real. Personally, there are a few extra factors that contribute to my depression, so I harboured few hopes that the blackness would be entirely lifted after I shucked the virus. This said, my relatively rapid recovery from the  dental crisis may just have revealed some newfound psychic stamina.

I suffered from Hep C for more than three decades. Over that significant stretch of time, behaviour patterns were laid down and then fortified. I suspect that , even if the prime cause is removed (The Hep C), many of those patterns will endure to varying extents. The habit of depression is one, and for myself I need to remain perpetually vigilant, deploying whatever defences I have at the merest hint of that stultifying demon rearing up.

(As an aside, may I mention (if not recommend) an online text-based game called Depression Quest. I haven’t worked through the whole thing, but what I’ve seen seems to show a very good understanding of the condition, particularly as it pertains to stress, anxiety and motivation.)

Speaking more generally, there seems to be a tendency – I know I’ve felt it – to feel that once your Hep C is eliminated one can return completely to a normal way of living. In many cases this is justified of course, particularly for the non-symptomatic. But for those who have sustained serious liver damage, it may be an issue.

Take alcohol as an example. Given the liver’s near-magical ability to heal, there is some inevitable temptation to relax one’s standards once that angry, chronic Hep C infection is gone. I have a friend who, according to his FibroScan results, is cirrhotic. Having shucked the disease, his alcohol consumption has crept up despite the fact there is, I believe, no safe level of alcohol use for a cirrhotic patient. He knows this. I know that I should be drinking less too. And doing all those other liver-friendly things. Its too easy to fool oneself into thinking that with the departure of Hep C we are left with an effectively pristine liver, ready and able to dish out whatever damage we can inflict.

Oh, the squirmy-wormy ways of the human mind. Let’s not fail to notice that people are still dropping off from liver cancer as regularly as ever.

Just saying.

I dont mean to be the bearer of miserable tidings. Just suggesting that we be sensible, and temper our behaviour to suit our long-suffering, post-traumatic livers.

And proposing that the cure may just be a first step in the journey back to full health.

And Happy New Year. To your livers. And to you.

The Golden Phaeton

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