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The Christine Nichols Story
A former soldier's fight against the military
Broadcast Nationwide by
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
14 February, 2001
PETER MANSBRIDGE: When Christine Nichols joined the Canadian armed officials in 1976, she thought she might have to fight for them some day, but never against them. Yet that's exactly what's happened. The former Corporal is battling the military over medical treatment she received, treatment that left her addicted to prescription drugs and out of the service. Chris Goldrick has her story.
CHRIS GOLDRICK (Reporter): Christine Nichols is a prisoner in her own home. She's afraid to go outside. Panic attacks often leave her gasping.
CHRISTINE NICHOLS: Some days are worse than others. I've tried to be as productive as I can be. I feel entirely useless most of the time.
GOLDRICK: She once had a promising military career.
NICHOLS: I loved my job. I was always whistling or singing or something up and down the halls.
GOLDRICK: Christine Nichols' troubles started about ten years ago on a military base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She was a finance clerk with the Canadian armed forces, and, according to her supervisors and work reviews, she was good at her job. But there was also a heavy workload and plenty of job-related stress. And it was then that Christine Nichols' life began to unravel.
NICHOLS: A co-worker found me dozing at my desk, and he woke me up and asked me if I was okay. I said, I kind of didn't know where I was.
GOLDRICK: Nichols went to the base hospital where a military doctor diagnosed depression. She was prescribed a number of different tranquillizers all from a controversial class of drugs called benzodiazepines.
NICHOLS: He said don't worry about it, I'm not going to give something that's going to hurt you. He's the doctor. I took his word for it.
GOLDRICK: But her condition worsened. Doctors, in turn, prescribed more pills. Soon Nichols couldn't work, and she slowly began losing touch with reality.
NICHOLS: If people came in the house, even my closest friends, I would run upstairs and hide in the bedroom. I asked if I should be seeing a specialist outside. Maybe there was something I'm not aware of that's, you know, bothering me or something. I was told no on each and every occasion. You don't need it. We just need to find the right drugs.
GOLDRICK: In 1997, Nichols asked and received a transfer to the Canadian forces base in Kingston. There she saw a new military doctor.
NICHOLS: This doctor, without question, saved my life.
GOLDRICK: He told her she was addicted to the tranquillizers. For decades, these drugs have been prescribed for anxiety, but increasingly concerns are being raised about overuse.
JACQUES BRADWEJN (Psychiatrist, Royal Ottawa Hospital): They can be prescribed wrongly. They can be prescribed as a first-line medication when other medications that could work could be used so that they could be described wrongly in that sense. They can also be given too liberally for patients who suffer from mild anxiety and would only need to have medication for a very brief period of time.
GOLDRICK: After she got off the drugs in 1997, she filed a $600,000.00 grievance against the military. The Department of National Defence countered with an offer that included a year's salary and a demand that she remain silent. Nichols rejected it and was fired. National Defence officials declined to go on camera, saying only that the file is being reviewed. Defence Minister Art Eggleton says his office will examine the case.
ART EGGLETON (Defence Minister): I don't know anything about the case. I'll look in to it.
GOLDRICK: Dave Statham is a retired navy Commander who is helping Christine Nichols. He says the military is trying to outlast her.
DAVE STATHAM (Retired Navy Commander): This is the frustration of trying to deal with the system that seems to be sitting on its files has really resulted in what we're talking about today.
GOLDRICK: Christine Nichols is slowly trying to put her life back together. The ordeal has taught her some hard truths about dealing with the military.
NICHOLS: At any given point, medically, if you are unsure or you have any questions, ask them. Demand answers. And have them prove what they're saying to you.
GOLDRICK: Chris Goldrick, CBC News, Ottawa.
MANSBRIDGE: When we come back, a preview and a request for your help.
The Hon. Art Eggleton (L, York Centre)
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