Afghanistan vet goes to brink on battlefield and at home

On March 4, 2009, Canadian soldier David Macdonald pulled ahead of his convoy on its way into Kandahar to ensure that a bridge ahead was safe. Fourteen days later he came out of a coma in a German hospital bed.

“I woke up … (and ) they told me about my injuries. I asked them where my platoon was and they said they were still back in Afghanistan,” MacDonald said. “That was far worse than hearing about any injuries I had.”

Today is Remembrance Day, when the country pauses to acknowledge its war dead as well as the service of women and men who came home from theatres of war, such as Afghanistan.

David Macdonald, 32, was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2013. He had enlisted in the Canadian Forces as an infantry soldier in 2005. While checking out that bridge outside Kandahar, Macdonald’s armoured RG31 vehicle was knocked over during an insurgent attack. Doctors in the German hospital diagnosed he had suffered head trauma, a broken back, ribs, pelvis, hand and leg.

After a short stay in the hospital, they flew Macdonald home to Toronto to recover. Then as he tried to reintegrate into civilian life, he began to experience problems.

“It felt like you didn’t have control,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out. It made me angry and stressed out.”

Macdonald said he hit rock-bottom and withdrew from talking to friends and family, including his wife; that led to a divorce. He said he couldn’t deal with feelings of guilt he harboured after he left his platoon in Afghanistan.

“I had just finished a night shift at work and I had finally had enough,” he said. “I was going to jump in front of the subway. … I took a running leap at it and managed to stop myself.”

The suicide attempt led Macdonald to seek help to deal with his issues and start to understand his PTSD. After three years of weekly counselling appointments, he believes he is only now starting to scratch the surface of his experience in Afghanistan.

“PTSD is incredibly complex to treat. … Everyday I wake up and fight the demons in my head,” Macdonald said.

As a veteran, Macdonald thinks of soldiers from his platoon frequently. He said friends died on tour, but he feels he was given a second chance.

“(PTSD) can be terminal – but it’s not a death sentence.”