I didn’t know Steven Tsakolos. He was a local lad, from Queanbeyan. And until 1987, his life was as full of promise and hope for the future as every young person’s life should be. Unfortunately, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Steven.
‘In Memory of Steven Tsakolos 1965-2009’
I bought a copy of this book after reading an article about it in a local newspaper. The book was published by Steven’s mother, Christina Tsakolos, in the hope that no other family will suffer the pain and suffering that Steven and his family suffered for over twenty years.
Written by Sandra Russet-Silk, it’s a raw and confronting account of Steven’s life. In 1987, Steven (a young man from Queanbeyan, NSW) had a rare, life-threatening infection and was placed in a medically-induced coma for two months. The doctors treating him were unaware that Steven could hear everything that said, and felt every procedure he was subjected to. But he was unable to communicate, unable to let them know. I can only imagine how horrifying this experience must have been. Especially when added to the fact that he heard the doctors tell his mother that he was going to die.
Steven survived this experience, and wrote about his memories in a journal. Unfortunately, and ultimately tragically, Steven’s emergence from the coma left him with a number of chronic conditions. In addition to his physical problems, Steven developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had other mental health issues. Medication – both prescribed and over the counter – became part of Steven’s attempt to manage his demons.
This account of Steven’s story is taken from journals kept by both Steven and Christina, and from official documents. It’s clear that this poor young man had a number of complex medical issues to contend with. It’s also clear that the various health and support systems were unable to help.
It’s hard, as a mother, to read this account. It’s hard, as a non-medical professional, to know how Steven could have been helped. It’s clear that Steven became very isolated, that he could no longer see where he fitted into the world. And it’s very clear that the six months he spent in prison in Goulburn, for an offence he was cleared of after his death, would have only increased his feelings of isolation.
‘His hopes and his dreams for his future shattered, Steven could no longer make any sense of his life.’
This account of Steven’s life has fewer than 100 pages. I could have read it in an hour, but I read it over three days. There are so many issues to consider: how can such complex health issues be managed? Consider, too, how quickly we apply labels to individuals, and isolate them when mental health or drugs are involved?
Steven’s case is tragic. By publishing this book, Mrs Tsakolos has fulfilled a promise she made to Steven. Thank you, Mrs Tsakolos.
Who should read this book? Anyone who cares about the complexities of mental illness, anyone who cares about the lives lost or ruined when medical issues overwhelm both sufferers and families.