For 30 years, journalist Curt Petrovich covered the world for CBC radio and television. But “Curt Petrovich, CBC News” has been silent for two years now, on medical leave while he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his work in disaster zones. An upcoming documentary reveals that his symptoms — which appeared as early as 1997 — intensified in 2013 after his reporting on the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan. Petrovich couldn’t even remember coming home from that assignment. And as his wife, journalist Yvette Brend, writes, the man who returned from the Philippines was a stranger, bearing little resemblance to the Curt she first met in 2004.
I turned around at an awards ceremony to lock eyes with an intense-looking reporter who wished me luck. We both said something awkward and I turned away annoyed, oblivious to the electric sparks in the air.
But I remembered him. And that initial meeting led to years of long-distance friendship. We talked about politics and journalism. I came to know this man, to admire his crisp writing, fierce intellect and unrelenting will.
I was startled one day to discover we’d fallen in love.
We married. Had two children. I called him Curty. An odd title for a titan. This man could craft an evocative story, wring facts out of the prime minister in a scrum and cook a perfect turkey.
He moved with ease from political reporting in Ottawa to Vancouver and a growing number of international assignments.
I’ll always regret how I said goodbye when he left to report on the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013.
I can’t recall exactly what I said, but I know I didn’t stop him. I let him go. And my Curty never came home. A man did return to my house. But he was hollow-eyed, zombie-like. It took years to connect with him again, and we are still working on it.
The Curt who returned was wounded. His ability to feel joy and connect with other humans, stripped away. For months, he was only able to sit, stare, exist in a drugged state. Prescription drugs prevented suicide at best. Then began the arduous journey to try to recover who he was — including five therapists, two marathons, drugs, experimental psychedelic treatments and endless guitar playing.
Watching him battle this beast — these cruel echoes of trauma in his nervous system — I’ve come to know PTSD.