Against all odds

Jacci Peter and Paul Bateman

If you’re a teenager toying with drugs, read The Million Dollar Teaspoon right now. If that doesn’t scare you off, meet the writer – Paul Bateman, who’s been to hell and back and survived to tell the tale.

Unfortunately, his journey wasn’t without mishap: he’s alive, yes, but he’s blind. And thanks to the drug overdose that should have killed him, he’s also got permanent brain damage.

Bateman, who’s been living in Howick for a couple of years but moves to PMB this week, said he welcomes the change. “I’m doing a switchboard and Braille course at the Blind Society in PMB which will, I hope, empower me to become self-sufficient.”

Bateman’s story is compelling: from a good and moderately wealthy home in Johannesburg’s north, with loving parents, he started on drugs at young, through the usual route: dagga before moving on to hard stuff.

“My life spun out of control very quickly, and I ended up on Hillbrow’s streets. You name the drug, I took it – including heroin, and Welconal, a synthetic form of heroin which I injected and which is one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs. It’s a miracle I survived. Most Welconal addicts die.”

Bateman’s parents tried to help their son, paying for private rehab centres, flying him all over the country to remove him from harm’s way, to stay with people and in circumstances that would make it hard for him to get drugs. To no avail.

“I stole from them to buy drugs, I stole from friends and strangers: I broke into cars; I sold everything. The flat my parents set up for me with furniture and things I needed to get myself straight after I promised to try again, was an empty shell within months. I even sold the door. There was nothing but a teaspoon left.”

About his final overdose (at 26) he has no recall. He was in a coma for nine days, and doctors gave him a less than 5% chance of survival.

Miraculously, after months at Town Hill and other halfway houses, with lots of treatment, Bateman can more or less fend for himself. An enthusiastic sportsman before the drugs, he has started swimming and running again, under the wing and guidance of Howick’s Jacci Peter.

Peter, a well-known tour operator who runs Live The Land Tours to Israel, has been instrumental in getting Bateman back into sports.

“We’re desperately in search of a tandem bicycle… if anyone has one in their garage which they’d like to donate, please phone me. Paul is keen to do some cycling – but he needs a tandem!”

She said Bateman has a positive outlook on life. His renewed optimism and energy had a lot to do with his new exercise regime. “Once he’s finished his PMB course he’s planning to save money – hopefully he gets a job – as he’s keen to the next tour to Israel from 14-23 May.”

* If you have a tandem to donate, or would like to order Million Dollar Teaspoon (ghostwritten by Nicci Ridley and published by Struik) , phone Jacci at 083 301 1838 or 033 330 5758 or email Jacci@livetheland.co.za

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