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When David came marching home

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 October 2020
David Myshrall

David Myshrall hated the farm he grew up on – nothing was mechanized and there was just too much non-stop work. He thought he might like to be a veterinarian, but there was no money for university.

At 17, he joined the Reserve Force, and discovering that education was available with the Canadian Forces, he enlisted at 18, joining the infantry, working in communications, specifically radio work.

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At 19, he found himself in Yugoslavia with the United Nations, working at communications headquarters, arranging transportation of medical and other supplies. He floated between this and other jobs, occasionally being in the lead vehicle and periodically drawing fire. Being shot at was “kind of unnerving at first. After a while, I got used to it. It became complacent, almost normal,” Myshrall recalls. On one occasion he was sent to a port city to pick up supplies for an orphanage and a psychiatric hospital. His group was with a group from Britain; the two groups became separated. They stopped at a cluster of houses to check maps and figure out where they had to go.

Myshrall, looking around the corner of one of the houses, heard a pop beside his head and felt something like a wasp sting. As he headed back to the Iltis jeep, he felt something running down his lower face and remembers thinking it was a weird time to be crying. He wiped the tears and found blood on his hand – he had been shot by a sniper from about 800 metres. Apparently, this sniper wanted to scare, not actually kill someone. As the group was about 14 hours from their base and medical help, Myshrall was bandaged up as best as could be done, and they continued on their mission. Once they returned, he saw a doctor. Wood and bullet splinters had lodged behind his eye and tangled in the optic nerve, which was later described as “a ball of scar tissue.” He lost 95% of his vision in that eye.

His job shifted to an office job – this was not a problem, as he wanted to be there rather than sent home. He finished his term of duty four months later, after nine-and-a-half months in the field. At home on medical leave, Myshrall underwent surgery, but it didn’t accomplish much. No longer fit for combat duty, he worked doing repairs as a lineman, including the ’98 ice storms in the eastern townships of Ontario. Following this, he took medical retirement from the military.

Myshrall did not adjust well to life with so much less structure. “I really struggled when I left the military,” he states. Myshrall got a job with Boeing assisting painters, but was laid off six months later when the plant began to shut down. He found a position with Silani Cheese, at first in the warehouse, then night shift with the cheesemaker. He liked that “really cool job,” and the night shift kept him out of trouble, but Myshrall struggled with depression and alcohol abuse. After calling in sick too often because of this, he lost that job and ended up losing everything he had – including his house and his driver’s license. Nothing was left: fair-weather friends deserted him, and he was not close to any family. Panhandling in Toronto was the next step in a downward spiral.

One day he looked around at his situation and had an epiphany. “I deserve better than this,” he told himself. He gathered his few belongings in a backpack and started walking home to his parents’ farm in Schomberg. He camped in their back yard. His dad pressed him to move on with his life – a man-up and tough-it-out attitude.

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A neighbouring farmer needed help with cropping, so Myshrall took a job driving tractor, hauling grain and such. He found he enjoyed being back in the country, but the job ended with the season. A dairy farm in Bolton was looking for a herdsman; he went over and knocked on the door and started the next day. He learned a lot on this job about cattle but most of all about himself. After a year, he found a better job at a 55-cow freestall barn. He managed this like it was his own and garnered both production and milk quality awards. A lot of learning occurred at this place, but after four years, the owner exited the business. Myshrall didn’t see it coming and found it very tough to see the cows sold.

In 2006, he spent some time in Europe and found a job on an 80-cow tiestall barn on his return. During this time, he battled with depression. He was really down, on his own with no close friends, really lonely and having a lot of regrets. Suicide was looking like a good option. One day he put hay down from the mow and sat working twine into a noose. A big black heifer reached over the manger and licked up the side of his face. As he turned, she then smacked the other side of his head. This stopped him in his tracks. He went to the house, called his mom and told her, “I need someone to come to see me.” His mom and brother came immediately and took him to a doctor, then a psychiatrist. He was kept at the hospital where they took away his belt and shoelaces and tied him to the bed. He slept for nearly 12 hours.

Myshrall was diagnosed with anxiety and depression caused by post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The longer he was at the hospital, the less worried he was about himself. Every day, he had sessions with the doctor, which built his confidence, and medications for sleeping and appetite helped him get back to normal. One day, he realized he hadn’t milked the cows! He signed himself out and went home. For a year, he continued to visit with the doctor but was then able to go off medications.

In 2007, life took an upturn when he met Raluca, a girl from Romania. Myshrall says, “She is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” She inspired him to stop smoking, and they married the following year. They now have two children: a son, Nicholas, and a daughter, Ana. In 2013, they moved to the farm where he now works.

Glandine Farm has 240 milking cows with a robotic milking system. Myshrall’s job is primarily raising the calves, making feed and doing repairs as needed. He finds the cattle give him the structure he needs – he gets up every day and tends to his job. He loves the calves, which is clear when watching him interact with them. He feels that animals are a great therapy for people with problems like his, as they are non-judgmental and just listen when you talk; he knows the importance of being able to talk through problems.

There are still hard days – memories of things he saw while in the military never really go away. He has an incredibly hard time with blood, and it is difficult to deal with the death of any of his cows. He is really bothered by flies as they trigger memories of seeing a mass grave, an experience that was “really, really disturbing,” he says.

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“I try not to think too much about the past but focus on the future,” Myshrall declares.

He has expanded his horizons a lot with online courses, involvement with a local snowmobile club and traveling with his family. He also has an annual father-son camping trip with Nicholas.

In the future, Myshrall would love to find the opportunity to have a farm of his own and maintains the attitude that there is always something to look forward to, next week or next year. Life is good.  end mark

PHOTO: David Myshrall really enjoys his calf rearing duties at Glandine Farm. Photo by Alice Guthrie.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

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