The AIDS Epidemic and No-Accounts

Early in the blog, I wrote several posts about how No-Accounts­—my only novel not directly related to Vietnam—came to be written. That was a year ago. At the risk of repeating myself, I want to talk today about that novel.

No-Accounts, recognized with an Eric Hoffer award, is the story of a straight man taking care of a gay man dying of AIDS. It is the direct result of the five years I spent caring for AIDS patients in the 1980s. I became a volunteer for two principal reasons: I needed to cope with my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), the result of my years in combat and surviving the fall of Saigon; and I couldn’t stand what was happening to AIDS victims—because of the public terror of the disease (we didn’t know how it was transmitted), men were literally dying on the street because no one would go near them or allow them a place to stay. I didn’t know how much danger of contracting the disease I faced, but I decided to risk it because these dying men desperately needed help.

To quote what I said a year ago in this log: “I saw that being with the ostracized dying was like combat: you stay with your brother no matter what the danger. And when he dies, part of you dies, too. In the five years I worked as a buddy, I had seven patients, all gay, all died. I grieved over every one of them as I did over the men who died in combat next to me.”

When the cause of the disease became clear and treatments were discovered, I stopped my work with AIDS patients. I went on volunteering to help others because I found that it helped me come to terms with my PTSI. I worked with the homeless and the dying in the hospice system. I came to see that I had a gift: I was willing and able to work with people that others shunned because of bias or horror. My experience in combat allowed me to reach out to the suffering when others backed away.

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