Someone recently asked me how it came to pass that I wrote No-Accounts, my novel not about war or Vietnam but about a straight man taking care of a gay man dying of AIDS. Here’s how it happened.
Between 1960 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My job for the most part was providing signals intelligence support to troops on the battlefield. As a result of so much time spent in combat, I developed a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, I read numerous press reports of men dying alone on the streets from AIDS because everyone was afraid to touch them—back then we didn’t know how the disease was transmitted from person to person. I couldn’t tolerate the very idea of abandoning people to die alone on the street, so I told my wife I wanted to volunteer to take care of these dying men. I told her that there was some chance I’d be infected; if I was, she would be, too; and AIDS was fatal. She told me to go ahead.
Over a period of five years, I cared for seven men—all gay, all died. I loved every one of them and grieved at their loss. Then science found a way to prevent AIDS from killing its victims, and we learned that men were infected with AIDS by the transmission of bodily fluids. I was endangered only once when I accidently stabbed myself with a needle I had just used to inject a patient, but, as luck would have it, I wasn’t infected. During those years, my suffering from PTSI all but disappeared because I was so focused on my patients.
The experience of helping men die with dignity and respect so moved me that I wrote a novel about the experience. I named it No-Accounts because neither of the principal characters was a respected member of society.
The book allowed me to vent my grief at the loss of my seven patients. It is and remains a story of sorrow.