A death in An American Family

Just days before he passed away on December 22, Lance Loud completed an essay about his life for The Advocate’s year-in-review issue, written from the hospice in which he lay dying. “For years I had told myself that all my unbridled drinking, drugging, and unsafe sex were going to lead exactly here,” he wrote. “But I’d never really believed it.”

BY

January 22 2002 1:00 AM ET

Part I: Winter ’01
Is There a Michelin Man in My Family Tree, or What?

Last winter,
’01, was typical of any year in recent times for me.
Six years earlier, my gig writing a regular column for
The Advocate had to, regretfully, be put
out to pasture thanks to a full-time career as a
crystal addict. I’d finally rehabbed from the drugs
and drink, and I was a lonely hermit, presiding over
my nine stray cats in a small one-room kingdom on a
hillside in Los Angeles’s Echo Park, where I took
many naps and read English rock magazines. I was not in
great health—big shock. But I was feeling well
enough to still say yes when a girlfriend asked me to
accompany her to the University of California, Santa Cruz,
in the spring to move her 18-year-old son for summer
break.

Shortly after the
three of us set upon his dorm room to dismantle it, a
small but sharp twinge of pain registered just under my left
kneecap. And it would not stop. In fact, it got worse.
For the duration of the weekend and through the trip
home, it got worse and worse. Damn my friend, I said
to myself as it throbbed away. How could she have forced me
into so much work? But on returning to L.A. and going
to the doctor that following Monday, I found out it
had little to do with a twisted knee. It was a septic
infection that had settled under my left knee. But I still
believed I was invincible and continued my old lifestyle.

However, it was
only a couple of days later that I awoke one afternoon in
Cedars-Sinai hospital. I don’t know how the day
started out, but I had been found in a mud puddle near
Echo Park Lake at 4:30 in the morning. At the
hospital, I had accosted the nurses and doctors. I ripped
out the I.V. needles leading into both my arms. Blood.
More blood. Then there was my left leg. Sometime
during the previous 48 hours, it had swollen to at
least four sizes larger than the right one. The skin was
shiny and tight. God was partway through inventing a
new Pokémon—me. Though doctors told me I
should stay in the hospital, I was having none of it. I
returned home; me, the cats, and my little wooden
house in the wilds of Echo Park. Ready to stick it out
to the bitter end, little did I know, in terms of my
domestic setup, that finality was about as close as the
nearest Starbucks.

Part II:
The Summer of My Incontinence.

Actually, bona
fide incontinence waited until fall to make itself known.
Still, as we passed the halfway mark of the year, I was not
without plenty of disillusion. But as we crawled
toward that final quarter of the year, waves of human
degradation began breaking over my body. Daily bouts
of catastrophic diarrhea suggested my intestinal tract was
undergoing some sort of Chernobylish meltdown. My
belly—for that is the only word with which to
adequately describe my stomach—had grown taut as a
kettle drum. My leg was now not only swollen and
unusable but had developed a needles-and-pins
sensitivity that completely obscured any other feeling.
While my leg still tingled constantly in a most
uncomfortable manner, I could be standing on a tack
and not notice it. All this plus the fact that it
seemed I was now racing to the hospital every couple of
weeks for a six-hour transfusion session to replace
the blood my body was not replenishing. This was
leaving large gaps in my energy and hollows where my
cheeks had once been. I was, in short, beginning to look a
little like a WeHo version of the Crypt Keeper. After
a few haunted weeks spent lurking between the sheets
in my mother’s bedroom, it was decided to get
me back into the hospital.

Part III:
Waiting, waiting, waiting…

I thus spent
August and part of September in hospital rooms about town.
Perhaps there is no agony worse than the tedium I then
experienced waiting for Something to Happen. I should
say that when you’ve grown sick of reading and
bug-eyed from watching TV, when your friends are all
visited out and there’s nothing else to do, no words
can adequately praise the link to the outside world
provided by your parents and family. I was going
insane. There was no exact diagnosis. The unspoken one,
everyone knew.

Suddenly…news. Word came along the hospital jungle
that they were booting me out. With the newfound gusto
that a minimum-wage earner gets shortly before his
work day ends and his allotted amount of work still remains
to be finished, I was packed up and told I had to find
myself a rest home to stay in. They did not tell me
what was wrong or what could be done about it. Suffice
it to say that this did not give me much hope.

Part IV:
Revelations, Anyone?

You know those
people who tell you they’ve forgotten how to cry and
that they can’t anymore? I was one of
them—until I crash-landed at the Carl Bean
hospice facility on the northern tip of south-central L.A.
It’s not because the facility is bad—on
the contrary. The food is the best I’ve had in
an institution—and believe me, by the end of the
summer I had become quite the hospital food gourmand.
The nursing and doctoring staff? No words can do
justice to their efficiency, thoroughness, and all-around
human compassion above and beyond the call of duty.

But what I
learned in this situation is how easy it is for me to cry.
Having been one of those who didn’t cry at anything,
I am now faced with mortality, finding myself on a
deserted beach on the brink of a saline washout. And
forget about my family; just a sidelong look at my mom while
visiting her home and watching her prepare dinner struck a
gusher. Or my giving a toast at a dinner for my
brother and sister: Halfway through, yours truly
simply kidnapped the situation by bursting into a massive
crying jag that left my sisters frozen, silent, and with two
long tearstained trails on their cheeks. Definitely
not the most generous move to inaugurate a
“happy occasion.”

Epilogue:
This is the end, my friend

I recently read
that “a sentence of death concentrates the mind
wonderfully.” True, but you’ve got to be able
to excuse yourself from what you can and can’t
concentrate on. Beware flights of fancy. Surely it
sounds great to finally envision the perfect rock band, the
script that is right in front of your nose, the
inevitable volume of memories that the world must see.

And you must be
prepared to handle those “What to do?”
moments. My doctor told my already-hysterical mother,
“Pat, you’ve got to face it. You’re
going to outlive Lance, so you may as well get
prepared!” Neither of us felt good about that
moment. Or the fight between friends when a dear pal
blurted out to me that he’d speak well of me at my
wake.

When will it
happen? That’s certainly got to be number 1 on the
most-often-asked-questions-of-myself list that I usually
break out at 4:12 a.m., when no one’s around to
answer. All I can hear is my own breath pulling like
cotton through my nostrils. Now that I’ve gotten up
enough nerve to ask the kindly doctors and nursing staff for
some illumination, most likely they’ll turn
such queries back on me, asking how long I think
I’m going to live or telling me it’s all
relative.

Still, I got the
truth, though it came in a variety of vague replies. And
the truth was not pleasant. After the question “Am I
dying?” was met with responses that ranged from
“What do you think?” to “Lance,
everybody dies sooner or later,” salty tears
were running down my cheeks.

Such attempts on
my part to sleuth out a departure date are suddenly
replaced by one of the staff breezily telling me that my
liver has completely stopped operating. The ammonia
now racing around in my body (which must be urine,
though I haven’t got the nerve to clarify that
salient point) is causing me to have memory lapses, and by
that time I’m about ready to get back to
discussing the food, the weather, anything, as long as
it is superficial.

Oh, yes, it has
been a year full of dark revelations, but without the
fame or glory they might help offer someone else some little
shred of solace if they are on the same road.

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