On the morning of January 24, 2011, in Laguna Beach, CA, my 62-year-old brother Chris Monson walked into the kitchen of his studio apartment, lost his balance, fell, and hit his head on the floor.
He felt dizzy, but managed to make it to his bed, where he lay for two days before finally calling 911. Upon arrival, paramedics noted that Chris was severely dehydrated and malnourished and transported him to Mission Hospital Laguna Beach for treatment.
According to the police report, “Monson’s residence was not in good condition. It smelled foul, was cluttered, had garbage in the living area, dirty undergarments scattered throughout, ants inside the refrigerator and had several bottles filled with what appeared to be urine next to the mattress in the living area.”
At the hospital they found that Chris had an intracranial hemorrhage, which is bleeding inside the brain. This condition causes a tremendous amount of pressure within the skull and if not detected and treated immediately will really fuck one up.
Since Chris had waited two days before seeking treatment there was very little the doctors could do. They transported him to another hospital, in Mission Viejo, and the next day performed a craniotomy, which is basically an operation to cut open the skull. This procedure must not have helped because Chris entered a coma just afterwards and became “brain dead.”
So, essentially at that point, my big brother was gone.
That night I was in a hotel room in Durham, North Carolina, about to attend a conference on lung pathology for asbestos paralegals. I had spent all day walking around Durham looking for a place that sold vodka by the bottle, and was enjoying a drink when my sister called. Somehow the hospital had found her and she was calling me and the rest of the family with the bad news.
She told me that our father would be coming out from Louisiana right away and she and he would go see Chris first thing in the morning. She gave me the number of the hospital.
A month before, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, my wife and I and my two teen-aged children made a visit down to Orange County. We took Chris out to lunch, and, as usual, I made sure that he knew to come out side when we arrived so we wouldn’t have to view the disgusting conditions in which he always lived.
As we pulled up, I was shocked. Chris, who had always been obese, had lost some weight over the years, but what I saw was disturbing. He was maybe 150 or 160, he had barely any hair left, he was leaning precariously on a cane, and he’d lost a couple more of his teeth since our last visit. He looked like he was at least in his mid-70s instead of his early 60s.
During lunch at his favorite restaurant – a 50s style diner on Coast Highway in South Laguna – he drifted in and out of concentration and much of what he said made no sense.
I became convinced that Chris was near death. Once I got home I called and emailed him constantly about his health and urged him to see his doctor as soon as possible. Chris was insulted at my assertion that he appeared to be quickly dying and refused to give me any information about the status of his health.
Finally, about a week before my trip to North Carolina, I made one final appeal to Chris in a heated, screaming phone call that ended with him shouting “Back the Fuck Off!”
So I hung up.
After my sister’s call I went downstairs to the big karaoke party to kick off the conference. The conference organizer had made a big deal about the karaoke and when I’d shown a hesitation to participate she had made it her mission to make sure I got up and sang. But, when I told her I’d just found out my brother was brain dead she backed off.
I spent a lot of time that night and the next morning on the phone with Chris’ nurses. They told me that once my father arrived the doctor would meet with him in order to convince him to “pull the plugs.”
By mid-afternoon of the day my father came, Chris’s heart and breathing had stopped. Over the next several days my dad and my sister dealt with all the arrangements and procedures. Chris’ body was cremated and my dad took his ashes with him back to Louisiana. A hazardous waste removal crew had to be hired to clean out his apartment. There was no funeral, service, memorial or ceremony. And there was no obituary — until now.