I had been remiss. I hadn’t talked to Richard since before Thanksgiving and I somehow misplaced the telephone number for the skilled nursing facility in Santa Ana where he had been transferred.
I tried half-heartedly a couple of times to find it in my endless piles of papers and notebooks with no luck. Stupid, I thought, and figured he’d call me.
The weeks passed, and I kept meaning to do more but somehow it did not make it to the top of my To Do list. I was busy. There was teaching, I had my MFA and book deadlines, there were other people with louder emergencies….yadda, yadda, yadda.
A million excuses.
Finally today, I thought I’ve got to find Richard no matter what it takes. It is, after all, the day before Christmas.
I called Coastal Community Hospital the place where I remembered he’d been last before he went to the skilled nursing facility. After several dead ends, I located the social services person who had made the transfer arrangements when Richard left Coastal Community back in early November.
The social worker was a kind, intelligent-sounding guy named Dan, and he remembered Richard. They’d had a couple of good conversations, Dan said.
“Yeah, Richard’s really smart,” I said. “Not someone who should have been living on the street. He wasn’t working because he was sick. It wasn’t right.”
Fortunately Richard had given the hospital staff verbal permission to provide me with information about him, and Dan had notes to that effect. This meant he was able to get around the HIPA regulations. But he was doubtful he could find the transfer information this late in the game, he said. After putting me on hold for a few minutes, Dan came back.
“A Christmas miracle! I found it.” He give me the number for a facility called Country Villa Plaza.
“He wasn’t in very good shape when he left here,” Dan said. “So I imagine he’s still there. He told me when we talked that he’d finally realized he needed some help. But truthfully he should have gotten help sooner.”
Although short of a hospital, what alternatives were there? Santa Ana’s shelters are jammed five times over.
“Yeah,” Dan said glumly.
I called Country Villa Plaza right away. The young woman who answered the phone sounded very young indeed. She said Mr. Locicero was not in residence. I got pushy. I was his emergency contact, I told her. If he was discharged I should have been notified. Dan told me this is what I should say if they gave me any trouble. Since there was no one else that Richard put down as family at the hospital other than me, they would likely give me the information.
The young woman became nervous. “He was discharged on December 15,” she said.
“To where?” I asked. Dear God. He can’t have been foolish enough to go back on the street again. Surely.
“I’ll transfer you to medical records.”
I got Roger in medical records who seemed irritated to be working today, and was extremely reluctant to give me any information at all. He was suspicious of my inquiries from the get go, although what there was to be suspicious about was never clear.
“I know he was discharged on the 15th of this month,” I said. “I just need to know where. I should have been notified.” I repeated the mantra that Dan at the hospital had given me.
Roger put me on hold. When he came back I could feel that somehow the air between us had changed.
“I’m sorry to tell you….” he began.
He didn’t need to finish. My heart dropped through the floor ahead of his words.
“….that Mr. Locicero passed away.”
God damnit, god damnit, god damn it. I let him down. I should have called him earlier. I should have done something.
Richard, I’m so, so sorry. So sorry.
I tried to get additional information out of Roger, anything at all. Not that it mattered. I just couldn’t stand not knowing at least something. Surely Richard should not die without at least one person who knew him being told what had killed him? Was it a fast downhill slide? Was there something that could have been done? Where and how was he buried? Perhaps all pointless questions. I mean really what difference did it make now? But still….. Still. Attention should be paid.
Roger grew testy. “You weren’t on his card. There was no family member on his card. And you weren’t on his card,” Roger emphasized this again. “So I can’t give you any information. I am prevented by HIPA laws.” blah, blah, blah.
“Look, he’s dead!” I said finally. “Can’t you at least tell me why he died?” No, Roger said. He couldn’t. He couldn’t let me speak to any of his nurses either. After fifteen minutes of every kind of pestering, I gave up. Heck, Roger was within his rights.
And it was, after all, a bit late to do my pestering. A month earlier would have served Richard far better.
So, that’s all I know.
And it is terrible news.