Friday, July 3, 2015

Fire the Paralegal and Hire Me

I had thought to end this blog with my last post, but the story of Parrish is hardly written. For the last two months, I have been trying to learn what happened to him, why he died so suddenly of what was apparently a total body shut-down. 

At first I was too sad and tired to even try. I spent 10 weeks hiding from the inconceivable truth that my son, my only child, was dead and no one could explain why. I discovered Netflix and spent hours—day and night—binging on dramas that were so sick and violent, they took me outside of my head. I drank more vodka that I should have. I stopped getting dressed and wearing makeup and ate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by the pound. I gained weight. I cried a lot. I was a mess. I woke in the night, my head aching as though there were rocks rolling around crashing against my skull.

About two months ago, I woke up. I got mad. I got “I want to kill somebody” mad. I started actively working to learn something—anything—about what happened to P. I checked with the law firm and learned they hadn’t received any of the records they requested. I began to work at getting the information myself. I left messages with the coroner and the police officer who opened a case on the night of P’s death. None of my calls were returned. I became obsessed. It was as though I didn’t exist to those people. 

I, the grieving mother, couldn’t even get anyone to take my calls.  I continued to obsess. I called five separate numbers for the facility, three of which dead-ended at voice mailboxes with no names and that were full. I Googled the acting director and called his number. At least the voice mail greeting included his name and the box wasn’t full, so I left yet another message.

Miracle of miracles, I got a call back in less than an hour. I made my request to the clerk on the other end of the line, and she assured me the records had been delivered to the law firm. I asked her to send them again. That was Friday afternoon. The records were delivered via fax on Monday morning.

Feeling empowered by my small success, I continued to call the coroner’s office, and on every occasion, a very nice woman said she would have someone call me. No one did. I finally, at the suggestion of a friend, called the Probate Court to see if they could help me, as P’s legal guardian, get my hands on his autopsy report. The very kind clerk didn’t have any tips for me, but she did provide me with the name and phone number of the president of the Coroners Association of Georgia. 

So, I called him. I called him and ratted on the son of a bitch who refused to respond to my requests. I squealed on him like a little pig. The kind man expressed surprise at the treatment I was receiving and promised to look into it. 

Then I got in my car and went to the police department to get a copy of the report of the case that was opened on the night of P’s death. Police reports are public record, and anyone can obtain copies as long as the cases are not active, a fact I learned from surfing the web looking into the Georgia Open Records law.

I tucked the paper into my folder of notes, and as I was walking toward the door, turned and asked the clerk how I could go about getting a copy of the 911 incident report generated when P was taken to the hospital. She directed me to the fire department, which was conveniently located two doors down, and guardianship documents in hand, I presented myself there. 

The fire department made copies of my papers and my driver’s license. They were kind and sympathetic, but their computers were down. Paranoia bloomed in the back of my brain. What this yet another roadblock being thrown up in my face? I almost started crying. The clerk took a look at my face and called a lieutenant from the back to talk to me. I spilled my story all over him, and, astonishment in his eyes, he promised to call me the minute they could print out the information I needed. 

Then I asked him if he knew how to get my hands on the autopsy report. He didn’t know but promised to look into it and call me the next day. I left, feeling a little spark of hope, and turned back toward The Island. My phone sounded before I got to the causeway. It was the nice lady who answers the phone for the coroner! She suddenly had information for me. Did the president of the Coroners Association give them a ring? I’m choosing to believe he did. She gave me the name and number of a clerk in the medical records department at the hospital.

"Just call her, honey. She can help you."

It was too late to call when I got home, so I had to wait until the next morning. Before I could make the call, the nice lieutenant from the fire department called to say the 911 report was available, and he also gave me a name and a number in medical records. When I called, the clerk told me to bring my ID to her department and sign a form, and the autopsy report would be mine. Who knew? Why in the name of hell didn’t the coroner’s phone-lady just tell me that when I started calling her weeks before?

I decided to drive out to the fire department first. Report in hand, I returned to my car and sat in the parking lot reading it. After three lines, my mouth fell open. By the time I finished, I was weeping as violently as I did on the night of January 17, when P’s heart stopped. Air conditioning blowing into my face, I dropped my head on the steering wheel and wept until I was all wept out. All of my wounds were ripped open. I thought my heart burst. A full ten minutes later, I could see well enough to drive to the hospital.

It only took a few minutes to get the autopsy results. I slid the form into my folder, afraid to look at it until I could get home and pour a vodka. I read it through, then I read it through again. My paralyzing sadness morphed into a rage I have never known. I snatched a pillow from the sofa and screamed into it. I screamed until I was out of breath and the pillow was wet with drool. Then I collapsed onto the sofa and the tears returned. 

I woke in the night, unfolded myself and sat up. For a moment, I wondered where I was. It struck me in the head like a physical blow—the  reports, both of them. I stumbled to the bathroom and brushed my teeth before climbing into bed. I slept fitfully and woke early. I reread the material. 

Because we have engaged professional legal advice, I can’t share any of the facts I uncovered. I can tell you, though, that I have an unsigned death certificate that in no way bears out the facts learned at autopsy. My next project is to go back to the police department and demand to see a detective. I want someone to explain to me why the “case” opened on the night of Parrish’s death was closed the next morning.

I need a break, and I’m leaving in the morning to attend Rosemary Daniell’s Annual Zona Rosa Writer’s Retreat on Tybee Island.

Happy Fourth of July.

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman