At 3:19 PM PDT my phone rang. I was in the middle of trying to get my son to take a nap and had to run to answer it. I didn’t recognize the number — (386) 943-4522 — but I knew from the area code that it was someone in Florida.

“Hello?” I said.

The man on the other end of the line asked if I was David Gagne. I said that I was. He said that he was Dr. Sisco1 at Florida Hospital in Deland. Then he asked, “Has the nursing home given you a call?”

I told him that they had called me to tell me they had sent my mom there, and that I’d talked to Brenda there 2 who said my mom’s condition was critical.

He told me that they picked up my mom from the nursing home, which I already knew, of course. Dr. Sisco said that she was in cardiac arrest when she arrived, that, “her heart was not beating and we were doing CPR,” but that — unfortunately — they were unable to revive her.

It felt like that scene in Jaws, the one where you see Brody in his chair and all of a sudden he realizes there’s a shark in the water and the camera zooms in on him, but it’s really the background that is moving. 3 I felt all the air rush out of my lungs, as if I’d been punched in the gut. I know it sounds cliché, but it was really just like that. I think I said something stupid like, “I can’t believe you’re telling me this.”

We talked for really just a minute or two in total, and then he said, “I’m sorry I have to give you this information. Let me transfer you to the nurse who has some questions for you,” and then put me on hold.

Jennifer, the charge nurse in the ER came on the line less than a minute later. She said, “I’m really sorry for your loss,” and I interrupted her and angrily said, “I need to know if she was administered Risperdal.”

She told me that they were waiting to receive her charts from the nursing home. Jennifer said, “They have not sent anything,” and, “The paramedics didn’t bring any paperwork with them.” She told me that it was out of the ordinary to not receive any paperwork or anything, but that she had spoken to Woodland Terrace and was waiting for them to fax her my mom’s chart.

Jennifer said that the “regular physician declined to sign a death certificate because he wants to know why she died.” I asked her who she meant when she said “regular physician” because Dr. Peele at Woodland Terrace was the only one who had seen her lately, and she said that was who she meant.

She said that mom will be going to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, and that she had called the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. Jennifer said that mom’s body would go to the Volusia County Medical Examiner and asked if I wanted the phone number or if I wanted to just look it up online. I started to say that I would just find it online and my wife told me to just have her tell it to me on the phone, so I asked her for the number. She said the number was (386) 258-4060.

I asked her if she could tell me the time of death and I could hear her cover the mouthpiece and ask someone else in the room what time they “called it”. I heard a man say, “Sixteen-oh-two,” and then Jennifer told me, “Six-oh-two our time.” 4

I thanked her and somehow managed to hang up the phone. I could hear my wife on her phone in the other room already trying to find plane tickets for us to Florida, but everything seemed blurry. It felt like my head was at the bottom of a deep pool or bathtub that was full of soapy water draining quickly past me, like I was drowning, maybe.

The entire call lasted fifteen minutes.

1 I have no idea if that’s the correct way to spell his name.
2 Brenda at Fish Memorial
3 It’s called the “dolly zoom effect”. You can see it here.
4 This is a bit confusing, because 16:02 would be four o’clock and not six o’clock. I don’t know if I misheard the man in the background and he really said, “six,” and not, “sixteen,” or if Jennifer misunderstood him, or if she translated from military time to standard time incorrectly, or what. It’s now September 4th and my mother’s body still has not been cremated because we still don’t have a signed death certificate. Every part about this just sucks.