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Hospice staff gives dying man a computer to research Family


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Hospice staff gives dying man a computer to research his family history


The Kansas City Star

With a computer, Rodolfo Pinzon (right) can continue to research his family history. Jason Lancaster of Odyssey Healthcare & Hospice helped to set up Pinzon’s new laptop on Dec. 14. The dying man shuffled to answer his door.

“Mr. Pinzon?” the woman called from the dim hallway. She rapped on the apartment door in what long ago was the Alcazar Hotel on Baltimore Avenue. Two cardboard boxes sat at her feet on the thinning carpet — presents for Rodolfo Pinzon’s final Christmas and for the quest that, even now, gives him meaning.

“It’s me, Linda,” Linda Ford, a hospice social worker, said and knocked again. She spoke into the door. Two colleagues from Odyssey Healthcare & Hospice stood behind her.

“Can we come in?” Ford said.

The door swung open. Rodolfo Pinzon — 80 years old, a native of Panama made thin and frail by age and lung cancer — tilted his eyes over his glasses. Dressed neatly in pressed slacks and a sweatshirt, he looked like a professor welcoming students to his office.

“Yes, yes, come in,” he said, his voice barely audible.

Cancer wrecked his vocal chords. His voice, as scratched as a gramophone record, struggled to rise above a whisper.

“Where do you want this?” Ford asked.

Pinzon pointed. Ford and her hospice co-workers, nurse Jane Lesher and general manger Jason Lancaster, swept into the tiny two-room apartment — a bed and dresser, some small tables, chairs, a bookcase, a wheelchair — and placed the gift containing a new Acer laptop computer and printer on a table set along one wall.

“This is your computer,” Lancaster said. Pinzon nodded and smiled softly.

On the opposite wall hung the ostensible reason for the gift: framed drawings of Martin Alonzo Pinzon and Vincente Yanez Pinzon, Spanish explorers and brothers who, in 1492, captained the Pinta and the Nina and, with Christopher Columbus, discovered the New World.

“My own family,” Rodolfo Pinzon said.

Or so, Pinzon said, that is what he has determined after 13 years of delving into the neglected story of the Pinzons and his own family name. Day by day for 13 years, he said, his quixotic mission, quest and solitary passion has been to gather as much scholarship as possible to elevate the role of the Pinzons in the Columbus story.

“This has been an injustice with the Pinzons,” he said, his cracked voice rising, pleading his case.

The hospice people conceded that they understood very little about the details of Rodolfo’s Pinzon’s passion or, for that matter, about the vague details of his life:

Born in Panama. Big family. He bred cattle as a young man until the late 1950s, when he came to the United States and Kansas City, where he worked in warehouses. He married twice — “Until I learned my lesson,” he said — and has two daughters and a granddaughter. He smoked and drank too much almost all his life “until the cancer caught up with me,” he said.

For reasons he chooses not to speak about, Pinzon is all but estranged from his daughters. His silence on the subject rings with both hurt and bitterness. The hospice people said Pinzon has requested that his niece, not his daughters, be contacted when he dies.

“I just started to know him within the last year,” said the niece, Meta Scharre, who was raised in Germany and is married to a neurologist in Dublin, Ohio.

“He’s almost like, how he phrased it to me: ‘The lone wolf.’ ”

None of that matters to the hospice workers. What matters now, Ford said, isn’t the plot of Pinzon’s life, but its ending.

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To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send e-mail to eadler@kcstar.com.

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