Sam Condello died in January.
Thirty-four days after they took away his wheelchair.
He had terminal, metastatic lung cancer, he was 77 years old, a father of four and a grandfather of seven, and a United States Marine.
And he only had one leg.
And he liked to sit out in the Garden Lobby at Monroe Community Hospital and smoke a cigarette while he read the paper.
“He was friendly and loved,” a hospital staffer remembered yesterday.
In the state Department of Health report that looked into the abuse he suffered at the hands of the hospital director, investigators found that Sam Condello was free of “behavioral symptoms” and that he “liked to choose his bedtime, really enjoyed going outside to get fresh air in good weather, and used a wheelchair for mobility.”
Specifically an electronic wheelchair -- a scooter.
He went all over with it.
For example, two weeks before the hospital director confined him to his bed, Sam Condello and another patient took their scooters – and a couple of transit buses – to Wegmans to spend the day. It was Thanksgiving. Sam’s last Thanksgiving. And he and his friend spent it happily rolling through the aisles of a supermarket.
He was vital and funny and the staff and patients liked him.
But it was the newspaper that got him in trouble.
He was outside, in the Garden Lobby, reading the morning newspaper when, from a distance, the hospital director saw him.
Specifically, the hospital director saw him flicking the burning cherry from a cigarette.
That’s against policy.
In the rules of Monroe Community Hospital it is considered a fire hazard to smoke while reading the newspaper.
The director walked up to Sam and told him there would be hell to pay.
That was December 5.
The next morning, a Thursday, some committee met and decided that Sam Condello would, as punishment, lose his electronic wheelchair, not be allowed outside to visit with fellow patients, and face a curfew of 3 p.m.
When they yanked his electronic wheelchair, they gave him a manual wheelchair equipped with a tracking device, like they put on paroled sex offenders.
Manual wheelchairs are hard to use. They require upper body strength that Sam, a 77-year-old man accustomed to using a scooter, no longer had. They also require a cardiovascular capacity that Sam, in the last stages of terminal lung cancer, no longer had.
A manual wheelchair for a man in that condition is a mockery, and a ball and chain. It dooms a man who had previously gotten up and about to the confinement of a couple of rooms and a hallway.
Nonetheless, a little bit after 3, that Thursday, security called up to the nurse’s station to report that the alarm had gone off on Sam’s tracking device.
He had gone outside for a cigarette.
The director was waiting for him when the elevator brought him back to the floor.
Sam had just smoked the last cigarette he would ever smoke.
In his room, the director raged. An aide was called in and told to put Sam in his bed. The director stood above him and angrily shook his finger in the face of that former Marine and yelled at him like a little child. Sam, the director shouted, had lost “wheelchair privileges.”
A man who could not walk was being denied the use of a medical device that allowed him to have a life.
Stunned and afraid, staff clustered outside the room, listening in horror. One nurse openly wept. Two patients, seemingly frightened, whispered back and forth that Sam was in trouble. Another nurse, reflecting on what she had seen, cried as she drove home that night. Another staffer would be haunted for nights and unable to sleep.
The next day, at least one – and possibly several – hospital employees called the state Department of Health hotline to report what they considered to be the abusive treatment of Sam Condello.
But not one of the employees challenged or stopped the director. Neither did they talk to him later about it or report him to superiors in county government.
Because they were afraid. Because such an environment of intimidation existed that nine separate employees told state investigators that they feared losing their jobs if they said anything.
Sam had been independent, happy and social. Without a wheelchair, he couldn’t even go to the bathroom by himself. He became angry, agitated and profane. One nursing report described him drawn up into a fetal position in his bed, unresponsive and withdrawn.
The director took the chair on Thursday. On Sunday, a notation in the nursing record showed that Sam pleaded, “This is cruel and inhumane treatment. This punishment is too extreme. I really want a cigarette.”
He had smoked for some 60 years.
It was all he had left. It was a powerful, lifelong addiction. It was his comfort and normalcy.
And on what would turn out to be his deathbed, he was forced to go cold turkey.
He was allowed to have the manual wheelchair back on Monday, after four days in bed. Four days to potentially get compression sores and to accumulate liquid in his lungs and to let the light of life go out in his eyes.
He got the manual wheelchair back, but in his condition, he didn’t have the strength to go anywhere in it. Not to visit friends around the hospital, not to go out in the fresh air, not to read the paper in the Garden Lobby.
Staff members said he never recovered from the four days he was bedbound, and that he declined rapidly.
As Christmas approached, he begged staff members to let him have a cigarette, to relieve the overpowering craving. Some staffers discussed sneaking him some cigarettes, but none actually did, fearing for their jobs, fearing to violate the order of the hospital director.
Staffers whispered to Sam to hold on, to wait for state investigators, who they presumed would come. But they never did, even after at least one follow-up hotline call was made.
Nine days into the new year, Sam Condello was dead.
He left this life dispirited and dehumanized.
Patient #394 is no more.
But the hospital director is still there. And when he took away another patient’s wheelchair, the calls to the state hotline were dramatically more frantic, and included the report that Sam was dead.
Investigators were in the hospital the next day.
And they forbad the director to be alone with patients.
And that’s the Monroe County Hospital.
Maybe your mother is there. Maybe someday you will be there.
And maybe someday there will be justice for a dying Marine who was pushed on his way by some bastard who stole his mobility and wouldn’t even let him have a cigarette as he faced the agonies of a cancerous death.
You may have noticed that I haven’t told you the director’s name.
That’s because you don’t need to know it.
You only need to know his boss’s name.
Benghazi is not like Watergate.
But it won’t have the same end.
In Benghazi, American military specialists, hurrying to relieve other Americans under fire, were twice ordered not to.
In Benghazi itself, they ignored the order and saved dozens. In Tripoli, they had to obey, and two brave former SEALS died as a result.
Let me repeat. American men at arms, ready and eager to go to the aid of their countrymen, were, in two separate incidents, ordered to stand down.
Two separate conscious decisions were made to let Americans die. The fundamental ethic of the American armed forces – leave no man behind – was violated.
We didn’t scramble jets, we didn’t send over the special operators from Tripoli, we didn’t come in from our Mediterranean fleet or our Italian bases, we didn’t fire a missile or divert a drone.
We didn’t even ask the Israelis or the Egyptians for help.
We just wrote them off. It’s not surprising that two more Americans died as a result, it’s surprising that only two more Americans died as a result.
When our government decided to do nothing to relieve besieged Americans, the issue was not two former SEALS, it was the survival of dozens of our countrymen. The compound under attack was providing refuge to a great many Americans, and as terrorists and their munitions surrounded those Americans, our government decided to stand down.
That is incomprehensible.
For the first time in our history, the demonstrated attitude of our government is that Americans are expendable.
That’s the first big thing.
The second is that the American government willfully, repeatedly and purposely lied to the American people.
Contrary to what we now know was the government’s understanding at the time, the Obama Administration denied terrorist involvement, spun some complete lie about an anti-Muslim movie, and purposely and significantly distorted and misreported what had happened.
Pressed on it, the secretary of State yelled at Congress. Asked to explain, the White House spokesman complained of partisanship.
And yesterday, in front of the TV cameras, in an open meeting, the No. 2 diplomat in Libya demonstrated under oath the dishonesty and dishonor of the administration.
And it all means nothing.
The press and the Democrats have characterized the entire inquiry as Republican hate mongering, some species of semi-racism undergirding any opposition to or disagreement with Barack Obama.
In the end, this won’t move the needle of public approval or public policy.
Which is how this is different from Watergate. In that criminal attempt to influence an election, the president’s party turned against him. In this criminal attempt to influence an election, the president’s party will stick with him.
Nixon fell because Republicans of conscience refused to tolerate his immoral and illegal activity. Obama will stand because Democrats have no conscience.
In the case of Nixon, Democrats opposed him universally before Watergate. The only shift in public thinking – the shift that pushed him out – was among Republicans. In the case of Obama, Democrats supported him universally before Benghazi. There will be no shift in their thinking. He will not be pushed out.
In fact, it is likely that among his supporters, he will become more popular, as the narrative of victimhood is wrapped around the poor president being beaten up by the hateful Republicans.
There is no record of an administration sacrificing citizens’ lives and patently lying to the American people. Obama holds the record on that.
And he is going to hold his office, too.
Not because he did the right thing, but because he’s got the right supporters. Supporters to whom party is more important than propriety.
It’s not about America, it’s about partisanship.
And dying is part of life.
Get over it.
And hope there’s something left of America when this monster gets done with it.
I have been running for 40 years.
I went out for cross-country in the seventh-grade, started running 10k’s in 1985, and did my first marathon 15 years ago.
Most Saturdays I am at some race, of some distance, paying my money, running my race and taking a t-shirt home.
I have been running for 40 years.
And I’ve stunk the whole time. I am a terrible runner. Slower than molasses in January. I have been in the last quarter of finishers of almost every race I’ve ever run. I got into running, in fact, because I was a bad athlete, because I was too small and uncoordinated to make the football team.
But I like it. It keeps me in passable shape. It helps me control
my demons. I enjoy the spirit I feel from other runners.
So, yes, I’ve been running a long time. But, no, I’m no expert. The average high school runner is more skilled and insightful than am I.
Which gets me to my point.
I don’t like cause races. Oh, I don’t mind when charities put on races to raise money. But I’m not comfortable with the increasing tendency for races to be positioned as crusades. Races are about running, they are not about causes.
Again, if the Cancer Society or the Arthritis Society or the neighborhood church want to sponsor a race – and, thankfully, they do – I am happy that they make money from it. I am happy that part of my entry fee ends up in their charitable pocket.
But I don’t run to help them.
And I’m uncomfortable pretending otherwise.
A race is a race. It is about running and trying and achieving.
Putting on an act, as a runner, that it’s about something else, that it’s about something nobler, is insincere and false.
At least as I see things.
Each year, for example, the Arthritis Society wonderfully sponsors the Rochester Marathon. I know some of the folks from the society who help organize it. But after these years of running the race, I don’t know that I’m empathetic toward or supportive of the fight against arthritis.
The race elicits in me a mild complaint that the course spends too many miles along the Erie Canal. On arthritis, however, I draw a blank.
Likewise, when St. Thomas Church sponsors its 5k, I will think about the jaunt through Washington Grove, not the ministries or charities bolstered by my entry fee.
It’s like fire departments that put on chicken barbecues. People like the fire department, sure, but they stop and buy because they like chicken.
And so I sign up for races because I like racing, usually without knowing or caring what the group sponsoring it is or what they are going to do with the money. My entry fee bought me a chance to run with a bunch of people; that’s all I care about.
A guy took me to task for saying that the other day. He implied that I had a cold heart, and that I should better support the charities that sponsor races.
I figure I do, I pay my entry fee. I tell my friends about the race, possibly bringing more runners.
I am grateful – intensely grateful – for race organizers of every stripe, but I don’t run for them, I run for me.
What got me thinking about this was a race the other week where I passed someone whose shirt announced that he was running to fight cancer, or some such thing.
And that struck me as ridiculous.
You’re not running to fight cancer. Running doesn’t fight cancer. Beyond your own decreased risk of cancer, a consequence of being fit, you could run around the world and a thousand people could join you and it wouldn’t do a thing to reduce a single tumor.
It’s not the running that fights cancer, or remembers a lost child or funds a program or builds a park, it’s the money. If you want to fight cancer, you don’t have to run at all, you just have to write a check. In fact, running as a means of raising money is effective but inefficient. Better if every entrant just made a donation and saved the charity the overhead and effort of putting on a race.
I may just see things differently than most.
I know that people run to prove things to themselves, or maybe to – in their way – honor a loved one or an issue. I know that love for someone or something can be a motivator to take up running, or maybe even improve your running by striving for a faster time or a longer distance. Many first-time marathoners have had a loved one or strong emotion that motivated them to train and run such a long race.
I think those things are good.
But on Saturday morning lining up to race, we’re not a bunch of Mother Theresas. We are people with a hobby sport – like bowling or golf – and we want to find out how well we will do. We’re not saving the world, we’re exercising.
And I wish people would stop pretending otherwise.