While a bout with the flu may force a selectman to miss a meeting every so often, what happens when the malady is more serious?
The board may soon find out after doctors at Falmouth Hospital discovered an eight-inch blood clot in Selectman David Braga’s leg last week. “I was having some severe heel pain a couple of weeks ago and didn’t do anything about it,” Mr. Braga said. “I ended up going to the hospital a week ago last Tuesday and that’s when they found the blood clot in my leg. It is very dangerous stuff and I didn’t even know about it.”
Mr. Braga has not undergone surgery, but instead is taking medication to thin the blood. “Of course, the concern is that it [the clot] will break off and travel to the lung or heart, which is why you have to be careful,” he said.
As to how long he will be out, Mr. Braga was unsure, although he anticipated missing Monday’s meeting at the least. “They told me it will be three to six months before it is all gone, but I’m very nervous and even afraid to get out of my chair,” he said.
Next Monday, Mr. Braga will consult his primary care physician to see when the earliest he might be able to return to the board.
In the meantime, Mr. Braga is following doctor’s orders, relaxing in his East Falmouth home with his leg elevated. For someone who is normally active, he said, it has been difficult. “I can’t do anything,” he said. “It’s like I’ve hit a brick wall. It’s very hard for me to sit still so I’ve been watching television, reading the newspapers to keep up on things and I did field three phone calls from residents.”
Of course, the concern is that [the clot] will break off and travel to the lung or heart, which is why you have to be careful.
Selectman David Braga
If he does have a prolonged absence, it would represent the first time since former selectman Carey M. Murphy was out for roughly three months following a skiing accident at Sunday River in Bethel, Maine, in January 2006. The result was two broken ribs, the removal of eight inches of his intestine, and a lost kidney.
Chairman Kevin E. Murphy, who was on the board at that time, said these types of situations do occur. “It is part of life,” he said. “No one can prepare for them. We just do the best we can and move forward.”
It Could Happen To Anyone
The reality is that any member of the board could undergo a medical condition that could change the dynamic of how selectmen conduct their business, he said.
In April of this year, Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn missed a board meeting while recuperating from total knee replacement surgery. In her place former selectman Melissa C. Freitag served as the chairman, electing to forego the Pledge of Allegiance, which led to a media firestorm and backlash from the public.
A week later Ms. Flynn returned, assuming her position as chairman. “I should never have come back so soon,” Ms. Flynn said this week. “Mentally I was fine, but my leg just got a little too painful.”
Why did she return so soon? “Because I felt great,” she said. “It was supposed to be a short meeting. I had a little stool I brought with me to prop my leg up onto, but it didn’t work too well. The meeting went on for three hours and it was gruesome.”
As to when a selectman should return to their weekly meetings following a surgery, illness or accident, there is no rule, which Ms. Flynn said is as it should be. “Really, it is up to the individual selectman,” she said. “There is nothing that says you have to show up if you are elected. Really the individual’s responsibility is to carry out your job. You swear under oath that you will do it. But attendance is important.”
There is a level of camaraderie among the board so there is no question we do these types of things for one another. We may not all socialize together, but we definitely have a camaraderie.
Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn
Though unusual, there have been other times when selectmen have been forced to do without a fellow board member because of a medical condition.
In November 2003, the board was forced to cancel a meeting due to a lack of quorum after then-selectman Ahmed A. Mustafa suffered a mild heart attack and Kevin Murphy underwent gall bladder surgery in Boston. At the time, Selectman Carey Murphy was in Ireland on vacation.
A little more than a year earlier former selectman Edward L. Marks Jr. underwent major heart surgery, leading him to miss several meetings before announcing in January 2003 that he would not seek reelection, ending his nearly 50 years of public service in Falmouth.
And in the spring of 1991 the board had to cancel a meeting after two of its members fell ill — Raymond R. Labossiere was recovering from triple bypass surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, while Nathan S. Ellis III had checked himself into Falmouth Hospital with chest pains. A third selectman, Virginia Valiela, was out of town, leading to a lack of a quorum.
Prolonged Absences Can Be Difficult
During his four years on the board, Mr. Ellis missed a number of other meetings, sometimes for a month at a time, because of his job as an inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “It’s not so much the four or five weeks a year I’m gone, but when I come back, I have a helluva time catching up as well,” he told selectmen in February 1994, when he announced he would not seek reelection.
While Mr. Braga expressed similar reservations about being out too long, he understood that his condition could warrant substantial time off. “I’m trying to get back as soon as I can,” he said. “I’d love to be there Monday night, but we’ll see what the doctor says. I have a suspicion he will say no. They treat this very seriously based upon everything I heard in the hospital.”
If Mr. Braga’s absence is prolonged, Kevin Murphy assured that he will receive the full support of his board members and town staff, including Town Manager Julian M. Suso, who happened to visit Mr. Braga while in the hospital.
It is the type of compassion the board has shown to one another despite their differences. When Ms. Flynn underwent surgery earlier this year, her colleagues on the board visited her at Falmouth Hospital, and at JML Care Center on Ter Heun Drive during her recuperation. “It was great,” Ms. Flynn said. “David came more than once and he was so kind and so generous... There is a level of camaraderie among the board so there is no question we do these types of things for one another. We may not all socialize together, but we definitely have a camaraderie.”