http://www.torontosun.com/News/OtherNew ... 6-sun.html
August 26, 2007
Did Don Caster die after a long, valiant battle with congestive heart failure? Or was he theoretically killed by the Ontario health system?
By MARK BONOKOSKI
Driving past Don Caster's ramshackle house in Bond Head, even if only by happenstance, one expected to see the old man sitting on the porch in his rickety wheelchair, shirtless in the heat of another August morning.
That image will last in my mind forever, for it, sadly, was the last image seen through the rear-view mirror as I pulled out of Don Caster's driveway almost two years ago today -- later writing in this column that, if he were a horse, he'd be mercifully shot and put out of his misery.
That, however, is no longer necessary.
Don Caster is dead.
His house, on this day, is empty, and waiting for its new owners. No Trespassing signs are posted on the porch where he once sat. A padlock is on the front door. Torn plastic sheeting attempts to cover a broken second-storey window.
His obit in the local Bradford Times is two months old.
It says that Donald Russell Caster -- "Don of Bond Head," it reads -- died "peacefully after a long, valiant and courageous battle with congestive heart failure."
What it doesn't say, however, and doesn't say because of misguided kindness perhaps, was that Don Caster was theoretically killed by the Ontario health system who misdiagnosed him years ago and then sloughed him off -- not giving and didn't give a good goddam whether he lived or whether he died, and wishing only that he disappear.
And now he has.
For all intents and purposes, Don Caster had been forced into house arrest by a health system he believed -- and I believe -- was so apathetic that it could care less if he died an inhumane form of captivity.
It was in November 2002 that the world Don Caster used to know disappeared, beginning with a car accident in which he was rear-ended, and continuing with doctors who twice misdiagnosed his injuries.
Not until he was hospitalized with pneumonia many months later did they finally realize that it was not a soft-tissue injury after all that Don Caster had suffered, but a severe and painful tear to the rotator-cuff muscle of his left arm that would require immediate surgery.
That surgery, however, never happened.
And, because it never happened, and because he was down to one arm, his inability to use his canes meant his old hip transplants quickly gave up on him, thereby confining him to a wheelchair where he put on weight that would become chronically irreversible.
"Maybe I should change my name to Camp or Clarkson," he told me the last time we talked, remembering years ago when he was told he was too old for a heart transplant, only to discover shortly after that Dalton Camp, political columnist and long-time Tory, had received a heart transplant at the age of 72.
And then, of course, there was former Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson who had just had a pacemaker implanted only one day after a routine checkup detected a coronary abnormality.
Dan Caster, of course, never got his heart transplant.
He got a pig valve instead.
There was no question Don Caster's injury from that car accident was major, even to a layman. When he was first found almost four years ago, sitting on his porch, he could not lift the weight of a phone with his left hand. His left arm, its muscles atrophying from lack of movement, was virtually useless.
And the health system, without question, left him that way -- not to get better but to get worse.
There is also no question that Don Caster was a difficult man. He was quick to anger yet just as quick to get sentimentally soppy. He was a proud man, but driven to bitterness through the frustration of the circumstances he faced and the roadblocks he encountered.
"I feel useless," he told me. "Do you know what it is like for a man to feel useless? It plays heavily on you, is what it does."
Once upon a time, Don Caster held five different licences. He was a gas fitter, a welder, a body and fender repair specialist, an auto mechanic and an electrician.
"Now," he says, "I can't even change a lightbulb."
Some 30-plus years ago, back in his Toronto days, he ran the O'Keefe Laundry at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, and delivered fresh vegetables and eggs door to door in the Parkdale area -- doing what he had to do to make his way.
In the end, his world was reduced to living on $13,000 a year, and in a kitchen-cum-bedroom on the first floor of his two-storey house.
Don Caster's health had deteriorated so badly during this long, long wait that his family doctor said surgeons would now be concerned about him dying during the operation.
"Doctors nowadays don't care about their patients," he said. "They care about their reputations.
"They'd rather see an old man like me sit for the rest of his life in a wheelchair than take the risk of having a black mark on their record.
"Any operation has the potential of killing you," he said.
"If mine kills me, that's fine with me. I just want the chance to be on crutches again."
But that, too, never happened.
During the provincial election of 2003, following the second column on Don Caster's plight, politicians looking for some positive ink in Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford vowed to rectify all wrongs against him if elected.
The election came and went, and nothing.
One of Don Caster's brothers, Bob, said he attempted to get him into hospice care last winter -- "Just for the winter, nothing more," he said -- but he pulled out at the 11th hour, deciding, instead, to tough it out and rely on weekly visits from personal care workers to tend to his needs, and feed the wood stove that kept him warm.
Back in June, feeling pains in his chest, he fell out of his wheelchair reaching for the phone to call 911, but managed, nonetheless, to make a connection -- but not telling any of his family of what happened.
He died four days later at Stevenson Memorial Hospital in nearby Alliston -- supposedly "peacefully after a long, valiant and courageous battle with congestive heart failure."
He was 72.