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A cautionary tale about signing on the dotted line
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Steve Catalano wants to go home.

But he can’t.

He’s a prisoner of The System.

Catalano has spent the last month at Manteca Care and Rehabilitation Center.

How he got there is a cautionary tale for anyone who values their independence and is a firm believer that the best way to heal isn’t necessary the way The System dictates.

His imprisonment started with a thud.

Catalano had collapsed on his bathroom floor and ended up spending 3.5 days there before a concerned neighbor rang his front door bell worried about his welfare. Manteca emergency services took Catalano to the hospital where he stayed for three days. On his release Catalano said they detected a bed sore that was infected.

At one point he was asked to sign some papers. He said all he was told they were so they could take care of him. Catalano said it wasn’t explained to him that he was essentially giving up any say in his own health decisions.

“I just thought they were going to help me,” Catalano noted adding he was still a bit out of it at the time he signed the documents.

Once the bell was rung with his John Hancock, Catalano found out it was no longer his call as to when he could go home.

There are no court-required Miranda-style rights boiled down to a lean yet meaty phrase for patients to be told. Had he been warned, “You have the right to treatment but once you sign these papers you no longer have control of your destiny as we will make all decisions for you including when you can leave,” Catalano said he wouldn’t have signed.

Not everyone wants The System to care for them cradle to grave.

Catalano is an independent cuss. He believes in the Lord. And he believes in his ability to take care of himself.

It’s the attitude of a man who jumped out of planes armed with infantry gear and a machine gun while serving his country. Catalano celebrated his 18th birthday going through the reception center at Fort Ord.

Catalano has multiple sclerosis. He’s had it for years. He’s been on his own for a good part of five years since his wife’s passing.

In his own words while he can’t walk, he can “stumble from wall to wall” to do tasks. He’s also got a power chair that gets him around town to go shopping for groceries or to retrieve medications at the drug store.

For years, Catalano was a familiar feature taking his dog Woody for walks along the Tidewater Bikeway. Woody has since passed away and has been replaced by Smokey, a cat that Catalano said is “almost like a dog.” 

Catalano is an articulate man who doesn’t mince his words.

He’s made it clear that he can care for himself. And while he’s grateful for neighbors that are taking care of his cat and picking up his mail, he has a life to get back to.  

He’s tried to enlist help to get out of The System. Legal aid says that patient rights aren’t their forte. They referred him to a patient advocacy service but apparently they are overwhelmed with others like him as he hasn’t been able to get through to them.

Catalano believes there is something wrong when a patient can’t control their own destiny. It wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when he signed up earlier this month or 52 years ago when he joined the Army to protect the freedom and rights that we all cherish and assume we can access essentially when it comes to self-determination.

He’s found out that The System is in control, not individuals when it comes to the most personal decision you can make — your heath and well being.

Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and those patriots of long ago would probably wonder if the nation they gave birth to has been reincarnated in the image of King George and his merry band of bureaucrats that ruled the realm and decreed that they were the replacement for a higher authority.

Catalano believes when his time comes, it comes. It’s as simple as that. It’s not that he’s near death. He just doesn’t believe The System should make all of his medical decisions without him having a say. He has discovered you can literally sign your life — or at least control of it for extended periods — away.

Catalano can be gruff at times but he’s not an unreasonable man. He came to Manteca in January 1999 from his beloved San Francisco where his roots go back two generations on each side. 

He fled for the same reason that most honest, hardworking blue collar San Franciscans have — they were being squeezed out by the Yuppie and the high tech minions. Catalano and his wife Bernadette could barely survive any longer as rents kept going up. They secured a three bedroom house in Manteca for less than they paid rent on a one bedroom flat in The City.

At first, Catalano didn’t take too well to Manteca. But it grew on him and he’s happy to call Manteca home.

Catalano came to Manteca to live.

That means living his life on his own terms.

It is something he has been able to do despite MS until he signed away control of his life during a time in which he was in pain and not 100 percent sure of what was being asked.

Catalano just wants to go home where he can take care of himself.

What’s wrong with that?

The System won’t say.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.