Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Wednesday that he was “a pretty sick guy” when he first checked into Brigham and Women’s Hospital Oct. 26 after an Italian vacation. But he declared that he is on the mend from a viral infection and a compression fracture in his back, even while offering no timetable for his discharge, let alone a return to City Hall.
“I felt lousy, really lousy,” Menino said in a telephone interview from his hospital room, his first public words since he was admitted 13 days before. “I talked to the doctors over there [in Italy]. I said, ‘I better get home.’ I got home on Thursday night. Friday I came to the hospital, and a whole team of folks came to work on me.
“I was a pretty sick guy, but I’m coming back,” he said. “I lost all my energy. I was completely fatigued.”
A tropical storm has come and gone, October has turned into November, and a seismic election has unfolded. Through it all, the normally hyperactive mayor of Boston, a self-styled political strategist who takes no small amount of pride in leading the city through chaotic weather, has been closeted in a private room at the Brigham, guarded by a security detail.
Menino began the approximately 15-minute interview in a vigorous tone, but as time went on, he spoke in a somewhat more halting voice. His mind seemed sharp as the conversation ranged from the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (“I knew she had it going”) to Hurricane Sandy (“Right on top of it”) to the aides who are, in his words, “running a shuttle service between City Hall and Francis Street,” where the Brigham is located in Boston’s Longwood section.
He complained that with the elections over, “there’s nothing on TV.”
Menino made the call to the Globe as speculation about his health rippled through the corridors of power in Boston, with city workers, potential mayoral candidates, and downtown businessmen openly discussing his extended absence and pressing each other for particulars about his condition. Very few people have heard from the mayor, who is normally quick to pick up his phone and dial the numbers of friends, advocates, and confidants.
He has been hospitalized about a dozen times over his nearly two-decade tenure as mayor; Name a body part — elbows, knees, toes — and it’s been treated. But his health has been a particular focal point of discussion since his election to a fifth term in 2009, largely because of an obvious weight gain, a possible result of leg and foot injuries that have left him using a special boot and a schedule that has him often grabbing unhealthy food while on the run.
In Wednesday’s interview, Menino confirmed what his doctors have already publicly stated, that he suffered from what is believed to be a viral infection, which was compounded by a compression fracture he suffered last week while lying in bed.
He did, though, differ with previous reports on one front. He said he was already feeling under the weather when he and his wife, Angela, left on a long-planned Italian cruise to mark their 46th wedding anniversary, but he was gun shy about backing out.
“I knew I shouldn’t have went,” he said. “Angela planned this thing for three years. What am I going to say, ‘I’m not going because I don’t feel well?’ Great story: The mayor gets divorced.”
He said he felt increasingly sick while on the ship. When the cruise ended, while he and his wife were in Palermo, he developed a nagging cough, and his energy was sapped. He decided to cut his trip short by a couple of days, drive to Rome, and return to Boston.
“I’ve been here since with all these doctors poking and sticking you,” he said. “I’m a pincushion.”
He spends his days sitting in an armchair near his bed, hooked to an intravenous unit, probed constantly by nurses and doctors, and meeting with the occasional aides who arrive from City Hall with documents to sign or plans waiting for approval. He walks with the aid of a walker and receives physical therapy for his back at the hospital.
“I have pain in my back in the morning,” he said. “They give you pain pills to take. I sit up most of the day, because these hospital beds are the most uncomfortable in the world. “
Asked directly when he expects to be discharged, Menino replied: “No idea. I’m just sitting here with my legs up. I’m unshaven, five days. But there are people worse off than I am. I have good staff who work hard every day.”
He said he communicated with his public works officials constantly during last week’s storm, which left Boston largely unscathed. He said he then dispatched 26 human services workers to New York to help the city with its recovery.
He seemed particularly pleased with the Warren victory over Scott Brown. “Look at those returns in Boston,” he said. “Unbelievable, those numbers, better than Deval Patrick. Really impressive.”
As the conversation came to an end, he paid homage to the hospital and took pains to say that the city was running fine in his absence. “We’ve got dedicated city employees doing the job well,” he said.