‘I feel forgotten’: Patients in Ontario await surgeries postponed due to COVID-19

By Noushin Ziafati

JANUARY, JANUARY 26.- The wait has become unbearable for Shelley Brownlee and her partner, Jonathan Clow. Brownlee, who was diagnosed with a form of cancer in her abdomen, has been waiting months to have surgery at a Toronto hospital. Her doctor said she hoped to continue with him next month, but the Ontario government’s pause on all non-urgent surgeries and procedures amid the skyrocketing of COVID-19 cases means she will likely have to put up with a little more.

“This is an excruciating wait, not having an endpoint, so we know for sure that you will be able to have surgery, and knowing that as time goes on, the options available to the surgeon when performing surgery are reduced. Clow said. , who detailed Brownlee’s situation as she was not ready for an interview.

“She’s only 40 years old and she has kids and it’s unbearable.”

Adding to the couple’s frustration is the fact that the province is allowing businesses closed earlier this month to reopen with capacity limits on Monday, while keeping the pause on non-urgent surgeries.

“It’s irritating, because to me the implication is that business and economics are more important than people’s lives,” Clow said.

Brownlee started experiencing abdominal pain last January and decided to get a checkup. After several tests, a doctor told her that she did not have cancer but that she needed to have an ovarian cyst removed, Clow said. When she had that procedure last June, Clow said the medical team realized “there really was cancer and it had spread all over her abdomen.”

That cancer can’t be treated with chemotherapy and requires surgery to “remove everything you don’t need in your abdomen,” Clow said.

“It probably involves a complete hysterectomy, it could involve parts of her large intestine. And, unfortunately, if it’s growing in your small intestine, there’s not much they can remove,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more chance there is that this…seeds in the small intestine, which would worsen his prognosis.”

The president of the Ontario Medical Association said the pandemic has created a backlog of nearly 20 million health care services, based on provincial data from March 2020 to September 2021.

Dr. Adam Kassam said those services could include hip or knee replacements, cataract surgeries, colonoscopies, mammograms to screen for certain types of cancer, as well as primary, tertiary and mental health services.

“It runs the gamut of our healthcare system and has unfortunately been exacerbated as a result of the most recent wave of Omicron and Directive 2 that the healthcare system is currently under,” Kassam said.

Toronto resident Akbar Jassani injured his knee in September while playing soccer, a sport he says provided a way to relieve stress during the pandemic, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.

Jassani was scheduled to have knee surgery on January 17, but it was postponed indefinitely. Now, with no surgery date in sight, he said mental fatigue has taken over.

“What’s frustrating is that (there are) days when I can’t walk because there’s so much pain,” she said.

Jassani acknowledged that small businesses are suffering, but questioned the reasoning behind reopening businesses while COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU counts remain high.

Last week, during a news conference on Ontario’s reopening plan, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government made a “difficult decision” earlier this month to halt non-urgent surgeries to preserve capacity. of intensive care and human resources in hospitals. The province placed a similar pause on non-urgent surgeries early in the pandemic.

“If people have a life-threatening condition, of course they will still get the care they need, but we know a lot of people are upset and frustrated that their surgeries have been delayed yet again,” Elliott said.

“We don’t expect the peak of ICU admissions to happen until mid-February… so as soon as we can see that the numbers are coming down both in terms of hospital admissions and in terms of intensive care admissions, then we can get back on track.” with those surgeries and procedures.”

Emma Saunders, 17, has been waiting months for surgery on her left hand, which she injured while horseback riding.

As time went on, Saunders said a joint in his hand “closed on its own” and he was told he needed more “invasive” surgery to repair his hand. He’s now waiting for a vascularized joint transfer from his foot to his hand, but she said she’s been rescheduled twice in the last two months.

“It’s frustrating to hear the government announce that concert halls and restaurants can open while we’re still waiting,” he said. “I feel forgotten by the government listening to those announcements.”

The backlog of health care services has grown “pretty substantially” during the pandemic, but backlogs and waiting lists have been a problem for decades, Kassam said. He called it the result of the “chronic underfunding” of the health system over many years under various governments.

The Ontario Medical Association has developed a set of recommendations for the province to help eliminate the backlog.

They include performing certain surgeries and procedures at specialized community-based clinics to help ease the burden on hospitals, providing “adequate” health care funding from all levels of government, and ensuring sufficient health care staff resources to meet the needs of Ontario.

In the meantime, Kassam said doctors have a clear message for patients.

“Contact your family doctor, contact your primary care provider, contact the doctors you’ve built relationships with to make sure you’re able to get the care you need.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 26, 2022 / This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.