'My life is on hold': Patient, doctors react as Calgary hospitals cancel elective surgeries

Elective surgeries in Calgary have been postponed to create ICU capacity in hospitals as COVID-19 cases rise — leaving patients waiting, and worried about the future.

Doctors redeployed as COVID-19 cases surge

In Calgary, elective surgeries are being cancelled and rescheduled as the health-care system is hit with a surge of COVID-19 patients. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Elective surgeries in Calgary have been postponed or cancelled to create ICU capacity in hospitals as COVID-19 cases rise — leaving patients waiting, and worried about the future. 

One of those patients is David MacLeod, who was supposed to have an aortic valve replacement this week. 

"My surgery is listed as urgent. I don't understand people talking about it being elective surgery. It's not elective surgery. I have to have this, or I cease, is the bottom line," MacLeod said. 

"In the meantime, my life is on hold." 

Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced it would be delaying and cancelling some surgeries in the province, redeploying staff to intensive care and critical care beds in the area. Urgent and emergent procedures, and prioritized cancer surgeries will continue.
David MacLeod was supposed to have heart surgery this week. (Supplied by David MacLeod)

Without the surgery, MacLeod says he can't live his life normally, do the activities he enjoys, and his whole family is on hold. 

"This surgery, they stop your heart for it. It's not cosmetic surgery, this is serious stuff. Obviously there's a toll on my kids who are worried about me, my wife is worried about me," he says. 

MacLeod hasn't been given information on when his surgery will be rescheduled. The longer he waits to have the procedure done, the higher the chances of him needing to have an invasive procedure, he says, which would make recovery much more difficult.   

Surgeries are sometimes cancelled to make room for more urgent ones, says Dr. Paul Fedak, a cardiac surgeon in Calgary. But not to the extent that it is happening now. He doesn't know when doctors will be able to get back to operating on those who had their surgeries bumped, and as delays continue he becomes increasingly concerned about patients who are waiting. 

Dr. Paul Fedak, a cardiac surgeon in Calgary says making phone calls to patients to tell them their surgeries have been delayed is “absolutely brutal.” (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Fedak says making phone calls to patients to tell them their surgeries have been delayed is "absolutely brutal." 

"It's tough on everybody, we hear from the families, we hear from the patients. You have to think about when you have open heart surgery, the amount of mental stamina it takes to even show up for the surgery ... you're putting your life at risk," Fedak says. 

"These resources are now being dedicated toward COVID care, and we're scrambling to provide the care that needs to be provided," says Dr. Dan O'Connell, a neck and throat surgeon in Edmonton. 

'Chaos is the best way to describe this,' doctor says 

Administrators are trying their best to allocate resources, O'Connell says, as health-care workers are stretched, and not able to handle much more. 

"Chaos is the best way to describe this COVID influx of patients ... you have these hundreds of patients in the hospital that are taking beds away from normal surgical allocations," he says. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener, Alberta at Noon


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