New Brunswick

Fredericton man in severe pain says province should continue surgeries to avoid logjam

As he sits at home in "unbelievable" pain, Andre Klinker wonders why his hip-replacement surgery was twice cancelled because of the pandemic. 

Blaine Higgs said government is focused on getting back into 'the health-care business over and above COVID'

Andre Klinker's hand compared to his wife's. (Submitted by Andre Klinker)

As he sits at home in "unbelievable" pain, Andre Klinker wonders why his hip-replacement surgery was twice cancelled because of the pandemic. 

After all, only 13 people have been hospitalized for COVID-19, said the 57-year-old Fredericton man who suffers from gigantism, the same condition that afflicted pro wrestler André the Giant. 

Instead of surgery, he was offered morphine for the pain. 

"We are going through a crisis," said Klinker. "I get it, [but] you just can't stop treating people for ailments. There has to be another way than this drugging them to shut them up."

He said he's talked to several health-care professionals, and they don't understand why all non-life-threatening surgeries had to be cancelled. 

"At least keep some flow through the hospital, so that when we do come out of this, they're not inundated," said Klinker.

As it is, he's predicting a logjam.

"They're going to be inundated. And who do they take first?" he wonders. 

It's very much a focus for us to get back into the health-care business over and above COVID.- Blaine Higgs, premier

On Monday, Premier Blaine Higgs said the government is already talking about resuming non-life-threatening surgeries.

He said recovering from COVID-19 is not just about economics. 

"It's about restoring our health-care system back to its original self," Higgs said at his daily news briefing, and perhaps to an even better self, based on what was learned during the pandemic. 

"But it's very much a focus for us to get back into the health-care business over and above COVID. "

He makes no apologies for cancelling surgeries over the last few weeks. He said the province needed to be prepared for a potential flood of cases. Based on what was happening in other countries, he said New Brunswick officials didn't want to wait until it was too late. 

The province's chief medical officer of health agreed. 

"We definitely wanted to be prepared for the worst-case scenario as we'd seen in other jurisdictions, when they quickly became overwhelmed," said Dr. Jennifer Russell. 

She said it was important to be proactive and make "those hard decisions" before it was too late. 

"Those were not easy decisions to make and we worked very closely with the regional health authorities" to continue the "bare minimum" number of surgeries, while still being able to adequately respond if there were a sudden increase in numbers. 

Andre Klinker suffers from acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. (Submitted by Andre Klinker)

Russell said the province's goal is to get "things up and running as soon as we can." 

She said it's important to keep in mind that New Brunswick may see "a cyclical event … because we can't change what's happening outside of our borders."

"Our neighbours are still struggling with their numbers and probably will continue to struggle for a while. So as long as we are bordering on neighbouring jurisdictions that have case counts that are increasing, we have to stay vigilant, and we have to be prepared for releasing measures and then imposing them again on very short notice.

"So we are going to be doing a dance basically, where we lift measures and we put them back in place."

Higgs said the province is working with the medical societies to understand the nature of the backlog. 

"I think the last thing that we want to do is just have the hospitals fill back up and people wait for surgery."

He said the province hopes to incorporate improvements that were discovered during the pandemic to help move patients through the system. 

Klinker wonders how health-care officials will decide who gets to go first. 

"I'm not the only one," he said. "I am heartbroken that my next door neighbour, who is a very good man, can't get his cancer [surgery] done."

The pituitary gland and the hypothalamus are located within the brain and control hormone production. (Mayo Clinic)

He said his neighbour has prostate cancer and his surgery has been cancelled.

Klinker believes one hospital should have remained open for elective surgeries.

"Now they have a Canadian-made test … that takes 15 minutes to do," he said. "They could put a tent outside in the parking lot of any hospital."

If you test positive, you go into one stream, and if you're negative, you go into another stream.

"At least you get some of the people through, and you give people who are in my position — and people with cancers who are not getting operated on and other procedures — hope. Right now there is no hope given to the end of the suffering."

Acromegaly

According to the Mayo Clinic, Klinker's condition, acromegaly, "is a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. When this happens, your bones increase in size, including those of your hands, feet and face."

At six feet five inches tall, Klinker was pretty sure he was done growing. Then, in his late 20s, he started getting growing pains again. Every joint ached, his hands and feet got bigger, and he grew another inch. Little did he know that his organs, including his heart, were also growing. 

His family doctor was pretty quick to recognize the signs of acromegaly, and further testing revealed that it was caused by a pituitary tumour. Eventually, he would undergo surgery to remove the tumour. Although it stopped further growth, the damage had already been done. 

He was left with an enlarged heart, kidneys and liver. And because everything grew except cartilage, all of his joints ache. 

He said his right shoulder is "down to bone on bone."

"I have arthritis in my jaw, my fingers, and my elbows, shoulders, wrists and ankles. It hurts everywhere."

He's been told he needs surgery on both knees, hips and shoulders. He's already had his right knee replaced and was scheduled to have his left hip replaced in February. 

Put your hand down on a table and take a paddle and smash your hand. That's the pain. And it's constant.- Andre Klinker

He spent three hours in hospital being prepped for surgery — and had even gone off his blood thinners for five days to prepare — before being sent home. He was told his surgery was cancelled because of COVID-19. 

He was then rescheduled for April 22, but that has also been cancelled. 

Klinker said he was put on morphine, but that started to interfere with other medications he takes, so he had to stop. He said he's left "gobbling up" Naproxen, Tylenol 3, and Tylenol for arthritis. 

Moving is painful, but he's been told he needs to keep moving or risk becoming immobile.

He tries to walk every day, but after about 300 to 400 metres, he has to turn around. 

He knows people will have a hard time trying to imagine the pain he endures. He suggested, "Put your hand down on a table and take a paddle and smash your hand. That's the pain. And it's constant."

Klinker was disappointed that Higgs and Russell didn't have a better plan to avoid the logjam of surgeries that will have to be rescheduled. 

"It gives no time line and no hope," he said after Monday's briefing. 

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