Regina resident weighs getting surgery in U.S. as Sask. hospitals grapple with COVID-19 surge

A Regina resident says he is considering paying for surgery in the United States as Saskatchewan's hospitals remain full with COVID-19 patients, resulting in his surgery to get delayed to December.

Peter Gebert says cabinet minister recommended he get the surgery in the States

Peter Gebert, 66, is awaiting surgery on his esophagus, which needs to get widened every two years. (Submitted by Peter Gebert )

A Regina resident who has been on a priority list for esophageal surgery since last fall is now considering accessing health care outside Canada, as his surgery date continues to get pushed back due to a constant surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Peter Gebert said he came to the decision following a recent discussion with a Saskatchewan government cabinet minister. 

"They told me, 'Peter, the best thing you can do is try to get surgery in the States.'"

Gebert, who is a Canadian-American citizen, declined to comment on who the cabinet minister was, as he is friendly with the individual and promised he would keep them out of the interview. 

However, that conversation — which occurred via text message — has Gebert feeling hopeless. 

"I have no faith in the ability of this government to uphold the very basics of what the Canadian health-care system is supposed to be all about," Gebert said. 

The Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment. 

Hospitalizations hit an all-time high

A surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations has put significant pressure on the health-care system. 

Saskatchewan has seen more hospitalizations in the first three months of 2021 than it saw in all of 2020, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority said during a Tuesday briefing on COVID-19. 

This means people like Gebert, who are waiting for a planned surgery, will have to wait longer. 

Gebert has a hiatal hernia, and an esophagus that needs to get widened every second year. 

As his surgery gets pushed back month after month, he continues to live in discomfort that gets worse every day.

Saskatchewan continues to have the highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations among the provinces. This is putting pressure on the health-care system resulting in delayed surgeries for many. (CBC)

At 66, Gebert said he's at the point where most days he cannot get out of bed, and eating has become difficult. 

He said he's experienced several serious incidents where food gets stuck in his throat and he has a coughing fit because he can't breathe.

If he doesn't get the surgery, Gebert fears he could die. 

"I never thought that was a possibility, but over the past few weeks, I think it is."

In Saskatchewan, some triaging of ICU patients is already occurring — meaning doctors are making decisions on who can get care now and who cannot. (Cory Herperger/CBC)

He hasn't seen his five kids and two grandchildren in over a year, as they all live in the United States. He worries he will become another statistic before he gets the chance to see them again.

This week, Gebert will discuss options with his surgeon about getting the help he needs in the United States. 

"Yeah, that's going to cost a lot of money, but that's life. I want life. I've got another good gig in me," he said. 

Gebert said he feels empathy for others who await surgery, but may not be able to afford to go elsewhere.

"On a daily basis, [the] numbers of COVID deaths are published. Perhaps right next to that number should be the number of non-COVID deaths that occur because we don't have access to basic health care," Gebert said.

Triaging patients 

In Saskatchewan, some triaging of ICU patients is already occurring — meaning doctors are making decisions on who can get care now and who cannot. 

That concerns Gebert.

"A right to life is not guaranteed here anymore," he said, adding the health-care system needs to be reformed. 

As Gebert manages his discomfort from the confines of his bed, he says he is tired of watching Saskatchewan politicians offer their commiseration.

"I'm tired of hearing 'our condolences go out to so-and-so and for their family.' It doesn't cut it. They're cowards," he said.

"They're all cowards."