Surgeries resume with much longer waits, and doctors warn of fallout

Quebec is gearing up to tackle one of the most pressing problems coming out of its near-total shutdown: delayed surgeries and the people who need them.

“Going forward, we have to find a way to run things in parallel, where we're not creating a new problem while we're trying address a current problem,” says Dr. John Antoniou, a Montreal orthopaedic surgeon.

It’s hard to know, in hindsight, exactly how that could have been done amid the coronavirus crisis. 

But Antoniou knows his patients are paying a heavy price. The average wait for orthopaedic surgery in the area was already about 10 months. Now experts say that that could double.

People who need orthopaedic surgery are often debilitated by their problems while they wait, he said.

“People are in pain, suffering, taking narcotics because of it,” he said. “People are suffering great psychological distress, and of course, by not being mobile, you're no longer productive and can’t go back to work.” 

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann said on Monday that roughly 68,000 surgeries had been postponed across the province during the pandemic. She gave the green light for hospitals to resume them when they had the capacity to do, which was possible immediately in many regions outside Montreal.

In the city, though, with its hospitals busier in the pandemic, McCann said it would be a slower process.

François Kassab had already been waiting for hip reconstructive surgery for three months when the pandemic began.

It’s considered elective surgery, which means he has no real timeline to count on right now, he says. It could be “anywhere from six to 12 months.” 

Still, the pain in his hip makes it impossible for him to walk for more than 20 minutes at a time, and it has an enormous effect on the rest of his life.

“Your muscle mass, your energy, your sleep pattern becomes disturbed,” he said. Then begins “the mental health problems, because you’re not sleeping.”

Antoniou says surgeons across the country need to begin thinking about extending their work hours, taking weekend shifts and cancelling planned summer slowdowns. He says the surgery backlog will add up to an emerging pandemic within the pandemic.

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