Island woman’s preventative cancer surgery cancelled due to surge in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients

Island woman's preventative cancer surgery cancelled due to surge in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients
WatchNon-urgent surgeries across B.C. are once again being cancelled, as a surge of COVID-19 patients hit our hospitals. Kori Sidaway reports.
File photo.

A Vancouver Island mother of three expected to be in an intensive care bed Thursday evening recovering from desperately needed surgery. Instead, she’s at home.

“I just cried. I just cried. I just sat there with my husband and I just cried. It’s not easy to prepare yourself for surgery and hours before, having the plug pulled on you,” said Sarah, whose real identity CHEK News has agreed to protect because she’s worried that speaking out may cost her job at Island Health.

Sarah has a rare genetic mutation that will likely cause her to develop cancer. Her uncle and mother have already both died young from it.

She was scheduled Thursday for joint hysterectomy and appendix removal, but because of a growing number of COVID-19 patients in hospital, the procedure was cancelled.

“This isn’t the first time my surgery has been cancelled because of rising COVID numbers,” said Sarah.

READ MORE: Close to collapse? Nanaimo doctor says COVID-19 ICU almost at capacity

It’s the second time. Her first surgery was cancelled back in April when hospital numbers also spiked.

So for a second time, she’s one of the hundreds across the province whose surgeries have been postponed because of COVID. Health officials say unvaccinated and partly vaccinated people are to blame.

“The arrival of this fourth wave which required us to postpone surgeries and put safety protocols in place so staff are freed up to care for COVID-19 patients,” said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix. “But let’s be clear, we’d rather be doing those surgeries.”

According to the province, from Sept. 5-18, a total of 511 surgeries in B.C. were postponed — 34 of which were postponed in Island Health.

This week, Sarah’s surgery was deemed elective, but she says it’s far from a choice.

“It is frankly not fair that people who are following the guidelines, doing what they can to protect themselves and others, are now being sacrificed, and now having our own health care needs not being met because staff and resources are being reallocated to folks who are choosing to not vaccinate themselves,” she said.

Dr. David Forrest is an infectious disease specialist on the frontlines of Nanaimo General Hospital’s ICU dealing with COVID-19 patients. He says what he’s hearing from sick patients makes him think the problem is more nuanced than a mere choice.

“One thing to remember is a lot of the people that I’ve talked to who are not vaccinated, have received a lot of bad misinformation about the vaccine. They’re making bad decisions, not necessarily informed decisions,” said Forrest.

“There are many people that shockingly, despite 18 months of this pandemic, that have received information that this is not really a serious disease. Some of them express frank surprise that they could actually die from it.”

Forrest describes the moment many realize the truth as they’re intubated in his ICU.

“They’re terrified. They’re terrified, and they recognize often they made a very bad decision, and they recognize that that decision may end their life,” said Dr. Forrest. “It’s very sad. It’s very sad.”

It’s cold comfort for Sarah who continues her wait for surgery, hoping the cancer isn’t creeping in.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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