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‘We’re living in daily pain’: Frustration as COVID-19 drives B.C. to cancel surgeries again

Lauren Swan finally got an answer to what was responsible for three years of mounting pain in her back and legs last spring.

The Burnaby resident has two lumbar discs degrading and in need of replacement, a condition that’s left her unable to work and taking half a dozen of pain killers just to be able to function.

“It’s draining. That’s pretty much the best way to describe it,” she told Global News.

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“I’m sure there’s a lot of other British Columbians going through the same thing where we’re living in daily pain. It’s not really our choice to get surgery, but it’s necessary.”

Swan said she’s already had that necessary surgery postponed three times — and with the province announcing it would postpone all non-urgent scheduled surgeries starting Jan. 4, she believes she wouldn’t see the inside of an operating room until June 2022 at the earliest.

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COVID-19: Health Minister Adrian Dix says non-urgent scheduled surgeries will be postponed early next year


COVID-19: Health Minister Adrian Dix says non-urgent scheduled surgeries will be postponed early next year

Instead, she’s opted to fly to France to have the surgery done in February, at an estimated cost of $30,000.

“‘Elective’ surgery isn’t cosmetic, it’s sometimes completely life-changing for people,” she said.

“For me, while I wait for surgery I’m not able to work, I’m barely leaving my house. My entire life is on hold at the age of 26. I wasn’t even a year into starting my career, and I work in health care.”

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Swan is one of thousands of British Columbians facing potential delays as the province moved this week to open hospital space amid never-before-seen COVID-19 case numbers driven by the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

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The province recorded more than 2,000 new cases Thursday, nearly tripling in a week, shattering records and surpassing the province’s own “worst case” scenario.


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Covid-19: New restrictions now in effect in British Columbia


Covid-19: New restrictions now in effect in British Columbia

Health Minister Adrian Dix told Global News the decision to cancel those surgeries wasn’t taken lightly.

“Because hospitalizations tend to (lag) increases in cases by a couple of weeks, we have to take our actions now,” he said.

“The Omicron variant of concern is simply dramatically more transmissive than the Delta variant of concern and the COVID-19 we’ve had over the last 22 months … we’ve got to prepare for that and take action now. We can’t act like things haven’t changed.”

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Matthew Chow, president of Doctors of B.C., acknowledged the decision would be tough on both patients and doctors.

But he said the decision was a necessary precaution, should Omicron hospitalization numbers begin to match the trajectory of new case numbers.

“This is such a hard call, it’s hard on families and patients, and yes, hard on surgical teams as well who want to do the right thing, who want to help patients, who want to relieve suffering,” he said.


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COVID-19 restrictions: For small businesses, help can’t come soon enough


COVID-19 restrictions: For small businesses, help can’t come soon enough

“But I think we all realize, seeing the experience from other jurisdictions and even seeing it play out now in real time in British Columbia is that Omicron is very, very serious, that we anticipate a large number of patients, and that we need to have the hospital capacity available if it comes to pass that people are needing emergency life-saving care.”

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Despite the circumstances, word of yet another delay has left many B.C. residents in need of surgeries feeling hopeless.

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Elena Lawson, a Metchosin mother of two, was scheduled to have a hysterotomy in May due to a heightened risk of cancer from a condition called Lynch syndrome.

“Four days prior it was cancelled,” she said.

“And that was after I had already done my pre-op with my doctor, I had the intake nurse call me and take all my information, I had my flights and hotels booked, I had childcare provided for my kids … as well as prepping myself mentally and my family mentally for me to be away for three days and then having to get someone from Vancouver Island pick me up and bring me home.”


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UBC researchers provide first molecular-level analysis of Omicron spikes


UBC researchers provide first molecular-level analysis of Omicron spikes

After being advised her surgery would be at high risk of cancellation again, she opted not to rebook and has been getting regular scans to look for signs of cancer instead.

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She told Global News she’s hoping the pandemic will wind down enough soon that she can schedule her surgery without the fear and anxiety it will be cancelled at the last minute again.

“I’m not a hypochondriac, but in the end you end up feeling that way … are they going to find something? There is stress with it. To be honest I’ve tried not to think about it and just live my life and enjoy my kids and my family and carry on,” she said.

“We’re just going to do the tests that are needed and wait, and once the pandemic is over hopefully I’ll book it again and get it done … but there’s a lot of people out there who can’t wait.”

For Swan, waiting wasn’t an option, leading her to look overseas for relief from her chronic pain.

She’s recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of the travel and surgery, and is hoping to be back on her feet within a few months.

With a surgery booked, Swan said she felt “an instant sense of calm.”

“I get to go back to work, I get to see friends, I get to see family, I get to live a life and return to a life that doesn’t have all of these barriers anymore,” she said.

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