Last week, Beth Racic waited around four hours for her surgery in Moose Jaw’s hospital, only to be turned away due to a lack of resources.
“At this point (the nurse) had done the preliminary screening, I had the IV in and I was ready to go,” Racic said.
In June, Racic, 25, found out she had cervical cancer after receiving a letter in the mail that laid out her treatment plan.
It was the first she had heard anything since going for a routine PAP earlier in the year.
“With all the (COVID-19) restrictions, what they were trying to do was phone call appointments and somehow my case just got lost in the shuffle and it kind of slipped through the cracks,” Racic said.
Her case continues to slip through the cracks.
Racic was scheduled for surgery to remove the cancer in September. It was postponed twice before she got into an OR. Unfortunately, she says the doctors couldn’t get it all.
That meant scheduling a second surgery, and then rescheduling when that one was postponed, too.
Last week’s postponement marks the fourth one for Racic in the last three months.
“I’ve been kind of conditioning myself to be prepared for this because there has been a number of times it’s been postponed already,” she said.
“I was told by the nurse the same thing I’ve been told the last five, six months: just sit tight, wait, someone will call.”
Racic says the uncertainty that comes with waiting is one of the hardest parts of the process.
What’s next? What do future treatment plans look like? Will her surgery be postponed again?
“There are a lot of unknowns,” she said.
“I just have to be patient and gracious with the system.”
Part of maneuvering through the system means demanding attention from medical staff, Racic has learned, so she doesn’t slip through the cracks again.
Racic says she struggles to advocate for herself on the best of days, but it’s even harder when she’s alone talking to doctors.
“Sitting there alone is pretty anxious. It’s a little frightening,” Racic said.
“Obviously it would be nice to be comforted by a family member, but that’s just not an option right now.”
However, she says she’s getting better at standing up for herself and asking questions.
“(A friend told me) ‘it’s not just you. You have a child, you’re a mother and you want to see that child grow up, so it’s time for you to advocate not only for yourself but for you to be a part of your child’s life,’” Racic said.
As much of a mental toll as postponed surgeries can take on patients like Racic, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) president says it isn’t easy for her members to deliver the news, either.
“It’s one of the worst things that registered nurses have to do and it does cause tremendous upset and distress,” Tracy Zambory said.
“The last thing anyone wants to see, registered nurses or anyone, is someone’s cancer treatment be delayed.”
Racic understands health care staff are “trying their best to navigate through this season” and she doesn’t fault the nurses for doing their jobs.
She says she’s choosing to let go of any frustration.
“I’ve come to realize that that’s not going to change anything. Whether it’s in the health care system or not, that’s not going to change anything,” Racic said.
“I think we just have a responsibility to step back and remember we are all in this together and we do just need to be more kind and love on each other more.”
‘Human health resource crisis’
Racic isn’t the only one left waiting for an important surgery.
Long wait times in the health care system were a problem pre-pandemic, according to Zambory.
“We had a human health resource situation prior to COVID,” Zambory said.
Critical care units had vacant positions that continually went unfilled, she said. The pandemic has now turned general understaffing into a “human health resource crisis.”
Intensive care units are operating at 130 per cent capacity, emergency rooms are full to overflowing and specialized staff are being pulled to other areas to meet demands, according to the SUN president.
She calls it the perfect storm, “where unfortunate things happen and very important treatments or surgeries get cancelled,” Zambory said.
“People need to be able to know that they can access the system whether you’ve got cancer and you require some sort of treatment or you have that chronic condition.”
Zambory says better communication and planning between the provincial government and frontline healthcare workers could have reduced the impact COVID-19 had on the medical system and could help moving forward.
“We can have those conversations, we just have to be invited to the table to have them,” she said.
Last week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) announced the next phase of its COVID-19 surge plan.
It’s redeploying 600 staff to support the COVID-19 response. In turn, the SHA is initiating a service slowdown which will reduce healthcare services including elective surgeries, diagnostics and home care.