After waiting for more than two years for parathyroid surgery, kidney disease patient Terry Rebalkin has decided it’s time to speak out.
“They told us to wear our mask, get our vaccinations do everything and all of a sudden they just open everything up and so there’s no restrictions or anything so now people are getting more sick,” the Saskatoon resident said at the legislative building Tuesday.
“So there’s more and more beds being taken up by people who have had COVID, and I understand they’re sick but what about the rest of us?”
While she now has a surgery date set for next month, Rebalkin says she believes that if COVID-19 restrictions had remained in place for longer, the wait could have been shortened.
“I just want my surgery. And the only way I’m going to get it is to fight for it and nobody should have to do that,” Rebalkin, who travels with the assistance of a walker, told reporters.
“It doesn’t give you a good outlook on life and I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. I just want my life back.”
Rebalkin was diagnosed with kidney disease over 10 years ago, but until 2019 was able to live without the need for dialysis or a transplant. She learned in 2019 that she would need to undergo parathyroid surgery before she could get on the list to receive a transplant.
But she says she’s been told by her doctors since then that Saskatoon hospitals haven’t had the capacity to accommodate the multi-day procedure.
And while her parathyroid surgery date is now set, she says she’s been told there’s a chance the surgery could be cancelled or delayed, and she worries that every extra passing day could further prolong or worsen damage already done to her quality of life.
“I have to have good health to get a kidney and I had good health until the parathyroid started acting up. I wasn’t going to have this walker a year ago. This is how bad the parathyroid has been,” said Rebalkin.
“I have to have a cane, I have to have care. We had to move from my brand new home, with stairs, to a place that’s all on the main floor. I need to be in good health ”
Rebalkin is only the latest guest of the Saskatchewan NDP to tell a tale of delayed treatment in the legislature.
In recent months, they’ve brought several others to Regina to tell their own stories about how the pandemic has affected their ability to access health care.
“We are seeing an untold number of surgical delays right now,” health critic Vicki Mowat said Tuesday.
“It’s all tied to overcrowding in our hospitals and this government not taking the pandemic seriously and not working faster to address these challenges.”
In response, Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman reaffirmed his government’s commitments to expand surgical capacity and reduce wait times to an average of three months.
Merriman also responded to the criticism from Rebalkin and the opposition, though, saying that Saskatchewan isn’t the only province that has experienced pandemic-related pressure on its health-care system.
“I think we’re seeing something similar to the rest of Canada, U.S., North America and Europe,” Merriman said.
“We’re all struggling to get our surgical capacity up and getting our health-care system back to where it was before the pandemic, and better so that if there are future health challenges that we’re ready for them.”
Merriman said that the the pace of surgery delivery in Saskatoon hospitals has returned to its pre-pandemic level and that about 90 per cent of scheduled surgeries are now being completed in Regina.
There are still around 35,000 people awaiting surgery in Saskatchewan, according to Merriman.
He added that expanding capacity is contingent on finding workers to staff the health-care system, but that an update to plans to add 11 ICU beds to provincial hospitals is coming in the next number of days.
“Hopefully we can have an announcement on increased ICU capacity later this week or early next week. We’re moving on that,” Merriman said.
“It comes down to people. We want to find that balance where we’re maximizing our health-care system capacity but not burning out our people.”