'I feel forgotten': Patients in Ontario wait for surgeries postponed due to COVID-19
The waiting has become excruciating for Shelley Brownlee and her partner, Jonathan Clow.
Brownlee, who's been diagnosed with a form of cancer in her abdomen, has been waiting months to undergo surgery at a hospital in Toronto. Her doctor said he had hoped to proceed with it next month but the Ontario government's pause on all non-urgent surgeries and procedures amid soaring COVID-19 cases means she'll likely have to hang on a bit longer.
"This is excruciating waiting, not having an endpoint so we know for sure she'll be able to get the surgery, and knowing that as time goes by, the options available to the surgeon when he's doing the surgery become less," said Clow, who detailed Brownlee's situation as she wasn't up for an interview.
"She's only 40 years old and she has kids and it's excruciating."
Compounding the couple's frustration is the fact that the province is allowing businesses shuttered earlier this month to reopen with capacity limits on Monday while maintaining the pause on non-urgent surgeries.
"It's infuriating, because the implication to me is that business and the economy is more important than people's lives," Clow said.
Brownlee started experiencing abdominal pain last January and decided to get checked out. After several tests, a doctor told her she didn't have cancer but needed to have an ovarian cyst removed, Clow said. When she went in for that procedure last June, Clow said the medical team realized "there was indeed cancer and it had spread throughout her abdomen."
That cancer can't be treated by chemotherapy and requires surgery to "remove everything in her abdomen that she doesn't need," Clow said.
"It'll probably involve a full hysterectomy, could involve parts of her large bowel. And unfortunately, if it's growing on her small bowel, there's only so much that they can remove," he said. "The longer we wait, the more opportunity there is for this ... to seed in the small bowel, which would worsen her prognosis."
The president of the Ontario Medical Association said the pandemic has created a backlog of nearly 20 million health-care services, based on provincial data from March 2020 to September 2021.
Dr. Adam Kassam said those services could include hip or knee replacements, cataract surgeries, colonoscopies, mammograms that screen for certain types of cancers, as well as primary, tertiary and mental health services.
"It runs the gamut across our health system and unfortunately, has been exacerbated as a result of the most recent wave of Omicron and the Directive 2 that the health-care system is currently under," Kassam said.
Toronto resident Akbar Jassani injured his knee in September while playing soccer -- a sport that he said provided a form of stress relief during the pandemic -- tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.
Jassani was scheduled to have knee surgery on Jan. 17, but it's been postponed indefinitely. Now, with no surgery date in sight, he said mental fatigue has taken over.
"What's frustrating is that (there are) days where I can't walk because there's so much pain," he said.
Jassani acknowledged that small businesses are suffering, but questioned the reasoning behind reopening businesses while COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU counts remain high.
Last week, during a press conference about Ontario's reopening plan, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government made a "difficult decision" earlier this month to pause non-urgent surgeries in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity at hospitals. The province placed a similar pause on non-urgent surgeries earlier in the pandemic.
"If people do have a life-threatening condition, of course they will still receive the care that they need, but we know that many people are upset and frustrated at having their surgeries pushed off yet again," Elliott said.
"We don't expect the peak of the admissions to ICU to happen until about mid-February ... so as soon as we can see that the numbers are going down both in terms of admissions to hospital and in terms of intensive care admissions, then we'll be able to get back on track with those surgeries and procedures."
Emma Saunders, 17, has been waiting months for surgery on her left hand, which she injured while horseback riding.
As time has progressed, Saunders said a joint in her hand "fused itself shut" and she was told a more "invasive" surgery was needed to mend her hand. She's now waiting for a vascularized joint transfer from her foot to her hand, but said it's been rescheduled twice in the last two months.
"It's frustrating listening to the government announce that concert venues and restaurants can open while we're still waiting," she said. "I feel forgotten by the government when listening to those announcements."
The backlog of health-care services has grown "quite substantially" during the pandemic, but backlogs and wait-lists have been an issue for decades, Kassam said. He called it the result of "chronic underfunding" of the health-care system for many years under various governments.
The Ontario Medical Association has developed a set of recommendations for the province to help clear the backlog.
They include carrying out certain surgeries and procedures in community-based specialty clinics to help ease the load on hospitals, providing "adequate" health-care funding from all levels of government, and ensuring sufficient health-care staffing resources to meet Ontario's needs.
In the meantime, Kassam said physicians have a clear message for patients.
"Please reach out to your family doctor, please reach out to your primary care provider, please reach out to the physicians that you have established relationships with to ensure that you can get the care that you need."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Toronto Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Students trapped inside a classroom with a gunman repeatedly called 911 during this week's attack on a Texas elementary school, including one who pleaded, 'Please send the police now,' as nearly 20 officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes, authorities said Friday.
As Johnny Depp's high-profile libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard wound down, Heard took her final opportunity on the stand to comment on the hate and backlash she’s endured online during the trial.
A new report says Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto rank among the top 20 cities around the world when it comes to work-life balance.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino will table new firearms legislation on Monday, according to his colleague Justice Minister David Lametti. In an interview with CTV's Question Period that will air on Sunday, Lametti pointed to the advance notice given to the House of Commons, and confirmed the plan is to see the new bill unveiled shortly after MPs return to the Commons on May 30.
An 11-year-old survivor of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, feared the gunman would come back for her so she smeared herself in her friend's blood and played dead.
For 70 years, Andre Hissink has held a grudge against the Dutch government, but this week, the 102-year-old Second World War veteran’s persistence paid off – the Dutch king granted his wish for a rare dual citizenship.
Canada has tapped into its own strategic stockpile of emergency medical supplies -- stored for a national emergency -- to help Ukraine. It has donated over 375,000 items of medical equipment and medicines from Canada's strategic stockpile since the invasion by Russia began.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as 'broken heart syndrome' or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is an actual medical condition triggered by severe emotional or physical stress and is different from a heart attack.
After a six-week trial in which Johnny Depp and Amber Heard tore into each other over the nasty details of their short marriage, both sides told a jury the exact same thing Friday -- they want their lives back.
Is it unconstitutional to make someone pay to get a legal document translated into French? One of Montreal's top lawyers thinks so, and pointed out two other things from Bill 96 that he thinks the courts would most easily find fault with.
Canada's highest court has ruled that Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six people at the Quebec City mosque in 2017, will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Hydro-Quebec is still struggling to restore power to tens of thousands of homes left without electricity, six days after deadly storms hit in Quebec and Ontario.
Saturday’s powerful storm left a lasting impact across Ontario as city crews continue to deal with the damage. Western University’s Northern Tornado Project reported that two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in London — and on Friday, Environment Canada confirmed it.
A London man is facing impaired-related charges after a vehicle he was driving collided with a gravel truck on Wednesday morning, according to police.
The London Police Service is requesting the public’s help with locating a person of interest after a gun was fired on Richmond Row in the early morning hours of Friday.
A man, who was a referee at high school volleyball games in Guelph for more than 30 years, is facing sex assault-related charges.
The Region of Waterloo says there's a high safety risk at a Kitchener encampment and they are working with residents to prepare them for their eventual move.
Two low-cost airlines are butting heads over an agreement at the Region of Waterloo International Airport. Swoop wants to offer flights but the airport already has an exclusivity deal with rival Flair Airlines
The Ontario Provincial Police is closing its detachment in the town of Black River-Matheson. The building is approximately 90 years old and is located in Matheson on Railway Street.
A northern Ontario man says he jumped through several hoops and dealt with red tape as he tried to launch an inflatable water park on Ramsey Lake this summer.
Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) has honoured two people from Sudbury for their rescue efforts during last year's rescue at Totten Mine.
As of Friday evening, 26,000 Hydro Ottawa customers remain without power in all neighbourhoods of the city.
Approximately 25,000 people will take part in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
Ottawa Bylaw says the "mama and her 4 kittens" were abandoned outside the PetSmart on Innes Road sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday.
Windsor police are asking for the public’s help identify a driver who fled after a rollover crash.
'Just do Mable things': Father of 18-year-old Pain Court crash victim shares memories of his daughter
It’s been a long and sorrow-filled week for the extended families of Mable Baker, an 18-year-old Chatham-Kent woman who was involved in a fatal car crash last weekend.
A local musician will be back on stage for the 16th annual 24-Hour Drum Marathon.
On the final day of the Paul Sadlon sexual assault trial, the defence called the complainant's allegations "straight out lies" and "not believable at all."
Provincial police are searching for a missing senior who went for a walk with his two dogs on trails behind his home in Springwater Township Thursday afternoon.
An Aurora couple is making plans to buy a house after winning the lottery.
A lawyer for families of victims killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting says an 18-hour delay in finding five bodies of those murdered is a sign of "deficient" policing.
A Cape Breton father is warning the public of the dangers in the area he lives after his teenager son fell nearly 40 feet over a cliff in Glace Bay.
Two Muslim sisters in St. John's, N.L., are speaking out after a man approached them where they work, screamed at them and then smacked the 15-year-old sister across the head, nearly knocking her over.
A southern Alberta man who killed three people, including a two-year-old girl, could have the ability to request a release from jail earlier than his original sentence intended, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court decision Friday.
Calgary Flames fans are still coming to terms with a playoff series loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night in a game that saw both controversy and heartbreak following a Connor McDavid overtime goal.
Western Canada's premiers want to reform their health-care systems by expanding services but they say Ottawa first needs to pick up the phone.
Pembina Trails School Division is confirming to CTV News that a group of students found a body during community cleanup at Ècole South Pointe School.
Winnipeg police are telling people to find an alternate route this afternoon as they are investigating a fatal crash near the St. Boniface Industrial Park.
'It's one way to be creative': Winnipeg student wants to be a bartender when older; school doesn't like comment in yearbook
Bartender. That is what one Grade 4 student said for the yearbook when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, an answer the school is asking him to change.
With ridership still well below pre-pandemic levels, TransLink looks for 'long-term revenue solutions'
Metro Vancouver's public transit system will be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come, according to recent funding and ridership announcements by TransLink.
The federal government needs to come to the table to discuss more money for health care, Western Canada's premiers said at their annual meeting.
Charges approved in 'very serious and traumatic' Surrey sexual assault involving break-in, confinement
A man identified previously by police has now been charged in connection with what officers call a "very serious and traumatic" sexual assault in Surrey, B.C.
A hotly-controversial decision on whether or not to freeze base funding for police in Edmonton was delayed Friday as fallout from a dispute between the mayor and the provincial justice minister continued to rattle political circles.
A 19-year-old man is in police custody after a shooting near Rogers Place after an Edmonton Oilers viewing party ended Thursday evening.
Police are looking for a man who they say sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman on Thursday.