Yellowknifer Savannah Lantz was supposed to undergo neurosurgery on a temporal lobe brain tumour in Edmonton on Sept. 24.
The cancellation of that procedure due to the Covid-19 strain on Alberta’s health-care system has left her and her mother Tanya devastated.
“You know that feeling you get when you’re in a movie theatre, watching some new horror film and the music keeps getting a little louder,” said Savannah. “Your palms start to sweat and your heartbeat picks up because you know something horrible is coming? Sitting there in that moment with fear in your stomach, legs tense? That’s what waiting for brain surgery is like, except you get to walk out of the theatre, and I’m still living in this body.”
Territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg offered some insight into the current predicament on Oct. 6.
“There are certainly a number of people who have had important surgeries cancelled, postponed, deferred, and that’s really stressful and really distressing,” she said, but no number of affected individuals was provided. “We’re working with our partners in Alberta to look at what the options for those people are.”
Alberta had 18,411 active Covid-19 cases as of Oct. 6. The virus has killed 2,814 people in the province.
Yet transferring NWT patients to jurisdictions other than Alberta would require a “very dire situation,” Pegg said.
Tanya Lantz recalled receiving a call from the neurosurgeon’s office to inform them of Savannah’s surgery being cancelled just hours before they were scheduled to leave on their flight to Edmonton.
“We had been watching the news and praying hard that things would get better in Edmonton so that she could receive the surgery, but that did not happen,” said Tanya. “We asked when the rescheduled surgery would be. They were unable to offer a date because of the current Covid situation in Alberta.
“We cried that day, [we] sat together in disbelief and anger.”
Pegg said Alberta has reached the point where the term medical emergency is being applied in a much more “narrow” sense.
“So, the definition of emergency is not necessarily easy to pin down,” she said. “The unfortunate reality in Alberta, for a period of time, has been that surgeries that are not essential for the preservation of life or limb within the next three days, the vast majority of those have been cancelled. They are looking at how that backlog can be addressed.”
Yellowknifer Emily Lawson needs a medical procedure done on her eye, but she too will have to wait longer due to the Covid-induced health-care logjam south of the NWT border.
“Sadly, as ICUs fill up and, at this point, pretty much all surgeries are cancelled,” said Lawson. “I am carefully and closely monitored. I have an emergency on-call cellphone number if I run into worsening symptoms or need immediate procedure here in Alberta… sadly, this has become a polarized issue and it is more complex than that as a health-care issue.”