July 3 was supposed to be a red-letter day for Ken Hunt.
The 76-year-old Agassiz resident was supposed to have a second cataract repaired following his first cataract surgery in January of this year. It was originally scheduled for April 3 and was sidelined due to COVID-19. He was then rescheduled for three months later, on July 3, at 1 p.m. in Chilliwack.
The morning of the surgery, the Hunts received a phone call. Ken’s surgery was cancelled. This last-minute cancellation after roughly six months of waiting prompted Ken’s wife, Barbara to pen an angry letter to Fraser Health.
“We had family from out of the area to come and assist us with the driving and making sure he completed all the pre-surgery requirements,” she wrote. “This morning, [July 3] he was called just after 9 a.m., cancelling his surgery for today. We were advised that approximately 400 people had their elective surgeries cancelled until later in this year.”
Like many others throughout the province, the difficult circumstances of the pandemic put them in an awkward position. While Ken’s glasses helped with his corrected eye, the other lens was blurry as he awaited surgery. The eyeglass providers were only open for emergencies, and Ken’s situation didn’t warrant emergency treatment.
“We will now have to purchase new glasses, which will only be good until the second surgery is completed,” Barbara wrote. “I strongly recommend a review of your staffing and scheduling policies. It appears seniors are far down the list of any urgency needs. It is unacceptable.”
Aletta Vanderheyden, spokesperson for Fraser Health, said the July 3 cancellations at Chilliwack General Hospital happened “due to an unforeseen staffing challenge.”
“Patients who had appointments booked that day were notified as quickly as possible and were rescheduled for new dates in July and August,” Vanderheyden said in an email to the Observer. “This is an unusual circumstance that rarely occurs for this type of procedure and we apologize for the inconvenience this caused our patients.”
Vanderheyden said Fraser Health resumed surgery scheduling in mid May in conjunction with Phase 2 of B.C.’s Restart Plan. To work around the increased demand and looming backlog of procedures, Fraser Health implemented virtual pre-admission clinic services. This cuts down on in-person traffic, keeps patients informed and allows patients to ask questions and prepare for surgery all without needing to come in to their respective clinic.
As of mid-July, Vanderheyden said Fraser Health has contacted nearly 15,000 patients to inform them of the steps going forward with their elective surgeries. Between May 18 and July 5, Fraser Health completed more than 11,5000 surgeries, nearly 7,000 more completed during this six-week period prior to May 18.
After phone calls back and forth and much frustration, Ken’s surgery has been rescheduled for August 14 as of publication.
“Yeah, I was mad at the time,” Ken admitted. “It’s more frustrating than anything. I didn’t want to have one good eye and one bad eye for that long. I’m 76, pretty healthy, doing gardening and working around. I pay all of these taxes for years and I’m treated like a second class citizen.”
He said when he contacted Fraser Health to reschedule, the person he spoke to indicated they were scheduling into November, but, fortunately for Ken, a spot opened up in August.
Ken said he can still drive without problems as his glasses still work for his situation but he has difficulties reading.
As a result of the need to reschedule, Ken will have to undergo pre-surgery preparation again. This involves three eye drops three times a day for three days before surgery.
Inconveniences and difficulties aside, Ken is thankful for his health.
“At least I’m not on a ventilator,” he said. “It’s just been a comedy of errors.”
According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, cataracts are the result of the lens of the eye getting cloudy. The size of the cloudiness can vary from very small spots to a noticeable change in vision. The condition is most commonly found in people over the age of 60, but sometimes children are born with cataracts.
Minor cataracts can be treated conservatively through new glasses for sharper vision. In more severe cases, cataract surgery is very safe and removes the cloudy lens to replace it with a clear implant.
On July 21, Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank and Health Minister Adrian Dix updated the public on the state of the surgery backlog. As of that date, more than half of the procedures cancelled during May or June were completed. Approximately 32,000 surgeries across B.C. were cancelled in the early months of pandemic preparation.
– With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press
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