Health Team

Even after elective surgeries resume, patients should expect a wait

Posted April 29, 2020 5:26 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2020 5:32 p.m. EDT

To preserve protective equipment for medical personnel who deal with coronavirus patients, North Carolina and other states put a halt to elective surgical procedures, defined as those that can be delayed by four weeks without causing the patient additional harm, everything from knee surgery to breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.

As limits are slowly lifted, some are left frustrated at the wait, wondering when they will be able to reschedule their procedures.

A breast cancer survivor told WRAL News, "I feel like I'm in a huge limbo. I'm in this hole, and I’m trying to crawl out of it, and I don’t understand why I can’t, because I didn’t ask for this."

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, she had a double mastectomy in January. She has been closely watching Gov. Roy Cooper's press conferences. She even wrote to his office to find out when the state will allow elective surgeries again so she can resume the breast reconstruction process.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Carlino says he understands why breast cancer patients waiting for reconstruction are frustrated.

"A lot of these patients, the breast cancer patients, they’ve done their time. They’ve waited their six months, they’ve had that level of anxiety, and now they want to move on," he said.

The woman said, "I'm still having to deal with the initial diagnosis of breast cancer and trying to get to the stage for recovery so I can move on with my life."

But Carlino agrees that hospitals should be reserved for the most sick, minimizing the risk that a person would enter the hospital for an elective procedure and catch the coronavirus.

"It’s been aptly said we’re fighting a war against an invisible enemy, and in fact there is triage being done," Carlino said.

As restrictions are lifted, Carlino and his patients will still have to practice patience in the wait for an available operating room.

"In-office facilities will have more leeway, not sharing time with an emergency room," he said. "It really depends on who is making the decision as to who gets the O.R. time."

As some hospitals slowly begin the process of resuming elective procedures, the state is updating its guidance on a weekly basis. Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina secretary of health and humans services says it remains necessary to conserve hospital resources.

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