Patricia Nowell-Lindquist poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Oct. 16, 2018. Nowell-Lindquist was told her surgery at Whitehorse General Hospital was cancelled after arriving for the procedure and being prepped. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Hospital cancels Whitehorse woman’s surgery 45 minutes beforehand

Patricia Nowell-Lindquist had changed into a gown and was fully prepped when she was told the news

A Whitehorse woman says she was left rattled after her surgery at Whitehorse General Hospital earlier this month was cancelled less than an hour before she was supposed to be in the operating room due to a lack of beds.

In an interview Oct. 12, Patricia Nowell-Lindquist said she was supposed to have a hysterectomy on Oct. 5 to address a medical condition that had previously caused a miscarriage. She had already changed into a gown and everything seemed to be on-schedule for the 11 a.m. surgery when she was told it wouldn’t be happening after all.

“I was fully prepped,” Nowell-Lindquist said. “I was 45 minutes from my surgery. I got there at about 9:20 and it was about 10, a little after 10, that I was told that it was cancelled.

“It was very upsetting.”

While stressful, a hospital spokesperson said surgeries are only deferred to ensure patient safety.

Nowell-Lindquist said she’s been on a waitlist since September for the surgery, and that the hospital called her on Oct. 3 to tell her a time-slot was available in two days. She accepted it and made preparations — taking time off for the recovery, making childcare arrangements for her seven-year-old daughter and mentally steeling herself for the invasive procedure. Her husband also took time off so he could accompany her to the hospital and care for her in the days after.

On Oct. 4, Nowell-Lindquist went to the hospital for a pre-op meeting. Nothing seemed amiss.

The day of, Nowell-Lindquist arrived early. Staff admitted her, gave her a gown to change into, took down her health information, took a urine sample and did bloodwork.

“A few minutes later the surgeon came in and talked to me … then she said, ‘Okay, we have one person in front of you, and then you’re in,’” Nowell-Lindquist recalled. “I said, ‘Okay, great.’”

The surgeon left but returned a few minutes later.

“She said, unfortunately, she has some bad news for me – they’re going to have to cancel my surgery for today because there’s no longer a bed available which means there’s nowhere to put me or a nurse to look after me,” Nowell-Lindquist said.

The news was devastating, she said, and all the emotions that had built up inside her – the pain of losing her child, the “huge step” of deciding to have her uterus removed, the anxiety she had felt the night before, leaving her unable to sleep – overwhelmed her.

“I cried,” she said. “… I just started crying. I got dressed with my husband and left.”

While she understands that “people get sick and things happen,” Nowell-Lindquist said she’s confused as to how she got so close to her surgery before someone realized there wouldn’t be a bed for her afterwards.

“I mean, did they not know the night before that there was no longer a bed? When I first went to go get admitted in the morning, like, no red flags, no nothing came up to indicate that (the surgery) wasn’t going to happen?” she asked.

“My biggest thing is, I live in Whitehorse … Like, I was able to get my clothes on and drive 10 minutes and go home. What if that happened to someone from a community?”

In an emailed statement, Yukon Hospital Corp. spokesperson Cameron Heke said that the agency cancelled 13 surgeries last fiscal year and five this fiscal year “due to hospital occupancy,” or less than one per cent of all surgeries.

“We apologize to patients whose surgical procedures need to be rescheduled. We understand that deferring a surgery can cause a great deal of stress … Deferring surgery is never taken lightly and is only done to ensure safe patient care,” Heke wrote.

“A surgery may be deferred due to emergency patient requirements, or other unplanned factors which can put pressure on resources. We are continually addressing resource and related bed availability issues by working with our community partners … We anticipate reducing pressures even more as patients begin transitioning to the Whistle Bend Care facility.”

The issue isn’t new — last year, the corporation penned an “open letter to all Yukoners” addressing limited bed availability, particularly in Whitehorse.

“About (35 to 45 per cent) of our patients should be in another type of health care facility – this is about four times higher than what most Canadian hospitals consider manageable,” the letter reads in part.

“The solution to this particular issue is not more hospital beds, but rather more health care options, both in terms of facilities and community supports that meet the needs of Yukoners.”

In the meantime, Nowell-Lindquist said her surgery has been re-booked for Oct. 22 — but that her surgeon warned her that it could be cancelled again.

“She did say that they try not to bump a person more than once if they’ve been bumped already,” Nowell-Lindquist said, “but honestly, if it comes down to it and there’s no beds, there’s not really much they can do about it.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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