Short on time, with a long wait ahead
Retired firefighter believes he’ll ‘be in a wheelchair or six feet under’ before surgery
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A retired Winnipeg firefighter fears he won’t live long enough to get his knee replacement surgery, as medical procedure wait times in Manitoba stretch on.
Lyle Wiebe’s doctor filed a request to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to get an appointment with a knee replacement surgeon in spring 2021.
About seven months went by before he received a letter from the WRHA asking for his medical history, along with a 10-page form. After sending it in, he received a letter May 12, 2022, stating the wait time for the consultation was nine months — and the wait for the surgery would be 10 months after that. Written in bold: those times were subject to change.
Altogether, if there aren’t further delays, he will have spent nearly four years in pain — more than half of that waiting for surgery.
“I’ll either be in a wheelchair or six feet under by then,” Wiebe, 73, told the Free Press this week.
Today, he struggles to navigate his home and use stairs. He’s on his second pair of knee braces (provided by the provincial government every two years) but his medical team is helpless to do much else.
“Life is getting tougher, it’s harder to get around. I’m getting older… It’s tough to make all ends meet at the end of the day when you can only do the stairs once,” Wiebe said.
Manitobans have endured some of the longest wait times in the country for knee surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic, data released last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information show.
While most provinces showed improvement between April 2020 and September 2021 (the first 18 months of the pandemic), Manitoba was second only to Saskatchewan for wait times for knee-replacement surgeries. The national average is 159 days and the recommended benchmark is 182; Manitobans waited, on average, 237 days during that time period.
Wiebe is no stranger to waiting in Manitoba’s health-care system. It took a year to receive hernia surgery last month. He has been waiting six months for a consultation on early-stage cataracts (another procedure for which Manitobans have some of the worst wait times in Canada).
“You work all your life and everything else, and as you get older, things get older, things have to be repaired. But the wait-list system (shows) our provincial government has just destroyed the health-care system,” he said. “It looks like they want to try privatize it.”
When asked what she would say to patients like Wiebe, Health Minister Audrey Gordon referenced the province’s task force on clearing the backlog.
“What I want to say to that individual and all Manitobans, is that our government’s priority is to ensure they receive the surgeries and the diagnostic tests they need,” she said.
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara called on the province to give itself a specific deadline to clear the backlog in surgeries and diagnostic services.
“Every Manitoban has a story like this one. We all know someone waiting in pain to get the health care they need. The surgery and diagnostic backlog didn’t happen overnight, it was the result of years of PC cuts that left our health-care system understaffed and under-resourced,” Asagwara said.
“Now, instead of admitting their mistake and investing in our health-care system, the PCs are making things worse by dragging their heels and refusing to set an end date to clear the backlog.”
Doctors Manitoba estimates a backlog of 2,372 hip and knee replacement surgeries has built up during the pandemic, as part of the wider backlog of more than 169,000 tests and surgeries.
“Physicians are very concerned about how the massive surgical backlog is resulting in much longer wait times for patients. Patients are waiting in pain, discomfort and often don’t know how long their wait will be,” a spokesperson for Doctors Manitoba said in an email.
“We appreciate the (recently announced) $110 million the government has allocated to start clearing the massive backlog of surgeries and tests, and doctors hope to see this have an impact for their patients left waiting.”
Wiebe hopes telling his story will help pressure leadership to make changes before the next provincial election in 2023. It weighs heavily on his mind. He has a 97-year-old mother-in-law and an adult daughter with a learning disability he takes care of — an increasingly daunting task as his condition worsens.
“What if (the surgery) doesn’t go right, and they have to do another on top of that? The way the health-care system’s going right now, I’d be 80 years old… It’s all just handled so poorly.”
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 9:00 AM CDT: Corrects date