David Reid is getting used to disappointment. The 87-year-old retired firefighter has spent almost four weeks at Health Sciences Centre waiting for back surgery that’s been delayed about 10 times, with no one around to help him get out of bed.
"I was walking when I got here. But (after) three weeks of laying in bed, I guess I got a little weaker," said Reid, who is among tens of thousands of Manitobans waiting for surgical procedure.
"I think I'd still be walking if there was physio available."
Reid was admitted to hospital Sept. 23, first to Seven Oaks Hospital, which had ample support for older patients. A day later, he was sent to HSC for diagnostic testing in order to proceed with spinal-fusion surgery.
That was the plan, anyway.
On multiple occasions, Reid has been instructed not to eat or drink anything after dinner, expecting to undergo surgery the next day. When he awakens in the morning he's told the procedure has been cancelled and his breakfast is on the way.
"I'm looking forward to going for surgery. Unfortunately that doesn't happen, and it's a big letdown," Reid said over the phone Tuesday from his hospital bed.
He’s dealing with spinal stenosis, which made it very painful to use his legs. Since his hospital admission, he’s lost the ability to get up and into his walker.
“I was walking when I got here. But (after) three weeks of laying in bed, I guess I got a little weaker. I think I'd still be walking if there was physio available.” — David Reid
Instead of getting help with his stretches, Reid calls for nurses to escort him to the bathroom. They don't always make it on time.
He said the hospital staff and physiotherapists are trying their best, but clearly can’t manage the number of patients waiting to eventually get to an operating room.
"I realize COVID has laid quite a licking on the staff; there's no question about that," said Reid.
"I'm sure the nurses and the doctors and the staff here feel just as bad about having to cancel."
Last week, Doctors Manitoba, the physicians' professional association, estimated that there are 52,000 backlogged surgeries in Manitoba, up from 39,000 in May.
That medical association blamed the problem on surging COVID-19 hospital admissions, a lack of nurses and technologists, and a hospital system staffed so tightly before the pandemic that it buckled under even marginal increases in patients.
“I’m a little miffed at people who don't take the vaccine." — David Reid
Reid saved his anger for Manitobans who refuse to get immunized, putting more pressure on the system.
"I’m a little miffed at people who don't take the vaccine," said Reid, who shares a room with a man whose neck surgery has also been delayed multiple times.
He said he longs to get home and be able to take a daily stroll around the neighbourhood using his walker. He’s not sure when he’ll recover sufficiently to be able to stand up and cook lunch.
"I can do it, but it takes everything I've got," he said.
The situation is heartbreaking to Frank Leswick, a friend and former firefighter; Reid was his platoon chief decades ago.
In just weeks, he said Reid has gone from a "sharp cookie who can tell jokes until the cows come home" and capture a room with a story from decades ago, to someone who wakes up confused and lethargic.
“It just brings you to tears, to see what he’s become, laying in his bed.” — Frank Leswick, a friend and former firefighter
"The poor gentleman has been through all these highs and lows; now he’s a shadow of his former self," Leswick said.
"It just brings you to tears, to see what he’s become, laying in his bed."
Reid served as a Winnipeg firefighter for 36 years; Leswick says the province owes its seniors better.
"It’s a disgrace, how he's 87 years old, and withering away," said Leswick, who reached out the Free Press after last week’s report on surgical backlogs.
The PC government responded to that report by saying it’s pushing hard to clear the backlog. The government signed five contracts to outsource 8,300 key surgical procedures, with many more to come. But the backlog is still six times that number, and that doesn't include 78,000 delayed non-surgical procedures, including diagnostic tests.
Doctors Manitoba said people are likely dying unnecessarily due to the backlog, and said the province had failed to get the system back on track during the summer, between the third and fourth COVID waves.
Patient losing patience?Click to Expand
Manitoba health officials have been forced to postpone more than 50,000 surgeries during the pandemic. The Free Press would like to speak to people whose scheduled procedures have been delayed.
Please email email@example.com if you are willing to share your story.
Shared Health responded that it has had to gradually phase in hospital surgery teams, because the facilities have been dealing with so many intensive-care patients.
"Efforts to increase surgical capacity to pre-COVID levels following the third wave have been slow and carefully considered, to ensure appropriate support remained in our ICUs," a spokesman wrote last week.
Reid is on standby for surgery Thursday. He had a chat with the surgeon this time, raising his hopes he’ll finally get on the road to recovery.
He said he wishes the backlog wasn't putting hospital staff through so much stress, and he hopes vaccine holdouts will roll up their sleeves and finally get a shot; that might save them from a frustrating, isolated stay in an overburdened hospital ward.
"I just wish those COVID people had got vaccinated sooner, before they end up in here," he said.