Delayed Medical Procedures: Stories from the Front Lines
Last month, there was a bit of a chill in my right molar. My left molar was already capped after a root canal. So I wondered if the same was happening on the other side. I called some local dentists. None were in operation but for emergencies and mine didn’t qualify. They said they would be opening in a few weeks but only for established patients. I’m not among them.
No problem, I thought. I will visit my mother in another state and go to a dentist there. No luck: there was a mandatory two-week quarantine for out-of-state visitors. I couldn’t be there waiting for two weeks. Plus when one of these teeth starts to go bad, as I recall, you are in severe pain within a few days. I could ask my mother to lie for me, but that’s not nice.
Fortunately, it was a false alarm and my tooth is fine. Even so, it was scary. Imagine living in a world in which essential dentistry was forbidden by governments for three months. It’s like living in the 18th century, or the 12th.
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It’s not just about dentistry. By executive orders around the country, all nonessential medical procedures were ended to preserve hospital capacity. It was part of the pandemic plan, don’t you know. This was also the reason for “flattening the curve” and “social distancing.” Hospitals can’t scale, don’t you know. The planners know what’s best.
Then something strange happened. All over the country, hospitals emptied, waiting and waiting for floods of COVID-19 patients but few arrived. Only in parts of New York City did resources become temporarily thin. Elsewhere in the country, hospitals almost entirely stopped doing business. Then the financial crisis hit. So far, 266 hospitals have furloughed workers. Then you have the enormous problem of delayed treatments, postponed checkups, bypassed diagnostics – all the things we use the medical system for on a normal basis.
The results are explained in detail by Zaria Gorvett:
Across the globe, patients have reported being denied cancer care, kidney dialysis and urgent transplant surgeries, with sometimes fatal results. In the Balkans, women have been driven to try dangerous, experimental abortions themselves, while experts in the UK have reported a rise in DIY dentistry, as people turn to toe-curling improvisations involving chewing gum, wire-cutters, and superglue. Panic-hoarding of the drug hydroxychloroquin, which is normally used to treat malaria and autoimmune conditions, and has recently been found to increase deaths from Covid-19, has led to shortages.
And as with all crises, the current pandemic looks set to hit the poorest countries the hardest. Scientists have warned that, in some places, disruption to the control of diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria could lead to losses on the same scale as those caused directly by the virus. Similarly, experts fear that deaths from illnesses such as cholera could far exceed those from Covid-19 itself.
Vaccinations are a particular concern. The World Health Organization has calculated that at least 80 million children under the age of one are now at risk of diptheria, polio and measles, after the pandemic disrupted programmes in at least 68 countries. Polio is expected to make a comeback, despite a multi-billion dollar effort stretching back decades which meant it was tantalisingly close to joining the exclusive club of viruses that are extinct in the wild, whose sole member is currently smallpox.
The tragedies here are countless, and should have been expected. If you impose a governor’s plan over the experience of hospital management, and do under a coercive threat, in the name of public health, you are likely going to see the opposite emerge.
So I asked my Twitter feed for some examples. Many I can’t print due to privacy concerns but here are just a few:
Just before “lockdown” I had abdominal pain and days of constipation. (Wish my issue was more glamorous.) I saw the lockdown looming so I went to the emergency room (March 11, 2020). Diagnosed with diverticulitis. Given antibiotics, for the abdominal infection, and referred to a Gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. I keep attempting to make the appointment for the colonoscopy and they are telling me to try to schedule again at the beginning of June. In the meantime I have been trying to get my body to keep things moving by taking laxatives at times. I went 100 hours without a bowel movement.
I think I am getting my body back into a good routine. I can still go to work and play disc golf most of the time. So it’s not debilitating 95% of the time. I’ve lost 15 pounds (flattening my curve). I imagine much more serious issues occurring for others.
I fractured my collarbone in a road bike crash in May 2018. Being in Canada, I had to wait several painful days before surgery was scheduled to fix a metal plate to the broken bone. I was told that it was possible to have the plate removed after approximately six months when the bone would have healed. The discomfort from the plate rubbing under the skin, and from the tension of 9 screws in the small bone, made it an easy decision to request surgery to remove the plate.
My surgeon added my name to the waiting list in January 2019. At the time he said the average wait was about five months. After six months, I phoned the hospital and was told that I was still on the list but that they were scheduling people who had been on it for over a year. I was finally contacted in March 2020 (!) with a date two weeks later for the surgery. The day before, they called to ask if I had been out of the country or in contact with anyone who had been during the previous two weeks. The answer was yes, so they cancelled the surgery and said they would call me back. I’m still waiting.
I have extreme sciatica pain and my pain doctor after months has determined that I need a nerve block in my sacrum. This is an injection that literally can be done in less than ten minutes, but I have had to wait over 8 weeks in excruciating pain while they wait to get me in after the backlog in elective surgeries. They refuse to give me opioids.
Not my personal story, but comes from our lawn care folks, a husband and wife team. She had a wisdom tooth that was pushing up too much and starting to be bothersome, and she had an appointment scheduled to have it removed. Then along comes COVID, and all non-essential medical treatments, including teeth extractions, are cancelled by executive fiat. (We are in Michigan, so this is Gretchen Whitmer, our governor who issued this order). Anyway, the tooth keeps bothering her. In short order an abscess forms, which goes septic, which leaks into her bloodstream. Oral antibiotics do not seem to cut it, and she ends up in ICU in hospital for 17 days on IV antibiotics.
I just spoke to her husband this morning, and she is now home though still very weak. According to him the hospital thought she was about 10 hours away from dying before they found the antibiotic combination that seemed to work.
Also anecdotal, our neighbors have two doctors in the family. One of them, a pediatrician, told me last week that basically he was bored because he had nothing to do with all non-essential appointments cancelled. The other one, an ER resident, told us that the word in the University of Michigan hospital system was that they are on track to lose about a billion dollars in Q1 of 2020.
I’ve had a knee meniscus surgery delayed because of the virus, as well as follow up treatment for my recently operated on knee.
This is only a small look. An informal poll of my friends shows that almost everyone has faced some kind of delay or neglect, as a medical system designed to deal with such problems came to be victimized by the shutdowns.
God help you if you had a stroke over these months.
New research published today in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery (JNIS) shows ischemic stroke patients are arriving to hospitals and treatment centers an average of 160 minutes later during the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared with a similar timeframe in 2019. These delays, say stroke surgeons from the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery (SNIS), are impacting both survival and recovery.
Then there was another problem: the fear of the hospitals themselves.
“The hospital was an ominous, nerve-racking and scary place for patients even before Covid,” said Dr. Lisa VanWagner, a transplant hepatologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “Now you take a stressful situation like a pandemic and you tell people that they cannot have their normal support system while they’re in the hospital, and that really magnifies those fears.”
The issue of delayed medical care, like countless others, was never mentioned in the glorified plans that public health professionals cobbled together over the last 14 years. They also failed to account for other major consequences, such as the psychological toll of being treated like animals, or riots in the streets.
The history of central planning is replete with failure. The lesson pertains in every area of life, not excluding matters of public health. One might think we would learn from the past rather than continuing to conduct such experiments with people’s lives.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his email. Tw | FB | LinkedIn