As COVID-19, a strain of the coronavirus, ravages the globe, many healthcare facilities are overloaded with new cases. There aren’t enough beds, medical equipment, and doctors and nurses to cover all of the COVID-19 cases on top of the regular cases these facilities see on a regular basis. More and more hospitals are making the decision to stop performing elective and non-emergent procedures in order to free up more resources for fighting the pandemic.
However, sometimes the line between emergent and non-emergent gets blurry. For the most part, individual hospitals and government officials are making the decisions about which procedures are performed and which ones aren’t, and some patients disagree with those decisions.
32-year-old Lara Wahab, who lives in London, is one of those patients. She believes her procedure was wrongfully delayed and should actually be treated as non-elective and urgent.
Lara was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and has been dealing with it for 25 years. But she was told about a year ago that her kidneys were failing. She says she felt angry and anxious about missing work, as well as numb and confused. It seemed there was no hope for her to live a normal life.
Since that time, she’s been waiting for a simultaneous kidney and pancreas (SPK) transplant from a deceased donor. The waiting has been rough on her, because she’s had to spend a lot of time in the hospital for dialysis treatment to sustain her life, including once for an entire month at one time. She’s also experienced near-blindness and a bone infection as she’s waited for her transplant.
But despite her worsening condition, however, Lara was informed in December that her surgery would be suspended due to a limited number of available ICU beds. It’s unclear when the COVID-19 epidemic will die down and Lara’s operation will be able to be performed again.
Lara, however, can’t see how the hospital can classify her surgery as “non-urgent elective” when she very much needs it in order to survive long-term and to get her quality of life back. She says she feels invisible because her chronic conditions aren’t immediately life-threatening, making her less of a priority than she should be.
“I’m still looking for answers as to how they can define a life-saving operation such as my kidney transplant as ‘non-urgent elective’ surgery,” Lara says.
During this difficult time, Lara is urging the government not to forget people like her. When they create new measures and laws in an effort to combat COVID-19, she says, they should be taking into account the “invisible” people who are already just hanging on by a thread.
“Waiting for an operation of such magnitude is difficult. Waiting for the waiting to start again, with no idea on timeframe is unbearable,” she says. “Will I still have a chance to find love? Will I see my sister achieve her dreams? Will I be around to support my family in times of need? Will I see my friends get married and have children? Will I live, or will I die?”
Of course, Lara also acknowledges the seriousness of COVID-19 and praises the government for doing all it can to contain the disease.
“Our wonderful NHS workers can only do so much without the support and resources that are required to deliver the care system necessary not to endanger lives,” she says. “But, sometimes, living with a chronic illness can make you feel invisible. We carry on with daily lives hiding our internal struggles, constantly striving for normality, while our necessary care and treatment is cancelled left, right and centre. I want people to know that this is the real fallout of a virus like this.”
During this difficult period of uncertainty and self-isolation, Lara urges people to support one another and show kindness, because you never know what someone else is going through. “Don’t underestimate the power of the smallest gesture to give people like me the will to survive,’ she says. “Please don’t let us disappear.”
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?