By Dianne Cornish • REVIEW STAFF
Kathleen Bridge can’t wait six years for surgery; her body tells her that she needs it now. An arthritic hip has put the west Flamborough resident’s life into a tailspin, leaving her frustrated and feeling like there is ‘no way out.’
Her dilemma could be cured quickly and effectively by a hip replacement, but she says two orthopedic surgeons have advised her that, at age 53, she is “too young” for the surgery. “They prefer to wait until a person is 60 because of the life expectancy of the (artificial) hip,” she said. Artificial hips have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, meaning that people can generally have their hip replaced only twice in a lifetime.
Thoughts of having to wait six years for surgery that she insists she needs now has devastated Bridge, leaving her with little hope that she will get timely relief from the pain that wracks her body.
Bridge insists she needs the surgery now because she is in constant pain, even with pain medication, and her quality of life has hit rock bottom.
“I am not sure how much more of this I can take. My leg gives out without warning and I am afraid of falling and breaking my hip, making it harder to fix,” she said. “I have an eleven-year-old that I cannot enjoy because I can’t go to the park, I can’t go to school plays, etc., because I can’t sit, stand, walk or lay down for any period of time. I sleep an average of four hours a night because every time I move I wake up.”
Making supper for her family takes her almost the whole day and when she sits down to eat, the pain is usually so bad she ends up going to bed instead.
She commends her three sons, Daniel, 21, Dalton, 20 and Michael, 11, for their help and understanding and lauds her husband, Jim, for his patience and support. “Needless to say, our love life is extinct.”
Bridge recounts all the setbacks and hardships with faltering speech, but the tears well and her words become choked when she tells how her condition led to the loss of her full-time job of five years.
As an administrator at a local topsoil company, part of her duties included doing some bookwork, but when she started to take Oxycodone for her pain four months ago, she began making errors that she wouldn’t have made otherwise. It got so that her boss was double-checking her work, a situation that both of them knew couldn’t last for long. Finally, three weeks ago, she lost her job. “It was a mutual decision,” she said, but that gives her little comfort and doesn’t pay the bills.
Bridge has applied for medical benefits through Employment Insurance; thankfully, her husband has a health plan through his work and her medication costs are covered. But her disability has made it necessary for her to hire someone to come in and clean her house.
Despite the many daily hardships she faces, Bridge’s biggest frustration is expressed in nine words: “I can’t get anybody to schedule me for surgery.”
Since February, she has had x-rays, a CAT scan, a cortisone injection and a bursa shot; she has also seen two orthopedic surgeons and is scheduled to see a third, sometime early next year. Medications and injections received to date provide only temporary relief.
“I’ve got to the point where I don’t know what to do,” she confided. “I have absolutely no quality of life right now.”
Three years ago, Bridge was fit and healthy. “I could run circles around people,” she said. But when she began experiencing severe pain in her left hip and back about two years ago, she tried everything she could to avoid prescription drugs and surgery –acupuncture, physiotherapy, magnetic therapy and visits to the chiropractor.
“I thought it was my sciatic nerve,” she said, but when the pain persisted, her chiropractor sent her for an x-ray, which showed that she has severe arthritis in her hip and lower spine, with an arthritic spur touching her sciatic nerve.
“There’s no cartilage in my left hip; it’s bone on bone,” she said. “I feel like an old Barbie doll; when I move, it’s ‘click, click, click.’”
Bridge feels Ontario’s health-care system has let her down. Each time she has been referred to a specialist, she has waited three months before an appointment. She is now waiting to see a third specialist; she hasn’t heard when her appointment will be and it’s been three months since the referral.
“If I had $35,000, I could go across the (U.S.) border and get it (hip replacement surgery) done in a week,” she said.
Bridge’s frustration is not without cause. Even though Ontario was heralded last summer, in a report card issued by the Wait Time Alliance, as being the national leader in reducing wait times for five priority health services (including hip replacements), the Fraser Institute in its recently released annual health delivery survey concluded, “despite provincial wait-time reduction strategies and high levels of health expenditure, it is clear that patients in Canada continue to wait too long to receive medically necessary treatment.”
While patients in Ontario experience the shortest wait times for surgery (14.9 weeks) across Canada, the study found that the longest wait time for Canadian patients is for orthopedic surgery (39.6 weeks). Patients wait the least amount of time for medical oncology treatment (4.1 weeks).
Wait time is defined as the amount of time from referral by a general practitioner to treatment.
Bridge, who attended her first referral appointment with a specialist more than six months ago, isn’t sure how long it will be before she gets the treatment she needs. At least part of the delay is because the two specialists that she has seen to date don’t specialize in hip replacements but do other joint replacement surgeries. She has been assured that the third specialist she has been referred to does specialize in hip replacements and that has given her some comfort.
As for her belief that needed surgery has been delayed because of her age, that’s disputed by Dr. Greg Jarosynski, an orthopedic surgeon in Burlington, who is not treating the west Flamborough woman but said, through an office spokesperson, that age is not the deciding factor. Rather it would depend on how much arthritis is present, how it is affecting the patient’s quality of life, how much pain is being experienced by the patient and whether the patient has other health issues, the spokesperson said.