‘Robbed of a few years of my life’: Winnipeg woman frustrated by lengthy wait time for surgery

A Winnipeg woman is frustrated by the lengthy wait time for her spinal fusion surgery, and says it means she’s dealing with a lot more than just physical pain.

Gloria Ditchfield, 37, has scoliosis and a 60 per cent curvature in her spine.

“I have an S-shaped curve and it’s 60 degrees, so it’s quite severe,” Ditchfield told Global News. “I’ve had it since I was 12 years old. I didn’t get the surgery when I was that age, so I’ve had chronic pain since. There’s days where I could barely get out of bed because the pain is so bad.”

Ditchfield has been waiting for the surgery, which is considered elective, for years.

Read more: Recent Manitoba nursing graduate frustrated after first-hand experience as rural patient

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“They put me on the surgical waitlist and said ‘get ready for a long wait,’ … three-to-five years was kind of their ball park, and now it’s been seven years,” she said.

For Ditchfield, the wait is not only about prolonging her physical pain, it’s also delaying her life. She and her husband want to start a family, but she worries the pain of pregnancy with her scoliosis would be too severe.

“I’m 37 now, and if I had gotten the surgery when I was 30 or 31 and recovered, (the) issues with pregnancy wouldn’t be as high as now,” she said.

“My doctors are basically saying just get pregnant anyway, like don’t even count on the health-care system, don’t count on the surgery to happen, because they have no faith in it. And that’s really heartbreaking to hear.”

Click to play video: 'Long surgery wait times persist despite pandemic backlogs clearing: CIHI' Long surgery wait times persist despite pandemic backlogs clearing: CIHI

Long surgery wait times persist despite pandemic backlogs clearing: CIHI – May 10, 2022

Ditchfield says she wanted to wait until after the procedure to have children, as she has concerns the pregnancy will put her in severe pain.

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“The problem that I have is if I sit down and eat a big meal, like eat a huge meal, my back will be in agony for hours until it processes through. And that’s kind of like a little preview of what it would be like if I get pregnant,” she said.

“I’m going to be in pain all the time, it’s going to be unbearable. I’m not going to be able to take any prescription medication. I don’t want to. I’ll have to rely on bath and hot water bottles. It’s scary. Like on one hand, we’re ready to have children and I want to do it, but I also don’t want to put myself and my future kid in that much pain and stress.”

Read more: Doctors Manitoba says province’s surgery backlog at 128K

“It’s just too scary for me and I don’t want to take that risk, but it’s putting me in a horrible position because I do want to have kids, we want to have a family so bad, and we’re stuck waiting.”

Ditchfield and her husband, Joshua Hastings, say they’ve looked into getting the procedure done in the United States, but it would cost around $100,000.

“It’s exhausting,” Hastings said. “It’s at the point where if we had the funds and we weren’t tied down here, we would consider moving somewhere else where we had a better shot at getting this done in a reasonable timeframe.”

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The province currently has a deal with Sanford Health to have some Manitoba spinal patients get their procedure done in Fargo, North Dakota.

Read more: ‘Living in pain’: Canadians travel across the world to avoid surgery backlog

Ditchfield says she has been told her condition is too severe and surgery is too complicated for her to go south of the border for the procedure.

“Spine surgery has been a problem for a long time. And a lot of the challenges are the big complicated cases where it has to be done at Health Sciences where our human resources are the most acute problem right now,” Manitoba Diagnostic & Surgical Task Force chair Dr. Peter MacDonald told 680 CJOB Wednesday.

“(There are) lots of sad stories like that out there. When we’re dealing with numbers, you got to forget there’s patients and real life stories and people are impacted by this on a personal basis and we have to always remember that. Solution is not the same for everyone.”

Ditchfield says the process is also taking a toll on her anxiety and her mental health.

“I kind of feel like I’ve been robbed of a few years of my life because I’ve been waiting,” she said.

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“And part of me is like, maybe I just should have gotten pregnant anyway and screw it. But I made the decision to wait and I’m living with that and my anxiety has gotten worse and I’m depressed and it’s hard. Everyday is a struggle.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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