Empower Wisconsin | April 22, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — What happens when your pain and suffering aren’t considered important enough for medical treatment?
As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, too many sick and hurting people in the pandemic have been told the surgeries or procedures that could help them are considered elective — or “nonessential.”
A Madison-area woman says her 70-year-old husband who, up until recently, was “running rings around” his much younger co-workers on construction job sites, is now struggling to catch his breath, to walk across the room, because of the pain that has “taken over.”
“No one who knows him recognizes this guy. I don’t know who this guy is. He was the strongest guy I’ve ever seen. Now I’m watching him deteriorate right before my eyes,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear that sharing her story could complicate her husband’s care.
The man’s primary physician suspects he has a bone lesion and possible blood clots in his lungs, based on preliminary tests. The doctor requested a local hospital perform more precise testing. Two weeks later, the seriously ill man and his wife have heard nothing form the hospital.
“You would think the possibility of blood clots in someone’s lungs would be urgent,” the Madison-area woman said. “This is ridiculous. He can’t move.”
While the hospital — like so many other health care centers across the country — has focused much of its efforts on preparing for a predicted looming wave of COVID-19 patients, at least one of its floors cleared for coronavirus patients recently was empty.
On Tuesday, the seriously ill man was able to secure critical testing at a hospital, about 45 minutes to the north.
In another report to Empower Wisconsin, a Madison-area woman who was diagnosed with a golfball-sized cyst in her abdomen was told the surgery to remove the growth is “elective.” The woman waits for relief in writhing, incapacitating pain.
Concern has risen in the month since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that “all elective surgeries, nonessential medical, surgical, and dental procedures” must be delayed because of the pandemic. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration quickly followed suit. The idea was to not tax badly needed hospital space and equipment during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
Some states are beginning to relent, or at least are considering easing up. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced elective outpatient treatment can resume in counties and hospitals without significant risk of COVID-19 beginning next week.
On Monday, the Trump administration released guidelines for resuming elective procedures. But states have the ultimate say on when to restart.
Until then, patients in pain will continue to wait for “nonessential” relief.