For those awaiting elective surgeries, physical pain & the unknown of when surgeries will resume is unbearable

Coronavirus

For Dara Lum, the year 2020 did not start off on the right foot.

More specifically, her knee.

Lum tore her ACL in a skiing accident in January.

“My knee turned another way. My knee and patella (kneecap)…I basically tore everything up,” she explained.

“Oh my gosh, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever had in my entire life.”

Enduring the pain from Tahoe back to Honolulu, Dara couldn’t walk for weeks. 

“They had to drain my knee, it was swelling so bad. I looked like I had two legs in one.”

Lum underwent physical therapy, was in a wheelchair before moving to crutches. The Honolulu resident had a procedure scheduled for March with Dr. Kyle Chun, an orthopedic surgeon. 

Then, the lockdown happened. 

“I have mixed emotions. Every day, I really want this surgery, I also understand the reasonings why we can’t have this and why everyone has to stay home to be safe. But of course, selfishly, I want it done. This is important to me, I want to move on with my life and be able to walk normally again,” said Lum.

As if that’s not enough — Lum is getting married. The date is set for July.

“I was hoping to have the surgery so I could walk down the aisle properly without crutches and dance. That was my biggest goal after surgery.”

“When the CDC came out with a recommendation to halt all elective procedures, it brought our practice to a screeching halt,” said Kyle Chun, MD.

Elective surgeries were postponed as the country deals with the coronavirus outbreak. 

Chun, who specializes in orthopedic surgery, explains the reasoning behind it: to preserve much needed personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. 

“The second portion of halting elective procedures is to try and avoid undue complications that may require an additional hospital bed,” he added.

But the longer the lockdown continues, Chun says the issue behind halting elective procedures will worsen – much like his patients pain. 

“I think (postponing elective procedures has) taken a backseat. But it’s quickly jumping into the passenger seat at this point. You’re seeing on the mainland, at least, smaller community hospitals are closing their doors because there’s no more elective procedures to keep the revenue going. To keep hospitals functioning. They’re needing bailouts to stay open to treat the public for emergencies.

Chun likens it to a domino effect. 

“A lesser known way elective surgeries benefit the community in general. These are the drivers of income and revenue for hospitals. It’s not an industry not necessarily for profit. But this is what we do – we do procedures that improve people’s quality of life. Because these procedures float the other portions of healthcare system that are necessary.

“It’s like nature, we all work together to keep this economy running. This virus has taken us out at the legs. And so, it affects everybody.

“The healthcare system is no different. Everything is intertwined and related. If we don’t have the ability to do surgery, people will not come to see us. Therefore the domino effect goes further down. If this goes long enough, we can’t pay our rent. Now the building owner does not get income. If we can’t see patients to address their surgical issues, we can’t employ our staff, our medical assistants, our X-ray technicians, all the people we employ. It’s a really big domino effect that’s not isolated to medicine. It’s in every facet of the community,” said Chun.

He says he favors the phased approach to re-opening Hawaii. 

But this is unprecedented —”That’s the word everyone’s been using. Very appropriate. I don’t think any of us could have predicted this. It’s a bit scary. “

As he waits for decisions made by the state to re-open the economy, Chun wants his patients to hang in there. 

“Rest assured as soon as we can open up, I want to get working just as bad as you want to get fixed. Once that occurs we will safely, methodically and with due process, get that going.”

As for Lum – optimism is what’s keeping the pain at bay. 

“This injury has made me appreciate the little things in life. Just being able to walk is such a gift, and it’s really hard to not be able to do that.”

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