Many “elective” surgeries have been on hold since mid-March in Oklahoma, both as a precaution to ensure that hospitals had enough space and supplies to accommodate a possible influx of sick patients, and to protect patients and staff from the potential spread of the coronavirus.
“Elective” is an unfortunate term that seems as if one could just as easily decide not to have the surgery as to proceed with surgery, and that is generally not the case. There is real pain, dysfunction, and effects on home and work life as a result of these conditions, and the surgery is needed; it is just that it can be scheduled, as opposed to being an emergency which must be done right away or risk loss of life or limb.
As of April 24, 2020, Governor Stitt has allowed these non-emergent procedures to resume at hospitals and surgery centers around the state, and hospitals and surgery centers are working hard to put processes in place, which will generally take longer than that.
Now many people are wondering, “Is it safe?”
How Hospitals Are Preparing for Elective Surgeries
Local hospitals are revising their pre-operative protocols to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. In many places, patients are being tested for COVID-19 within 24 to 48 hours before their scheduled surgery and must have a negative result to proceed. The Department of Health is monitoring the use and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, as well as equipment like ventilators and anesthesia machines. You can review the latest numbers at https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/executive-order-reports.
Additionally, many medical facilities have implemented universal masking, so that all people within the building are required to wear face coverings at all times. They are also limiting the amount of people who are allowed on campus by prohibiting visitors and vendors.
Many orthopedic surgeries (such as shoulder arthroscopy) are done on an outpatient basis, meaning you do not need to stay in the hospital overnight, further reducing the risk of exposure to an infectious disease. If you are planning to undergo a total shoulder or elbow replacement, you may need to spend a night in the hospital but are separated from other sick patients by staying in a separate level or wing of the hospital specifically reserved for joint replacement patients. No COVID patients have been allowed or will be allowed in this area. The nurses and staff on the joints ward are dedicated to this floor and are not taking care of infected patients also.
Should I Have My Surgery Now, or Should I Wait?
Ultimately you are the only one who can make the decision about whether to have your surgery now or whether to wait until a later date. Your surgeon will discuss the risks and benefits of, and alternatives to, undergoing surgery, as these are specific to each person and procedure. In general, while there is no way to completely guarantee you can avoid any exposure, you should rest assured that your medical team has gone to great lengths to ensure your safety and would not recommend that you proceed with a procedure if they did not think it was safe to do so.
If you would like to consult with Dr. Nolan about your shoulder or elbow problem or an upcoming surgery, please contact our office at 405-278-8006.
By Oklahoma Shoulder Center PLLC
April 15, 2020