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KNAU and Arizona News

The Personal Cost Of Delayed Medical Care

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Angela Gervasi
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The Yavapai Regional Medical Center in late February resumed elective procedures after cancelling them for more than two months to manage a surge of COVID-19 patients. The delay, along with other pauses throughout the state, had consequences for many awaiting medical treatment. 

KNAU takes a look at the personal struggle of delayed treatment — and how one woman had to rearrange her life around the obstacle:

Last November, Sherrie Rush was scheduled for a heart surgery that would change her quality of life. 

But it wasn’t that easy.

 

First, the physician scheduled to administer Rush’s surgery contracted COVID-19. By the time she recovered, YRMC postponed elective procedures at both its Prescott and Prescott Valley hospitals.

For Rush, it was a big blow.

“Oh, I cried,” Rush remembers. “You were so looking forward to getting this over with.”

“It was very disheartening,” she adds. 

Rush says she retired to Prescott Valley with her husband not long before the pandemic hit. She’d spent nearly 20 years running a daycare in California. 

And she has atrial fibrillation — a type of irregular heartbeat that can cause blood clots and, in some cases, strokes. The condition places Rush in a high-risk category for COVID-19 complications. 

“And I have to be on blood thinners,” Rush says. “Being on blood thinners really alters your life. You can't do a lot of things because if you fall, and you hurt yourself, you could bleed to death.”

 

Blood thinners offset the risk of a stroke, but they can cause severe or internal bleeding — in some cases, it can be a fatal side effect.

 

“I've touched things and I end up with this huge bloodmark on my arms, on my legs,” Rush says.

Last spring, Rush's doctor recommended a solution — an increasingly popular heart surgery known as the WATCHMAN Procedure

“It's like a little cage that they put up through your heart,” Rush says.

But then, the pandemic happened — leaving Rush waiting in limbo. 

During the pandemic, hospitals statewide, including Yavapai Regional Medical Center, paused elective procedures like the one Rush was waiting for.

“Hip replacements, knee replacements, back surgeries, slow-growing cancers. Heart procedures, valves, stems. The list goes a hundred miles long,” explains Will Humble. “And it’s not the hospital’s fault.”

Humble is the Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association; he served as the ADHS Director under Gov. Jan Brewer. 

He blames the delay not on the hospitals themselves, but on insufficient mitigation strategies. Humble says the state could have prevented the high hospital capacity levels by implementing stronger, more focused prevention measures. 

Throughout the pandemic, he’s joined multiple health organizations in advocating for more stringent regulations.

“It's super frustrating to see something happening,” Humble adds, “and have no ability to influence the outcome.”

Kenneth Boush is Communications Director at Yavapai Regional Medical Center. He says pausing care for some patients isn’t an easy decision, but healthcare workers were at risk of becoming overwhelmed with high caseloads. During the pause on elective surgeries, YRMC was experiencing historically high capacity levels, according to Boush.

The pause on elective surgeries was implemented “to maintain bed capacity, and staff capacity, to manage the pandemic,” Boush says. 

“And it's a very difficult choice to make,” he explains, “Because people who need some sort of medical intervention, sometimes, are not able to get it immediately.”

People like Sherrie Rush. 

Rush sighed as she discussed her situation.

“It just, you know, it affects everybody and everybody’s life,” she says of the pandemic. “And some, it affects life a little bit more than others.”

To pass the time, she threw herself into doing puzzles — brightly colored jigsaw puzzles with a thousand pieces, revealing dolphins, ice cream trucks, and Fourth of July celebrations when she finished them. Soon, she and her husband began framing them on the walls of their home.

“The colors, you know. Vibrant yellows and greens and pinks. It makes you happy,” Rush says. 

Rush describes it as an art — and a reminder of what she endured during the pandemic. It’s an outlet for her when other activities are too risky.

“The puzzles kind of saved me from boredom!" she says.

 

“You know, I look at this stuff every day and I think, I look at what I accomplished, too. I don’t know,” Rush adds. “The joy outweighs the misery.”

YRMC has since resumed its elective procedures amid declining COVID-19 hospitalizations; Rush is in the process of rescheduling her surgery.

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