Health
Yellowknife

Painful wait for surgery as equipment issues cause Stanton delays


A Yellowknife man described living with “unbelievable pain” as surgery on his shoulder is delayed by ongoing issues with hospital equipment designed to sterilize surgical instruments. 

Charles Auger says he picked up his injury playing hockey in December 2019. When the 62-year-old and another player went for the puck at the same time, they collided and he fell to the ice. 

The muscle under his rotator cuff had torn and a bone had been pushed in. He was told he would need surgery.

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However, that surgery hasn’t yet happened because of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the failure of three Stanton Territorial Hospital sterilizers.

According to the territory’s health authority, the machines began malfunctioning in late July. At least 124 surgeries have been cancelled or rescheduled, while around 200 urgent or emergency cases have been able to go ahead.

“I just want to see it happen. I don’t care if I’m last,” Auger said of his surgery. 

“Just to get the machine up and working would be great.” 

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The health authority says the machines still can’t be fixed, despite the attention of specialist repair staff, meaning it’s impossible for the hospital to stockpile safely sterilized equipment.

While he waits, Auger says he often experiences shooting pains and has trouble sleeping. He has difficulty taking painkillers because he has diabetes and they make him feel “right off.” 

“I’m in pain a lot,” he said. “I have a hard time concentrating on certain things. It’s just painful. Unbelievable pain.” 

Auger said he asked his doctor if he would be able to travel to Edmonton to get surgery, but was denied because there’s a surgeon in Yellowknife. 

“I even told my friend down south: if he could find a surgeon for me, I’d drive out if I had to because of the pain,” he said. 

Still, Auger said the priority must be people with more serious medical issues – even if that means he’s at the end of a long line.

“I just hope the best for everybody else that’s waiting. I hope they get taken care of.”

Last month, health minister Julie Green said sending NWT patients to Alberta is no longer an option. Surgeries there are also being delayed, in part due to a surge in cases of Covid-19.

Instead, she said staff at the Yellowknife hospital will try sending surgical equipment to Alberta for sterilization.

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