Melanoma surgery cancelled due to lack of anesthesiologist

Dave Bartlett
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Elaine Buckingham was due to have surgery for melanoma March 1. A few days before surgery, she was shocked when it was cancelled due to the lack of an anesthesiologist. - Photo by Joe Gibbons/ The Telegram

Elaine Buckingham was devastated this week when surgery to treat her melanoma skin cancer and do a skin graft was cancelled.

Buckingham's daughter, Lynn Palfrey, said Buckingham was told by her doctor's office the surgery was cancelled because an anesthesiologist was unavailable for the booked operating room at the Health Sciences Centre. The surgery had been scheduled for Thursday, but was cancelled Monday.

"This is a person's life, a life that can be saved," Palfrey said.

"Instead, it is put on hold, where time is so crucial with this type of aggressive skin cancer."

Her mother had home care lined up for the four-to-five-week recovery time required after the surgery.

Buckingham - who is also the caregiver for her husband - had prepared herself for the surgery.

She was diagnosed in August when she had a mole removed from her arm.

The pathology report confirmed it was melanoma and she had surgery in October.

A subsequent biopsy revealed there was still cancer present.

Buckingham said she required the March 1 surgery to remove remaining cancer and for the plastic surgeon to do a skin graft as there is not enough skin left on her arm to close up.

Although she had tests previously that indicated the cancer has not spread to her lymph nodes, Buckingham is concerned the more time goes on, the more chance it has to spread.

She is rescheduled to have the surgery March 23.

"This one that was to be done Thursday is very crucial because so much time has gone by now," Palfrey said, adding the physician's office indicated there's a chance Eastern Health could bump her later this month, too.

"It is just unacceptable and unbelievable to me."

"It's very, very stressful," Buckingham said.

"I had everything in place. It seemed so callous. ... (The cancer) is inside your body and you just wonder where it's going."

Palfrey reached a client relations officer, who told her there wasn't a general anesthesiologist available Thursday.

"She's put on hold pretty much," Palfrey said. "We want to make sure we save her life. You hear about the people with breast cancer and the people waiting for heart surgery and now this. Soon you are going to go to the doctor's office and there's going to be no doctors there, just the secretaries. It's frightening."

Buckingham went to the doctor about the mole in August as it was catching on her watch strap, the colour had gotten darker and the texture changed. She figures she had the mole about six months at that point.

The doctor gave her the option of removing it then or waiting. She asked for it to be removed, and was shocked when the diagnosis of melanoma came back from the biopsy.

"When I went back (for the result), I was reading a magazine there and was ready to go shopping or something. And when he told me that, I can't remember going back to the car. I was in such a spin." Buckingham recalled.

"I said to the doctor 'Melanoma, that's a death sentence isn't it?' He said, "Not necessarily, if we catch it in time, you should be fine.' So that's the key word - catching it in time."

In facing the disease, Buckingham has found solace in corresponding with the Melanoma Network of Canada at www.melanomanetwork.ca and said its chairman was appalled the surgery was cancelled.

Eastern Health told The Telegram one of its anesthesiologists was unexpectedly unavailable Feb 27-March 2 and some elective surgeries were cancelled. It can't say exactly how many were rescheduled as surgeons maintain their own lists and schedule by their alloted OR time.

There are 19 anesthesiologists at the Health Sciences Centre, and a protocol is in place to ensure emergency cases are attended to on a priority basis, said an Eastern Health spokeswoman, adding patients who have questions or concerns are encouraged to contact their physicians or Eastern Health's client relations office toll free at 1-877-444-1399.

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, Melanoma Network

Geographic location: Eastern Health, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Roy Brothers
    March 05, 2012 - 10:23

    Being a retiree from General Motors here in Ontario, I cannot help but be disappointed in governments throughout Canada lack of concern for those who have paid into a health care system all their lives and when it comes down to needing MEDICAL ATTENTION are treated as second class. If it were not for the "Little man" paying premiums all these years, where would those in the health care system be today? They would either be under-employed or unemployed. Strange, how like all insurance systems, companies are quick to take premiums but to pay out dividends and services, they are dragging their collective feet.

  • Roy Brothers
    March 05, 2012 - 10:21

    Being a retiree from General Motors here in Ontario, I cannot help but be disappointed in governments throughout Canada lack of concern for those who have paid into a health care system all their lives and when it comes down to needing MEDICAL ATTENTION are treated as second class. If it were not for the "Little man" paying premiums all these years, where would those in the health care system be today? They would either be under-employed or unemployed. Strange, how like all insurance systems, companies are quick to take premiums but to pay out dividends and services, they are dragging their collective feet.

  • David
    March 04, 2012 - 19:14

    For all those people who still have their smg superiority complex over the Americans because of our "wonderful, free, universal" health care system.....sober up. We'd be better off paying for private care than depending on politicians to ever even give a rat's pitutty.

  • Jeff
    March 04, 2012 - 09:56

    Its unimaginable to me and my family and friends that a womens surgery can be cancelled due to NO Anesthesiologists! There should be another on hand in cases like this, instead there is NO compassion from Eastern Health for a persons life. Shame On You Eastern Health!

  • NL resident
    March 03, 2012 - 23:37

    The Telegram's reporting is not always accurate, but if this statement is true and in context: "Eastern Health told The Telegram one of its anesthesiologists was unexpectedly unavailable Feb 27-March 2 and some elective surgeries were cancelled" -- then it should be worrisome to all of us that melanoma surgery is considered elective. Too many people assume it doesn't happen in NL, but it does. I've also had melanoma and have great empathy for Mrs. Buckingham.

  • California Pete from NFLD
    March 03, 2012 - 12:01

    What you running up there in NL it is a joke from the sound of it. I will take the US medical system any time. I will vote for Obama to get his Obama care over newfoundland care. I feel sorry for you all on the Rock

  • Graham
    March 03, 2012 - 09:40

    Yet Sullivan and Miss Vicki tell us all is great in health care...what a friggin joke.

  • Claire
    March 03, 2012 - 08:44

    Once again a perfect example of our illustrious health care system. I would hardly consider this lady's surgery elective. Seems to me it is lifesaving. My faith in health care in NL is non existent. A major overhaul is needed.

  • jaydee
    March 03, 2012 - 07:59

    I find this totally unacceptable. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in may 2010, everything moved so fast I never had time to think of it. If my surgery had of been cancelled I could be dead now. My tumor was growing so fast. In a month it grew from 9 cm to 20 cm. So time is really of the essence. I hope Mrs Buckingham gets her surgery done pronto. Its bad enough to have cancer, let alone have to wait and wait for the necessary surgery. Good luck Mrs Buckingham.