Grotesquely broken arm will just have to wait, woman learns, because of COVID-19-connected surgery postponements

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) —  For months now, public health officials have been urging Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing the latest surge and its disproportionate impact on the unvaccinated.

But unvaccinated COVID-19 patients aren’t the only ones suffering the consequences of the hesitancy or outright opposition to vaccines. With hospital resources increasingly tapped out, people with medical needs that have nothing to do with the virus are feeling the brunt as well.

 This is the story of one such patient.

Emily Roberts was driving home from a friend’s house in the Rosedale section of Bakersfield Monday afternoon, when it happened.

At the corner of Calloway Drive and Brimhall Road, an erratic driver in a black sedan making a sudden U-turn cut in front of her spiffy silver, 12-year-old Honda Fit — and she side-swiped him at 55 mph.

The Honda Fit was totaled — and her right forearm nearly so. 

“I crawled out the back and when I got out of the car my arm … just hung over,” Roberts said. “I was like, Oh, that’s broken. That is broken. “

The impact of the collision — her airbag, to be specific — snapped both the bones in her right forearm, the ulna and the radius.

Her friend drove her to get medical help.

“They put me under so that they could straighten out the bone and then re-break the other bone,” Roberts said, “because it was still connected by a hairline. They told me I had two days to get surgery done and before it was going to start healing the way that it was.”

Except, five days later, she’s still waiting for that surgery. 

Emily, who is 20, says the hospital tells her COVID-19 overflow has tapped out its resources, including, specific to her case, the time and availability of workers to clean operating rooms up to the required level of COVID-19-proof sterility, and she’ll have to wait until Tuesday for surgery. By which time it will have been eight days since the accident.

And that carries risks.

“I went back in the next day to see a specialist because all my hand was white,” Roberts said. “I lost all the blood flow to my hand and my hand was numb. … They told me that was a risk if I didn’t have it in two days. Then they push it off again.”

Roberts, who works as a kitchen manager at Chipotle, will be out of work for three to six months, she says.

She just hopes the delay in her surgery doesn’t delay or impede her recovery.

“(Further delay) causes more risk because the bone can splinter off, or the bone can break unevenly,” she said. “It just causes more risk when they’re putting in the plates.”

Both Roberts and her mother, hair stylist Malinda Ortega, are vaccinated against COVID-19, they say. Malinda can’t help but think more widespread acceptance of vaccination would already have her daughter on the way to recovery.

“You know the risks if you don’t get vaccinated,” Ortega said. “People are scared to get vaccinated because there’s not a lot of education out there for people to feel safe. And they’re getting their information from TikTok.”

Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in local ICUs have problems of their own, more severe than Emily Roberts’ broken forearm.

But you have to wonder if they, and she, would be a lot better off right now if they’d simply roll up a sleeve and join the 180 million Americans who’ve accepted free inoculations against this persistent virus.

Kaiser Permanente, whom Roberts said is treating her, released a statement to KGET on the general issue of postponed surgeries.

The statement reads:

Given the impact of the coronavirus on health care systems and potential exposure risk to individuals during periodic surges, and in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Surgeon General and American College of Surgeons, the physicians of Kaiser Permanente clinically evaluate all elective procedures to determine those that can be safely postponed after physicians and their patients discuss options. These steps will help to ensure we can continue to provide the high-quality care our members need while also preparing for the COVID-19 surge.

Due to the impact of the significant rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout Kern County, Adventist Health Bakersfield has informed us that it has made the difficult decision to postpone all elective and nonurgent surgeries and procedures.   Any urgent and/or emergent cases will proceed as will any patients already admitted to the hospital for surgery.  The Kaiser Permanente members whose surgeries are to be rescheduled are being contacted directly.  

We fully understand our patients’ anxiety and concerns regarding elective surgery during this unusual time. We are working towards rescheduling these services as soon as feasible while assuring the safety of all our patients and staff. 

Our medical offices remain open and continue to be safe places to receive care. Members are encouraged to phone or email their doctor with any questions about their ongoing care needs.

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