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Setting out on a 10-hour drive from their home in Pennsylvania to Oak Brook, Robin Treider and her husband were relieved that Robin would finally have a knee replacement surgery. The long-overdue surgery was scheduled just two days after Illinois allowed hospitals to resume elective procedures.
Although Treider wasn’t worried about going into a hospital during the COVID-19 crisis, she sometimes felt like she was on an “emotional roller coaster.”
“It was just the normal fear that can come into your mind about the things that could go wrong,” she said. “And you immediately try to push them away, but they always come back.”
Treider is only one of the many patients coming to Illinois to visit Rush Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Berger, one of the first in the Chicago metropolitan area. Although Pennsylvania reauthorized elective surgeries on April 27, Treider was inclined to wait for Illinois to end its restrictions. This is because Dr. Berger came highly recommended by a friend and Treider had already set an appointment for knee surgery with him.
After two months of postponed surgeries following the COVID-19 shutdowns, Berger now is booked solid with patients who can finally have surgeries to relieve their pain.
“My patients planned everything around having surgery to finally relieve their pain, and finally restoring their function. Then for apparently good reasons, their surgeries were canceled or postponed. And it has been heartbreaking,” said Berger. Dr. Berger estimates that around half of his patients come from outside the state.
As elective surgeries resume in Illinois, hospitals have implemented new safeguards to protect patients and medical staff from COVID-19.
At Rush Oak Brook hospital, those new safety measures include screening and temperature checks, strict social distancing, and additional requirements for hospital staff to wear both gloves and masks. Furthermore, family members can not wait inside the hospital and incoming patients must be tested for COVID-19 before their surgery.
However, Berger pointed out that healthcare workers have always taken precautions to prevent spreading disease. As an example, Berger stated his surgery team wears “hermetically-sealed space suits” and performs their surgeries in rooms that are filled with sterilized air that helps kill any pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.
“We have always assumed that every patient has something we don’t want to catch,” he said. “likewise, we assume that our patients don’t want to catch anything that we have.”
However, the Illinois Department of Public Health has clearly stated that elective surgeries could be suspended if there is a resurgence, or a second wave of the virus or if there is a decrease in statewide COVID-19 testing levels in hospitals.
Looking back, Berger thinks it was unnecessary to prohibit elective procedures, which are an important source of income for hospitals. Since everyone is screened for COVID-19 at Rush Hospital, Berger says that having a knee replacement surgery is actually safer than going to a gas station or a grocery store.
“We were expecting that this would be Armageddon,” he said. “We thought the hospital would be 100% filled with COVID-19 patients. They set up a makeshift hospital at McCormick Place that was supposed to be filled. Well, it turned out no patients ever went there. Rush Hospital wasn’t overfilled. No other hospital was overfilled. Thank God, of course, but everyone was wrong.”
Meanwhile, as Treider prepared for her knee surgery, her worries about the operation have been soothed by her assurance in Dr. Berger. Treider is a devout tennis player, and can’t wait to get her surgery so she can get back on the court by the summer. “After this surgery, I’m going to be walking around with happy tears,” she said.