A SEEMINGLY endless waiting game became about more than dealing with chronic pain for KL Joy. To be stuck in surgery limbo was taking a huge toll on KL's mental health and the well-being of their family.
Their 80-year-old mother and 15-year-old son had to shift into primary care roles for KL as the crippling pain grew worse and mental and physical energy diminished.
KL Joy, a well-known LGBTIQA+ advocate in Ballarat, knows they have been far from alone in the mounting public health wait lists for specialists in the pandemic.
But KL Joy wants people to consider options, if possible.
In the end, KL Joy opted to see an orthopaedic surgeon in a privately to be put on a public surgery wait list.
Three weeks on from a hip replacement, KL Joy said they were were not sure how, or even whether, they could have lasted another likely two years to see a surgeon - so diminished was their quality of life.
"I was losing faith," KL Joy said. "The only thing that kept me going from February [seeing the surgeon] was knowing I had some control back, being on a surgical waiting list...I was calling the receptionist weekly to see if a surgery time had come up.
"I guess it was the squeaky wheel thing - you're always at the top of mind - but I had a sense of purpose. I could see some light."
KL Joy's struggle with injury started in February 2020 after falling and damaging a knee. A general practitioner referred KL Joy to an orthopaedic at Ballarat Base Hospital but within a month the impacts of a growing pandemic hit Victoria.
By June 2021, KL Joy felt they were in "agony" with hip pain. Another GP referral put KL Joy on the public waiting list to see a specialist but, being separate pain referrals, KL Joy was looking at a wait until 2024 to be seen.
Life became a routine of waking up, getting ready and travelling five days a week for hydrotherapy in Ballan to seek some sens of relief before getting back in the car to Ballarat. There were weekly allied health treatments for a severe spinal injury KL Joy sustained as a teenager but this injury too had been exacerbated. KL Joy could not drive, lost their independence and found they became confined mostly to bed.
"I can tell you now the quality of life I had prior to surgery was affecting my mental health, my family's mental health and our well-being," KL Joy said. "...This was impacting our dynamic, our lives, [mum's] health."
In February, KL Joy sought a referral to an orthopaedic's private clinic, drawing on family savings, in the hope their surgery could be in a smaller, regional hospital.
Only, KL Joy's body mass index was deemed too high for a country hospital beyond Ballarat and instead, they were placed on to the surgeon's waiting list for surgery at Ballarat Base Hospital. Surgery last month confirmed the head of KL Joy's femur bone had turned "spongy" in degeneration.
Surgical staff at Grampians Health's Ballarat Base Hospital made clear in April the aim was to have the number of people waiting for elective surgery back to pre-pandemic levels by the year's end.
The number of patients on the elective surgery waiting list surged 21 per cent last year alone after two years of pandemic disruptions and staff furloughs halting public surgeries.
Grampians Health hospitals chief operating officer Ben Kelly said the health service understood some patients might elect to see a specialist privately then choose to be added to the public system wait list. Mr Kelly said surgery at Grampians Healths hospitals was prioritised based on clinical need.
"We understand it can be challenging when patients experience delays to treatment or longer than expected wait times. We are always working to limit wait times as much as possible," Mr Kelly said. " The balance between planned surgery, emergency surgery and our bed capacity is something we are continuing to manage. We are also conscious that any surges of COVID-19 in our community may change our plans or alter our capacity for planned activity."
KL Joy said the relief they felt post-operation was immediate, aside from expected swelling. KL Joy was now moving about on two sticks and enjoyed the chance to finally see National Gallery of Victoria's Queer exhibition in Melbourne last weekend.
"It's been a journey," KL Joy said.
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