Surgery during a pandemic: how we connect people who can’t be at their loved one’s side

May 21, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

Pictured, L to R: Mark, Sue, Colette and Paul Striepling

Right about the time the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in the U.S., Sue and Mark Striepling’s daughter discovered a lump on her thyroid.

Colette Striepling, 19, had two biopsies done, but the results were inconclusive. The Strieplings, of Palos Heights, scheduled a surgical procedure for Colette at Edward Hospital to get a more definitive answer.

In normal times, this type of procedure would be nerve-racking. But these were not normal times.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Colette needed to undergo COVID-19 testing then self-quarantine for 72 hours before her procedure. She didn’t leave her bedroom the entire time except to use the bathroom.

When her parents dropped her off at the hospital entrance the day of her surgery, they were not permitted to come into the building because of the hospital’s COVID-19 visitor restrictions.

“The people at the entrance let me say goodbye, they were really compassionate. I wanted to give her a hug and she said, ‘I can’t mom, the social distancing,’” Sue says. “That was hard.”

Sue sent a packet of information with her daughter, including requests for the anesthesiologist to call her before the procedure, as Colette has a heart condition and may have adverse reactions to anesthesia.

Then she and Mark waited in the parking lot while their daughter was prepped for surgery.

“The first person that called was the anesthesiologist. He probably spent 20 minutes on the phone, saying he couldn’t imagine what we’re going through. He was the head of the department, a specialty cardiac anesthesiologist,” Sue says. “What a relief. He spent so much time talking and explaining and listening to our concerns.”

Next the surgeon performing Colette’s procedure called the Strieplings and told them that she would have a nurse call them once the lab determines whether the nodules on Colette’s thyroid were cancerous—even before the surgery was complete.

“I was at peace,” Sue says. “Then the anesthesiologist texted us to tell us Colette was happy, doing fine. He gave us the reassurance and he didn’t have to – I was already reassured.”

In March, Edward-Elmhurst Health changed its visitor policy in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The current visitor policy takes away an important support system during a very scary time,” says Mike O’Shea, director of Surgical Services at Edward Hospital. “We’re doing everything we can to step up and be that support system.

“You’re used to having a family member there with you, now you don’t have that anymore—someone to see you off in pre-op,” O’Shea says. “We communicated internally with our physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists – saying we need to step up in terms of communication with family members and their designated support person and make sure we’re doing everything possible to make them feel like they’re here with us.”

During their daughter’s surgery, Mark and Sue walked around the Edward campus. They soon received a call from the surgeon who explained the lab results.

“You typically don’t get phone calls from physicians while a procedure is taking place,” O’Shea says. “We’re calling people more often than we ever have. The empathy our staff and providers feel for the patients shows. I’m extremely proud to say they are becoming that support person for our patients.”

Lab tests revealed follicular cancer was encapsulated in the nodule. The surgeon was able to remove the nodule entirely, and Colette will not require radiation or chemotherapy. 

After the procedure, the anesthesiologist also reached out to let them know Colette had to stay in recovery a bit longer because she felt sick from the anesthesia.

“He also texted me on the way home, and I told him she was doing fine,” Sue says, adding that Colette told her she was nervous before surgery and that her nurses were “motherly” and a comfort to her. “The next morning, I received another text to see how she was doing.

“People were amazing. Above and beyond. COVID-19 has changed so much, and it’s hard. The reassurance and how they treated us was truly a blessing.”

Get the latest information on coronavirus from Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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