Elective surgery is possible again, but it's an unnerving experience: 'I would advise other people to wait'

Elective surgery is possible again, but it's an unnerving experience: 'I would advise other people to wait'
Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
  • Some hospitals are reopening their elective procedure operations amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
  • 25-year-old Christy told Insider about her experience getting elective surgery for a concussion at one of these hospitals in May.
  • She said being unable to see her doctors' faces behind their medical gear, their erratic behavior, and having to sign a COVID-19-specific waiver made her feel uneasy.
  • At one point, Christy started to cry and thought she might throw up.
  • Christy said she wouldn't recommend getting elective surgery during the pandemic due to its anxiety-provoking nature.

On the morning of her elective surgery, 25-year-old Christy was excited to have an excuse to leave her house during the coronavirus pandemic.

She even decided to dress up for the occasion, wearing a pair of tight jeans with a lace-up detail.

"I was like, 'Yeah! I get to go out and wear a really cute outfit. I get to wear jeans and do something," Christy, who asked to omit her last name for health privacy reasons, told Insider.

But when Christy's mom dropped her off at the empty-looking hospital, which is located in the northeast region of the United States, the gravity of the situation sunk in.

A year prior, Christy fell while water skiing and got a concussion. When her vision problems and headaches persisted for longer than they were supposed to, she saw a neurologist who said she had a spinal fluid leak, a concussion-related condition that causes fluid to seep into the brain and weigh it down, causing the symptoms Christy experienced.


The doctor said she could take daily antidepressant medication to treat the problem, or get the spinal fluid drained periodically to prevent symptoms like noise sensitivity, brain fog, and headaches. Christy chose the fluid-draining surgery.

"I never do well with medication. I have been on an SSRI [anti-depressant] before and it just didn't go so well for me," Christy said.

So at 1 p.m. on a day in mid-May, Christy got out of her mom's car and walked into an eerily quiet hospital to undergo what she later learned was the pain and spine department's first elective surgery since the pandemic began.

'I couldn't see any of their faces. I had no reassurance.'

Elective surgery is possible again, but it's an unnerving experience: 'I would advise other people to wait'
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers take care of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients in the ICU room in Bangkok.Reuters

Once Christy did a temperature check and checked in at the front desk, she was taken to a room where she was asked to get out of her clothes and into a hospital gown. She did, regretting her outfit choice, and then a nurse came to check on her and take her back to the operating room in a wheelchair.


"She was talking really fast and she seemed really nervous," Christy said, which made her nervous, too.

In the operating room, there were four surgeons and a nurse in the room, which confused Christy because she thought her procedure would be uncomplicated based on a previous consultation with the doctor who diagnosed her with the condition.

"Their faces were all covered and they were in full gear [including face shields], and so I think that made me be like, 'What the f--k,'" Christy said. "They were moving erratically and quickly. I couldn't see any of their faces. I had no reassurance."

Christy got out of her wheelchair and one of the surgeons handed her a mask to put on.

"They handed it to me and were like, 'You know how to put this on?' I'm like, 'Well, intuitively yes, but I don't know.' And then I put on the mask and then they changed it for me," Christy said.


Her feelings of anxiety continued to mount.

"I get on the table and I'm trying to quell my anxiety, you know, I try to take deep breaths and do all the things you're supposed to do," she said.

It was scary signing paperwork about the risks of her operation without anyone to support her or speak to

Elective surgery is possible again, but it's an unnerving experience: 'I would advise other people to wait'
Getty Images / Mayur Kakade

In that moment, one of the surgeons started to explain that the procedure came with risks.

"He started saying all of these risks, and he was like, 'If you are sick at all, we would be injecting into your bloodstream and you would get meningitis,'" Christy said.


He was referring to viral meningitis, a condition that can lead to hearing loss, brain damage, and paralysis, according to Columbia University's Department of Neurology. In some cases, a person could have viral meningitis-related brain inflammation, and not even realize it, according to the Mayo Clinic. If left untreated, it could cause permanent hearing and vision problems, speech impairments, and personality changes.

A May case study in the journal International Journal of Infectious Diseases focused on the first-known case of viral meningitis and brain inflammation associated with COVID-19. The man in the study didn't have surgery prior to his symptoms, which included a headache, fever, and seizures.

But once the man was at the hospital, doctors found that the coronavirus was present in his spinal fluid and played a role in his brain inflammation. Doctors were able to treat the man, but found that part of his brain that controls seizures had been permanently damaged.

Christy's doctor went on to tell her it was possible the procedure wouldn't even work, and she'd still have fluid in her brain afterwards. He handed her a piece of paper to sign acknowledging those risks, and for a second, Christy sat and contemplated signing it.

Then another surgeon in the room, a woman, broke the silence.


"She was scary. She was like, 'Everything changed because of COVID-19. This is just so new,'" Christy said.

Already in the operating room and without her mom around, Christy decided to sign the paper despite feeling fearful. She didn't think she had COVID-19 because she isolated early on and her state didn't have many cases, but the doctors' speeches on risks made her feel paranoid.

They started to draw blood out of her arm to later inject it into her spine, and Christy got nervous and started to cry.

"I felt sick and I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't," she said. "I think just not being able to see them smiling and being like, 'It's going to be OK. We're here for you,' that was just not fair."

Christy's anxiety worsened following the surgery

Elective surgery is possible again, but it's an unnerving experience: 'I would advise other people to wait'
Crystal Cox/Business Insider


Christy stayed awake and laid on her side while the doctors injected her spine, which is normal for her type of procedure. Afterwards, she put her lace-up jeans back on and called her mom to come pick her up.

Though Christy made it out of her surgery with no problems, her anxiety began to mount again during the recovery process. She said she called the doctors who operated on her a few times when she was nervous that she'd contracted meningitis, and having their reassurance post-operation made up for the lack she felt during the surgery.

But she kept thinking that she would've felt calmer during the procedure itself if it wasn't the middle of a pandemic, her doctors weren't on high alert, and she could've seen more of their faces.

"I think it's unfortunate that people's experience for awhile is going to be not being able to see their doctor's face," Christy said.

"I would definitely advise people to wait [for elective procedures]. [Before the pandemic] when you have a procedure, you kind of go home and you're like, 'Oh s--t, what went wrong?' and get very anxious. And I think it only adds to it in this climate."