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What Is It Like to Have Surgery During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

A Patient Shares Her Story

Preparing for surgery can often be nerve-wracking, and scheduling one in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic can heighten that anxiety more than usual.

But for Geneva resident Shelley Kupetis, 51, delaying her colon resection surgery to treat pain and inflammation tied to diverticulitis was not an option she considered. After three years of sporadic bouts of severe abdominal pain tied to the condition, she was eager to find relief.

“My first surgery consult was in August of 2019. At that time, I learned they would need to remove 12 inches of my colon,” Shelley says. “I didn’t have the surgery then because I needed more time. After the fifth attack in March of 2020, I was honestly just ready to move forward and scheduled my second consult for mid-April.”

Delaying the surgery meant potential for more adverse consequences, as a repeat flare of diverticulitis could lead to re-hospitalization, abscess or perforations in the colon. At this point, Shelley’s surgery would be laparoscopic; if she had more severe damage, she could need a more involved open surgery.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Shelley waited 6 weeks for the surgery. On May 29 — the same day Illinois moved into Phase Three of its reopening plan — she walked through the doors of Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital. Although she was nervous when first arriving at the hospital because she could not have companions with her, the staff quickly put her at ease.

“They were caring, supportive and provided a sense of comfort that made my surgery and recovery a better experience than I could have imagined during this pandemic,” she says. “I felt safe.”

Shelley’s surgeon, Dean P. Shoener, MD, says timing was ideal for her surgery. He had been monitoring COVID-19 activity in Illinois as well as reactivation plans at the hospital, and notes that the hospital implemented a number of precautions, including in-house pre-operative testing of all surgical patients, mandatory masking for both patients and employees, and limited visitors.

I felt safe.
— Shelley Kupetis

“Both the local and state COVID-19 numbers were declining at the time, and we were on the downside of the curve,” Dr. Shoener says. “I felt confident that everything was in place to proceed with surgery with minimal risk of exposure to my patient.”

While Shelley understands that many patients might be anxious about scheduling a surgery, she says preparation is key.

“I asked a lot of questions, took notes, listed the pros and the cons of the procedure, and discussed my options with my family,” she says. “I believe if you have faith and trust your instincts, in the end, you will make the best decision for you.”

Dean P. Shoener, MD
Dean P. Shoener, MD
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Rated 4.9
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157 Ratings
Health System Clinician, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty General Surgery
Accepts New Patients
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