The science of waiting lists

Having been on both sides of this (the one where you seemingly wait for years, and the one where something is done absolutely instantly) I have a whole new viewpoint on Public health system waiting lists, and get really annoyed at people who complain about how long they have to wait.

I have many different experiences of waiting lists, both lengthy and immediate. I feel like that gives me the right to have a rant on this subject.

Knee replacement surgery

This took me years, many many years of waiting, working my way through various waiting lists, seeing consultants, getting the clearance for surgery and then a final 4 months after all that to wait for the actual surgery date. Yes, it is frustrating, but when I then experienced the absolute opposite scenario, I came to realise why I was waiting so long. Needing a knee replacement was not a life threatening situation, in the grand scheme of things.

Vascular surgery

When the problem was actually discovered (after over a year of arguments and misdiagnosis) my lower leg was actually ischemic (had no blood flow, even at rest). When you compare this to me needing a knee replacement, clearly the lack of blood flow is much more urgent an issue than needing a knee replacement. If we were to wait too much longer, I ran the risk of developing gangrene, and ultimately losing the leg. Put this in priority order for surgery and it would come much closer to the top than the knee replacement if you stood these two scenarios side by side.

Being bumped up and down waiting lists

Suddenly I had a day and time for surgery – within hours of arriving into the hospital.

Yes, of course the hospital would have scheduled all the operating theatres for surgery. I know that Southern DHB usually schedules surgery dates and times a month at a time. So clearly someone else’s surgery was cancelled so that mine could fit in. Why? Well obviously that someone else, whoever they were, was not in danger of losing a limb quite as urgently as I was.

If I had had to wait – because a bunch of other people with much less pressing medical problems had been given surgery dates before I had, I would have been livid. It could well have meant I lose the leg, while waiting for the operating theatre to become available.

But, it doesn’t mean that my issue is more important than anyone elses, because it isn’t.

My artery occluded (blocked) twice in quick succession after the bypass surgery. The only solution was to operate again. I was back in theatre within 20 mins the first time, and back up to the operating theatre floor within 30 mins the second time it blocked. Again, there was a real threat that I could lose the leg if we didn’t act fast.


The second time it blocked, I was being wheeled towards surgery, when suddenly, I was reversed back out of pre op and into a waiting bay.
I was told that an emergency Caesarian had just come in via ambulance and so I would have to wait.

Yes… I could still lose a leg, but someone else could actually lose their life. Which one is more important now?

Of course I didn’t mind waiting.

So, the next time you complain about how long you have to wait….

Have a think for a second what else could be happening that you do not know about. Someone could be fighting for their life. Someone could be at risk of losing a limb. Someone could be fighting the possibility of becoming permanently disabled, or many other medical emergency situations.

Now think again, do you really mind waiting that bit longer? Someone somewhere has made an educated and calculated decision that you probably would not be worse off physically, if you did.

In my case, they did the right thing to act fast, and they also did the right thing to make me wait while they saved the life of a mother and her unborn baby.

Please think first before you next complain about waiting times.