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How an Idaho Woman Ended Up at El Camino Health for Emergency Surgery Amid Crisis Standards of Care

How an Idaho Woman Ended Up at El Camino Health for Emergency Surgery Amid Crisis Standards of Care

When Chelsea suffered from an endometriosis flare up in September 2021, she felt like she was in labor.

"It was the most painful experience I've ever been through and I had my daughter completely un-medicated," said Chelsea, "What I felt over those next 12 days was much worse than that."

She suffered from severe cramps in her abdominal area that at times felt like contractions. She had extreme nausea and could not keep food or water down. At one point, the pain was so bad Chelsea called a friend who was a doula to help her navigate her labor-like pain.

Chelsea needed surgery to get her right ovary removed, but she lives in Boise, ID. At the time, the state of Idaho was under crisis standards of care due to the COVID-19. Chelsea was prescribed pain and anti-nausea medication to help alleviate her symptoms, but the labor-like pain persisted. Her doctor said she could try going to the emergency room, but warned Chelsea that she would likely need to wait a long time.

Chelsea was in the worst pain of her life, and desperate for relief. She was fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but the thought of waiting hours in the emergency room in Idaho with where there's lower vaccination rates and a higher number of COVID-19 cases scared her, so she had one question for her doctor.

"What if I could get to California?"

The doctor told her, if you can get to California, you should get to California where there are less COVID-19 cases. So Chelsea's doctor gathered all of her medical records in a manila envelope, and Chelsea and her sister boarded a flight to the San Francisco Bay Area. Her husband would stay back in Boise with their daughter. As a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and former Bay Area resident, Santa Clara County was familiar to Chelsea. She had a strong support system in California with friends and family.

When Chelsea arrived on September 20, she ran into some challenges establishing care. She first went to an emergency room and was given an urgent referral to an OB-GYN, but could not get an appointment until October 14.

Her husband back in Boise made several calls to other gynecologists in the area, before getting in touch with Dr. Tanya Spirtos, a gynecologist on the medical staff at El Camino Health who could get her in the next day.

That evening, Chelsea got a call from Dr. Spirtos. Dr. Spirtos said she reviewed Chelsea's files and told her, "you're right, you need surgery, but I am not the person you need to see." Chelsea's stomach dropped. "You need to see a gynecological oncologist, and I found you one of the best," said the gynecologist.

For Chelsea, this was the turning point. She received a referral to Dr. Gillian Hsieh, who is a gynecological oncologist on El Camino Health's medical staff. She called Dr. Hsieh's office the next morning and the staff immediately knew who she was. They said they were expecting her call and scheduled her surgery right away at the El Camino Health Mountain View campus, the same place where she gave birth to her daughter 13 years before.

On September 29, Chelsea and her sister returned to the Mountain View campus. "My sister and I were driving up, and I thought, 'oh wait, I've done this before,'" said Chelsea, laughing.

Surgery day had an early start, but Chelsea still remembered everything. As soon as she woke up after surgery, the first thing Chelsea told her nurse was "I'm no longer in pain."

"Every step of the way, everyone was so helpful, so kind, so calming, and everyone kind of knew what I was going through so they were like 'we're going to get you home,' it couldn't have been any better. I am just so thankful," she recalled.

She left the hospital the same day and was soon on a plane back to Boise to reunite with her family for her daughter's 13th birthday. She is recovering well, and slowly returning back to work.

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