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'What if?': A lifesaving cancer surgery put on hold due to surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations

UF Health says surgeries, like Paul Carlson’s, that require multi-night stays have continued to be postponed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Their faith and each other – it's what Paul Carlson and his wife Riina Flores have been holding on to.

In June, Carlson was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Almost two months later, he’s still waiting his turn for an in-patient bed at UF Health’s hospital in Jacksonville.

“It makes me feel powerless and helpless," Flores said. "And it shouldn't be that way. I should be able to help him feel better, and he should be able to get to the point where recovery is possible.”

Flores says the lifesaving surgery to remove the tumor and rebuild her husband's jaw was rescheduled twice this month, and then put on indefinite hold this week.

The cancer has since grown and spread from the bottom of Carlson’s mouth and jaw all the way to his lymph nodes and neck – making it difficult for him to talk.

“I can't eat solid food. Okay, I drink protein shakes," Carlson explained.

He's also unable to work or drive.

“It’s hard. The pain I can bear with it. It comes and goes," Carlson said. "The emotional pain and psychological part of it. We’re worried about what if? What if?"

UF Health Jacksonville told First Coast News many of its in-patient beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, and surgeries, like Carlson's, that require multi-night stays have continued to be postponed.

In a statement, UF Health Jacksonville notes in part:

“Each morning our surgery teams review our resources for all patients, and our goal is to schedule and perform as many of those surgeries as soon as possible.”

Flores says Carlson’s doctor is now referring him to chemo. She hopes the treatments will temporarily halt the tumor and give her husband some relief while he waits for surgery.

“If we wait and wait and wait and wait, then it's going to spread even further than what it is now," Flores said. "And then it's gonna be even harder to recover. So, why should he pay with his life for someone else's right to rebel? That's not, that's not right."

She wants the community to do its part to fight the virus by wearing masks and getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Your actions have consequences, your decisions indirectly affect other people," Flores explained.

The following is the full statement from UF Health Jacksonville:

"Since the beginning of COVID-19 we have had to balance the needs of those patients with our normal surgery requirements, which includes the amount of bed space we have in both of our hospitals. Our physicians continuously evaluate patients for surgery, a process that includes our ability to care for the patient after surgery. Due to COVID-19, many of our inpatient beds are filled, which is why we recently began rescheduling some surgeries that require multi-night stays. Each morning our surgery teams review our resources for all patients, and our goal is to schedule and perform as many of those surgeries as soon as possible."