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Share your healthcare AND end-of-life wishes

Today is National Health Care Decisions Day, an initiative to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. While public awareness of advance directives is widespread, less than one third of Americans have a living will. And a Pew Research Center survey, conducted in November 2005, revealed that while people are much more willing to discuss end-of-life care preferences than they were a generation ago, only about 50% of children have had these conversations with their aging parents.

As a hospice nurse, I learned about the importance of advance care planning in ensuring individual values and preferences are honored, and the gift these documents provide to family and friends when called upon to make decisions regarding a loved one’s care. I witnessed patients endure treatments they may not have wanted and families struggle with uncertainty or conflict when these documents did not exist. I also learned about the fragility of life and how serious illness can impact us when least expected, reinforcing the importance of not waiting for a medical crisis before having important discussions.

In my personal life, I experienced the value of advance care planning when my own father experienced a serious illness that took his life within three months. When he could no longer speak for himself, my brother and I were called upon to make decisions regarding his care. Because he had taken the time to prepare an advance directive and have conversations about his wishes, we were confident in our decision to pursue hospice care when treatments were no longer beneficial or improving his quality of life.

Today, on National Healthcare Decisions Day, consider the following:

  • If you do not have an advance directive, take the time to prepare one today and encourage family and friends to do the same. There are two main types of advance directives: the living will and durable power of attorney. Many people make a combined directive that includes both a living will and a durable power of attorney for healthcare. You can download an advance directive form here.
  • As you prepare your advance directive, have a conversation with loved ones about its contents as well as your values and priorities. Ensure that the person you designated as your health care proxy (substitute decision maker) is willing to make decisions for your care in accordance with your wishes.
  • Be sure to provide a copy to your physician and other healthcare providers.
  • If you have already prepared an advance directive, take the time to review it today. If your values, preferences, and wishes have changed, this is the time to prepare a new document.

I prepared an advance directive more than 20 years ago. I have been blessed with good health and my family, thankfully, has not needed to refer to its contents. Today, however, my children are more likely to be decision makers than those I identified twenty years ago, and my values and priorities have changed based on life experiences and age.

With that in mind, I took the time today to prepare a new advance directive and to ensure, once again, that my family understands its contents. I can now take comfort that, if necessary, my children have the guidance they need and the same piece of mind that my brother and I had if called upon to make decisions for my care. I hope that you and your loved ones will do the same.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Having lost my wife to cancer back in October I cannot tell enough people about how important it is to have a plan and to get educated. There are so many obvious and not so obvious things that we should all consider; after all, death is not one of the optional choices we are given life. Nor does it follow our schedule and it certainly doesn’t care if it’s at a time that’s inconvenient.

    As an example of “not so obvious”, we had a well thought out plan thanks to my wife’s tenacity and foresight. We decided to go through her dying process at home, and though we had everything practical in place we had not considered what it was going to take from me as the primary care giver. We just assumed I could handle it – and I did, but that was a big blind spot and one I am still grappling with even though the caregiving phase is gone. There was so much more I could have learned about ahead of time so that I could have made her passing even more comfortable and smooth. Thanks for your post.

    April 16, 2012
    • Terre Mirsch #

      Hello Mr. Woods,

      Thank you for sharing your story and insights as a caregiver. I agree that there is much to consider as we plan for end of life care. Preparation for the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of care for the person who is ill and the caregiver is important. While caring for a loved one provides great rewards, is also takes great courage. Caregiving provides many challenges and it is not uncommon that we lack confidence in our decisions and the daily tasks that we are called upon to do.

      We are hopeful that our blog can provide assistance and support for caregivers like you. Our loved ones are not looking for perfection in our daily caregiving; they only need our love, care, and compassion. You provided your wife with the ultimate gift by enabling her to die at home, where she wanted to be. I hope that knowing this will bring you the peace and comfort that you deserve.

      Thank you for your advocacy and for following Caring with Confidence.
      Terre

      April 22, 2012

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