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Planning for the Unthinkable

April 20, 2017
Take Time to Make Your Wishes Known

It’s difficult to imagine, but try to picture yourself near the end of your life. An assortment of beeping devices and medications are the only things keeping you alive and doctors have told your family it’s not likely you’ll recover. Understandably distraught, your son and daughter have differing ideas of how to care for you. Your son is hopeful that something will change over the next few weeks – perhaps a different combination of medicines will bring back his mom. But your daughter feels that, even if your life could be prolonged, it wouldn’t be a quality one. You’d be confined to a hospital bed, connected to tubes, unable to care for yourself or communicate, and she believes you wouldn’t want to exist that way. The two of them disagree so strongly that they’re unable to be in the same room together. If you were awake, you would hate to see them divided like this. They used to be so close! If you had known how bitter they would become about your care, about the rift it would cause in your family, you would have made time years ago to tell them what you wanted your death to be like.

Scenarios like this play out in hospitals across the country more often than you might think. Discussing death is uncomfortable, both for the person contemplating his or her own mortality and the family members who don’t want to consider a life without their loved one. It’s no surprise that families tend to avoid talking about end-of-life care, but not discussing it might prove to be just as difficult.

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, which took place on April 16, GBMC HealthCare wants to encourage all members of the community (regardless of age or health) to put the discomfort aside, complete an advance care directive, and name a healthcare agent.

Advance care directives are legal forms that ensure patients’ wishes for healthcare are followed in the event they are unable to speak for themselves due to illness or injury. Although these forms are not wills, they provide peace of mind to patients and relieve their loved ones from the burden of having to make difficult decisions during a health crisis. They also ensure that patients will have the right mix of treatments and support available at each stage of their illness.

A healthcare agent is a person, typically a trusted friend or family member, who will speak for you and make decisions based on what you would want done or your best interests if you cannot. He or she has a copy of your advanced directive, or knows where to find it. You decide who your agent is and how much power your agent will have to make these decisions.

A primary care physician is a great person to speak with about completing an advance directive and naming a healthcare agent. He or she will answer any questions you may have, direct you to appropriate resources that will help guide you through the process and ultimately, add your completed directive to your medical record.

If you already have an advance directive form, it’s very important to share it with your primary care team and any specialty physicians who may be treating you. Please remember to bring a copy to your next appointment. If you don’t have a primary care physician, visit to find one who is right for you.
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