Thanksgiving and Christmas traditionally are times that families gather. This is a time of gratitude, joy, tradition, feasting, and celebration. I would urge you to take some special time apart from the traditional themes, and talk to you family, all generations, about advanced care planning for the "what-if" of your health status. It's not easy to talk about potential illness, accident, aging, memory loss at any time; it's hard to find the words. But for your loved ones, it may be even harder to make decisions without knowing what you want.
It's difficult to plan for future health care choices. It's a process that involves thinking and talking about complex, sensitive issues. There was a series of programs offered earlier this year in which your parish nurse presented the Honoring Choices information, including the details of decision-making, and some 'how-to' tips on completing the legal forms to be given to your personal physician. This decision-making process is for the health care that you want to have, or do not want to have, in various eventualities of life and health. Remember, this is NOT about finances, property, assets, and inheritances. Of course, it is prudent to have those plans completed, as well; for that you need an attorney; for the health care directive, you do not need an attorney, but you do need witnesses or a notary for your signature(s).
At the time of an acute change in health status, illness, accident, or a chronic condition, your physicians and other healthcare providers will discuss with you the options for treatment and the goals of treatment. They usually explain the benefits and risks of the care being offered; you have a right to accept or decline these options for care. It's important that you have open communication with your health care team and with your family members in considering the options that you may face.
An advanced health care directive allows you to express your wishes, feelings, choices about the "what ifs" of a sudden change in health status. And what if you were not able to speak at the time of illness, such as may happen in a stroke; who would be YOUR voice? In the advanced care directive, you are asked to name an agent to represent you in health care decisions, to convey YOUR wishes/preferences for care. At a minimum, please complete the document that names an agent for health care; you have the option to name a secondary agent, also, if the first one is not available. The role of the agent is to 1) be willing to take the responsibility, as you have requested; 2) to know your wishes for future medical decisions; 3) to be able to make decisions YOU want them to make, even though they may not hold the same opinion as yours; 4) be able to make major medical decisions in stressful circumstances.
If you have not had the opportunity to see the Honoring Choices forms, including a short form that only covers the naming of your agent, they are available online at www.MetroDoctors.com; or accessible with a general internet search of Honoring Choices MN.
If you have questions of the parish nurse, you may contact Dorothy Ellerbroek at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not meant to dampen your holiday spirits! In fact, having this TALK may be the best gift you give your family. As my Dad said once, "Talking about it doesn't make it happen!" Talk to those closest to you who will most likely be involved in your care. The forms ask you to answer specific questions, "no heroics" isn't sufficient. When you have an advanced health directive in place, it does not mean that you will not receive medical care. . . .but rather you will receive comfort care, with different goals than might otherwise be in place.
All major healthcare providers are supporting, accepting, and encouraging that these directives are completed for your best interest for the future. You may certainly discuss these decisions with your physician, but s/he will not tell you what decisions to select. Once the document is completed, you are asked to provide a copy to your physician, and to your chosen agent, and to your immediate family members, so all the significant people in your life will be "on the same page" if/when the time comes to make such decisions.
Be joyful, be grateful, be prepared.