CHOICES that matter most

As strong, healthy, decisive individuals, we generally value our autonomy above all. This is a good thing. However, it often is short-sighted to assume that our lives will not change, or that our decisions of the past will apply in all future situations.

There is no easy way to plan for future health care choices. It's a pocess that involves thinking and talking about complex and sensitive issues. If you follow the news, you have heard about some situations in which choices are left up to others---and you might wonder how or why that was allowed to happen. Often there are no warnings of devastating changes in health status; at other times, there is a long illness which may or may not give a person time to consider options and make one's own decisions.

Let me be clear to say that this is NOT referring to one's will, finances, property ownership, or assets.

This is about who will speak for you when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. Who will be your agent, who will work with your healthcare team for your best interest? This is about that inevitable transition that we all will come to – from this life to Life Eternal. This rarely happens in 'the blink of an eye.'

The news media provided great detail of the untimely death of Joan Rivers, following several days on life support and agonizing decisions by her family. Entertainer Joni Mitchell of the 1950s-60s suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm some months ago and remained hospitalized until her death. Bobbi Kristine Brown, daughter of the late Whitney Houston, has been hospitalized in a coma for several months following a drug overdose. Ultimately the court had to make a legal definition of next of kin, and appoint a guardian; she remains on hospice care and has remained unresponsive.

U.S. Senator Harry Reid, current age 75 and in fine athletic condition, fell off his treadmill, sustaining injuries that prevented him from conducting business-as-usual, and has led him to the decision to not run for re-election to Congress at the end of his current term. There was a well-known 47-yr-old businessman with ties to the Twin Cities, who fell on a treadmill in the exercise room of a hotel, and had passed away by the time he was found; his family had no chance to consider choices of his care. There was much media coverage from 2012 and 2013 about Nelson Mandala, central political figure of South Africa, who had many hospitalizations in the last few years of his life, ultimately lived to age ninety-five.

The death due to ALS of a notable dean of the University of St Thomas is well-documented in the book “We Know How this Ends,” written by Bruce Kramer, with Cathy Wurzer of MPR. There were many decisions about quality of life during his prolonged illness; and he had the courage to write about them for the benefit of others who may experience similar situations.

Lastly, two more local examples: The death statistics of the 1965 Fridley MN tornado were not tabulated until the end of 1965 when several of the injured succumbed to the injuries from the tornado after months of hospitalization in intensive care units. In today's concerns of parish nurses from other parts of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, there are neighborhood street shootings which affect those in their faith communities. Often it involves people who are too young to have thought of complex healthcare and advanced care decisions. But they have become involved when it impacts friends their own age.

As your parish nurse, I have worked in the settings of healthcare involving many difficult decisions required of patients, their families, their physicians, their other healthcare providers. There are no easy ways to plan for future health care choices; it's a process that involves thinking and talking about complex and sensitive issues. People have the right to have the healthcare team tell them about medical choices, the risks and the benefits of each of the options in terminology that it understandable and clear. The patient has the right to accept or to decline these choices.

The Advanced Care Planning Guide, of Honoring Choices MN, helps patients share thoughts, feelings, concerns with the healthcare team, family, friends, and spiritual advisors. Consider the health conditions that you may have now, or may likely encounter in the future; and consider the treatment options currently in practice. Whatever your personal decisions are about certain treatments, it's important that you discuss your point of view with the people closest to you. It is also a good idea to put your choices in writing.

It's challenging to think about having to make these decisions, and it's more difficult to make decisions when you don't know what you want because you've never considered what you might want.

You will have the opportunity to hear about the process of the Honoring Choices MN; an opportunity to ask questions, to learn how to initiate the conversation with your family and physician(s). Our Good Shepherd parish nurse, Dorothy Ellerbroek, has received about sixty hours of training in the Honoring Choices process over the past three years through Fairview Community Health division. She will be offering three seminars of 1 – 1 ½ hrs each, at 2 p.m. on the 3rd Thursday of August, September, and October, 2015.

There is no cost to attend these seminars. Participants may attend all three sessions, if so desired; there is no obligation to complete the Honoring Choices document during these sessions.

The seminars will cover the following information:

  • What is a health care directive?
  • How do I get a health care directive?
  • When is my health care directive used?
  • Can I change my health care directive after it is in place?
  • Whom should I choose as my health care agent?
  • What if I become ill or injured while away from home? What happens in an emergency?
  • Do I need a lawyer to complete a health care directive?
  • How can I plan for future medical situations?
  • How can I talk about these situations with my loved ones? Who do I talk to? What should I say?
  • Do I need to talk to my doctor?

Please take note of the dates of these seminars: August 20th, September 17th, and October 15th. Plan to attend any or all of the sessions; bring along a friend or family member.

For more information phone Dorothy Ellerbroek at 612-927-8849, ext. 145