By Kathy Hubbard
“I know how you think and I know exactly what you’d want me to do,” my brother said to me with a smile on his face. “No you don’t,” I replied with a slightly annoyed snarl. But then he proceeded to tell me precisely what I was thinking, which was a little disconcerting.
We were talking about my advance health care directive, also known as a living will. And today we’re going to talk about how you can create the necessary documents to ensure your wishes are carried out when you’re unable to speak for yourself and, of course, who’ll do the talking.
It can happen to anyone. A head injury. A brain aneurysm. A stroke. You know that these things are unpredictable. What would you want to have happen? Would you want to be resuscitated? Would you want to be fed intravenously? Would you want antibiotics to ward off infection?
“Start by thinking about what kind of treatment you do or do not want in a medical emergency,” advises the National Institutes on Aging. “In considering treatment decisions, your personal values are key. Is your main desire to have the most days of life? Or, would your focus be on quality of life, as you see it? What if an illness leaves you paralyzed or in a permanent coma and you need to be on a ventilator? Would you want that?”
Lots of questions, eh? Here’s another one: what makes life meaningful to you? “If your heart stops or you have trouble breathing, would you want to undergo life-saving measures if it meant that, in the future, you could be well enough to spend time with your family? Would you be content if the emergency leaves you simply able to spend your days listening to books on tape or gazing out the window?” NIA asks.
Some people are optimistic that being kept alive as long as medically possible with a cure just a day away is preferable to not wanting their lives prolonged. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s about what you want.
“Your decisions about how to handle any of these situations could be different at age 40 than at age 85. Or, they could be different if you have an incurable condition as opposed to being generally healthy. An advance directive allows you to provide instructions for these types of situations and then to change the instructions as you get older or if your viewpoint changes,” NIA says.
There are two main documents. You don’t necessarily have to have both of them. And, although having a lawyer draw them up can make it easier for some, it isn’t mandatory. The first is the living will. This is a document that tells the medical staff how you want to be treated if you’re dying or permanently unconscious and can’t make decisions about treatment in an emergency. In your living will you’ll line out exactly what methods they can and cannot employ.
The second document is a durable power of attorney for health care. This is a legally binding document that names a proxy for your healthcare. This person will be the go-to for making decisions about treatments that you would be making if you were able. In my case, this was where my brother came in.
And, here’s an aside: when I was about to have surgery a few years ago, I was advised to change my proxy. My brother, at the time, lived out of the country and it made a lot of sense that if there was an emergency, tracking him down might prove difficult. I tell you this to reinforce that anything you put in writing, can be changed. I did.
There’s a website, www.caringinfo.org that will explain more about advance directives than I have room for in this article. And, what I was impressed with is that it gives specific information for Idaho. If you click on the state, it will provide you with a PDF form to fill out with directions on how to make it legal. Very easy and well worth the few minutes it will take you. How about taking a moment to do it today?
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.