November is National Hospice and Palliative Care month, as well as Caregiver month. Caregivers and family are heavily involved in the health of their loved ones. So many times they are the driving force behind getting Hospice and Palliative care involved. So it works out perfect that both of these happen to be in the same month.
A little background first. As a Registered Nurse, I had heard the first and last breaths of life as well as the first and last heartbeats and everything in between. A life is equally precious no matter how young or old. Everyone will ultimately transition from this earth, some sooner than others.
If you are reading this, then here is the first rule for anybody. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Make sure that your wishes for a major medical event and/or end of life care are clear. Telling someone is not sufficient, it needs to be done so that it is a legal document. There are several different options and the terminology can get a little confusing. So here are the nitty-gritty details.
A “Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare” allows you to name a person to oversee your medical care and make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are unable. This person may be referred to by several different terms including healthcare proxy or healthcare agent. When arranging your care, the person that is designated is legally bound to carry out your wishes to the extent that they know about them.
To further make your wishes clear, you can use a second type of directive as well. A “Living Will” will have your written wishes for your agent and health care providers.
Many states have combined a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Living Will into an “Advance Healthcare Directive.” One of the best documents that I’ve had experience with is Five Wishes. This is a very comprehensive Advance Directive.
Personally, this is the Advance Directive that I had my Mother fill out. I was named her healthcare proxy and it was very detailed with how she wanted to be cared for in a multitude of circumstances. It also guided me through what her final wishes were when I ultimately had to withdraw life support. We had discussed everything very candidly beforehand so there weren’t any surprises.
With my chronic illnesses, I have an Advance Directive on file at all medical facilities that I’m cared for. I also have my Five Wishes filled out and have three different proxies named. This is in the event that your primary or secondary proxies are unavailable. You always have someone available to make decisions for you.
Even if you don’t have medical conditions, it is always essential to think ahead for what circumstances could possibly arise down the road. Encourage family members to have some sort of document drawn up. Just because you have an Advance Directive, doesn’t mean that somebody can automatically dictate your care. This only goes into effect in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself. You also have the right to change your wishes at any point in time.
With the Holiday Season coming upon us, it is time to have some conversations with family members. What a better time to discuss one of the times in life when everyone will need the most care. Work on creating everyone’s wishes. That is one of the best gifts that we can give to anybody. Dignity and respect.