*It may seem like we are seeing an increase in deaths of folks we know, as well as popular public figures. Truth is, it is mostly about aging. The older you get, the people dying will more and more be folks you know. It’s just that simple.
What amazes me is how many of us are not willing to accept this very final event in life as a reminder to “get our affairs in order.” I don’t know about you, but it is increasingly difficult for me to see the anguish and suffering for both patients and their families, as a result of not preparing. As though they don’t think they will ever die.
Come on people, nobody gets out alive!
In the continuing spirit of providing useful information on health issues, I decided to revisit a the topic of preparing for the end-of-life.
More than any subject, avoiding talking about death ranks at the top of the list. Death of a loved one is also the one thing that causes the most damage to the survivors, when it had not been discussed fully in preparation for the end.
How many of us have made clear to our family and friends, who understand all too well what we liked in living, how we wish to die?
Our families and friends know our favorite foods, vacation spots, the music and movies we love, even the cars and clothes we like best. But, nine times out of ten, those same people aren’t prepared to make decisions about what circumstances we should die under.
You see, we are all a car accident, a fire, or a heart attack away from being in a situation where someone else will determine how we will die. Many times there is no sudden tragedy, but simply the final chapter of a terminal illness, or just the closing of a long and wonderful life.
People need to openly discuss their end-of-life care beliefs and choices with their families and doctors.
One needs to consider what he or she personally values in life and communicate that to people you love through conversation and even better, also in writing.
Patients who are seriously ill and their family members need to ask questions of doctors and other health-care providers to get all the information needed to make appropriate decisions.
It’s important to ask your doctor ‘what if’ questions. For example, ‘What if the surgery is unsuccessful? What is my option then?’ People sometimes have difficulty discussing such issues because it is hard for them to consider that the treatment might not work. They may worry that a failure to remain positive could actually have an adverse effect on their outcome
People should hope for the best while planning for the worst.
It doesn’t mean that you are giving up; it just means you are considering all of your options so that you can make the best decision regardless of what you find.
In general, it is much easier to make this decision when you feel relatively healthy and are able to openly express your wishes to a family member or friend.
Advance directives can include the ability to refuse treatment in specific situations. There are three main types of advance directives that have evolved since approval of the PSDA:
o Do not resuscitate orders (DNRs)
o Living wills
o Durable power of attorney documents (DPAs)
Do not resuscitate orders (DNRs). DNRs typically request that no extraordinary measures be used to save your life. Extraordinary measures typically include measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the use of an electrical shock to stop a fatal abnormal heart rhythm (defibrillation), intubation (placement of a breathing tube down your throat), or the use of lifesaving medicines. People with DNR orders can be given drugs that make them more comfortable. You may request that you be identified as a DNR if you wish to avoid expensive medical care that probably will not improve your long-term prognosis.
Living wills. Living wills are written documents that contain specific instructions about the type of treatment you wish to receive at the end of your life. Unlike a DNR order, which applies to a specific moment when you require resuscitation, living wills apply to more general situations.
You must meet one of two broad conditions for your living will to be triggered:
o You have slipped into a permanent coma.
o You are not able to make decisions on the type of care you wish to receive.
Once two doctors agree that the condition has been met, your doctor will deliver care based on the directions in your living will. Usually, living wills instruct doctors not to prescribe any treatment that would unnecessarily lengthen the process of dying.
Durable power of attorney (DPA). A durable power of attorney for health care document appoints a specific person (surrogate) to make decisions about your care if you are not able to make those decisions. Unlike DNRs or living wills, DPAs allow an independent observer of your choice to assess your current health condition and to speak to your doctor before any decision about your care is made. DNRs and living wills do not allow for this type of dialogue, because your treatment is based on choices you made without knowing the exact nature of your condition.
Although family members may make good surrogates because they are most familiar with your wishes, they also may be under a lot of emotional pressure. And please, let the person you designate as your surrogate in your DPA know up front, and make sure that he or she is comfortable with this role. It is not good for someone to be surprised to learn that you named them your surrogate.
Being chosen to make decisions about the type and amount of treatment delivered to another person is an enormous responsibility. If you feel that you do not have the strength to undertake this task, you should tell the person who selected you to select another person
DNR orders, living wills, and DPA documents all are rather simple to change. You only need to verbally tell your wishes to a witness, your doctor, or any other health professional. To make sure that your wishes will be followed, make sure that a note is made in your medical file that you have changed your end-of-life care instructions.
For information to help people make decisions about end-of-life care and services before a crisis in your state by calling (800) 658-8898 or go online to www.caringinfo.org.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
Glenn Ellis lectures and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics, including health education and health promotion, particularly relevant to the African-American community. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com