We’re All Mortals. Let’s Plan Ahead.
Posted by Maggie McMeekin, Resource Nurse
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a nationwide initiative that aims to help people across the U.S. understand the value of advance healthcare planning.
I want to tell you about why I'm passionate about advance directives, with a hint of my irreverent sense of humor to boot.
Advance directives should be filled out when we are healthy and lucid. They should not be something we hastily prepare as our stretcher is being loaded into an ambulance.
They don't affect our everyday lives or even take effect until we are unable to make healthcare decisions for ourselves. How many people end up being non-decisional at some point? I’ve worked at the JourneyCare’s Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter in Barrington for five years now, and I can say, without exaggeration, that everyone reaches a point wherein they are unable to make decisions for themselves. This appears to only apply to mortals. So far, I have been alive for 29 years and it appears that everyone is mortal, possibly even including myself.
This isn't just for people with chronic conditions. We’re all just one car accident or crazy fall on a staircase away from it being far too late. Advance directives are like having seatbelts in your car — they don't mean you're jinxing yourself into having an accident; they're just a valuable precaution.
Let me share my own advance directives that I drafted when I was 24 years old.
Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
The first one I filled out was a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) form. My brother Michał is now officially going to make decisions on my behalf — but it only takes effect should I become non-decisional.
I needed an HCPOA because I am a single mother. If I did not have one, my parents would end up my surrogate decision-makers. My parents have very different feelings about things like long-term tube feedings or life support. They would suffer immensely if they had to make a decision as to whether to take me off life support. I don't think they'd be able to make the decisions I would want them to make, so my HCPOA form lets them off the hook.
I also have my own custom advance directive document that is extremely detailed. There are many easy, streamlined versions such as the Five Wishes form. (Click here to obtain a complimentary electronic copy of Five Wishes.)
I’m a very active person. I already know I would suffer immensely if I were to be a quadriplegic and vent dependent, for example. I have very strong opinions about what good quality of life would be for me, and having a C2-C3 spinal cord injury would be a no-go situation for me. How detailed does my advanced directive get? I have parameters of how long I would want any sort of artificial nutrition or hydration.
In Illinois, you don't need a notary or lawyer to make an advance directive legal. I recommend having a neighbor, friend or colleague witness your signature. (An advance directive cannot be witnessed by family.) They do not need to know what you your wishes are —they are just watching you sign the form.
And you know what? Nothing bad happens when you prepare your advance directives. If you change your mind, you can update them or change them as much as you'd like. I could pen a whole new advance directive and mail it to my family on a weekly basis, until the state of Illinois asks me to stop disseminating my morbid manifestos.
Your advanced directive doesn't have to be like mine, either. You can say you want everything done that is medically possible.
At the end of my advance directives, I wrote, "Michał, Mom and Dad, Angelica [my daughter], I love you. Please do not feel any regret or remorse for following my wishes. Know that I would have wanted you to let me go, that you are freeing my spirit and ensuring that I end my note exactly how I wanted to. If you aren't sure what I would have wanted or if my advance directive does not cover it, I trust you and I forgive you for ANY decisions you are making on my behalf."
I suppose I should add that I forgive you, too, for not having your own advanced directive in place. But perhaps you'll make the decision I would want you to make.
Learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day.
Learn more about Advance Care Planning.