April 16 was National Healthcare Decisions Day here in the United States, and I meant to share this post then. Even though it is a day late, the information is still valuable.
There are many times I am lazy. I don’t always sort my mail in a timely fashion. I often choose a good book over exercise. If the papers on my dining room table pile up for a week or two (or seven), I can live with that.
There are occasions when I keep my mouth closed. Granted, they are rare. But there have been instances when I did not share my true feelings with a potential romantic interest for fear of rejection. I have kept quiet in group settings so as not to delay progress towards an objective when I really had nothing additional to offer. This year, I have refrained from most political discussions.
However, when it comes to my healthcare and my wishes, I am never quiet. I wrote my first advanced directives when I was twenty-five. I have regular conversations with my doctors, friends and family about my health. They know my wishes, and thankfully have followed them each time I have needed them to speak or act on my behalf.
Last year, I wrote about my experiences relying on my healthcare agents in this post. In 2013 when I was unresponsive and ventilated in a coma for four days, my sisters and friends ensured doctors followed my wishes. They agreed to treatments based on the previous discussions we had.
This year, while I waited for surgery on my broken leg, I reviewed my wishes with my sister and friend who were with me at the hospital. There was an additional seriousness because we all remembered the last hospitalization. Again, my friends and family spoke up to doctors who only wanted to see a “wheelchair bound” individual instead of the active professional I am. When I was zonked out from the pain or medications, they gathered information and asked questions on my behalf.
Nobody wants to think about difficult times. Nobody wants to think about losing ability or becoming disabled by illness or injury. We avoid the conversations about end of life and disability because these things happen “later,” or to someone else, but of course not to us. We do not like to face our mortality or frailty. We are invincible, and we will be healthy until the day we suddenly die in our sleep.
Of course, life seldom works that way. We have car accidents or strokes. Our hearts, lungs and livers get diseased and fail to work. Or, someone who is supposed to help us get on and off the toilet drops us, and we break a leg. Wait, that may just be me…
The point is, there will come a time when you will need to make important medical decisions. Hopefully, you are alert and conscious when it happens. If you are not, who will speak for you?
I am alive today because I have had – still have – those difficult conversations. The people I trust to act on my behalf have followed my wishes. Yes, medical treatments and doctors have played a role in keeping me healthy. But when I was unable to advocate for myself, I had a support network of people who rallied around me to make sure medical professionals viewed me as a complete person.
The orthopedic surgeon who repaired my fracture in January continues to remark on my support team. Each time I see him the conversation is the same, something like:
Where are your sisters and friends? They’re ‘Johnny on the spot’ for you. You’re lucky to have them – they’re great ladies.
I don’t know if he really thought they were great when they were questioning him during my hospital stay. But he’s right – they ARE an amazing team. I am blessed to have them.
Who is on your team?
Do they know you are counting on them?
Have you given them the tools to do their job?
The National Healthcare Decision Day website has links to resources you can use to help start the conversation. Take the time now to put your wishes in writing and share them with your medical team and your loved ones.
Because, as the theme for NHDD 2016 says, It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.