The Importance of a Plan

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?

Photo of an empty hospital hallway.
Make your plan before you end up here. Image from Pixabay.

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.

22 thoughts on “The Importance of a Plan

  1. Great post–and you are absolutely right. We have a “just-in-case” book, with everything itemized, right down to where all important information can be found, because our support team is a friend, not family. He knows where it is, and we’ve kept it up to date so that if such a moment arrives, and my husband cannot advocate for me, or I can’t advocate for him, someone else can. Because, you know, just in case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post and great reminder for those who have not put plans in place to do just that. I hope this post is shared widely.


  3. I am sure many around the world are looking at the political circus being performed in the USA – I wonder how many are like you and declining to talk about the situation. All I can say is that my friends and I hope we can breathe a sigh of relief after November (we are worried about the world not just the USA so we want to feel relief at the election outcome).


    • I will be very glad when this election cycle is over. I know I should be happy to have a vote when so many people around the world do not have such a privilege. And I will vote – even on Tuesday when our state has a primary. Like you, I have great worries about the future.


  4. Denise, this is so well written. A “Johnny-on-the-spot” support team is past price, and I am glad to hear about yours. No one expects a medical emergency, especially me. One year ago on April 25th a kidney infection I didn’t know I had went septic and there I was in ICU on a ventilator, like you describe with your coma. My sons and husband had my back. Thanks for reminding all of us about the difficult conversations we need to have. And yes, you are certainly much, much more than “a person in a wheelchair.”


      • The thing that the ICU receptionist and nurses found surprising is the agreement and harmony between my sons and husband. “Really? Are we that odd?” asked my Nathan. “You have NO idea the things we see,” came the answer. “The fighting and bickering…” Yikes.


        • My sisters and I disagreed and had arguments about what cookies to serve at my parents’ anniversary party. After the party, I sat down with my parents and said, “I love your other daughters, and I’m not going to fight with them about your healthcare decisions. I don’t care who you appoint, but pick someone and let’s write some things down because we can’t come to agreement over something as simple as cookies!”

          Not that good cookies are simple, says the cookie baker…

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post and sound advice. It’s always best to make sure people understand what you wish and if you have healthcare power of attorney, that you follow directions to the letter. I’m so grateful my mom left clear directions and there was debate about what she wanted us to do. It was much better than what we went through with my grandmother ten months later. It’s a huge comfort to all concerned to be informed and to have the hard discussions. This is a very well written post. I;m going to see if you shared this on Twitter so I can retweet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing, and for helping to spread the word about the importance of a plan. The decision you make as a health care proxy may be difficult, but knowing you are acting as someone would want you to act is helpful.


  6. Now that my relationship status has changed, I need to attend to this again. Crucial! Thank you so much for the reminder! And thank you, Antonia, for reblogging it so it didn’t go past me again!


  7. This is a great idea, although it sounds way more organized than I usually manage to be. Still, it is something I need to reflect on. This is the kind of thing we don’t even actively think about much, although it’s on our minds as we watch our aging parents go through their end-of-life challenges.


    • I encourage you to think about it. Even if you are not ready to have difficult discussions with others, writing down your wishes in a safe place and sharing them with others is a good first step. There are guides and resources to help you do this and a quick Google search can probably help you find them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such an important discussion. I’m so thankful that my parents made their wishes clear, both verbally and in writing, and I have done the same for my daughter, although I need to update now that I see that we can be planted in pods that grow into trees. I think I’ll become a black walnut, just to guarantee I keep irritating the shit out of everyone : )


    • I haven’t looked into the tree option. I’m hoping the local medical college will take me for their students to use. I’ve been a teacher all of my life. Might as well be a teacher in death!


  9. Dee, your post is a valued call to action for making a plan! I appreciate the details you share about yourself. Although I’m on the preventive side, not at the bedside as a nurse, I’m keenly aware of the setting where you expressed being seen by the medical profession as “wheelchair bound” and not seen as “active professional”. That used to drive me crazy when I did work in the hospital and home health as well. It pains me to hear that a caregiver made a debilitating error while assisting you. The best thing I can do after reading this is to take the next step and set up a meeting with my loved ones and team about making a plan. It’s going on the calendar for dinner conversation this Friday. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it is an honor to know my post has spurred you to action. Good for you. I hope your team is attentive and that you have an open dialogue. Thank you for your comments and for reading.


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