As a Caregiver, one of the most important, yet emotional duties and responsibilities to consider and prepare for is the possibility that your loved one may not be able to make critical medical decisions for him or herself, and you may have to act on their behalf. This, unfortunately, may include the end of their life care.
When my wife and I learned she contracted a very deadly form of cancer, we were told to have Advanced Medical Directives available prior to her initial admission into the hospital. As with many things during that turbulent time, I felt lost and had no idea what to do or where to turn.
In advance of this process, my wife and I had to sit down and discuss in detail every contingency that might require me to make decisions for her. Most of these conversations had never been held prior to that moment. They were very uncomfortable for both of us.
An Advanced Medical Directive allows your loved one to state what they want for their own medical care if they are unable to make decisions for him or herself. They can:
- Direct that a specific procedure or treatment be provided, such as artificially administered hydration (fluids) or nutrition (feeding);
- Direct that a specific procedure or treatment be withheld; or
- Appoint a person to act as their agent in making health care decisions for them, if it is determined that they are unable to make health care decisions on their own. This includes the decision to make anatomical gifts of a specific part or parts of their body via organ and tissue donation, or of all of their body.
If you are appointed to be their agent in an Advanced Directive, you will have decision-making priority over any other individuals who could, by law, make health care decisions for your loved one. That’s why it is so important to know exactly what your family member or friend wants you to do in the event they can’t make that decision themselves.
Through research, I found out I had a couple of options: consult with an attorney, or do it myself.
I chose to do it myself via a CD series that explained the forms in great detail, walked me through how to complete each one, and then had me print each one. To make them official, I had to solicit friends to be witnesses as we went to a Notary Public to validate the signature process.
I wish I can say that completing the Advanced Medical Directive forms was a needless exercise for us.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
My wife was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit on three occasions, which included passing away and returning to life once.
On at least two occasions, I was asked if I was the person to make medical decisions on her behalf. Though I hated being asked those questions, I was grateful that I could respond on my wife’s behalf, knowing exactly what she wanted to have done based on the medical situation we were confronting at that moment.
The lesson learned here is to prepare for end-of-life care with advanced directives. I don’t think it is ever too early because, with the unpredictability of life, we can become incapacitated at any age and at a moment’s notice.
Being prepared is one of the most important things a family member can do for their loved one.