Planning Eases Decisions at End of Life
Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." And with death comes tremendous heartache for the living. Communication is key to ensuring a peaceful passing for the dying and easing the stress on the living.
Families are often asked to make many difficult decisions on our behalf when we are unable to do so for ourselves. Health care workers are dedicated to educating patients and their families so they can make appropriate decisions, assisting them in communicating those decisions and supporting loved ones in carrying out those decisions at the right time.
It's important for everyone to have an understanding of what the term "life support" means. Life support means any medical device, treatment or medication that keeps one alive. Medical devices can help the loved one breathe, tubes can help them eat or drink, CPR, major surgery, blood transfusions, dialysis and antibiotics all are included in life support. Bear in mind, there are times when these treatments are very important for short-term illness and should never be withheld in those circumstances. They are only used when someone is in a terminal condition and is no longer able to participate in making decisions regarding medical treatment.
Completing a living will or advanced directive while we are healthy gives specific directions and wishes for the time of our death. What a blessing for survivors to have this document! Sorrow and grief are strong emotions that often cause families to override end-of-life care wishes and directives, sometimes unintentionally prolonging life and suffering. With these documents, families know exactly what you want or don't want. They will not have to worry if they are doing what you would have wanted when you can no longer physically or legally speak for yourself. This will allow them to spend your last moments peacefully with you, knowing that they are serving you, loving you, all by allowing you to die with dignity and without pain.
While written communication is powerful, it shouldn't stop there. Talking and sharing beliefs and desires with your loved ones helps them follow through with your wishes with certainty and confidence. It's also very important to speak with your doctor, nurse and other members of your health care team. They will help you locate the resources available to assist you in obtaining written documents, understanding your rights and options, as well as talking to your loved ones. The Internet is also a great place to research and find sample documents and even printable versions that can be personalized for you.
As Ernest Becker said, "The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity - designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man."
Alysia Braddock is a respiratory therapist at Community Medical Center.