Thinking about and recording emergency medical care choices is not about death. It is all about how you wish to be treated while you are alive.
Someday, you may be brought to a hospital in critical condition. You may be confused or unable to answer questions that are asked of you. You are not dead and, in actuality (and hopefully), you might not die.
If you are sedated and admitted to the hospital, how will the staff know who to contact and what you like or want?
When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I cared for a young man who was in a coma. The nursing staff realized that he became agitated when the room was quiet. His family brought in music from several of his favorite recording artists. When the music was played, he rested peacefully. How did his family know what to do? He told them in advance.
My point is that hospital or medical care is not just about physical care. It should and does include emotional and spiritual care as well as basic life preferences. This can even help when the situation is not as critical. For instance, my wife, Naomi, hates to sleep with the blankets tucked tightly around her feet. If something should happen to her, I want to make sure that she is as comfortable as possible. Because I know her wishes, I will be able to relay this to the nursing staff.
Ten years ago, I broke several bones in my leg that required surgery and months of recuperation. Although I was able to come home from the hospital after a few days, I was given potent pain killers to relieve the pain. I was not always coherent. Naomi knew that I would want visitors. She also knew that visits from people with babies or dogs would cheer me up immensely (especially if they also brought blueberries for me to eat).
How did she know? We talked about it in advance. Now, I am not saying that we had a conversation that went something like: “If you ever break you leg, who do you want to visit…?” – but we have had the conversation about who I wanted notified if I was ever seriously injured or ill and what would cheer me up.
While writing an Advance Directive is detailed and usually focuses mainly on end-of-life or death decisions, the following questions may help others care for you when you are critically ill. What other kinds of non-medical information should the medical staff know about you? Can you answer the following questions?
If I am admitted to the hospital or I am facing a long recuperation, either at home or in a rehabilitation facility, who would I want to be notified and wish to come visit?
Is it okay to post information about my illness or injury on social media?
Am I more afraid of being in pain or being drugged to the point of not being able to visit with people?
Are there any particular foods that would make me happy (assuming that I have the approval of the doctor)?
Do I prefer quiet in my room or do I want music? If music, what kind?
If I am unable to read, would I like audiobooks or someone to read to me?
If I am in a coma or drugged, do I want someone just to sit with me?
Do I want my rabbi, priest or other spiritual leader to visit me?
Do I want the person who makes decisions to be the Emergency Room doctor or would I rather have someone who knows me and knows what I want to make those decisions?
If I have identified a person to speak on my behalf (medical power of attorney or agent), does he or she know what I want to happen if current treatment is not working? (Note: we will address this in a future blog article.)