Not a topic that is easily or often discussed, but think it should be. It’s the one thing we all have in common. Like it or not, we are all going to die one day. So whether you are a student at USG or a grandparent (or a student at USG who is a grandparent), I hope you take the time to read this…
I have never been bothered by the sight of a dead body. Well, I take that back. When I was 15-years old, I worked as a candy striper (aka a hospital volunteer) and saw a dead woman lying in her hospital bed. For some reason, I was intrigued that she had painted finger and toe nails. Not sure why that stuck in my mind, but it did. I thought it odd she would paint her nails if she knew she was going to die. Maybe she knew and maybe she didn’t—I never knew much about her.
Nurses can get to know a patient a lot better than a 15-year old. Sure, we all know that people die in hospitals, but when you are actually there when it happens, you realize that a death sets gears in motion. The family must be notified along with the charge nurse, physician and the hospital pastor. I am glad that I have worked in healthcare settings where the nurses try to preserve a deceased patient’s dignity as much as possible. Curtains are drawn, nurses disconnect the patient from drips and IVs, family members are given time with their loved one, prayers are said, paperwork is properly gathered, and security solemnly escorts the patient to the morgue. But the hustle and bustle of caring for other patients continues, just as if nothing happened.
I think most of us want to go out of this life on our own terms and a good way to make
sure that happens is to have an advance healthcare directive. An advance healthcare directive is a legal document where you specify what actions should be taken if you are no longer able to make healthcare decisions for yourself because of illness or incapacity. And do you know how many people have advance directives? Not many. Just in the two months of my nursing externship, I have seen families have to make crucial decisions about a family member who could not speak for themselves. “Do we keep Grandma hooked up to lifesaving devices?”, “Would Mom or Dad want to be fed through a tube?”, or “Do we try one more treatment?”
So how to bring up the subject with your loved ones? I found a great tool to start the conversation and actually, it’s called The Conversation Project. It was founded by Pulitzer-prize-winning author Ellen Goodman as a way to have every person’s wishes for end-of-life care expressed and respected. This video is a great overview of the project.
Yes, I have an advance directive and no, it wasn’t hard to do. You do not need a lawyer although it is considered a legal document. Forms can even be downloaded for free and you can redo it any time you like. Think of it as a selfish way to get what you want if you can’t communicate those things. Better yet, do it for your family so they will know they are making the right decisions for you. There certainly is peace of mind in that, for everyone.