It’s Time to Have a Conversation About Your Health Care Decisions

by dale on April 19, 2017

living well(Many thanks to our guest blogger Laura E. Bender, a Ph.D. student in health services research at the University of Washington School of Medicine.)

Conversations about the end of your life can be scary, sad or awkward. But these conversations also can be comfortable.

A few years ago, on a flight from Denver to Philadelphia, the woman seated on my left asked me what I did for work. I assumed my response would kill the sociable dynamic of our conversation if I didn’t choose my words carefully. I’m a palliative care researcher and, at the time, I was reading detailed patient death notes in medical records and talking with family members of recently deceased veterans about the care they received in their last month of life.

“I study the experiences of people dying and the choices people face at the end of their life,” I told her.”

Most people would quickly respond with a degree of uneasiness, saying how sad my work must be, and then they find a way to change the conversation. This woman was refreshingly different. She dove into how important she knows my work is and how she is confident in the choices she has made for herself. I learned she was perfectly healthy and vibrant. She didn’t work in a health care related field, but she was clear when she did and did not want a resuscitate order.

Many people rarely have such a casual conversation, let alone any conversation at all about advance care planning and end-of-life choices. But now is a good time to think about that decision by using the many free resources available for National Healthcare Decisions Day at nhdd.org

I confidently can say that people often don’t know that they even have choices. Many of the people I have spoken with assume they will get the type of care they want wherever they are. If a person has a condition so severe that he or she is unable to communicate, doctors, family members, friends, and, even, sometimes state and federal regulations dictate what happens. Any disagreement may prolong decision-making and possibly increase the chances of suffering. This confusion and conflict that can arise during difficult times can be eased with preparation.

Educational barriers often result in inadequate end-of-life care conversations. The NHDD website provides links to official legal documents for your state, as well as games, such as “Hello” (commonpractice.com/hello), a conversation game about “living and dying well” that can be played by anyone of all ages. NHDD reminds us that it is never too early to talk about your health care preferences and you do not have to figure it out on your own.

I long to live in a world where there are people like the woman on the plane who feel empowered to discuss these important decisions. Show love for yourself and those you love to live the best life all the way through to the last moments.

Laura E. Bender is a Ph.D. student in health services research at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

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