It’s National Healthcare Decisions Day (who knew?) and a good time to have that difficult-but-essential conversation about who speaks for you and what life-prolonging measures you want—or don’t want—doctors to take if you are unable to speak for yourself.
And if you want someone to hold your hand (gently) through the process, Lee Memorial Health System will have social workers on hand today from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at its four hospitals in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
“Advanced directives, just as it says, have to be prepared in advance,” says Kim Pieretti, a social worker on the palliative care team, which is holding the event with the spiritual services department.
Advanced directives refers to two major decisions: Who makes your health care decisions if you are incapacitated, and do you want doctors to artificially prolong your life in the face of an inevitable death?
In the first case, your spouse is your de facto health care proxy if you can’t speak for yourself; if you are not married, that responsibility generally falls to your children or next closest relative.
The decision deserves careful consideration, Pieretti says.
“You want someone who would follow what your wishes are, not what they want,” Pieretti says.
Writing your advanced directives helps your family in the face of emergency, she adds. “It puts such a burden on people and families that could have been lifted if you had that conversation.”
The second choice—life-prolonging measures—is frequently misunderstood, Pieretti says. These decisions have nothing to do with illnesses like pneumonia that may require the short-term use of a ventilator. Rather, they come into play in cases of terminal illnesses or severe accidents in which someone is left in a persistent vegetative state. The forms will ask about things such as use of a respirator, nutrition and hydration.
Anyone over 18 can fill out the forms. No attorney is needed, although the papers must be signed by witnesses. Pieretti suggests giving copies to: the person you assign to make your health-care decisions; your physicians; and any hospital that has treated you in the past and holds your medical record. The forms are valid across all states.
For more information or to obtain copies of advanced directives forms, visit the National Healthcare Decision Day site.
If you cannot visit a Lee Memorial Health System hospital today and wish to speak to a social worker about advanced directives, call the palliative care department at 343-9560 or spiritual services department at 343-5199.