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A simple chat can help ease the pain

It’s never too soon to speak to your loved ones about end-of-life and other health care decisions. In fact, advance planning can help ease the pain of family members during difficult times.

Today, on National Healthcare Decision Day, Rev. Kevin Massey, System Vice President of Mission and Spiritual Care for Advocate Aurora Health, encourages people of all ages to have open, honest conversations about their wishes should unforeseen health care emergencies, or serious illness arise. He says:  

It can be one of the most difficult conversations of your life, but it could be one of the most important.

I’m a chaplain for Advocate Aurora Health, and one of my roles in an intensive care unit is talking with families struggling with difficult decisions involving the care of their loved ones, especially near the end of life.

I remember one large family I was asked to see. A number of siblings had been told their mother would not recover from her illness, and doctors were recommending the withdrawal of life support.

When I entered the intensive care unit waiting room, I could see that everyone had been crying. Crumbled white Kleenexes littered the floor like freshly fallen snow. I distinctly recall one of the patient’s sons saying that they’d always avoided tough conversations. As a result, they didn’t know what their mom wanted them to do.

That uncertainty can make the pain of a tragedy even worse. And this case, the mother’s children lamented that they couldn’t carry out their mothers’ wishes after a lifetime she spent caring for them.

I’m here to help in those difficult situations, comforting families as they deal with one of the worst moments of their lives. But if you are looking for an excuse or a sign to have one these tough conversations, April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. This day is dedicated to encouraging people to talk with their loved ones about the kind of care they want at the end of their life. National Healthcare Decisions Day is always the day after tax day. After all, the saying goes: “The only things that are certain are death and taxes.”

Many healthcare organizations, such as Advocate Aurora Health are using the day to encourage employees and physicians to learn how to have better conversations with their patients about Advance Care Planning by having an Advance Care Planning conversation themselves. Evidence shows that doctors who have had their own Advance Care Planning conversation are more adept and comfortable having the conversations with their patients.

In this case, some clarity came later. As I sat with the family struggling with their difficult decisions, another daughter came in and said another relative revealed conversations with their mom, and she didn’t want to remain on life support.

“The truth is, there rarely seems to be a ‘perfect time’ to talk about Advance Care Planning,” says Dr. Julie Goldstein, physician and ethicist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and for Advocate Aurora Health, and a nationally recognized thought leader in Advance Care Planning and Clinical Ethics.

“And, different topics are appropriate for people at different stages in their health care lives," Goldstein says. "Who would I trust to represent my wishes to the medical team if I couldn’t? What would my goals be if I became critically ill with little hope of recovery? Or even with a decent hope of recovery? It is so important to have careful conversations before a crisis about things like our life values, your health care, the kind of care you would want and the kind of care you wouldn’t want when we are at the end of life.”

Goldstein recommends that everyone over 18 years old should at least have a power of attorney for health care where you can designate someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf, if you ever couldn’t make decisions for yourself.

Reverend Kevin Massey is the System Vice President of Mission and Spiritual Care for Advocate Aurora Health. He has more than 20 years of health care chaplaincy experience. Kevin is a frequent writer and speaker on topics in spiritual care and chaplaincy training.

To learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day and to find information about completing an Advance Directive, click here.

Keywords: Advocate Aurora Health, National Healthcare Decision Day

Posted in Englewood Quality of Life, Health, Faith

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