If you have been to a hospital for any reason recently, you may have been asked the question, “do you have a living will” by a hospital representative. Many times I have answered no without really understanding the importance of a living will. Currently, in our family, we are going through a very stressful medical roller coaster with a family member. About one month ago, this family member was rushed to the hospital by ambulance for emergency surgery. Unfortunately, due to her age, she had difficulty recovering from the surgery and had to be placed on a ventilator, eventually having a trach put in. Since one week after surgery, she has been in a state of unknown. The week after her surgery, members were able to talk to her and she could shake her head yes or no.
When I went to visit with her, I relayed to her that the doctor said she should recover and get better and when I would say that, she would shake her head no. I thought she was just being negative and not believing that she was going to get better but I often wondered if she was trying to say that this is NOT what she wanted to be done.
Since that week, she has taken a turn for the worse and has been in a medically sedated state and has been unable to communicate at all. Unfortunately, her lungs are not allowing her to breathe on her own and the trach is set to provide 100% oxygen. Everyday her brother, who is the only family member available to help doctors determine what she would want, goes to visit her and witnesses his sister gradually deteriorate before his eyes. Is this what she would want? Likely not, but she did not have a living will so the hospital is doing everything available to try to get her to recover even if those treatments may be fruitless. Although the road ahead is a long one, the doctor did not want to give up yet. Yet her vitals are continuing to get better and then worse. It seems like for every step forward, there are two steps taken backwards with her condition. She will likely not survive and we have come to terms with that but seeing her body experience the trauma from the medical treatments is frightening.
All family members are heartbroken to see her in this state and wrestle with wondering whether this is the state she would really want to be in. Ultimately, she may transition on her own due to the hospital gradually weaning back the current life-saving procedures that are being done for her now. However, at some point, her brother may have to make a very difficult decision that could leave him wondering whether he did the right thing regardless of what decision is made. My husband and I pray daily that he will not have to make that decision and that God’s will be done. Had she had a living will, then her wishes would have been clear and in writing for both her family and the hospital.
About Living Wills
What is a living will? A living will, also called a heath car directive or advance directive, is a document disclosing whether or not you want medical treatment and/or food to continue if you are in a terminal or permanently disabled state and unable to verbally express your wishes directly to the hospital. In Alabama, a sample of a living will can be found here. This document is great because you can direct what your wishes are but then allow a proxy of your choosing to override your decision if they feel it is medically necessary.
Personally, after this experience with our family member, I just completed my living will so that my husband and family would not be wrestling with what my wishes are if an event occurs where I am terminally or permanently disabled and unable to communicate my medical wishes. In addition, to the living will, I also name my healthcare power of attorney to allow my proxy to make medical decisions for me if I experience other medical issues. Usually, both the living will and healthcare power of attorney can be included in one document.
Please take the time today to consider completing a living will disclosing your end of life wishes so that your family will not have the burden of having to make such a decision on your behalf.