What to do When You or a Family Member are in the Hospital: 3 Tips from my Conversation with a Critical Care Nurse
by Sandra W. Larson, CFP®
We always hope that if we end up in the hospital, we will be prepared. I recently asked a Critical Care RN what a family can do to help the hospital provide the best care to the patient and the best communication with the family.
Choosing your healthcare proxy can be a very difficult decision. I am lucky to have a family member who works in healthcare. Knowing that she has dealt with many very difficult cases, I asked her to be my proxy should my husband be unable to make decisions for me (or should he make the wrong decisions). I reviewed my directives with her, and over the past few years we have reviewed relevant situations and discussed my preferred treatment or lack thereof in each instance. It is not enough to ask someone to take on this difficult role. It is important that you explain to your proxy how you feel about temporary treatments that might not suit your end-of-life plan. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family member who is a subject matter expert in the medical field. It is still incumbent upon you to choose someone who will stand in your stead in case of an emergency. You should discuss your wishes with your doctor and proxy prior to the event and develop an end-of-life plan. It is essential to have an advocate.
Get the formal paperwork completed! If someone has to prove that they are your healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy, give them the power to do that. By having the documents completed, you simplify the process that allows someone to step in and help you. My mother-in-law did not prepare for this situation and, after she had an episode that left her unable to recognize people, she had to try to give permissions through her uncertainty. Do not let this be you or your family. Today, while you are in sound mind and able to determine the best person or people to help you, set up your emergency plan.
Create a pre-arranged password that can be given to family members who need information. Designate one or two people who will interact with the medical staff. Everyone who loves you will be concerned about your health and your prognosis. Imagine that each person in your family took fifteen minutes each day to discuss your case with the nurses and doctors. The medical staff would not have time to help YOU.
Be courageous and face the fact that at some point you or someone you love will likely will be in a critical situation. There is no time like the present to address these concerns. If you make arrangements this year and later wish change your proxy, just change your paperwork. Distribute the new documents to those concerned. Yes, you might hurt someone’s feelings, but don’t let that affect the success of your healthcare proxy or end-of-life plan. Choose someone who will be able to act as you have directed them. Find someone who can execute the plan as written. Like my soon-to-be son-in-law said to me, “Don’t worry Sandy, I will pull the plug for you.” I just laughed, thanked him, and asked him to not jump the gun. That is a heavy responsibility, but I know he will keep everyone focused on my wishes, not on their feelings.
As we start this new year, take inventory of potential holes in your healthcare directives and other estate planning documents. If you don’t have plan developed and legally documented, make an appointment with an attorney that works in this specific field. Having nothing pre-arranged will not prevent a critical care situation from occurring. It just puts you in a position of potential failure. If you have documents completed but the documents are old, have them reviewed by an estate planning attorney in your state. Laws change. Make certain you have documents that are current and compliant. One of my favorite sayings is “Preparation precedes performance.” That means that you have a better chance of being successful in any endeavor if you have a plan in place and the documents executed that will allow the plan to work. Do it NOW!