A personal call to action and story from advance care planning advocate Shalama Jackson, writer and Board Member of Carolinas Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society.

If you were incapacitated, would your loved ones know what type of health care intervention you would want? Would your family know who you would want to speak for you if you could not speak for yourself?

The possibility of becoming physically or even mental incapacitated by either accident, injury or illness is very real and one that should not just be ignored.

I speak from experience. Three years ago, my mother, brother, and I had to speak for my father because he could not speak for himself. He was in a traumatic accident, which caused severe trauma to his head and broke his leg. He was in a comma and never regained consciousness.

Even though we knew what he wanted, it was extremely hard to follow through when other family members did not agree with our choices. Those two days sitting in the hospital were some of the most agonizing days of my life. Although I knew it was the right thing to do, I had to explain to others because there was nothing written down that I could point to.

In 1990, Congress affirmed the right of every citizen to express his or her future health care wishes in writing with an “advance directive.” However, estimates suggest that only about 25% of all Americans are prepared and have expressed their wishes in writing with an “advance directive.”

Discuss these values and preferences with your family, close friends, physicians, clergy, and anyone else who may be involved in your health care.

The decisions are heart wrenching to make when there is no guidance from a loved one who is incapable of speaking to you. For me, I sat for two days in a trauma unit wondering if I had made the right decision when it came to my dad. It’s not because I was going against his wishes. It was more because I and the rest of the family wanted him to desperately open his eyes and talk to us. I wanted to keep the man that I had known here with me as I knew him. I wasn’t ready to not have him there when I called him at work, went home to visit or call on the weekends.

I have expressed my wishes to my mother and brother. Have you made your wishes known to your family and family? My mother has clearly told us what she wants including what hospital she wants to go to and not go to, if the case ever arises that we have a choice. We’ve joked that she will come back to haunt me if I or my brother do not carry out her wishes. However, I believe that she would do it.

When it comes to your health care, your decisions matter, but others need to know your wishes if they are to honor them. If you haven’t made your wishes known, consider what your wishes are and discuss them with your family and loved ones, your health care providers, your clergy, and anyone else who may be involved in your health care. Most importantly, take the time to document your wishes, whatever they may be, because that will provide you and your family with the assurance that your wishes will be considered at a time when you cannot speak for yourself.

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