I was able to visit recently with some folks who are working in the area of Palliative Care. Palliative Care is the practice of specialized medical care for people with serious illness but is focused on improving the quality of life as defined by the patient and the family.
Palliative Care has been in its evolution over the last 15 years to use medical advances to make people feel better while they are recovering from or living with their conditions. It is finally becoming part of mainstream medicine.
The other part of comprehensive life care is that conversation about what is important to you when you get a serious illness. I have had an Advance Directive for many years but as my children get older, I need to revisit those thoughts and be sure that the decisions I made in my youth are still the same that I would choose now.
I think the hardest part of that process is choosing the person to be my surrogate decision maker. I did not choose the person who loved me most, but the one who could make the best decisions for me based on my medical conditions and my wishes. This best friend and I check with each other periodically to be sure that nothing has changed. I think this conversation for us was easy because she and I have been part of many deaths over the years—some that were comfortable and peaceful passings and others that were fraught with great strife for the patient and the family.
Every year, there is an encouragement from the medical community to have this conversation around Thanksgiving about how families want to deal with these hard issues. I think the Conversation Project has some great tips for getting started for a new conversation or in my case to revisit this with my family again.
The best quote I have heard about this was from Ira Byock, MD,: “I have an advance care directive not because I have a serious illness but because I have a family.”