Jane’s father-in-law was a life long storyteller, loved for his quirkiness and gentle manner. His greatest delight was being surrounded by friends and family, especially if the room was in the mood for narrative. Even as he suffered from dementia, he never lost his ability to captivate an audience with wit and humor.
But there were no witty quips when one morning he awoke to a cold left arm and unable to form words to explain it. Later in the hospital, the surgeons found a clot in the arm’s main artery and multiple clots in other arteries. With lack of blood flowing to vital organs, his body was shutting down. The tingling sensation in his arm would eventually give way to excruciating pain.
Jane found it easier to take responsibility for what to do, rather than decide what not to do. Would he even survive an operation, or would he languish in intensive care only to have subsequent surgeries and prolonged pain?
The family never had to make the decision to intervene or not. Her father-in-law had made it for them years earlier. In a worn leather brief he’d insisted bringing to the hospital were advance directives that spelled out how he wanted to live and die. A Living Will that summarized the multiple conversations he had with his children over the years about his inevitable end of life.
He prepared these documents without knowing if he would ever need them. It turned out that he did.
He chose to have these conversations in a relaxed environment with family members, not with a busy, pressured primary care physician who may not even be in attendance in today’s fractured health care system. While not a happy thought, having these conversations when we are well encourages a more thoughtful, honest, and objective discussion among family members.
You don’t need an attorney to write a Living Will, or to appoint a health care proxy (a trusted friend or relative who can make decisions for a patient when they can’t). For answers to questions about documenting a Living Will in Ohio, the Ohio State Bar is a helpful resource.
As for Jane’s story, she was with her father-in-law on the last day of his life. As sunlight beamed through the windows of his room, his eyes shined with hope. He was dying as he wished, at home, surrounded by love and family.