Want to give your loved ones a gift that will last long after you leave this earth? This gift will not cost you anything, does not require you to go shopping, and you can get this gift from the comfort of your own home. Wondering what this gift is that I’m talking about? It’s a Plan Well guide . Let me explain what I mean by this.

Before you die, you will likely experience a ‘serious illness’ that will require hospitalization and possibly admission to an intensive care unit (ICU). I can tell you, that it’s a very difficult human experience to have a loved one so sick that they may die. For some of you reading this, maybe  you’ve already experienced this. You can imagine how one might be consumed with the anticipatory grief and impending loss of someone dear to them. They may experience high amounts of anxiety and depression as they witness their loved one deal with a life-threatening illness. On top of all of this, doctors will engage family members of critically ill patients (in particular, the substitute decision-maker) to make medical decisions for these sick patients because they are unable to speak for themselves. Family members thrust into this decision role experience increased levels of stress and anxiety if they have not been prepared for this. They will struggle to know what the right thing is to do for their loved one. This is where the reference above around Plan Well guide comes in as it’s a tool which has been designed to help people like yourself learn about medical treatments and prepare you for decision-making during a serious illness, by helping you communicate important values and preferences. It’s about getting the medical care that’s right for you or your loved one.

There are times when I think back about how helpful a Plan Well guide would have been for people so they could feel empowered and organized about the decisions that we all eventually will need to make. I remember one woman, whose husband was admitted to the hospital while on my service and he was deteriorating rapidly. I had to engage her quickly to make life and death decisions, for which she was not at all prepared for. Ultimately, the husband passed away and she phoned me months after his death just to review what had happened, the decisions made and wondered out loud whether we had made the best decisions for her departed husband. Obviously, she was missing her husband but what added to her angst and regret was wondering whether she had lived up to her role as his substitute decision-maker. This is the name we give to people who are called upon to make medical decisions for patients who are deemed incompetent. You need to realize that most patients who are seriously ill lose their competency because of their illness or as a side effect of the medications they are given as a consequence of their illness. By doing your advance care planning, you will be giving them the gift of knowing your wishes and hearing your voice when they are called on to make important decisions for you.

I know it’s not a cheery subject at this merry time of year. However, the holiday season is often a time when many gather together with their families and this can be an ideal time to discuss this important issue with your loved ones. The key point here is if you want to get the medical care that is right for you AND reduce the stress and anxiety associated with future illness or injury or death, you need to engage in comprehensive advance care planning. Plan Well guide can assist with this so you are able to fully discuss your wishes and preferences for future medical care with your family member (and substitute decision-maker). If you do this well, they will be prepared for the difficult task ahead of them, if called upon to make life and death decisions on your behalf. They will thank you for giving them this gift of advance care planning. The benefit of this gift is knowing your loved ones will be full of gratitude and will have your wishes in mind as they work to represent you in making life and death decisions alongside a helpful team of healthcare professionals.

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