News and Information

In the End, Your Decisions Matter

04-06-2015

In Observance of National Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16, Gaston Hospice Hosts Event to Raise Awareness About Advance Directives

Charlene Guffey, Gaston Hospice nurse and manager at the Robin Johnson House, is no stranger to advance directives. After six years of tending to patients at life’s end, she has counseled many families about when extreme life-sustaining measures work and when they have the potential to cause more harm than good. In the case of her own grandfather’s pending death, Charlene admits the situation was much more difficult.

Charlene’s story
When my grandfather was admitted to hospice care because of his advancing colon cancer, my father and I were present for his admission visit. My grandfather did not have a health care power of attorney or living will in place, so when the question of DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order) status came up, the decision was left to my father. He didn’t want my grandfather to have a DNR because he felt in the event of a heart-related issue, intervention, like CPR, could save him. However, as my grandfather’s condition declined, his pain grew more severe and level of consciousness deteriorated until he was unresponsive.

At one point, he was taken to the Emergency Department, where his heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated. The physicians told my family his health was not going to improve and they began discussing a DNR again. This time, my father and his siblings elected to allow my grandfather to have a DNR implemented to avoid extreme measures to extend his life. The irony is that I, the hospice nurse who had this very conversation so many times with families, was the one who got upset. I wanted my grandfather, the man I looked up to more than anyone, to live at any cost. I had to stop and regain my composure because I knew from past conversations with him he didn’t want to be a burden to anyone and that his passing would happen quickly rather than linger. Though he didn’t have official documentation of his end of life desires, my grandfather talked about his preference on the matter many times. I determined that I was being selfish, and his prayer was being answered. He died that night peacefully, calmly, quietly and with me by his side holding his hand.

Who is your voice when you’re unable to speak?
Imagine for a moment that you are in a hospital suffering from an injury or disease from which you won’t recover. Does your family know whom you would choose to be your voice when you are unable to use your own? Do they know where you would like to spend your final days, or who you would like to be your main caregiver? Have you discussed your own ideas about quality of life, like whether you would want to rely on a feeding tube or a breathing machine if your condition offers no hope of recovery?

Advance directives, like a living will and health care power of attorney, are tools to communicate and document the types of medical treatment you do and do not want. They enable you to identify a health care agent, or proxy, to speak on your behalf if you’re unable to speak for yourself due to a brain injury, dementia, coma or other life-threatening condition. Having an advance directive is valuable for all adults, regardless of age or health yet, and studies show that very few Americans have one.

“We understand that talking about death and dying is never an easy conversation to have with a loved one,” said Richard Lahm, Executive Director of Gaston Hospice. “However, advance directives benefit not only the patient, but family members, health care professionals and those who may be faced with making end of life decisions on your behalf by ensuring your voice is heard. Advance directives provide clear instructions about the kind of medical treatment you would want under particular situations and allow others to understand and honor your wishes for care in your final days.”

In observance of April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day, Gaston Hospice is holding a community informational seminar offering people the opportunity speak with experts in the legal, health and religious fields about preparing for end of life. Gaston Hospice social workers will also be available to answer questions about living wills and health care power of attorney and help complete and notarize the forms.

Sessions are free to the public and will be held in the Elm Room at CaroMont Regional Medical Center from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. followed by an evening session from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

For more information about advance care planning, please contact Gaston Hospice to speak to an expert at 704.861.8405, or visit www.gastonhospice.org.