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Commentary: Have you had 'The Talk'?

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Stop, take one moment to reflect. Ask yourself what is important to you?

You may have visions of your children, parents, friends, your accomplishments; maybe you thought of concepts such as love, strength, or freedom. Regardless of your age, your answer to that question is significant. Looking back on the past year, we have struggled, faced the unexpected, and dealt with loss due to the pandemic. Life is both a gratifying and arduous journey deserving peace and unity when it is time for that solemn moment.

We have seen families in utter chaos, angry, confused, and hurt when we ask what their loved one would want medically in a state of such severe illness. In the midst of all this, their family member lies in bed powerless, too sick to make decisions at this stage in their life. A situation that became far too common, disheartening, and avoidable.

Bringing up end of life plans can be difficult. We recognize thinking about not being here is very scary, sad, and a topic that most of us want to avoid; but you can rest assured that you have options and advocates that can help.

While you are of sound mind, consider writing up an advanced directive or a living will. These documents are legal documents that specify medical actions to be taken on a person’s behalf if that person is no longer able to make medical decisions. Unfortunately, many people do not have either document in place when accidents or unexpected medical emergencies occur. We urge you to think about completing these documents and making them accessible to your family for your safety and comfort.

As we advance in our careers as physicians, it is apparent that the need to improve communication and preparation for care surrounding the final years of life as life’s end is just as important as life’s beginning. Competent people are available to help walk you through this process no matter where you are in your decision making.

Let’s discuss some advocates who can help you to make plans for emergency circumstances and the final years of your life. Talk to your family physician to discuss where you stand health wise, emergent treatments options, and end of life measures. Family physicians can also discuss medical documentation such as an advance directive that can be changed by you at any time and kept by your doctor and family member.

Talk to a lawyer who can certify a living will and meet with you on a biennial basis to make changes to your documents. Talk to your family and friends about the decisions you have made and let them have access to the documentation you have drawn up as well. You do not want them surprised by your wishes if an emergency arises.

Keep the conversation open and fluid so that your final moments will be free of hostility and confusion. Assure that your end will be peaceful, reverent, and everything you want it to be. Your family and friends deserve to be reminded of a legacy you define. Claim your power and start the conversation about end-of-life measures.

Dr. Tasha Garrett is a family medicine resident physician in Montgomery. She was born in Talladega and raised in Alpine. Dr. Asia McIntosh is a family medicine resident physician in Montgomery, as well.