Ropp: Don’t let others make your final decisions

May 16, 2013 


— “Thank you for everything you did.” Seems sort of strange, sometimes, to stop and reflect on the things people say at the hardest times in their lives. It was not the first time that a family member, in this case a caring daughter, shared a short benediction following the death of her dear mother. What strikes me most is how some patients and their families are able to find peace at the end because they have, in a sense, prepared for the day they die.

I also have experienced the gratefulness of a loving family saying, “Thank you so much for letting Dad go home; he will be so much more comfortable there,” as if I am the warden of a hospital prison when there is no cure and the appropriate care is palliative. In examples such as these, family members and loved ones ought to be commended for planning their end-of-life care wishes so well. Not everyone does.

Advance directives such as a health-care power of attorney or living will can clarify who is to be your representative or what decisions you want made about your care and treatments should you become incapacitated or otherwise not able to communicate.

Perhaps the most important duty of physicians during times of serious illness is to communicate well with their patient and families. You may know the feeling of being in an unfamiliar environment with your loved one where specialist after specialist renders opinion after opinion and procedure this and treatment that are being offered, and there is no real clarity as to the right course of action for yourself or your family member.

Those patients who prepare both carpe diem and occupare futuro, seizing both the day and the future of their health care. In cases where this has been done, I have learned to say to my own patients and families, “Yes, and thank you for everything you did.”

I encourage you to begin planning your own health-care wishes today by visiting and making an appointment with your physician to discuss these important decisions.

Dr. John Ropp


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