Columbia, SC — A picture of our eight grandparents stands as one of the most treasured memories my wife and I have from our wedding 17 years ago. Even more special is that five of them remain with us, and our children have grown up knowing them.
But the years have not passed without some very difficult discussions and decisions about their well-being, medical care and other plans when they need additional attention. In the past several weeks alone, I have advised my parents and in-laws concerning matters with their parents, and I sat with neighbors around their dining room table to consider alternatives for their aged mother.
Many of you know what hard talks these can be. Often, we delay speaking until a problem forces us to face a reality — that there probably will come a time when our loved ones’ health will not improve or they cannot take care of themselves any longer. What then?
This month we celebrate National Health Decisions Day, and as a family physician who cares for many seriously ill patients, I encourage you to ensure that you and your family have communicated your wishes with one another. I cannot tell you how important these discussions are for everyone’s peace.
First, please identify a health-care power of attorney for yourself and ask other adults in the family to do the same. An attorney can help you with this and other advance directives.
Second, when you are diagnosed with a medical condition that you will live with for the rest of your life, please establish and maintain good communication with your primary-care physician. This will ensure appropriate care is provided as you continue efforts to cure the malady.
Finally, when a disease becomes overwhelming or care needs are extraordinary in a person who is nearing the end of life, discuss more direct palliative care with your doctor. Relieving pain and suffering, while honoring patient wishes and dignity, is a hallmark of this care.
Dr. John Ropp