Charles Kettering said, “Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress”. Ketterling served as the head of research at General Motors from 1920 to 1947 and it was his drive for change that helped influence innovation at GM and the industry at large.
If you are like me, we have adopted the annual cycle of personal evaluation. We use January 1st, the “New Year” as our time to turn a new leaf and begin a new habit, diet or lifestyle. January 1st becomes about innovation of our soul and reorganizing our life around the things that matter.
This year I want to encourage you to join me on the journey of having the difficult conversation with yourself and your loved ones about your advanced directives and living will. According to Perelman School of Medicine, 63 percent of Americans have not completed any advance directive. Only 29.3 percent had completed a living will that contained specific end-of-life care wishes, and 33.4 percent had designated a healthcare power of attorney (Pelham School of Medicine, 2017). While shocking, I have found that these statistics are true even among people who are trained in serious illness; in a recent meeting with over 200 healthcare professionals I asked the question of how many had an advance directive, only about 1/3 raised their hand. Failing to plan for unexpected illness and end of life issues places an undue burden on those whom we love the most.
A few years ago, I was guiding a canoe trip in the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The group was comprised of teenagers who were mostly inexperienced paddlers and outdoors-men. One afternoon, while paddling across the acre Lake Saganaga known as “Big Sag” our group encountered a sudden and severe thunderstorm which quickly became life threatening. The storm occurred on a beautiful summer day without a cloud in the sky. The group was in the middle of a large channel of the 13,000+ acre lake, enjoying the sunshine, laughter amidst of an easy day on the water we saw the storm clouds on the horizon approaching fast. We were at least a mile from the shoreline when the storm met our group; between the wind and the rain, the novice group of teenagers became quickly disoriented. The large white caps the rolled across the lake threatening to capsize the tiny canoes while the storm raged on bringing hail and dropping the temperature by 20 degrees. The group made it to shore, quickly gripped their rain jackets from the top of their packs along with a couple of tarps which were stowed for easy access in order to make a makeshift shelter. The storm passed nearly as quickly as it emerged, and the group was able to head back out on the water and onward towards that evening’s camp.
I share this story as an example of how we can be going on with life when suddenly, we are faced with a storm like a health crisis, serious illness, or an accidental injury. What made the difference between life and death on the canoe trip was the fact that there was a plan in place and that the plan was communicated to the members of the group. We had discussed what to do if we encounter a storm, how to paddle through wind, where to pack essentials like rain gear, tarps, etc. The storm that midsummer afternoon became a part of our journey rather than the defining moment; such is true of the storms of life if we take the time to plan and communicate.
This New Year’s as you are thinking through how you will realign your diet, begin a new exercise routine, develop your budget, plan your calendar, I would encourage you to take the time to think about your advanced directives and your living will. The time to have the conversation is before the crisis. There are a number of great resources that can be found at the Conversation Project Website. You may even consider making it a part of your Holiday family game night! Jethro Heiko and his team at the Common Practice developed Hello a conversation game, “an easy and non-threatening way to start a conversation with your family and friends about what matters most to you”. Order today in time for Christmas at https://commonpractice.com/products/hello-game.
If you are reading this and are in the middle of a storm, please consider the role Palliative Care can have in being our guide and serving as an extra layer of support. Learn more about Palliative Care at About Palliative Care.
The team at Teleios Collaborative Network would like to wish you and your family the happiest of Holidays!
Chris Morrissette, COO of Palliative Care
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Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. (2017, July 5). Two out of three U.S. adults have not completed an advance directive. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 15, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170705184048.htm