A recent family dinner had gone well at a neighbhourhood restaurant in South Surrey, with more than eight family members gathered around the table for good food and great conversation. After dinner, Granddad declined a ride, opting instead to make the 10-minute walk home.
Shockingly, Granddad suffered a heart attack on the way, falling onto a library lawn. It was 10 minutes before he was found, another five to 10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, and another five to 10 minutes for CPR to be attempted – without success.
Our experience prompted our family to discuss the question: Was resuscitation what Granddad wanted? We didn’t know. He had not discussed his wishes around medical interventions with us and we had nothing in writing to go by.
That one night changed our family’s perspective. It altered our ideas about what could happen to any of us at any time. I am now more aware of daily news headlines of sudden, unexpected deaths of people of all ages (not just grandparents). While adults may have stated their financial wishes through wills, the vast majority has not documented their conversations about their values around personal health care decisions.
Individuals can state instructions in an Advance Care Plan (ACP) and be assured that their medical wishes at end-of-life –whether expected or unexpected – will be respected. Making an ACP also includes deciding your preferences for life-extending measures. Learning about these issues, talking about them with your family (and possibly health-care professionals) as well as naming one or more substitute decision maker(s) are the important first steps.
Sometimes the person suffering an attack or accident isn’t with their family (or substitute decision maker), as was the case with my Granddad.
I’ve learned that each of us should make our advance care decisions known. It can be as straightforward as filling out a form – available in booklets such as My Voice (B.C. Ministry of Health) and keeping the forms on your fridge, where it is easy to locate for emergency personnel or others.
BC Centre for Palliative Care’s Provincial
Advance Care Planning Initiative