At some point, and possibly multiple points in your life, a trusted loved one will need to speak to medical professionals about your care.

It’s a common occurrence for each of us, and you too will experience this. Perhaps better said, your loved ones will experience this, like it or not. It is part of life. These situations of life are best not left to chance, court involvement, or heaven forbid, government involvement. Are you prepared? Is your family prepared? Are those who matter most to you prepared? So, who will speak for you?

There are many potential reasons you won’t be able to represent your own wishes when you need medical care. So when the doctor turns to those who love you at your hospital bedside and asks, “What would Shirley want?” how will they respond? Are they legally empowered to answer the question? Are they emotionally equipped to answer the question? Are they practically aware of your wishes? Perhaps the better question is, have you given them the gift of knowledge, love and caring? This is a gift of a conversation and planning, which lessens the burden in uncertain and tumultuous times for those you love and those who love you – your family.

You may be thinking, “What is he talking about?” “Do I really need this now?” “It is simply too early.” For most everyone in our country, it is always too early until it’s too late. Let me see if I understand, “Too early to ensure that during the most difficult times of life my family will be well prepared, united, supported and loved?” From my perspective this is something that everyone should have done yesterday. I have been known to quip that people often spend more time picking out shoes or a tie than they do in advance care planning. So if you are 18 years old or older with a heartbeat, who will speak for you?

Oh, it won’t be easy, and I don’t suggest it will, but can you imagine how difficult it is for the unprepared? So who will speak for you and what will they say? Part of healthy adult living is completing an advance directive to legally give those you trust the power to make medical decisions for you only when you are unable to do just that. Talking with your family about your wishes allows them to have a good idea of how to answer the questions the doctors are asking. The doctors will ask them, whether they are prepared or not, and it is clearly too late to read cliff notes at time zero. That is really a gift.

Lastly, it keeps the courts and government out of your medical decisions. It avoids you becoming an object of national media attention and publicly polled medial decision making. It keeps decisions within the family as most people want. Most importantly, it ensures that you receive the care you most value and prefer based on your stated wishes when the doctor asks, “What would Shirley want?” Additionally, it makes the most difficult situations a little less strenuous for those you love.

So, join me and other community members for Consider the Conversation on Feb. 27 in the Heritage Room at Gustavus Adolphus College Jackson Campus Center from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. so you may be better equipped to answer the question, “Who will speak for you?”

Refreshments will be served. There is no cost to attend; however, preregistration is requested. Please call 507-385-6376 to register.

Cory Ingram is medical director of palliative medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System and assistant professor of family and palliative medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

Customer Service Representative and Editorial Assistant for the Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald, St. Peter Herald and the Waseca County News.

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