There are many things in life that are out of our control. The Five Wishes program that Dr. Dennis Koffer, discussed in Johnston Health’s Health Chats seasonal speaker series, gives you a way to control something of much importance- how you are treated if you become seriously ill. With an easy-to-complete form that lets you state exactly what you want if the circumstance arises, it was a seminar that truly gave you knowledge on how the Five Wishes program can help you and your family when it comes to decisions about your health care; the desired choices that your loved ones may not know you have.
These Five Wishes include:
- The person you want to make health care decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself. Choose someone who knows you very well, cares about you and who can make difficult decisions. A spouse or family member might not be the best choice because they are too emotionally involved, and sometimes they are the best choice. You know best, so choose someone who is able to stand up for you so that your wishes are followed through. Whomever you choose, be sure to talk to them about these wishes and make sure this person agrees and respects them so you are certain they will follow through. This form will become a legal document, so this person will forever have the right to intervene for you in all medical circumstances, talk to doctors on your behalf and be a huge part of everything involved. It is smart to have two alternate individuals in case anything were to happen to the first chosen (i.e. death or other complications) and have these individuals know that they are your alternates; discussing your wishes with them as well.
- Your wish for the kind of medical treatment you do and/or do not want. If you are not aware of the term ‘life support’ and all it entails, now would be a good time to talk to your doctor about life support options and treatments to figure out what you would desire if the possibility were to occur. This covers circumstances such as being close to death, in a coma and not expected to wake up or recover, permanent and severe brain damage and not expected to recover, or any other condition where you should choose to be or not be kept alive. Understanding your options is critical, and having your wishes written down on paper is even more. If you have a medical emergency and ambulance personnel arrive, they may also check to see if you have a Do Not Resuscitate form or bracelet. Be sure to check state laws in regards to this form whereas each state differs in rules and regulations (i.e. North Carolina does not use bracelets as a legal form of request and will still be able to resuscitate individual regardless). This form must be signed by a doctor only in order to not receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Therefore, if you wish to not be resuscitated, filling out this form and having it signed should most certainly be completed.
- Your wish for how comfortable you want to be. This meaning the things you would like and not like to be done to ensure you are content while in a condition where you are not able to do for yourself. In the form, there are a number of things listed that could be done in this state and it asks you to cross out anything that you do not agree with. For example, “I wish to have warm baths often. I wish to be kept fresh and clean at all times.” Or rather, “I do not want to be in pain. I want my doctor to give me enough medicine to relieve my pain, even if that means I will be drowsy or sleep more than I would otherwise.” The list varies and even has statements that fall in line of wishes as simple as, “I wish to have my favorite music played when possible until my time of death.” If there are any requests that you would like to be done that are not listed, you are able to write them out so they are sure to be done.
- Your wish for how you want people to treat you. This wish also falls along the lines of the previous wish, in regards of format. The form provides a number of statements and you are to cross out anything you do not agree with as well. This will ensure that you are being treated as desired, and will tie into how comfortable you will be altogether. After all, that is what everyone wants; for you to be as content as possible during this time in your life. Some examples of these statements are as follows:
• “I wish to have people with me when possible.”
• “I wish to have others by my side praying for me when possible.”
• “I wish to die in my own home, if that can be done.”
- Your wish for what you want your loved ones to know. Whether you want it to be known that you love your family, wish to be forgiven for any moments that hurt your loved ones, or for your loved ones to make peace with each other before your time of death, the list goes on that you can provide requests for. Let these be important requests that you know you’ll want to be said when you are not able to state them yourself. This wish also provides a place where you can write out what you would like to be said at your memorial service, and you can even state what music, songs, readings or other specific requests you would like to be done during this time. In regards to your organs, you also have a place to write out any specific requests for where these might go as well. To sum it up in the words of Dr. Koffer, “If it gets written out, it gets done.”
Once you’ve completed the form, you are to sign it, have two witnesses’ signatures to declare that you have signed and acknowledged the form in their presence, and have it notarized (if a North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia or Missouri resident). After you have done so, your Five Wishes will then be a legal and valid document. Be sure to talk about your wishes with your health care agent, family members and others who care about you so they are aware of your wishes, and give them copies of your completed Five Wishes as well. Keep the original copy in a special place within your home. Do not put it in a safe deposit box, but instead, keep it nearby so that someone can find it when and if it is needed. There is also a wallet card to fill out on the form so you can carry it with you at all times and use as a separate indication that you have a Five Wishes Advance Directive available.
To learn more about the Five Wishes program or to gain a copy of the Five Wishes form, please feel free to visit www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php for more information.