It’s been unusually cold and blustery outside for days, not at all what one might expect for mid-April. The sky is a flat dark gray, sending down showers of sleet and snow, and the wind’s roaring so hard that tree branches are bending to the breaking point and birds are being blown out of nests. I’m reminded of some of the turbulence my partner and I experienced this past year, triggered by unanticipated heart problems following what was supposed to be a ‘simple’ surgery.

Two months later, new symptoms led to hospitalization and testing for what turned out to be a rare side effect of another med he was taking. And of course, with that testing they found more problems that they had to treat.

When he was finally discharged, he got home and had another new problem,  with a 911 call and readmission with more tests and treatments, first inpatient, then outpatient. Once back at home, flu season set in, with respiratory problems, at the same time he was being treated for his heart problems. Unfortunately, these treatments were unsuccessful, so we decided we would just learn to live with it.

All was well for a few weeks, then a fall led to emergency surgery, with another crazy cascade of health concerns—not the least of which had to do with some fairly intense conflicts about what choices to make should things take a true turn for the worse. I admit there were more than a few times that I imagined that him in the ground, and sadly, during the past two months, we’ve buried three friends.

The good news is that it seems “we” may be out of the woods for a while. He’s doing well, and my anxiety has returned to a manageable level. But I’m not blind to the fact that something else may be right around the corner. It may be him, it may be me, it may be my sibs, my mom, another good friend.

Please understand that even though I’ve been working in the world of end-of-life care for the past 16 years, I’m not a nurse. My role focuses on getting people to think about their health and mortality in ways that prompts them to become more aware of their approach to illness, injury, aging, and death, and to really plan and prepare when the inevitable appears. That includes me and my husband—we’ve updated our advance directives and had numerous in-depth talks about all the “what ifs” we could imagine. But I must be honest—it’s been very difficult dealing with all the upheaval described above—and we’re doing well, considering!

I suspect that if you’re reading this post, you’re aware of how easily things can be thrown off balance when unexpected changes occur. You probably see it every day when you work with patients and families.

But what about when it happens to you?

  • Do you walk your talk?
  • Have you had those conversations with family and friends about your and their desires for treatment should hard choices need to be made?
  • Is your or their advance directive up to date and in the right hands?

This week we celebrate National Healthcare Decisions Day which, because it’s so important, has now been extended to the entire week. As much as I don’t want to even think about this stuff for a while, I’m committed to having more discussion on these matters with my loved ones again now.

Let this be an invitation to join me in that effort.

Let’s do this together.

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