In advance of California Healthcare Decisions Week, Oct. 23 to 29, Dr. Lanyard Dial, CEO and medical director of Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurses Association, has written this week’s The Other Side of 50 column.
Unlike earlier generations, odds are that many of us will die a slow death, often mixed with periods of isolation and loss of personal dignity. Would this be your choice? Is there a way to end your life well?
It is my belief that we have a choice to alter this path and find an alternative end to our life, an end that we choose. How? With the help of the medical professionals in Palliative Care and Hospice.
The American healthcare system today is magnificent. We have access to many vaccinations, antibiotics and medications that can treat virtually any disease that afflicts us. We have superior techniques to provide surgical cures and treatments for many illnesses. We can transplant new organs into our bodies when ours are so diseased that they no longer work. We can treat most cancers by determining the combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments that will hold the cancer in check and extend our lives far beyond what was expected just a few years ago.
There is no question that we live in a time in which modern medical care is able to add more years to our lives.
But are more years, more months, more days what we want? More time, yes, but in what condition, with what qualities and with how much suffering?
At some point, despite all the doctors, hospitals, medicines, surgeries or any available healthcare service, our lives will come to an end. Will we try one more medication, one last treatment, one more new doctor specialist until we have found no further way to postpone our death? Will our death occur in a hospital or in a nursing home, without our loved ones at our side, with our mind unable to know who we are and without the control of our bodily functions? Most people would never choose to end their life like this, but it is all too common because they are caught in the tangled web of medical care and can’t find a way out. How can we change this? We need to determine the turning point when care is no longer able to prolong our life but is now creating a dismal death. The only way to reach that point is by having a frank and open discussion about our condition and our death.
Enter the new wave of “Palliative Care and Hospice Care.”
This new healthcare model opens that discussion and provides alternatives.
Palliative care will seek to determine the goals of current care and the likelihood of current treatment succeeding.
It will require honest answers about medical options and provide guidance about choices while navigating the medical maze. With the expert medical guidance of Palliative Care and Hospice, a way to end life well can be found.