Until last year, I wasn’t aware there was a National Healthcare Decision Day. As a little girl I developed a fear of needles, making all of my visits to the pediatrician, shall we say, dramatic. As I grew older and moved out of my parents’ house, I launched a complete strategy of avoidance when it came to all things medical. I wasn’t interested in doctors visits, blood tests, prescriptions, flu shots – I wanted to stay as far away as possible from anything that would result in being pricked by a needle.
In January 2017 my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had already lost two grandparents to cancer, so naturally the first emotion I felt when he told us was fear. I can’t imagine being in this world without my dad. When I think about it, even for a few seconds, my eyes well with tears.
As I began to process what I’d just been told, that fear transitioned into action. I found that the best way for me to channel my nervous energy about what my dad would need to go through (surgery, radiation, blood tests, numerous medications) was to find out how I could help.
Though I had always been the one in our family who had avoided these types of conversations in the past, I knew that I couldn’t be afraid anymore. The best thing I could do to help my parents was to ask them, “if something happens, what would you like me to do?”
In our family, I am the first born and four years older than my sister. I’ve always kind of known that if anything happened to either of my parents, I would get that phone call. So I decided to take action. I asked my parents to arrange a meeting with their estate plan attorney. I knew they had updated their wills in the last five years and I wanted to know everything – who they had designated as their healthcare proxies, what sort of medical care they wanted in an emergency situation, if they want to be buried or cremated – these conversations are so hard, but they are so important.
Part of the way I was able to deal with the anxiety I felt during my dad’s treatment was that I knew, with complete confidence, I understood the plan. I was fully informed about what he would want and I was prepared to make those tough decisions, because he was trusting me to do so. In some way, it felt like the greatest thing I could ever do to honor him was to follow those wishes.
So if you’re like me, and the doctor’s office makes you sweat, I understand. Thinking about having these conversations with a parent, a spouse, a sibling or a best friend can feel daunting and like it’s so much easier to just keep avoiding it. In my case, I was confronted with a situation where I couldn’t hide anymore.
I am grateful to The Conversation Project for helping all of us Nervous Nellies out there find the right place to start. If you haven’t had a chance to read the Conversation Starter Kit or the Guide to Choosing a Healthcare Proxy, I can’t recommend them enough.
National Healthcare Decision Day, an occasion I now participate in proudly, is coming up in April. During the week of April 16 – 22, consider honoring the people that matter most to you by asking them about these decisions.