This week, the world lost another comedic icon – Joan Rivers. I must confess, I was sad at the passing of this woman. I grew up watching her on television. It was announced that she was on life support. To imagine a woman this vital on a ventilator is almost unthinkable. And yet, every day, many are on life support. So it brings to mind the question, “Do you have a living will?”
In this day and age, it is routine for this question to be asked upon a hospital admission. However in 1990, it wasn’t. My grandmother, who was ninety, had a stroke that year. While in the hospital, she stopped breathing. None of her children were present at that exact moment. Since there was no Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, the doctors and nurses saved her life over a span of ten minutes. She “lived.” Grandma went to a nursing home for three years where, knowing no one, she withered away to seventy pounds.
Having a living will is essential. It is a document that states your wishes. It protects you from any unnecessary medical interventions such as life support, extraneous medical procedures and anything that would prolong your life in the event of a medical catastrophe. It is a legal document requiring you to be of sound mind and needs to be witnessed.
It’s hard to predict what the future holds. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she chose a medical guardian. She stated her wishes clearly; do not resuscitate and no extraneous medical procedures or life support. She also had a living will. However, as she neared the end of her life, I made sure she spoke with her physician to reiterate her wishes. There were some gray areas at times such as, could she be put on life support temporarily? And so, began one of many medical debates in some very gray areas. In the end, I believe her wishes were carried out.
I personally advocate a living will. You may be unconscious when you are taken to the hospital and unless a family member is present, the staff will do all they can to prolong your life. I would urge anyone who does not have a living will to begin having these discussions with your loved ones; perhaps even getting one. No one likes to think of dying. However, this is not about death; rather, it is about the quality of your life.