Making decisions during a medical emergency can be difficult. The best way to prepare for the unexpected is talking to people you trust ahead of time. Each person is unique and what makes sense for one patient may not be right for another.

Medical emergencies and end-of-life situations are not topics people like to think about, but you should still discuss them. Letting people know what is important to you is the best way to be sure that doctors and nurses have the information they need to take care of you in the way you want.

What is advanced care planning?

An advanced care plan is a way to tell your loved ones and doctors what kind of medical care you want if you are unable to speak for yourself. By making a plan, you can choose someone you trust to make decisions for you. The best time to create this plan is when you are healthy. If you wait until a medical emergency happens, it may be difficult to let others know your wishes.

Advanced care planning includes a combination of conversations with trusted family, friends and healthcare providers, and legal documents to make sure your wishes are carried out. Taking charge of your healthcare decisions is one of the most important things you can do.

What is most important to you?

The choices you might need to make could include more than just deciding which medical procedures you would want. Your beliefs, values and opinions about quality of life are also very important parts of your care plan. This is not a one-size-fits-all decision. Each person should consider what is right for their own situation.

You are in charge of your own decisions, and you can define what quality of life means to you. If you were facing end-of-life decisions, what kind of care would you want? How would you want to spend your days? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Are there certain family members and friends you would want to have at your side?
  • Do you want any religious or spiritual practices?
  • Do you want doctors to focus on prolonging your life even if it causes discomfort? Which artificial, life-prolonging treatments are you willing to accept?
  • What are your thoughts on pain? Is pain relief important to you even if you have side effects or are less aware due to the pain medication?
  • Do you want to be an organ donor?
  • Would you want to spend your final days in a hospital? In a nursing home? At home?
  • How important is it to be able to take care of yourself? Do you want to be able to feed, clothe and bathe yourself, or are you comfortable with others helping you?
  • What are one or two things that you consider essential to a good quality of life, so that if you couldn’t do them you would not want your life artificially prolonged? For example, some people would say that being able to go to the bathroom independently is essential. Other people might want to be able to go fishing, and others might choose something like being be able to talk with family.

Start the conversation

It may not be easy, but it is important. Take the time to talk with your loved ones and doctors to explain your wishes about medical decisions that might need to be made in the future.

Talk with loved ones

First, decide who you want to make decisions for you if you become unable to do so yourself. Remember that your medical decision-maker does not have to be a family member. Sometimes emotions can make it difficult for close family, like spouses, to think clearly and follow the path you have discussed. In these cases, a trusted friend may be a better option.

A medical decision-maker should be someone who is 18 years or older, has agreed to make decisions for you, and who will speak up for what you want. Their job is to speak for you, uphold your medical wishes, and give consent for you to receive medical treatment.

Talk with your doctor

You can talk to your doctor at your regular check-up appointments. Ask questions about your health, and if you are diagnosed with a medical condition, be sure you understand what the doctor expects to happen in the future.

Make it official

Having a conversation is not enough to make sure your wishes are taken care of. You need to have official legal documents. These documents are called advanced directives.

Advanced directives can be changed or canceled at any time. You are in control, and have full authority to make any changes you wish.

Advanced directives must be signed by two witnesses who are not part of your medical team. Directives that are recognized in the state of Texas include:

Medical Power of Attorney

This document allows you to name another person as your agent to make medication decisions for you, if you become unable to do so. A signed Medical Power of Attorney, if completed when you are competent, can prevent confusion by ensuring that your wishes are known.

Directive to Physicians

Also known as a Living Will, this document records your wishes for withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining procedures. The Directive to Physicians must be signed, dated and witnessed by qualified witnesses. If you would like a copy of these documents or more information about Living Wills, ask your nurse.

Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order

If you do not wish to be resuscitated at your home or a healthcare facility, you and your physician can complete this form.

Let’s begin

Your Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers Oncology Nurse Navigator is here to help. We understand that healthcare and end-of-life decisions are personal and unique to each patient. Our goal is to help you voice your wishes so that your healthcare team can honor the choices you make.

To start the conversation, fill out the form below or call (833) 770-7771.

Contact Us

For more information about Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers, including how to get connected to our support services or an affiliated provider, please call (833) 770-7771 or fill out the form below to be connected to one of our Oncology Nurse Navigators.

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By filling out this form, you are contacting an Oncology Nurse Navigator from Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers. At this time, our oncology nurse navigators are unable to schedule vaccination appointments.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations, please visit our Vaccine Information Hub or get in touch with Memorial Hermann by calling (833) 772-2864 or emailing covidvaccine@memorialhermann.org

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