Let's talk turkey: The main course of advance care planning

Posted by James Deming, M.D.
October 19, 2016

Blog_talkTurkeyWhen I say “Let's talk turkey,” it isn’t about how to prepare the meat, but rather, how to use the holidays as a time to start talking to your provider and family members about your end-of-life wishes.

Talk turkey is a challenge to go beyond the “How ’bout them Packers?” and share what matters the most to you about how you want to be cared for. Making a point to set aside the precious time to speak honestly and openly about your end-of-life wishes can be a special gift to those that you love.

It’s also a reminder to talk to your provider when you are in for routine checkups. If you were very ill, your doctors would respect your wishes as much as possible. But, we can't honor your choices if we don't know what they are.

That’s why those 18 and older are encouraged to complete an advance directive. An advance directive is anything that tells your doctors what kind care you want if you are too ill to express yourself. A Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA HC) designates a person to make decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. You also may clarify what care you prefer and if you have any limits.

“Depressing,” some people groan. “I’ll make those big decisions when the time comes.”

It’s human to want to put off thoughts of death and dying. Unfortunately, a health care crisis can happen at any time, at any age. I have witnessed, firsthand, when a patient is faced with a debilitating illness or a devastating accident and families who haven’t had these discussions often are left agonizing over “What would my loved one want?” 

Personal care preferences are put in motion when doctors believe a person isn’t able to make his/her own decisions. In Wisconsin, a Power of Attorney for Health Care form gives a designated decision maker the right to make decisions. Without the form, even a spouse may need to attain legal guardianship to make health care decisions for a loved one. Going through the legal system adds time and money to an already stressful situation.  

So, after the turkey meal and before turning on the TV, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of preparation: 

  • Talk about your wishes with those close to you.
  • Seek guidance, if desired, from your provider and/or religious leader.
  • Fill out an advance directive to make your wishes known.

Where do I find a Power of Attorney for Health Care form?

The form is free, and you don’t need an attorney to fill it out. It’s readily available at: 

How do I fill out the form?

If you don’t know where to get started, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources to help you. If you find the language intimidating, don’t be afraid to ask for help from:

  • Your provider
  • Your local hospital — Spiritual care, palliative care, social services and hospice workers all can help you.
  • Your county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center

It’s uncomfortable, but tell your family, “I know this is hard to discuss.” Emphasize why it’s important by saying, “I want to make it easier on you during a medical crisis.”

What better time to have the conversation than during the holidays, when family members are gathered together? Talking about what’s important at the end of life is one of the most meaningful gifts we can give each other.



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