Yesterday was personal milestone in elder care. My parents met with their attorney and legally named me as their healthcare representative. If they become ill or hospitalized and are unable to make decisions, I am authorized and expected to do this for them. It’s finally official. I am grateful and relieved. But I am also terrified.
This has been a long time coming. A family member was very ill last year and had to be hospitalized. Not once but twice. Luckily I am in the healthcare business, and I somewhat know my way around. Otherwise we would have been up a creek without a paddle. I work with some of the top doctors in the country in the fields of oncology and neurology. They have excellent peers in many other specialties such as emergency medicine, infectious disease, pulmonology and rheumatology – whom they graciously put me in touch with. It was lucky for us because this family member required care from them all.
While he was hospitalized I had no legal authority to help him due to the privacy regulations. I had no authority to speak to his physicians and inquire about his test results or diagnoses. I have a strong personality and just pretended I had authority, therefore everyone assumed I did. No one really ever questioned me. I lurked around the hallways of the hospital and was present by 7:00 am on the weekdays to make sure I could find his doctors while performing their rounds. I hounded them about his test results and prognosis. I asked them questions. I hounded his nurses to ensure he had proper attention and care. To ensure his bed linens were changed each day. To ensure someone (most of the time me) took him on walks so he did not wither away and become significantly weaker. They all became tired of seeing me. In the end, the doctors I work with every day collaborated with other physicians on his behalf – which saved his life. Thank you Dr. Eliot Wallack and Dr. William Dugan.
Let me tell you. Hospital care is scary. It’s bad. What you don’t know can sometimes hurt you. Maybe even kill you. You better plan to have an advocate lined up ahead of time in the event that something happens to you. Trust me. You’re going to need it.
After it was all over, I thought about my parents. They are in their late 70s. What if I need to help them? I told them, “You need to officially put me in charge. This particular experience was frightening. Had it not been for the docs I work with, we would have been in serious trouble. They helped me work the system and got me through it. I need official authority to help you make decisions, get test results and manage your healthcare. Let's not wait until something catastrophic happens.”
That discussion took place 7 months ago. Fast forward to yesterday. It’s finally done. I hope I make the proper decisions for them.
I know many people who have been on the receiving end of Abby's dedication to proper care. She never hesitates to bully her way through the system and use any contacts necessary. Sometimes it eases your mind and sometimes it saves a life. I'm convinced in the case of the situation referenced, she saved a life.
The flip side of elder care is equally scary. Once your child turns 18-years old, physicians are very limited in what they can discuss with parents, regardless of the insurance carrier or whomever is paying the bill. There's a simple form in every physician's office allowing the release of medical information to certain people. Make sure your grown children are aware of it.
It's a good lesson for them. You'll be the elder one day and they'll know the questions to ask.