Issue 9 Stories
The Best Medicine

Advance Care Planning: Easy as Ice Cream (and Puppies)

Advance directives seem like they should be a tricky thing. In case you’re not familiar with the term, they’re basically a legally binding document that spells out your wishes for end-of-life care (see article on page 14 for a more thoughtful and informed perspective on advance directives). 

At first I thought completing my advance directive was going to be easy. My wish for end-of-life care is to pass peacefully at age 110, in great health and having just finished a large bowl of chocolate chip ice cream while watching a litter of puppies run around my bed. I also wanted to somehow work a pony into the equation, but I didn’t want to be too much of a burden on my family. 

But I was told I was being a bit too specific. It was explained that spelling out my wishes was different from making a wish—it turns out they’re two totally separate concepts. So with ice cream and puppies (two separate items, not some fancy French dessert) out of the picture, I had to focus on more likely scenarios, which sounded a bit intimidating. 

Advance directives are important because they help eliminate the likelihood of stressful arguments between family members regarding what to do in the event I end up in extremely critical condition. Otherwise, one sibling will be arguing to let me go peacefully—and SOON (I have a beautiful painting she has been coveting that would suddenly become available)—while another sibling would argue vehemently to keep me alive at all costs (I owe him money). Ironically, the two of them have already had that exact same argument about me, and that was simply after I got a bad haircut. I’d hate to see them go at it if I were actually unresponsive. 

It’s easy to put off completing an advance directive. For one thing, most people assume there’s plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future (spoiler alert: sometimes there isn’t). This is especially true of younger people, who tend to think that advance directives are not something they need to worry about right now. Often they express this opinion while rock climbing or trying to hug a panda while drunk (the hugger, not the panda). 

Many people put off filling out an advance directive because they’re uncertain as to what sort of directions to leave, due to all of the possible ways they could be incapacitated. But you don’t have to take into consideration why you’ve become unresponsive—be it running with the bulls in Pamplona or shopping at Walmart on Black Friday (OK, while those are both dramatic scenarios, I admit they’re not necessarily all that different). Regardless of the cause, you simply need to express your wishes for what happens next. 

Completing my own advance directive is something I procrastinated on literally for years. I didn’t even bother to open the fairly short document, having thought it would be overwhelming. But when I’d finally checked everything else off my to-do list (walk the dog, write a novel, organize my extensive QTip collection) and actually opened the form, I had it completed within 10 minutes. 

I was a little embarrassed that it took me so long to get to filling out an advance directive, seeing that it took so little time to complete. Interestingly enough, though, I found I wasn’t embarrassed to have a QTip collection. I suppose my siblings are going to fight over that, too.

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