Betsy Wadland: Ensure your medical wishes are followed

Betsy Wadland

Did you ever notice that it won't rain if you remember to bring an umbrella with you? But forget it at home and the sky will open up. It's almost like bringing the umbrella is an insurance policy. OK, maybe not, but it seems like that sometimes.

You can apply this principle to many different situations, from the everyday rain shower to more serious problems like landing in the hospital. So what are some steps you can take now to make that situation a little easier?

A little organization goes a long way. Pam Fishman, a licensed clinical social worker with the Natick (Mass.) VNA, advises people to get everything together before you think you'll need it.

"Make copies of your Social Security card, health insurance card, health care proxy and living will. Make a list of your medical conditions, all of your physicians and prescription medications, including the dosages. Put it all together in one place, label it clearly and then tell a few trusted people where to find it," she said. "When an ambulance is on its way to your house is no time to be pulling this all together."

If you are on the other side of the fence, and it's your loved one who is hospitalized, you may feel helpless and unsure of what to do.

Encourage your parents and other family members to gather all of their information and to tell you where it is.

"Many families have a difficult time talking about their wishes, but preparing a health care proxy and living will are the only ways to ensure that you get what you want, if it comes to that," Fishman said.

The person who is hospitalized is often very worried about the day-to-day things that may be going undone at home.

"Asking the person what you can do to help will make them feel less anxious. You can water plants, feed pets, clean out the fridge and bring small personal items to them in the hospital. Ask them what they want."

Being sent home may feel like the end of a difficult situation, but "many people are not prepared when they come home," Fishman said. In addition to advocating for yourself or a loved one with physicians, she recommends involving the hospital social worker and asking for a care planning meeting.

"Discharge planners and social workers will help to make sure that all necessary services are in place for a patient arriving home from the hospital. Does the individual need a nurse or rehabilitation therapist to visit them? Help with personal care? Do they need any special equipment or supplies? These are the questions that need to be answered before you or a loved one is discharged from a hospital, to go home."

Engaging the help of friends, family and professionals will help to make all of these transitions easier. They say if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Think of it as your umbrella and pack it with you whenever you head out. You'll be ready if it does rain and you may even prevent it from happening in the first place.

Betsy Wadland is director of development for the Natick (Mass.) VNA, a nonprofit health care organization providing home care to thousands of people throughout MetroWest each year. For more information, call the VNA at 508-653-3081.