What You Need To Know About Advanced Health Care Directives Before Your Surgery

Posted on

When you were told that you needed major heart surgery, your mind probably raced with all sorts of possibilities of things going wrong. Instead of letting these fears grip you, use them to your advantage to decide what types of advance health care directives you'd like for your surgery and hospitalization. Here's what you need to know.

Understand What the Advanced Health Care Directives Do

Each state has different requirements for their directives. You can locate information for your state here at Caring Connections. Advance health care directives are your voice when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Here are the 3 most common directives and basic explanations of them that may help you determine how you make your decisions.

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). It covers the care and treatments that could save your life when your heart stops beating or you stop breathing. Your medical team will not use a defibrillator or perform CPR to save your life.  
  • Living Will. This covers the use of artificial life support treatments and care, such as mechanical ventilation, dialysis and feeding tubes for sustenance and oral medication.
  • Organ Donation Directive. You can choose whether or not to donate your organs. You can choose to donate specific organs for medical research or to be given to someone in need.

Depending on the type of surgery you will have and the risks involved, it may be a good idea to have several DNR orders and living wills that cover the different time frames through your surgery and during recovery. For example, if you are having heart surgery you can have a DNR order for the surgery, another DNR for the first 24 hours of recovery, another one for the remainder of your hospitalization, and another for after your discharge from the hospital.

Designate a Health Care Agent

You will need to appoint someone you trust to be your health care agent and give them a durable health care power of attorney. This person will be the one who will make decisions on your behalf regarding your health care beyond what is covered in the directives and when you are unable to make decisions yourself. Your health care agent may be your spouse, parent, adult child, friend or anyone you trust.

This person should be able to handle pressure and make appropriate decisions based on what he or she understands about your wishes. Many of your wishes will be addressed in your health care directives. Sit down with your health care agent and have a heart-to-heart talk so he or she fully understands your directives and what to do in different circumstances that are not covered by them.

Speak With Your Family

It's important you and your health care agent discuss your decisions with your immediate family and other loved ones, especially those who may try to intervene in the event of life-threatening circumstances while you are in the hospital. Make it completely clear to them you are entrusting your health care agent to make the right decisions for you. While the hospital staff will only listen to your health care agent if you are unable to communicate, things can become stressful for everyone if your health care agent is bombarded with requests and demands from the other people in your life.

One of the most difficult things to do is to decide what type of care you want to receive, or not, in case there are complications with the surgery. Before you sign your directives, make sure you and your health care agent fully understands what they mean. Tell your immediate family and loved ones about your decisions to keep the stress levels down through your surgery and hospitalization. Click here for more info.