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Monday Medical: Make time to make a living will

If you’ve put off making a living will, you’re not alone. For many people, the process feels daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to start.

But it doesn’t have to be.

At Yampa Valley Medical Center, every patient receives a slim booklet created by the Colorado Hospital Association. Inside are three fill-in-the-blank documents: a medical power of attorney, a living will and a CPR directive. These advance directives outline the type of medical care you’d like to receive if you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself.



The forms, which are free to the public, can be completed on your own in about 30 minutes. They don’t even need to be notarized.

“It’s so easy to do this,” said Faith McClure, case manager and member of the Ethics Committee at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It makes it easier on you and everybody else. And you can always change these — they aren’t written in stone.”



Those who would like to do more comprehensive end-of-life planning should work with an attorney.

The medical durable power of attorney outlines who will make a patient’s health care decisions if the patient cannot. The living will specifies the type of medical care the patient would like to receive if he or she has a terminal condition, including life-sustaining procedures and artificial nutrition and hydration. The CPR directive allows a patient to refuse resuscitation.

These are difficult things to think about. But they only get harder when a patient is no longer able to communicate his or her desires due to a sudden accident or progression of a terminal condition.

“It’s such a stressful time — you’re freaked out, and you’ve got to make these decisions,” McClure said. “If you do it ahead of time, it’s so much easier.”

McClure speaks from experience. Her husband, Dave, died a year and a half ago after being diagnosed with Stage IV kidney and bladder cancer.

As soon as he was diagnosed, Faith and Dave reviewed their advance directives.

“We got it done and written down in about 30 minutes,” McClure said. “I knew what he wanted. For me, it especially helped me prepare our kids.”

After 40 days of struggling with the disease, Dave passed away. According to his wishes, he stayed at home as long as he could and was kept as comfortable as possible, but did not receive other life-sustaining procedures.

“It was what he wanted; everybody was clear from the beginning,” McClure said.

Sometimes, if a patient does not have advance directives, family members can end up disagreeing on the best course of action. During McClure’s tenure as a nurse in Knoxville, Tennessee, she saw a variety of reactions, from bickering to full-on fights. One woman who was brain dead stayed on a ventilator for a month while her family argued about what to do.

Even young people can find themselves in need of advance directives: McClure has seen teenagers shot during drug deals gone bad and a 20-year-old mother who was left brain-dead after childbirth.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow,” McClure said.

With the holidays coming and a new year approaching, it’s a good time to make sure your documents are in order. Work on your advance directives now, and you’ll be taking a step towards better caring for yourself and your loved ones.

“They’re hard things to talk about, but life is hard. Nobody likes to talk about death or dying,” McClure said. “But it’s an important thing to get done.”

The pamphlet, “Your Right to Make Healthcare Decisions” by the Colorado Hospital Association, is available for free at YVMC. Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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