Everyone who works in ED or ICU should read Alicia von Stamwitz’s brief but moving account of her father’s last visit to the emergency department:
The doctor explains what I already know: my father’s heart is weak, his kidneys are failing and his lungs are filling with fluid. For the second time in six months, he needs to have a tube inserted in his windpipe.
I nod, waiting for him to continue listing procedures and tests. Instead, he takes a small step back from the gurney and asks, “Does your father have a living will?”
I freeze. No emergency room doctor has asked me this before. I answer, evenly, yes. “Do you have durable power of attorney?” Yes.
Visibly relieved, he looks me in the eye and gently but pointedly asks: “Does your father want us to employ extreme measures” — he pauses one heartbeat for emphasis — “knowing that he is not likely to improve?”ALICIA von STAMWITZ
Being compelled to make a life-or-death decision for a loved one is a nightmare scenario for anyone. As health professionals we may not always agree with the decision of a patient or his or her family – but sometimes it is their decision to make.
It is our job to help and support them regardless.