Viewpoint: Make your healthcare wishes known

By Vanessa Little 

I am grateful to the citizens of Maine who have taken physical distancing so seriously. It is difficult to stay physically apart from each other, especially during a time of crisis. It goes against our human nature not to convene and comfort each other. I am proud of the comfort and care we continue to provide one another. We are mindful of our distance, staying in our homes, washing our hands, not touching our face, limiting trips to the grocery store and washing everything that comes into the house. What else can we do to prepare ourselves and our families during the COVID Pandemic?  As a palliative care physician who works each day with people who have serious illnesses, I ask you to consider these three important things. 

  1. Decide who you want making medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make them for yourself. Please ask this person if they are willing to take on this role and then write it down. If you have already filled out paperwork like this, called a Health Care Proxy, find yours and put it on the fridge. The person you chose should be able to speak to doctors and nurses about your care either in person or by phone. They should understand your values and beliefs and be able to make decisions on your behalf. It should be someone you trust to honor your wishes about what kind of care you do and do not want. 
  1. Talk openly and frankly with your decision maker. If you were to become severely ill with COVID19, would you want to be hospitalized and would you accept a breathing machine to breathe for you if you could no longer breathe well enough on your own? We know that many people who require a breathing machine will not survive. Some people might choose to stay at home with care focused on relief of symptoms. Whatever feels right for you, it is important to tell your decision maker. If you can, call your primary care provider and let them know too.  They can document this in your medical chart, which will help ensure you get the type of medical care you want.  Remember you can change your mind at any time.   
  1. Consider completing an Advance Directive. is okay if you can’t sign or get witnesses to sign this right now. Fill out as much as you can, as it helps everyone understand your wishes. Send a copy to your primary care provider and your local hospital. 

I am hoping with all my heart that our diligence in practicing physical distancing will limit the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on our community.  In my role as a palliative care physician I always hope for the best while helping people prepare for times when the future is not what we hoped.  These tools can help you prepare by clarifying what is most important to you and making sure your wishes are honored.   


Vanessa Little, D.O. specializes in Palliative Care at Mount Desert Island Hospital. 


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