#HAWMC: Warning! We Are All Suffering from A Condition Known As Pre-Death

Today’s post continues the month-long series called the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge (#HAWMC) created by WEGO Health. Today’s writing prompt: Pin it – Health Activist Style. A picture is worth a thousand words and today’s prompt proves it. Get started by creating a pinboard for your health condition – you can do this on pinterest, on your blog, or in real life – and sharing a few of the images in your blog post. What images did you “pin” that mean the most to you when you think about your health, your condition, or your time as a Health Activist?

“By the Deathbed” by Edvard Munch

If only everyone’s transition into death could be as smooth and peaceful as what the artist choose to depict. We all know that one day we will die but we have no idea when or how. This ignorance protects us. It allows us to make our way though the world—heart-beating, breathing, experiencing the space around us, making connections, sharing ideas—in essence, we create a life. As a healthcare activist, I try to encourage people to take an autonomous approach to managing both health and illness, so that they might maximize and optimize that life. The message is catching on. In my opinion, however, this autonomy should extend right up until the moment you take your last breath. And while we all know we will die, there remains a reluctance to prepare through advance planning for that day, that will ultimately be out last. Today is Healthcare Decisions Day. An excellent opportunity to extend our autonomy in healthcare decision-making. Thanks to the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act (42 C.F.R. 489.102), all healthcare facilities are required to:

  • provide information about health care decision-making rights
  • ask patients if they have an advance directive
  • educate both staff and community about advance directives
  • not discriminate against patients based on an advance directive status

More recently, a 2006 Pew Research Center study found that the majority of the public supports laws giving patients the right to decide weather they want to be kept alive through medical treatment. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of people reporting that they have a living will increased from 12% (in 1990) to 29%(in 2005). This increasing trend is encouraging. Instruments like 5Wishes are helping families tackle these end-of-life decisions especially for the elderly and the terminally ill. My work on the Community Council for Capital Caring, a local area leader in palliative, pastoral, and hospice care has broadened my own knowledge of healthcare throughout the lifespan. The release of the award winning documentary, Consider the Conversation and the designation of End-of-Life Care among the TEDMED 20 Great Challenges in Health and Medicine will help the medical community examine it’s moreas and practices regarding the dying process in the face of medical technology. But just as a third of the public seems to accept that it’s okay to plan for decision-making at the end-of-life, I have a very radical idea to put before you. Advance planning is for everyone. Longevity and even terminal illness provide a certain luxury of time that so many of us will never have. The humorous but on-point TEDMED presentation of graphic designer, Teresa Monachino’s sicktionary reminded us that we are all pre-death. In fact, the CDC breaks it down even more clearly in its MMWR reports by stating that injury is the leading cause of death for all persons between the ages of 1 and 44 years. Injury often does not provide families with time to process and come to terms with death. It drops death at the doorstep and it’s yours to manage. So I submit, do not wait until you’ve received a devistating diagnosis of catostropic illness or crossed a thresshold birthday into your golden years, but rather upon your 18th birthday create your advance directives (if you’re over 18 and have yet to take this action this message is also for you). Write them down, sign them, have them witnessed and share your decisions with your family. This is the only way that the autonomy you exercised in your healthcare desision-making during the times of health will extend up until the last day of your life.

Read the posts and see the pictures that inspired them from other health activists at the WEGO Health Facebook Page.

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