Imagine if you will…the phone rings, you don’t recognize the number but pick up anyway and hear “Hello, this is Dr. Kennedy from Central Hospital, is this Debbie Watsoneau?” (Your heart temporarily starts to race) Yes. “Debbie, is your mother Elaine Herald?” (You are not sure if your heart is still beating) Yes. “We found your name and number as her emergency contact from the last time she was in our hospital system. Well Debbie, your Mother was involved in a car accident and is in our emergency department. From what we understand so far, it appears that your Mother suffered a stroke while she was driving and she ran into a parked car. You see, she was unable to speak at the scene of the accident and when she got to us in the emergency department, we had to place her on a breathing machine to bring her to the CT Scanner and complete our tests. Uh, we’re going to need you to come to the hospital to make some decisions about her care.” There were more words but you can’t remember… “Debbie, be careful driving, we’ll take good care of her.”
Here’s what you hear: hospital, Mother, car accident, stroke, breathing machine, come to the hospital. Your world has to stop so you can handle this emergency. You do what you have to do to get to the hospital. It might be arranging for someone to get the kids or letting your boss know you have to leave or calling your siblings to let them know what happened or all of the above. Your mind is going places as you try to remember how to get to the hospital and put the directions in your phone. You get to the hospital and have to wait for the person who can get you to your Mother. And then you see her. She isn’t awake, her face has a bloody cut and bruises on one side, she has a tube in her mouth, there is a ventilator hooked up to the tube, she has IVs in her arms and her clothes are in a ball in a plastic bag with her purse and shoes.
You find out they want to take your Mom to surgery to evacuate a large amount of blood from her brain that is causing pressure in her head. They have to place a monitor in her brain. She has several broken ribs and a broken breast bone and her left wrist is broken. The neurosurgery team is coming to explain more when your brother, whom you haven’t seen in 6 years, just walked in with his wife and two children.
“Are you her Power of Attorney? Does your Mom have Advance Directives? The surgery itself is of moderate risk but with her heart history, the risk increases significantly. The bleeding in her head is quite extensive, we aren’t sure of her outcome, but we know without surgery she’ll likely not survive.”
What do we do? What do we do? You don’t think your Mom would want any of this if she won’t be able to drive and talk and take care of herself, yet your brother is saying he believes she would want you to do everything possible to save her life and keep going. You just sit down in the waiting room as a family to talk about this when the nurse finds you to tell you that your Mom’s blood pressure is starting to fall and they want to know if she is a full code or Do Not Resuscitate. They need to know what to do, right now.
This is what happens. Often. Out of the blue. Without a moment’s notice. What does she want? Have you talked about this? What would she say if she could talk right now?
Knowing what to do when you get the call, knowing how to proceed to honor her wishes, knowing not just where the important documents are, but what they say, is so important. These aren’t your decisions, they’re hers. Speak for her. Honor her wishes. Know what they are.
“Those who have a voice must speak for those who are voiceless.”
– Bishop Oscar Romero