70% of Americans say they would prefer to die at home. Yet, 70% do not get their wishes. WGN’s Steve Sanders reports there is a way to have a much better chance that your wishes are carried out, even when you can’t speak for yourself.
“I got faced with it when the doctor said ain’t nothing else they can do for me.” Ta-tanisha Rush was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 26. Now at 41, the cancer is back. But, that’s not her biggest worry.
“My kids, how they gonna deal with it, cause I know it was hard for me.”(starts to cry) Ta-tanisha’s own mother died of cancer and trusted her only daughter to make her end-of-life decisions. That’s a burden Ta-tanisha won’t place on her kids. “It’s very hard when you lose your Mom cause that’s your backbone.” Ta-tanisha is now in hospice care and takes comfort in the regular visits she receives from her home health care advocate- turned friend- Maudette Carr. “Some patients don’t even want to go there and have that conversation because it’s so scary. I don’t pressure anybody, we don’t pressure anybody into doing it. But I try to help them see the value in it and the importance of it.”
From the day they met, Maudette and Ta-tanisha began grappling with difficult end-of-life questions; was she looking for a cure or comfort? How would she like to spend her final days? And, who would she choose to speak for her if she could not? “She’s very close with her daughters and talks to them,” says Maudette. “And I would like to think that they would be ok.” Getting those answers in writing removes the guesswork for Ta-tanisha’s daughters and doctors. “When I pass away all they gotta do is just call the funeral home and set the date when the funeral is. That’s it.”
“Now please help me give a big round of applause to tonight’s expert.” A comedy club seems like a strange place to talk about death until you talk about it with internist and ethicist, Dr. Julie Goldstein. “Laughing is always great medicine especially when you’re in such a heavy field.” A few months ago, I.O. Theater Chicago invited Dr. Goldstein to talk about the importance of end-of-life planning. Her ten minute talk gave the actors plenty to work with. “I said do not resuscitate- what the (bleep) is going on?” In this skit, a grandmother wakes up in the hospital receiving treatment her family knew she didn’t want. “They knew what she wanted but she didn’t have it in writing so they decided to ignore it,” says Dr. Goldstein.”
As funny as those scenes were, those kinds of scenes happen.” So this is the Del Close memorial wall.” One of Dr. Goldstein’s patients was the comedy icon Del Close, famous for coaching many legendary Second City alums; the Belushi Brothers, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. “This is the urn that contains Del’s ashes.” Close had emphysema, and paramedics had put a tube down his throat to help him breathe.The person he trusted to speak for him in a medical crisis, dear friend and business partner Charna Halpern, came to the E.R. with him. “Following on their heels was Charna as his agent waving his completed power of attorney for health care that named her as his agent, saying he wouldn’t want this.” While they waited for Dr. Goldstein to arrive, Close woke up and yanked out his own tube. “And I said what do you want to do with the time you have before you die? And he said, “A party!”
Thanks to friends like Charna and Bill Murray, he got his party, and died the next day. A statewide push is underway by many organizations, including Advocate Health Care and the Illinois Homecare and Hospice Council, to educate the public about end-of-life planning, before a medical emergency. Cheryl Meyer works for Advocate at Home, and is the President of Illinois HomeCare and Hospice Council. “I like to think of it as a legacy of love because you’re telling your loved ones what you want so nobody has to second guess.” Out experts say the time to have the conversation is as an adult, when you’re healthy and clear minded. An E.R. is the last place you want to make these tough decisions.
We asked Dr. Goldstein, so what’s the first step “Who would I trust to represent my wishes if I couldn’t speak for myself? And then putting that person’s name on a piece of paper, an official piece of paper called a power of attorney for health care. That’s the first step. “ Home care social workers like Maudette can help. “It’s important to do. Real important to do. And not to be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Maudette has certainly helped Ta-tanisha. “It’s very difficult if you don’t know what to do. If you know how to do it, it will make it much easier. “ “Steve Sanders, WGN News.”
You can get your own wishes in writing with-OUT an attorney or fee. All it takes is some thinking and family discussion. These links below will get you to all the forms you’ll need.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Mike D'Angelo contributed to this report.
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