Speak Up Before it's too Late

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Speak Up Before it's too Late

by -

Ted Townsend

No one likes to have “the talk” about how they want to die.  It’s really not a place any of us want to go for ourselves, or frankly for our loved ones.  It’s certainly not a topic any of us as employers want to have with our associates, yet we know it’s a topic and a time that happens to us all affecting our lives, our work and our friendships. It’s a painful thought – so it gets pushed aside and placed once again on the “to do” list for “another day.” Until the day people most dread is upon them. Then they wish they hadn’t put it off.  At that point having had the conversations, asking the tough questions that it takes to put what’s called an Advance Care Plan in place would have made all those overwhelming decisions a little clearer. “The talk” might have made the burden of choices not as heavy to bear. 

Advance care planning is a way for individuals to think about and decide what kind of medical care they would want and who they would want to speak for them, if they were unable to speak for themselves. This information is then documented in an Advance Directive, which is a legal document more commonly known as a Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.  

Why talk about that here?  Because the MedQuarter Regional Medical District, which includes UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital, PCI, Mercy Hospital and other’s is hosting a Speak Up Series in the coming months to help everyone in our community be better prepared for these moments in life and, whether we like it or not, as employers and businesses we have a supportive role to play.  The series consists of three events aimed at educating the community on advance care planning. These informational discussions are all being held at First Lutheran Church in downtown Cedar Rapids. We want to pack the house and get as many people educated about these important decisions as possible.

The first community discussion is set for Oct. 5 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and features Dr. BJ Miller, a renowned speaker and advocate for maximizing quality of life and minimizing unnecessary suffering. He has his own TED talk, which has been viewed over six-million times, he’s been interviewed by Oprah and featured earlier this year in The New York Times. He’s become a sort of poster boy for advance care planning. You see, Dr. Miller knows a thing or two about suffering. An accident over two decades ago resulted in the loss of his legs below the knee and his left forearm. His experiences as a triple amputee pushed him to study medicine after his accident and eventually brought him to specializing in hospice and palliative care. 

Dealing with chronic pain and mortality is something Dr. Miller knows intimately and it’s this knowledge and personal experience, which makes him a great speaker about a topic most people think is reserved for “old folks.” Dr. Miller is 45. He is charismatic and has a lot to say about the importance of living a fulfilling life but also asking ourselves and those we love – “at the end of life what is it that we most wish for?” Unfortunately some of us know all too well our lives can change in the blink of an eye.  

At our hospitals and clinics we see these changes every day and are often placed in the difficult position of having to help families or individuals unprepared for this phase of life to make wrenching decisions on their best guesses and intuition versus the guidance these conversations could have provided.  UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids has started this important work around Advance Care Planning. We feel it’s our responsibility to start these important discussions with our patients before they go through a possible life or death decision. We believe these are issues that should be addressed by adults starting as early as 18 and encourage our patients to revisit these advance care planning conversations with our loved ones and adjust our plans as we age.

We are proud to be part of the MedQuarter and participate with our healthcare colleagues in this important series about advance care planning.  I invite you to learn more about Dr. Miller’s upcoming talk and the others planned at themedquarter.com/speakup and I invite you to participate, either in person or by encouraging your friends, family and employees to attend.  

I close with this. “Someday” is here. Have those hard conversations with your loved ones now.  Encourage those around you to do the same.  Ask those difficult questions. It’s important to have these discussions today so there are no surprises. The time is now. Do it for you. Do it for your loved ones. You’ll be glad you did.

Ted Townsend