National Day of Decision — April 16

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By Linda C. Scaz RN, PhD
The fifth-annual National Day of Decision (NHDD) is set for April 16. Started by the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), this is a day set aside for individuals and families to have some open and honest dialog about advanced directives. Put more simply, it is a day to think about one’s wishes concerning medical treatment or non–treatment at end of life.
NHPCO created this day to bring awareness to the need for making informed decisions while an individual is in good health and can reasonably discuss their choices for care, caregivers and decision makers on their behalf. Choices surrounding end of life can be difficult and thought provoking, yet certainly worthy of our time. Across our country hospices will hold information sessions, events and open forums where questions can be asked and answered both openly and honestly about advanced directives.  
Exactly what is an Advanced Directive?  It is a document that allows an individual to state their wishes concerning medical and other treatments at end of life. It is a roadmap for others in our lives to follow.  
Why should I be concerned about preparing an advanced directive if I am in good health?
Our lives have a way of suddenly changing. An accident, heart attack or a chronic disease can render us incapacitated and not allow us to make decisions for ourselves. For these reasons and many more, making our wishes known now, while we can, to family, friends and significant others, allows them to be our voice when we cannot speak.
Even if I wanted to make these decisions, where do I begin?
National Day of Decision is a perfect place to begin to discuss your thoughts and wishes with those people who are important to you in your life. It is not easy dinner conversation but talking about it assures you your care at end of life will not be contrary to how you wished to be cared for, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Questions such as resuscitation, use of a ventilator, organ donation, funeral plans are just a few of the topics that will arise.  It takes time and a great deal of soul searching to answer these for yourself.
Begin by gathering more information regarding end of life care choices. Hospices act as great resources for information and material, especially a booklet called Five Wishes® published by the group Aging with Dignity. The Five Wishes® are: (1) the person I want to make care decisions for me when I can’t: (2) the kind of medical treatment I want or don’t want; (3) how comfortable I want to be; (4) how I want people to treat me; and (5) what I want my loved ones to know.
Next discuss your thoughts, concerns and choices with your loved ones, clergy, physician or attorney. Finally establish your advanced directive and share it with those who are significant in your life so they are aware of your wishes should the time come that you are incapable of making your own decisions.  
The annual Day of Decision for Healthcare acts as a catalyst for all of us to begin to pay attention and make critical choices which might otherwise go unheard. Life is precious and should be enjoyed and cherished daily. Life is a journey and the greatest gift we can give our loved ones is the peace of mind to know that our final choices about that journey have been honored.
For more information or to obtain a Five Wishes packet contact Haven Hospice at 904-810-2377.
Linda C. Scaz RN, PhD is the director of Community Engagement for Haven Hospice.