How do your parents want to be cared for in their final days? Do you know their wishes for end-of-life health care if they can’t speak for themselves?
Registered nurse and community care home owner Dawn Harsch has seen families struggle when a loved one has some sort of medical issue and no one can agree on what to do next. Global News recently spoke with Harsch about her advice to families when it comes to advance care planning.
Laurel Gregory: Let’s talk a bit about the fallout you’ve seen – in your career as a nurse – when people don’t know their parents’ end-of-life wishes.
Dawn Harsch: It can be really traumatic and it can tear families apart because if you have people that don’t understand what dad wants and the siblings don’t necessarily agree, it can be detrimental – especially if you’re in a situation where there is a time crunch – so you have to make a decision quickly. A stroke is a good example of that. We have a three-hour window to make a decision after a stroke if we’re going to treat it one way or the other. If family doesn’t understand what dad wants, then you can miss that window and it can be really traumatic for the individual who has had the stroke, for example.
LG: And that decision could be, ‘Are you going to the hospital or are you staying here’?
LG: What happens when family members disagree on end-of-life care?
DH: I’ve seen a family torn apart over it where one of the siblings walked away saying, ‘I’m probably never going to talk to my sister again,’ because they disagreed so much on this. In that case, it’s interesting. In that case, the father did have a personal directive and he named the one child because he knew that child was agreeing with him and understood what his wishes are.
LG: What do people need to have in place?
DH: One of the main things people need to know is when you name your guardian, make sure that your guardian really understands your wishes because as a guardian, my job is not to now make the decisions that I want for my mom. So maybe I would want my mom or dad to stay around and have this treatment. But that’s not the job of the guardian. The job of a guardian is to make the decision for mom or dad. So what would mom or dad want? I am now their voice.
LG: When is a good time to start having those conversations?
DH: Now. I have a personal directive and it’s important for me for my husband to know. So if a person doesn’t have that in place already, do it now, because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Everybody should have it. It’s not just the elderly who need personal directives, everybody needs that so that we know what the wishes are of our loved ones.