Talking to your Doctor

After you’ve had the conversation with your loved ones, the next step is talking to your doctor or other health professionals about your wishes. It’s better not to wait for a crisis before talking about this, talking while you’re well makes it easier to make medical decisions when the time comes.

Ask your Doctor to explain where things stand with your health today, and what the future may hold. Your Doctor can explain the available treatment options — and the chances of certain treatment options working.

Ask questions if anything is unclear.  It’s important to remember that even for health professionals there is often a lot of uncertainty — both about the course of your illness, and about how different treatment options will work. Some questions you can ask include:

  • “Can you tell me what I can expect from this illness? What is my life likely to look like 6 months from now, 1 year from now, and 5 years from now?”
  • “What can I expect about my ability to function independently?”
  • “What are some possible big changes in my health that my family and I should be prepared for?”
  • “What can I expect to improve (or not improve) if I choose this course of treatment, or another course of treatment?”
  • “Would you recommend this course of treatment if I want to live as long as possible or have as good a quality of life as is possible”
  • “What can I expect if I decide to do nothing?”

You’re the expert about what matters most to you, so tell your Doctor what your preferences are and what you would like to happen, together you can decide which treatment options are right for you.

Even if you’re in good health, it’s still important to make sure your Doctor and family knows your wishes, as your health status can change suddenly.

Some of the treatment options your Doctor might mention:

Intubation/Mechanical Ventilation: When you can’t breathe on your own, a breathing tube is placed in your throat and into your lungs, connecting you to a machine that can breathe for you. Can be used short-term or long-term, depending on your needs and preferences.
Artificial Nutrition and Hydration: When you can’t eat or drink on your own, fluid and nutrients are delivered in an IV or through a tube in your nose or stomach. (This is some- times called a “PEG tube” — an abbreviation for “percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy.”) Can be used short-term or long-term, depending on your needs and preferences.
CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation): If your heart stops, attempts are made to restart your heart with chest compressions or electricity.
Comfort Care: When curative care is no longer likely to help, medication or other non- invasive options are used solely to keep you comfortable.

Make sure to ask your doctor or other health professionals to document your discussion, and your wishes, in your medical record. Remember its ok to:

  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Take time to decide
  • Ask for numbers and statistics if it helps you, but also realize that in many cases, there is a lot of uncertainty.
  • Have a private conversation with you doctor without loved ones being present

It’s important to have follow-up conversations to revisit these issues, as what you want may change as time passes and your health changes.