Resident Bill Lochte has a personal passion for Advanced Health Care Planning. Bill’s brother Russ who was living in Alabama discovered he had an aneurysm in his heart. “Russ told me that everything in his life was in order and that he was in good shape because he had a living will,” according to Lisa Becker, Case Manager at Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital (MERMH). “A living will is a more limited type of directive because you can only make decisions about life-sustaining procedures in the event that your death is imminent. The Advance Directive provides you with many more options, including the naming of a health care agent – someone to speak on your behalf when you are not able.”
On January 6, 2007 Russ had surgery and proceeded to spend the next five months in intensive care. Bill tried to keep track of what was happening with Russ from his home in Eagle River. But in March Bill packed his things and went to Alabama to see his brother. “The dynamics between seeing my brother connected to all these machines was emotionally devastating. Russ was a vital individual full of life and to see him in this degenerative state was shocking.”
Russ had a team of eight physicians and was on kidney dialysis and a ventilator. He was obviously not getting better and was not conscious. Bill wondered how someone could be in intensive care so long, so he took the initiative to review his brother’s living will. “It looked appropriate to me, but then realized that it did not name an advocate or a spokesperson to speak for him in case he was unable to make his wishes known himself. The physicians were unclear about the intent of the document and kept him on life support. “I kept meeting with the physicians,” advises Bill, “but they could not give me any type of timeline or prognosis, the days just went on and on for Russ. I wanted to mourn, but could not move on. Mourning is special time, and this was not like that, it was debilitating. I had no influence, nor control of the outcome. This was an agonizing time for me. I loved my brother and had to stand by helpless and watch him fade away.”
“The living will gave no clear directions on when to stop treatments. Russ had bed sores and could do absolutely nothing for himself. I wanted my brother to die with dignity,” Bill continued.
According to Becker, “Now more than ever, health care providers and patients need to have the conversation about having Advance Directives for Health Care in place.”
“Russ and I never discussed end-of-life decision making. Russ thought he was bullet proof,” shared Lotche. During those long five months that Russ was in the intensive care unit (ICU), Bill began thinking about his brother’s funeral with military honors. He needed to do something concrete when all around him was uncertainty.
Bill said that the services and staff in the ICU were incredible. “Everyone was doing their job, keeping IV’s going and treatments, but yet no one was really doing their job by asking if we were doing the right thing for my brother.” Three weeks later Bill’s brother died of heart failure. “This was agonizing for me. I loved my brother and was totally helpless.” Bill went on to add, “We need to educate patients and families so they know what they may face and what decision they will be asked to make. We need to help health care professionals so they are able to honor and respect the patient’s wishes. You never want to pre-empt a life, and with Advance Care Directives in place you will not play a guessing game. Your wishes will be spelled out and your designated health care advocate can interact with physicians to make sure your decisions are followed.”
“The touching story Bill has shared is far too common,” states Lisa Becker who – in addition to her role as case manager at MERMH – also serves as a Northwood’s Respecting Choices© Advance Care Planning advocate. Northwood’s Respecting Choices© Advance Care Planning is a coalition of health care professionals and volunteers in the Eagle River community. According to Becker, “The purpose of the coalition is to ensure that all adults with decision-making capacity have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their health care decisions. ”The group offers free workshops held the first and third Friday of every month at 10:30 a.m. at MERMH, Medical Arts Building.
“Advance Health Care Planning can offer precious clarity and increased health care efficiency, yet most Americans have not exercised this valuable right, stated Becker. “National Health Care Decision Day – observed April 16 – is intended to heighten public awareness. As Bill’s story tells us, it is important to be prepared and to prepare your loved ones before a time of illness,” Becker continued.
Bill concluded, “If my story can encourage one person to have these documents in place, I know that telling my story has been beneficial. Russ loved people, and knowing that his experience may help someone else not go through what he did – what we did, would make him very proud.”
For more information on the Northwood’s Respecting Choices© Advance Care Planning workshops, call 715-479-0375.