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Crisis Tells Us:

Be Prepared!

By CHARLES HYMAN • Special to

I want to thank Richard Sternberg for bringing up the difficult issue of triage. Fortunately, our area has not had to face this type of excruciating decision-making. But we may yet.

Charles Hyman, M.D., who served for a decade as Bassett Hospital’s chief of medicine, is an expert in infectious diseases serving on the team that prepared for coronavirus’ arrival.

His “elephant in the room” makes me think of yet another “elephant in the room,” and that is the one of advance directives and healthcare agents.

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. This day is to bring to everyone’s attention the importance of advance-care planning

Ask yourself, “If I am incapacitated and unable to make health-related decisions for myself, is there someone I trust who can, and will make the right decisions based on what I would have wanted?”

If the answer to this is “No” or “Not sure,” like most of us, then please read on.

One of the most important decisions a person can make is having a healthcare agent.  A healthcare agent is a person who we have designated to speak for us and make healthcare decisions for us if we are unable to do so.  We hope never to face situations like this, but they happen, and planning for them helps ensure that what happens is based on what we would want for ourselves, and not what others who may not know us decide.

I am speaking of decisions like: Would I really want certain treatments if they are not curative?  Would I want people to try to re-start my heart with electric shocks if it stopped?  Would I want to be put on a respirator if chances were slim that I would survive to return to my previous life?

It is difficult and scary to think about these things. I know it is for me. But, it is important to identify someone we trust to make these types of decisions for us if we are unable.

Once we have identified this person, and they have agreed to take this responsibility on, we need to talk to them. We need to talk to them a lot and often. We need to talk to them about what is important in our lives, what we value, what brings us joy and happiness, and, what would bring us sadness that we would never want.

The answers to these questions don’t always stay the same, and may change over time. So we need to talk to this person, our trusted healthcare agent, often.  It is OK to change our mind, just talk to them and let them know what we are thinking

So how can we do this?  There are many, many resources. One of the best in my opinion is the Five Wishes. This document can be accessed on line for free from many sites, such as at the Helios Care web site at

Another useful site to go to New York State website, where we can download the form and fill it out with our trusted healthcare agent.

Make sure to keep a copy, have our healthcare agent  keep a copy, and give a copy to our primary provider. It is also very important to make sure we have a conversation with our providers to make sure she/he knows what is important to us and who our Health Care Agent is.

Talking about these issues with a healthcare agent and our provider can help greatly in reducing the presence of all the “elephants in the room.”


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