Don’t let this happen to me
Submitted by Adam Koontz, corporate manager of advance care planning
It was much like any other day at work. I was making my rounds at the hospital, visiting patients and their families, talking with team members as I passed. The day was nearing an end and just as I reached my office door, the piercing screech of the alarm filled the hallway. An overhead page sounded to alert responders. “Code Blue. Code Blue.”
I quickly turned, rushed around the corner and down the hall. Team members were moving with hurried purpose. When I arrived at the doorway to the patient’s room, several team members were already inside. Others were waiting outside the door, ready to respond if needed.
Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence for most of the team members who were involved. We all have our designated roles during these events. My role as a licensed counselor was to locate and support the family. But in this particular case, the patient did not have family members.
In cases where there is no family, my role was to make myself available to support the team members involved in the code event as much as possible. I waited outside the door as the team performed like clockwork – each member specially trained to respond precisely in this situation.
As the event stretched on, the patient’s body flexed under the pressure of the chest compressions. With each passing minute, it became apparent our efforts were less and less likely to be successful.
Several team members spoke with me that day as I stood outside the door, but one comment in particular has stuck with me for years.
“Don’t let this happen to me.”
This particular comment stuck with me not only because of the tears and emotion with which it was spoken, but also because of the number of team members who said it to me. Several team members who hadn’t heard the comment spoken by others repeated these words at different moments throughout the nearly 40-minute episode.
These comments were not unique to this particular event. I heard these words, or some variation, at multiple events over the next several years. The “this” was not always chest compressions or intubation, but there were clearly aspects of healthcare that a large number of team members would choose to avoid. This sentiment would come from team members in a variety of roles, too, new and veteran nurses, pharmacists, case managers, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, chaplains, administrators and others.
It wasn’t that the team was doing anything wrong that afternoon. In fact, as far as we knew, we were doing exactly what the patient asked us to do. His chart indicated that he was a “full code;” he desired full scope of treatment in the event of cardiac arrest. Though it does beg the question, “was this what he truly wanted, or was it that no one had ever taken the time to discuss his healthcare wishes with him?” Full code is a default response. Did this patient know his chances of surviving a code event? Did he know what one looked like? If he did, would he still have chosen that response?
“Don’t let this happen to me.”
I have responded to this comment in a variety of ways. Initially, I would jokingly acknowledge what they voiced and the weight of the event. At times, I have simply acknowledged the statement and listened for what came next. But in more recent years, as I have learned more and more about advance care planning, my response has changed.
“Well, what have you done to make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Have you told your family this?”
Almost every single time, the answer is the same. “Nothing really. No.”
For me, that is the biggest reason this comment still sticks with me today. You see, you can do something to ensure you receive the healthcare you want, and in reality, it’s not that difficult if only you take the time.
In May 2016, we conducted a survey of team members about advance care planning. Over 2,800 team members responded. Of those respondents, only 37 percent indicated that they had named a healthcare agent in a legal document. Even fewer had taken time to otherwise document their healthcare wishes. Only 14 percent of those surveyed had taken the steps to ensure their wishes were documented in their medical record.
Overwhelmingly, when asked what the primary barrier was to not taking these steps, over 70 percent indicated they simply “had not made it a priority.”
An accident or serious illness can happen to anyone at any time. Don’t wait until it is too late to talk to those you love about your healthcare wishes, name a healthcare agent in a legal document if you choose, and have your wishes documented in your medical record. Please, as a gift to yourself and to your family, take the time today to make it a priority!
For assistance with advance care planning call 1-844-677-5134 or visit NovantHealth.org/choicesandchampions