“Slow Medicine,” and Living Wills for the Well

Dennis McCulloch, Chief Geriatrician at Kendal-At-Hanover, has written a kind and sensitive book, My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing “Slow Medicine,” The Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones. The book offers a reliable road map and guide for children with aging parents.

People over seventy may find the book a bit creepy as it outlines the stages of decline in store for all of us. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, now is the time to see that your living will is documented and ready to be accessed whenever needed.

What I like about the book is the way McCullough draws on over 30 years of experience in which he helped his clients “postpone as long as possible any decline of function that might require institutionalization.”

The debate over end-of-life care weaves in and out of the news and recent book releases, no doubt spurred on by the struggle over the cost for health care. The time to draw up a living will is when we are well, thinking clearly, and before we have trouble making decisions. It can always be updated, but it does need to be put in place.

Those of us who value quality of life over simply existing in a deteriorating state, have likely had to watch a loved one depart after having their life unnecessarily prolonged in a state they never would have chosen for themselves. However, each one of us has the authority to decide how our end-of-life care will be administered, if we put our wishes in place when we are well.

My mother did not choose to make a living will, despite encouragement from us, her children, to do so. She was sure we were out for her money, despite the fact that we had been urging her for years to travel and consider us her insurance if her money ran out. She ended up living her last several years literally physically deteriorating to a shell while continually being “saved” by antibiotics. None of us dared make the choice for her to do otherwise.

Not wanting my children or myself to ever have to be in that agonizing position, I drew up my living will in my 50s. Each of them has a copy, as do health care providers I see. It is a relief to me, and I hope to them, that should I be unable to make decisions: do not resuscitate, no antibiotics, no ventilators, no tube feedings, etc. are all in place. I found a good and reasonable lawyer to draw it up so that I could be sure everything was covered, including appointment of my Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney designees.

McCullough also suggests that designated contact persons and your physician agree to advocate for your wishes should you ever need emergency services, since hospitals sometimes ignore these legal papers and insist on life-prolonging services, against a patient’s wishes.

Here it is spring, or at least the bulbs are trying to poke their way out of the snow and brighten things up for us. Spring is a time when we think about new life, fresh starts, and increased physical energy to be turning over new leaves. It’s a good time to put all of life in perspective so we don’t have to worry about it later. This is a vital part of keeping each other well and enjoying life.

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4 Responses to ““Slow Medicine,” and Living Wills for the Well”

  1. Louise Says:

    Old age is something that worries a lot of people because of the uncertainties that come with it. Living wills are very important because this can put people in charge even at a time of disability.

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    “Slow Medicine,” and Living Wills for the Well | elizabethterp’s Blog

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