Opinion

Sometimes best laid plans just that

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With 2012 drawing to an end and most people were getting into the spirit of giving and or preoccupied finding the perfect gifts for family and friends, Mother Nature handed me a gift of sorts.

Initially, I did not appreciate her present at all.

On the contrary, it was a shock to both mind and body.

I found myself in the hospital with a serious life-threatening infection, weak as a kitten and completely at the mercy of the doctors, nurses and other health care personnel.

For someone who always has been active, fit and healthy and enjoying my work as a physician, I was suddenly turned into a rather helpless patient.

Like any other human being, I experienced some relatively minor ailments in the course of the years, but I had never really experienced the other side of the fence with this intensity.

And quite a revealing experience it has been.

I will write in the future about some of the details, both positive aspects of my hospital stay and what could be improved upon.

But for now I will just say that, all in all, I am grateful for the quality and care I received and I am happy to be home, regaining my strength and health.

For now I will address the real life test run if the end of life plans my family and I had drawn up would actually have worked in practice.

All too often when push comes to shove, under dire circumstances people change their minds at the last minute, often leading to wrong decisions with regrets later on.

As physicians we have seen how many people conduct their lives denying their mortality to the bitter end, living with the false hope there will be no end.

Then when grandpa has a stroke and can no longer talk, or grandma suffers a severe heart attack, they and their families are put under a great deal of stress as what to do.

Often they resort to the easiest cop-out by instructing the doctors "to do everything," even if it clear this approach is not always in the best interest or contrary to the unexpressed wishes of the patient.

I had followed the advice I had given to many of my aging patients, to sit down with your spouse and children and discuss what kind of care would be preferable when the grim reaper came calling – heroics or not, CPR or not, and what range of other life-prolonging medical interventions would be acceptable.

Who would be the appointed representative in case I was no longer capable of giving directions?

To draw up a representation agreement, if there would be relatives likely attempting to interfere based on their different values and beliefs?

My family and my doctor know what my values and  beliefs are and what gives my life meaning.

The gift my wife and I received is that we experienced total acceptance of whatever the outcome of this illness, there was absolutely no doubt that our plans would have been followed had the treatment failed.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.

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