This past year has been a year of learning. We’ve witnessed beautiful acts of kindness and generosity. We’ve grieved together over unthinkable loss. We’ve learned hard lessons along the way. One of those lessons is just how important it is to share our health care wishes with our loved ones and care providers before we get sick.

Take the experience of an Albuquerque woman named Karen, who created an advance directive in 2020 that outlines her health care wishes for her family and care team.

Karen’s story started in a difficult place and, sadly, one that is all too common. After a stroke in 2019, her husband was hospitalized in critical condition and never regained his ability to communicate. He didn’t have an advance directive, and he and Karen had never discussed his health care preferences for this type of situation. As a result, she struggled to make decisions without knowing what he would want.

The experience was a wake-up call. We never know when we might find ourselves needing care, and this was truer than ever during the coronavirus pandemic.

Karen worked with an advance care planning specialist to create her own advance directive. At first, she was hesitant, but then she learned the document can be changed at any time.

Along the way, she learned that discussing our wishes for care is an incredibly important conversation to have with those you love.

“I wanted to make sure that I’m covered, and that my daughter and the hospital know what matters to me,” Karen said.

For many people, these conversations can be scary. These conversations acknowledge the fact that we may not always be healthy. But avoiding them allows our fear to disconnect us from our own health care. It also means our loved ones would have to guess our wishes if we were very sick. By thinking about and documenting your choices now, others will be better prepared to support those choices if there were a time when you couldn’t share them.

Sometimes, starting is the hardest part. Fortunately, there are simple steps to help.

First, decide who you want to make medical decisions if there were a time that you could not make or voice your wishes. Make sure these individuals are willing to serve in this trusted role.

Second, think about what kind of medical treatment is most important to you. Your health care provider can answer questions about different care options.

Third, document your choices in an advance directive. In New Mexico, there is no specific form required and you don’t need an attorney to complete the document. Presbyterian has made the process easier with a new electronic advance directive, which is automatically added to your medical record. Presbyterian patients and health plan members can access the site at phs.vyncahealth.com.

Finally, share your advance directive with your loved ones and care team. An advance directive does no good if it’s locked in your file cabinet. If you already have one, make sure your loved ones know what you want and that your health care team has a copy.

Everyone deserves to have their health care choices known and honored. Support is available to navigate these conversations. Presbyterian offers free sessions for anyone in the community with advance care planning specialists by calling 866-773-7226.

Let’s follow Karen’s lead. Let’s talk with loved ones about what’s important to us and create an advance directive to make sure that our voice is always at the center of our health care, during COVID-19 and beyond.

Lorrie Griego is director of Advance Care Planning at Presbyterian Healthcare Services.

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