I continue to be humbled to watch the outpouring of support for our medical community. From sewing masks to donating food and supplies, to a show of support in the hospital parking lot on March 26-27, I see a community pulling together in a time of great uncertainty.
It is times like this that give us opportunity to reflect on the choices and decisions that we can make. It is easy to feel helpless because we don’t have a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 yet. I have every confidence that medical science will, in time, conquer this virus.
But, we can be proactive now to make decisions about our own healthcare.
The statistics around COVID-19 are sobering. We know that 80% of cases are mild and the sick will recover at home. It is the remaining 20% that give us cause for concern.
We know that persons over the age of 65 with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, high blood pressure, and cancer are at higher risk for hospitalization and death. Our hospital administration is doing everything within its power to prepare for an influx of potentially critically ill patients.
So what might happen if you become sick enough to require hospitalization? And what might happen if you became sick enough to be unable to breathe on your own and require a ventilator?
We see New York clamoring for thousands of ventilators, but what does it really mean to be placed on a ventilator? What could you and your loved ones expect? What is my chance for survival if I do go on a ventilator? And if I survive would I be able to return to my normal function and how long would that take?
These are all important questions to consider as we make decisions about what kind of care we do or do not want if we are faced with a life-threatening illness.
I would urge every member of our community, and particularly those who are at higher risk based on age and health status to discuss their care choices with their loved ones.
Review or complete your advanced care planning documents. That would include your Advance Directives, designation of a Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA), and completing an Out-Of-Hospital-Do-Not-Resuscitate (OOH-DNR) order if that is appropriate. These documents are available through the hospital website [www.hillcountrymemorial.org/patient-resources/fill-out-forms/] and can be easily completed at home.
Your primary care physician is available to counsel you in completion of the forms and many of us are available through tele health visits or by phone. Other personnel that may assist you include our home healthcare and hospice staff, social workers and chaplains.
Completing these documents and having open conversations with your family about your wishes is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your loved ones. I say this from 30 years of experience as a primary care physician, a hospitalist, and a hospice physician as I have walked many families through difficult choices.
It is my great honor and privilege to serve this community. I am confident that we will overcome and emerge stronger on the other side of this crisis.
Pam Cantu, MD, holds the positions of Diplomate with the American Board of Internal Medicine and with the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.