Samuel Alderman, 83, was trying to help move boxes from the car to his family's new home when he found himself gasping for air.

"I wasn't able to help because I would run out of breath walking from the house to the car," Alderman explained from his bed. "I said something is wrong I am not supposed to feel like this."

Alderman was an avid smoker in his former years and wasn't incredibly surprised to learn that only 33 percent of his lungs were still functioning.

"I asked the doctors to give it to me straight," Alderman said assertively. "I needed someone to be honest with me because I needed to prepare for what's next."

Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day which aims to educate the public about advance care planning and making end-of-life decisions for oneself.

"The process of planning end-of-life decisions begins with understanding the importance of determining the care you would want if you were unable to speak or communicate for yourself," said Vonshelle Beneby, bereavement services manager at VITAS Healthcare. "These decisions are important because they address how you wish to have your medical care provided as well as financial and legal matters completed."

Part of preparing for Alderman was getting together those important decisions.

"It will take the burden off of my family to make decisions for me," Alderman said.

Beneby said that this process will hopefully eliminate loved ones guessing on what you would want done.

"A person at any age can discuss their end-of-life wishes or desired care with family and loved ones regardless of whether or not they are receiving hospice services," Beneby said.

 

Living Will

The first document that comes up when going to make end-of-life decisions is the Living Will.

"This documents the person's wishes regarding medical care to be used or withheld," Beneby said.

Alderman and his wife, June, had made a living will 15 years ago so that their kids would not have to worry about what to do. Alderman's wishes are to die a natural death and when he passes he wants to be cremated.

"We wanted to make sure that our kids were taken care of and they were from separate marriages," June said. "In mine I will not be resuscitated, no extraordinary care will be given I just want to die a natural death."

Alderman states that he is a planner.

"I have planned ahead for things that I can control, but death is something that cannot be controlled therefore you need to do a lot of discussing with family about your wishes should something happen," Alderman said. "It takes away from the families anxiety when you have a living will for them."

Wendy Michels, 41, of New Smyrna Beach, was at the dinner table with her husband Tony and friends when the topic of living wills came up in conversation.

"I started to ask questions about what it was because we were pretty ignorant of it," Michels said. "I just assumed prior to looking into this that my husband would make decisions for me and I didn't realize that everything could turn into a huge legal battle like about who would get the kids."

She said that when it comes to medical decisions the couple agreed that they didn't want to be on artificial life support.

"If the doctors say that there is no reasonable expectation that life support will help, then they will take us off," Michels said. "It's nice to know what my husband would want because now I know if anything ever happened, I would be honoring his wishes."

 

Durable Power of Attorney

The person with Durable Power of Attorney over you has the ability to make health, financial and/or legal decisions on your behalf.

"I just assumed that when you’re married then it’s all taken care of, but it’s not," Michels said. "I was shocked to see how messed up it could get if you didn't set everything up."

Michels said the worst part about this is reading about the legal issues surrounding parents and spouses in regards to medical care.

"From what I read there were times where the husband was financially and mentally ready to let go, but the rest of the family wasn't ready, so the person was on life support for years," Michels said. "My intention was to give him final say to prevent pain and suffering for the family and vise versa."

Michels said that making their decisions has given her and her husband piece of mind.

"Now there is no argument," Michels said. "It's like a weight I didn't know was there was lifted."

 

Do Not Resuscitate Order

The Do Not Resuscitate Order, commonly referred to as DNR, is a document that one can sign if they do not wish to be resuscitated in the event of pulmonary arrest.

For Alderman, this was one of the hardest decisions for him to make. Eventually, he decided to sign the form.

"That doesn't mean not to do the Heimlich if I start choking on my steak," Alderman said with a chuckle. "As you age you get weaker and weaker and when you get bedridden like me you know that you are going downhill."

Beneby said that with her patients this is also the hardest one for them to decide.

"They may feel conflicted about how their family and loved ones will perceive signing the DNR," Beneby said. "I try to encourage them to use the DNR to have a conversation with their loved ones to discuss what it means to have a quality of life and the difference between receiving aggressive versus palliative care."

 

Advice

When making these decisions it's often hard to know where to start and how to go about it.

"It's important to discuss your own choices with your loved ones and healthcare provider," Beneby said. "It's important to talk to them and also put your decisions in writing."

Beneby also recommends putting the documents in a safe but easily accessible place as well as give a copy to your healthcare providers.

"Once the documents are completed they do not expire," Beneby said. "You should review them periodically to ensure they still reflect your wishes and if necessary, make changes."

Michels said that it's important for people to get curious about it and do some research.

"If you are not sure whether it's worth the money to get it done, then Google search it," Michels said. "I did and it made me go do it especially since I have kids."

Alderman said that the most important thing is to be honest with people and talk about it.

"You can always change your mind later; you just have to fill out a piece of paper," Alderman said. "Just don't stall and don't leave it unmade for somebody else to make."

VITAS Healthcare regularly offers seminars on this information, end-of-life choices and how to complete the FIVE WISHES booklet for adults and MY WISHES for persons under 18.  Anyone wanting additional information can contact Beneby at 386-366-6178.