I recently read an article entitled, How Doctors Die, and was struck by its simplicity and elegance. Also, I was struck by how doctors know what they want and don’t want, clearly, because they aren’t afraid to face death, the inevitability of it, and the need for anticipation and planning. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about another article I read recently, What Would Happen if you Died Tonight, and how we can better plan for our own inevitable demise. But today, let’s start with the cheery subject of the end of life decisions doctors make, and how we (unfortunately) differ.
First, they plan. Necessarily, as a doctor, they see and comprehend in a way us regular folk cannot (except perhaps funeral directors) that death is inevitable. Not only that, and perhaps more importantly, they understand that not planning very likely means that things will happen to you and around you that you do not ever want to happen. Procedures will be done to you that you would have refused if you could have, your family will suffer more than they should, you will suffer in pain and illness more than you would choose to, and your estate (your money, your assets) will be in a tangled mess, causing more hardship on your family than you would ever have wanted.
We don’t want to think about death – no one does – but the reality is inevitable. We don’t have a choice about that. What we DO have a choice about is how we handle it, the dignity we grant ourselves, the burdens and responsibilities (or lack thereof) we leave to our loved ones, and the mess (or lack thereof) we leave to our loved ones. If we have these choices, and it’s really the only choices we have in our anticipation of death, then why don’t we take advantage of them?
Second, doctors know of and learn from our mistakes. It can be hard to acknowledge our own mortality unless and until we either experience serious illness or we see it in one of our loved ones. But we can learn from their wisdom, and we don’t have to necessarily experience it to benefit from what they see. Illness, accidents, & terrible diagnoses don’t generally come with advance warning and the ability to prepare. They come on suddenly, shockingly, and require grave decisions to be made, sometimes quite quickly. But the best time to make a decision is when you are calm and able to think all of the issued out. The worst time? When you’re facing a life or death situation.
The bottom line is that planning is essential to ensure that you are cared for in the way you want to be, and that you do not put unnecessary burden on your loved ones. If you knew what the burden would be when it came time, you would definitely choose to plan ahead. Why wait until it’s too late?