I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing . . . what’s going to happen next — Gilda Radner, American actress and comedian, (1946-1989)
Starting today’s column with a distressing personal story – hang in with me, okay? A close relative, approximately age 60 who does not live in Maryland, joined a group of high school friends for a weekend at a beautiful beach resort. Facts are scarce about how this event actually happened, but he fell 10 or 12 feet from a deck, breaking his back and putting a 4 inch fracture into his skull.
The good news? He survived. He was removed from life support 4 days after the event and actually recognized members of his family.
The bad news? Months of intensive brain trauma rehab are in his future. My relative is in great physical shape – hikes, skies, cycles, etc. All that strength will stand him in good stead during the rehab. As of now, he still cannot be moved from the small area hospital near the resort to trauma centers at his home in a large hospital-rich town, because he cannot yet be moved safely.
A blessing for all is that my relative had executed one of the Five at Fifty-Five documents: A Health Care Power of Attorney, naming an agent and alternate agents in the event he could not make his own decisions. Whoa, my cousin is not yet elderly, does not have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or any of the conditions we are quick to associate with the need for a Power of attorney. Nevertheless – he needs it!
Sadly, right now, he cannot even call out for pizza.
Calling the shots – medically and financially – are the persons earlier named in his Health Care Power of Attorney and in his Living Will – another of the five documents.
You should know that state laws vary when it comes to most legal documents and that’s true of Powers of Attorney. The exact wording and name for these documents may differ from state to state, but in general the principles behind them are the same in all states.
These documents are typically referred to as “Advance Directive” meaning that you have put down on paper ahead of time your wishes concerning health care treatment and whom you want to act on your behalf to handle medical matters. These can be end of life matters, but remember there could be many other decisions that may need to be made, some of them routine in nature, if you are unable to make them yourself. These could include having access to your medical records, deciding whether you should join an experimental drug trial, be placed in a rehabilitation center, be discharged to hospice, etc. Your agent would be entitled to ask for a second opinion, to hire and fire doctors, to move you to another facility and to take you to a specialist. Having these sorts of decisions made on your behalf while you’re unable to do so could save your life, or improve the quality of your life once you leave the hospital.
It is most probable that you will sign up for Medicare at age 65, regardless of when you are entitled to Social Security payments. Those two previously happened at the same age, but the Social Security ages have changed as new laws have superseded old ones. In the same way that your mind knows something important for you is to be taken care of at age 65, learn from my story and make sure you have five very important legal documents in place by age 55!