Thursday, April 30, 2015

NYTimes: When a Medical Proxy Saves a Life

"I'm begging you," pleaded my 93-year-old grandmother. "I want to quit while I'm ahead. I'm too tired. It's been a good, solid run and I'm done."
I was sitting in my cubicle in Midtown Manhattan trying to untangle the phone cord so I could hear every word of the argument she was making from her hospital room in Florida, where doctors were waiting to hear if they should go ahead with surgery to treat her sepsis, or take her to hospice, where she would most likely die of the infection by the end of the week.
"I understand," I said, resigned to letting her go. "I'm on your side. It's your life. Let me talk to Mom one more time."
My grandmother had agreed to make my mother, her daughter-in-law, her health care proxy — which meant that Mom was responsible for making her medical decisions, should she be unable to make them on her own. But neither of them fully understood the legal details and to my grandmother, at least, Mom had the final say. If Grandma was going to forgo the surgery, Mom had to agree. And she didn't.
"Everyone assumes that because Grandma's 93 she can't be suicidal," my mother told me, a few minutes later. "Judith is clinically depressed. She needs the surgery and she needs antidepressants."
My mother's pro-surgery argument felt a bit ironic. As my mother tells it, my father's last words to her, before he went into a routine surgery, were: "And God help you if anything happens to me. You'd be stuck with my parents."
He died of cardiac arrest several days later. I was 10 months old.

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