By Svitlana Makoviy, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2018
When I was seven, my grandfather suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. I vividly remember every moment of that day, because I was the one who made the 911 call. Grandpa took me to my piano lesson and as we returned home, I followed my routine of finishing school work, as he was making dinner. From the adjoining room, I heard a plate shatter on the floor. Rushing to the kitchen, I saw grandpa with one hand tightly pressed against his chest and with the other gesturing towards the telephone. Mortified, I grabbed the phone and dialed 911, following my mom’s clear instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
My grandpa was a very strong-willed man. He knew precisely how he did not want to go – he was adamant about feeding tubes, life support, and anything of that nature. He resisted creating or signing a Power of Attorney or a Health Care Directive. He, along with his friends, distrusted the documents because of legal jargon, which they found confusing. Looking back and after learning how important and effective the documents are at protecting the individual’s interests, I truly wish he had created them when he still could.
Once we were at the hospital, my grandpa had a few brief moments of consciousness. As a result of his heart attack, he suffered additional complications, which required substantial medical intervention. Because he was too weak for surgery, largely attributable to his age and condition, the doctors kept him alive with medications and a breathing ventilator. My mom knew that if the doctors were unable to bring him back and he continued to slowly drift and remain in a comatose state, my grandpa would want to be let go. My mom conveyed my grandpa’s wishes to her sister, who disagreed.
My aunt remained firm on the idea that it was her and my mom’s duty, as children, to keep my grandpa alive for as long as they could. Hence, taking him off life-support would be the ultimate betrayal. My aunt lived in a different country and was only able to visit my grandpa once or twice a year. Looking back, perhaps she was not aware of his position on prolonged medical intervention. My aunt eventually conceded that it was time to let go.
We tend to be caught up in the moment. When the good times turn into great times, we may postpone planning for the future, as it seems so far away. A health care decision is a very personal one. It must be respected, hence transforming that decision into a binding, legal obligation is paramount to secure one’s wishes, and protect loved ones from having to make an impossible choice. Both, my mom and my aunt have been living with guilt because they executed what was meant to be his personal act. My grandpa was a wonderful man, who had absolutely no intention of placing his children in the position they were placed. He innocently did not account for it.