How many of us know someone who has been become so ill or injured that they ended up in the hospital for weeks or months, on perhaps no more notice than a few days? With COVID, more folks have become aware of the possibility this could happen close to home, but that’s not the only cause. Car, household, and industrial accidents happen, as do more mundane health problems like pregnancy complications, strokes, cardiac issues, pneumonia, massive infections, overdoses, and even fast-moving cancers. It’s easy to think they’re things that happen to other people, but I think it’s much clearer now that that’s not the case. While we can protect ourselves against some of them, or at least make them less likely to happen to us, sometimes lightning strikes, sometimes literally. And sometimes, an impending long-term hospitalization is a tidal wave we cannot prevent. In either case, there are things we can do today to prepare, so that our energy can be focused on healing. Here are some:
Decide today what kind of medical care you will consent to, and who can make those choices you haven’t anticipated. The best place to start is to talk with your family members and close friends about treatments you are and aren’t okay with and why. It does mean facing the fact that illness, injury, and death may come, but it can also relieve stress and drama when it does. You’ll also want to talk to a lawyer or do some research about who gets to make decisions when you can’t, and put in place any legal documentation that may be necessary to ensure it’s who you want it to be. The default in most states is your spouse if you’re married, an adult child, or your parents. They may not be available or good choices for you, for all sorts of reasons, and if so, you will want to make sure it’s not them while you are able to change it. The last thing you want is for a doctor to administer interventions you would have refused, if only you were conscious enough to object, for family to be fighting over your bedside on whether to withdraw life support, or for someone you don’t trust to be in a position to define your care.
Think about who will take care of the people and other living creatures who depend on you in all different capacities, and how they’ll do it. This being On Her Own, I’m thinking about single parents in particular, but not only them. After all, the person you’re thinking of might themselves not be able when you are most in need, so who will back them up? Or they may be able, but not have the resources to do it all by themselves, in which case you might want to think about additional people who can also help, or even plan for financial and other support to assist them. And children are important, but also elderly parents, pets, and even your beloved plants. You might also want to make sure your employer is notified, and think about who will do that. When you’ve decided, you need to make sure your helpers know they’re on board with what you’ve decided and how you’d like them to do what you’ve asked. You may need to put legal documentation in place here too, to ensure that they’re able to step in and help you in this way. Even when those documents aren’t required here or for anything else, writing it all down in a place where it can be found can be a key part in making sure that your preferences and desires are carried out as much as possible.
Part of taking care of your life includes taking care of your stuff. They may seem unimportant in the face of potential death, but you may survive and come home, and you may have others who are may have need of them. At the very least, preserving the status quo on what you have means less stress and more options later. You’ll want to consider what bills must be paid and make arrangements so they will be – making a list of accounts and access information and setting up auto-pay are good starting points. If disability insurance is an option for you, get signed up and learn what you or a loved one need to do to access it. While you’re at it, get some basic familiarity with your medical insurance if you have it. Outside of the financial issues that might come up, think about the practical. Just like if you’re going on a long vacation, you might need someone to check that your home remains intact, pick up your mail, maybe start up your car occasionally. If your hospital stay is unexpected and lengthy, you probably won’t want to come home to trash that’s been sitting for months, a fridge full of rotting food, and weather-ravaged whatever-it-was-you-didn’t-mean-to-leave-outside, so someone who can be trusted to take a peek at your place and take care of those small clean-up chores might also be wise to recruit. For that matter, dealing with these sorts of things might be exactly what you can do for your sick friend you don’t know how to help.
Nobody wants to think about getting hurt or sick so badly that they are stuck in a hospital bed or rehab facility. When we’re young especially, we want to think of ourselves as invincible. Many of us also spend much of our lives with parents or partners we can depend on. Life doesn’t always mean that they’re available to us, though, and we might be responsible for others then to boot. When that’s the case, or even when it’s not, spending some planning time now can help make sure we, the people we love, and the things we’ve worked so hard to acquire, will be taken care of as best as possible if we are unfortunate enough to land in this kind of nightmare.