You awake to the sound of sirens. The lights are very bright, and it is hard to keep your eyes open. There is a mask covering your nose and mouth. It takes a minute or two for you to focus and realize that you are in the back of an ambulance.
What happened? The last thing you remember is that you were driving your car. You have so many questions and try to speak to no avail.
You are moved by gurney into a building. It must be a hospital. Yes, there are people wearing scrubs getting all kinds of equipment. Your sense of reality goes in and out. You wonder who knows where you are?
Fortunately, in your wallet, there is a card. The card has the name of the person who should be contacted in case of emergency. Time passes and now there is an IV in your arm and cords attached to mechanical devices that beep repeatedly, much to your annoyance. Unfortunately, you are unable to communicate with the people who are swarming in and out of where you are.
While it seems as if a whole day has passed, you look at a clock and as best you can tell it is only two hours since you were on the road. Someone comes into the room and this person is wearing street clothes, not scrubs. You know this person well and you feel a sense of relief. Your emergency contact person has arrived – along with a copy of your advance health care directive (AHCD). This is the person who knows you best, be they a close relative or your best friend.
Multiple studies have shown that the majority of adults do not have an advance health care directive or a means to let first responders know who should be contacted in case of emergency. And, by the way, it is an “advance” directive because it is prepared in advance of a situation arising in which it would be needed. It is often erroneously called an “advanced” directive (I admit that this is one of my pet peeves) so I wanted to clarify this point.
Some people believe that an advance health care directive is only for end-of-life issues. While these issues may also be addressed, there is an even more important reason to have an AHCD – the ability to appoint someone to make health care decisions in accordance with your wishes in case of an emergency that would render you incapable of doing so for yourself. This is referred to as a “Power of Attorney for Health Care” and is typically part of the AHCD in which you also state your health care wishes.
So how do you create an AHCD? If you are in California, there is a form that many people use that is written into California law. You can find that one here: CA AHCD
However, you are not required to use that form. Many health care providers, such as Kaiser and UCLA Health, offer alternative forms. The Coalition for Compassionate Care of California also offers forms in multiple languages and provides links to other organizations that offer them as well: CCCC ACHDs
Of course, in the case of the emergency situation described above, unless you carried a copy of your directive with you at all times (which is not likely), the wallet card is how the emergency room to staff could make contact your health care agent if you are unable to communicate this information. There are a number of free templates on the Internet for making wallet cards; one of these is this one from the American Red Cross: ARC Wallet Card
As we all know, accidents happen. Sometimes a serious illness can occur without warning. In any event, it is a good idea to have both an advance health care directive and something to carry with you so that in case of emergency, your healthcare agent can be found.
Here’s to your health and wellness as we begin the new year!