Making medical decisions in a crisis

If you are named as health care decision maker for your loved one, you may be called upon to make very important decisions on very short notice.

At a time like this, it’s easy, and very human, to get caught up in fear. Fear does not make for the best decisions. If you can, call a friend and have them join you. You don’t have to do this alone.

Vicki Kind, ethicist and author of The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making, suggests these steps to promote your clearest thinking:

  • Prepare a 911 list. Before a crisis—why not today?—create a reminder list to draw upon before rushing out the door. Do you have a child or pet you will need to arrange care for? An employer to inform? Do you have your necessary medications, food, and water? Maybe a sweater and a book, and paper for note taking? Phone charger? Your wallet?
  • Steady your mind. Give yourself a few minutes to use a calming strategy: pray, call someone, walk around the block. Focus on the positive, “I can stay clear-headed and do what’s needed.”
  • Clarify the timeline. You may hear that a decision is needed “now.” Ask what “now” really means. In the next hour? Or by 5:00 pm tomorrow?
  • Gather information. Ask about all the options. In addition to the benefits for each one, ask about risks and possible negative outcomes. Find out about the long-term consequences.
  • Review and decide. Reread your notes. Consider the options next to your loved one’s values and priorities. Talk things through with a friend or trusted professional. Perhaps create a spreadsheet of pros and cons for each option. Confirm for yourself the logic of your thinking, and go forward with your decision.