Published June 11, 2012
You’ve picked out your health insurance and paid your premiums, so now you can forget about planning for a serious illness, right? Wrong!
It’s wishful thinking to expect your health care to proceed without any issues if you get really sick. If you are in an accident or lose the ability to communicate, who’s going to be there to make decisions for you? You may think it will be your husband, wife, or partner, but that person might be the exact wrong person to be put in charge of your health. Here’s why:
Let’s say you are in a bad car accident. Who are you probably going to be with? Your spouse. Or say you have a serious illness. Who is going to have to run your household, pay all the bills, take care of you and the kids, and keep going to work? Your spouse. Also, who is going to be the most emotionally devastated person if this happens to you? That’s right, your spouse. And that doesn’t take into consideration whether your spouse is good under pressure or can stand up to the doctors and fight for what you would want.
That’s where an advocate can help. My friend Mary was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, but thankfully, she had a group of women friends who could act as her advocates. We took turns staying in her hospital room with her to keep track of her treatments and make sure the doctors were doing what she wanted to have done. And when the insurance company decided she’d been there long enough and didn’t want to pay for a rehabilitation facility, we stood up for her rights and spoke up for her until we got her the care she needed and deserved.
The point: Now is the time to think about who that person can be for you. Who will be there if you are sick or hurt? Who can be that “squeaky wheel” to get you the care you might need? Here are the characteristics I want in my advocate:
Big mouth – I want someone who is not afraid to speak up – whether it’s to ask questions, demand answers, or put her foot down.
Reliable – I want someone who is going to be there for me, even if it means putting her own plans on hold. I want someone who understands that being my advocate could make the difference between whether I recover or not, or whether I am whole in body and spirit when everything is said and done.
Tough enough to stand firm – I want someone who won’t be intimidated by the hospital or the doctors and nurses – someone who can stand up to authority if she thinks it’s in my best interest.
So where to start? Narrow down your list of possible advocates then watch each one in action. How does she respond to a crisis, even a minor one? Can she stand firm or does she cave in if she is confronted? Decide for yourself what the most important characteristics are for you, then look for the person that has them. It may be a family member, or it may be a friend. It's also possible that someone slightly more removed from you would have a better view of the big picture than someone who is too close.
Once you make your choice, the first thing to do is talk to her to make sure she is willing to do this for you. If she isn’t sure, she’s not the right one for you. But if she agrees, you’ll need to create a living will naming her as your advocate and giving her guidelines for your care. There are some great living will resources on empowHer.com.
If you don’t find the right person among your friends and family, you may decide to hire a patient advocate. They can do great work on your behalf, usually for an hourly fee. Just be sure to check out the person you choose and do a dry run with a minor problem before you put him or her in charge for the big things. For more on patient advocates, check out Margo Corbett’s book The Savvy Patient’s Toolkit.
It all comes down to knowing yourself and what’s right for you. Make plans now so what you believe is best can be carried out – even if you can’t make the decisions later on.
Michelle King Robson (pronounced robe-son) is one of the nation's leading women's health and wellness advocates. She is the Founder, Chairperson and CEO of EmpowHER, one of the fastest-growing and largest social health companies dedicated exclusively to women's health and wellness. In 2011 EmpowHER reached more than 60 million women onsite and through syndication expects to reach more than 250 million in 2012.