It was early fall on the ranch, and it was time to bring the cattle in to winter pasture. As Bill was loading up the horses into the trailer, he was kicked in the head. Emergency services were called, and he was medevaced to a larger community to receive care. After a CT scan revealed hematomas on the brain, a neurosurgeon was called in to perform the procedure. Bill’s wife, Anna, needed to give consent, but she was so tired she could barely process all the information about the procedure.
Janet couldn’t have been happier taking in a day of 4-H shooting sports with her sons Caleb and Ben, when she noticed her leg was feeling numb. She became dizzy and had a sharp headache, then felt disorientated and uncertain where she was. Janet was having a stroke. Bystanders called 911, and she was rushed to the local hospital.
While neither Bill nor Janet could have predicted the health challenges they would encounter that day, Leacey Brown, South Dakota State University Extension gerontology field specialist, says these case studies highlight the importance of communicating medical wishes prior to a situation where you can’t speak for yourself.
“Discussing healthcare decisions with family ensures medical actions align with your personal goals and priorities, particularly in crisis situations when you are unable to communicate,” Brown says.
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a reminder about the importance of talking about advance care planning and completing advance directives. South Dakota State University Clinical Assistant Professor Theresa Garren-Grubbs says even if you have already completed an advance directive, reviewing it annually helps to ensure these documents still align with your personal preferences for medical care.
“We know that many people in South Dakota have not completed advance directives,” says Garren-Grubbs. “The South Dakota Department of Health indicates that only one in three adults have completed an advance directive form. These forms allow you to provide instructions about your healthcare or appoint someone to make medical treatment decisions for you when you cannot speak for yourself.”
Advance care directive forms are available from most medical care providers, but Brown cautions adults from grabbing one and signing it on their next visit.
“It’s important to talk about what care you want in different situations, especially if you name another person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf,” Brown says. “Talking about advanced directives and healthcare decisions can be overwhelming.”
Advance directives are often created with crisis or emergency situations in mind. While it can be difficult to imagine a situation, such as an automobile or ranch accident, when you are severely injured and unable to speak for yourself, Brown says that is the situation you need to keep in perspective when preparing an advance directive.
SDSU Extension has compiled a variety of resources to aid South Dakotans and their families during the process of advance care planning — a process Garren-Grubbs says should be reviewed annually, especially following major life events.
“Advance care planning is not a one and done,” says Garren-Grubbs. “Advance care planning is a lifelong process.”