Tragically Larry Hattem knows all too well how important it is to have an advance directive. Nearly 11 years ago, his wife, Joyce, went in for a routine MRI with contrast as a follow-up to a previous bout of pneumonia. Due to a rare and severe reaction to the MRI that affected her ability to breathe, she was rushed from an imaging center to St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, where she was declared brain dead. After three days, Larry had to make the difficult decision to remove his 69-year-old wife from life support.
"I looked at her lying in that hospital bed, and I knew what she would want me to do—so I told everyone we had to let her go,” recalls 83-year-old Larry, a resident of Orange, California. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing, and it's because we had talked about it for the last 20 or 30 years.”
The Hattems were married for 45 years and raised two sons. In their early years of marriage, they began taking evening walks through their neighborhood, hand in hand. What started out as couple’s banter turned into more meaningful conversations about what they would want in an end-of-life situation. Knowing how important their wishes were to each other, they documented it 20 years before they would ever need to refer to it.
“We knew it was on paper, but that, when push came to shove, it was going to be hard to let the other one go,” says Larry. “Writing it down was our way of reinforcing to each other that we had a great life, and we agreed to do the right thing when the time came.”
Larry says he is amazed at the sympathy and compassion caregivers at St. Joseph Hospital showed his family in those final days with his wife. In fact, he has since become an advocate for the hospital, talking with other families throughout the community about end-of-life issues, particularly around how to have “those difficult conversations.”
And, as for his advance care directive – Larry’s wishes are documented and well known to his family. He even keeps a copy of his advance directive in the glove compartment of his car—he knows, perhaps more than anyone, that he could find himself in a situation where he needs it at a moment’s notice. Read 6 Tips for Creating an Advance Directive.
National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16. It’s a day set aside to inspire and educate our community about the importance of advance care planning. Are you part of the 82 percent of people who say it’s important to put-end-of-life wishes in writing, but still haven’t done it? Go to www.talkaboutwhatmatters.org today to get started.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.