POLST: Offering Peace of Mind
Sister Frances Wink moves slowly now at age 84. But there’s nothing slow about the radiant smile that enlivens her face, or the curious, vigorous mind that animates her conversation. A stack of books sits next to her chair in the Assisted Living Center she now calls home, where her days are rich in community, conversation and friendship.
The decision to become a sister evolved over time for Sister Frances. During her high school and early college years, she struggled with the idea. But once she made the decision to enter the convent and try out the life, she “knew that it was the right place for her.”
After moving to Portland for her novitiate, an experience she describes as being “a little bit like boot camp,” Sister Frances dedicated her career to teaching high school students and, later, older sisters. Then, after more than 20 years of parish work at Seattle Cathedral, she decided that it was time to retire – and her community of friends beckoned her back to Oregon.
Several years ago her health began to deteriorate, punctuated by recurrent bouts of pneumonia and compression fractures in her back. Not only was it time for Sister Frances to move to Assisted Living accommodation so that she could receive additional care, but it was also time for her to give careful thought to what that care might look like.
“I first heard about POLST from a retired chaplain friend,” she explains, “and I knew it was something I wanted, so I contacted my doctor about it.”
Several things about POLST were important for her. First, POLST transforms her wishes about the care she does, and does not, wish to receive into doctor’s orders: these orders will then be honored throughout the medical system. Second, the Oregon POLST electronic registry ensures that these orders will always be available in an emergency.
Third and most important is the fact that, as time has gone on, Sister Frances’ ideas about the care she wants have changed, and they might still change again. POLST allows her to be very clear and nuanced about her wishes. For example, while she does not want to have CPR, there are some treatments that she does want, including antibiotics for her pneumonia or IV fluids. And, while she wants to be hospitalized if necessary for these treatments, she does not want to be cared for in the ICU. POLST is flexible and can be updated at any time to reflect her current health and wishes for care.
For Sister Frances, there is a palpable sense of peace from knowing that her desires for care will be honored, that she has taken this proactive step to ensure that the medical care she receives from this point forward will be aligned with her well considered wishes.
This is no small thing for a person still so engaged in living. And the peace of mind she enjoys clearly allows her to be even more deeply present to the rich world of faith, friendship and ideas that give her life its greatest meaning.