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Gladys and her husband, Orlando, came to the United States in 1980. It was a hard beginning. But they worked to build very good lives here. They got good jobs and an education for their children. They now have a large, loving community of family and friends.
A number of years ago Gladys learned about the Advance Directive when she was in good health. This opened her eyes to the value of thinking about what medical treatment she would want if she were in an accident or taken ill all of a sudden. And it was important to her to name her daughter Karen as the person to make medical choices for her if she cannot speak for herself.
Years later Gladys had complications from breast cancer treatments. She realized that the Advance Directive was no longer enough to tell her family and medical team about the care she did and did not want. That is when she decided to complete a POLST.
Gladys had watched her niece die slowly and painfully in a hospital “with many machines.” She would never want to die this way herself. “That is no way to live,” she said. “I don’t want to suffer for nothing. And when you sign the POLST you know that you don’t have to experience that pain.”
Gladys’ POLST lets her choose which treatments she does and does not want. For instance, she does want to go to the hospital if she needs to. She also wants to be treated for a lung infection if that happens. But she feels very strongly that she does not want to be in Intensive Care and kept alive on machines.
Because her form is signed by her doctor, these wishes are medical orders that will be followed if she has a medical emergency. A nurse practitioner can also sign a POLST form.*
Having a POLST has helped Gladys feel at peace about her situation: “Even when I had the cancer, I felt peaceful because I knew I had the POLST. I know my daughter is going to do whatever I said to do, and my doctor too.”
Family is at the heart of Gladys’ life. It is very important to her to spare her loved ones from making hard decisions about her care, most of all her daughter Karen.
When Gladys first told her family about her POLST and her choices, some said: “No, don’t do that!” But they listened to her. Then they understood her reasons for the choices she had made. In the end they all agreed that she was right to do this.
“I have taken away the burden from them of deciding what to do if that’s necessary. It’s so hard to make choices for other people. I’m planning to tell everyone in my family that I want to free them from these horrible decisions.”
For her daughter, Karen, this is a great relief. “POLST allows you to have a clear conscience because you are honoring the wishes of your loved one,” she says. “It helps me defend my mom’s wishes and defend myself if family members don’t agree.”
Gladys knows that she can change her POLST at any time. But for now she says she doesn’t think about it because she doesn’t need to. She has made her choices based on her current state of health. And her family as well as her health care team know what she wants.
She believes that having an Advance Directive when she was healthy was very important. “It helped a lot to have talked about and completed an Advance Directive first. It’s a step in the right direction. And it takes away from the negative so that it’s easier to have a POLST later,” she explained.
Gladys wishes that everyone in her community would know how important it is to have an Advance Directive when they are healthy, and then a POLST later when they have serious illness. “Everyone needs to be informed and educated about it,” she said.
Knowing that her POLST is complete lets Gladys focus on what matters to her most— being with her many family members, visiting loved ones in El Salvador, and watching her two beloved grandkids grow up.
Click here to download Taking a burden off your loved ones with a POLST form
* “Doctor" refers to who can sign a POLST form. POLST forms need a physician (M.D. or D.O.), nurse practitioner (N.P.), physician assistant (P.A.), or doctor of naturopathy (N.D.) signature.