Conversations That Matter

Posted on September 6, 2012 by


Every day I am confronted by the snarl of technology-gone-awry known as the American system of healthcare. The good news is we have the best healthcare technology available. The bad news is we don’t always know how or when to use these expensive tools, particularly at the end of life.

This is why the mission of The Conversation Project is so critical, not only to reigning in expensive and futile, end-of-life healthcare costs, but also to fulfilling our wishes on how and where we choose to die and how much we’ll put up with before we do. The Conversation Project is a grassroots cultural movement that encourages us to have conversations with our loved ones about our last wishes, preferably around the kitchen table rather than in the emotion-stoked hallways of an intensive care unit.

This is not about sitting down with your eighty-five-year-old mother and plowing through a stack of advanced directives as thick as the Houston phonebook. It’s about sharing information in terms we can all understand. If you visit The Conversation Project’s website, you’ll be surprised, in a good way, at what you’ll find: meaningful tools such as a starter kit (free to all) that helps you get the conversation going and leads you through the process.

Some people are incredibly vocal at making their wishes known. My uncle, hospitalized and facing a transfer to assisted living, got up from his bed and announced, “You will not warehouse me. I’m going home.” And shortly after leaving, after he fired the visiting nurse and physical therapist, he had one last martini and called it a life.

But will the rest of us be as lucky?

Will we even have the ability to speak or express our wishes before it’s too late? We simply do not know what circumstances we will find ourselves in as our final days are ticking away. We might wake up incarcerated in the ICU, staked to the bed rails, a tube the width of a garden hose wedged in our throats, victims of a full-court press of intervention, incentivized by a fee-for-service payment system.

Here it is for all the world to see. Unhook me, take me home, mix me a vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) and yes, why not a cigar. Put me under the moonlight with the dog and leave me there.

Rinse. Repeat.