Monday, August 17, 2009

Is Your Family Prepared for an Unexpected Tragedy?

Last night, I was checking CNN and read this article about Tom Murphy, a Sprint executive who was returning to Kansas City from a vacation with his family when a boulder fell from a cliff onto his car. Tragically, the boulder hit this man and knocked him unconscious. His wife struggled for over a mile to stop the car from the passenger seat. Upon arrival at the hospital, Mr. Murphy was pronounced dead. Sgt. Rich Armstrong of the Colorado State Patrol, said that while falling boulders are common, fatalities are rare. He has also been quoted as saying that just another half a second and Mr. Murphy wouldn't have been injured.

My heart stopped when I read this story. I don't know Tom Murphy or his family, but I cannot keep my heart from going out to them. What an awful thing for the Murphys' three sons to have to witness. I also can't keep from thinking about what would have happened if Mrs. Murphy had also been seriously injured.

If Mrs. Murphy had been injured to the point where she wasn't able to make decisions about her own medical treatment, the hospital would begin to search for someone with the authority to make decisions for her.

Mr. Murphy had already died, so, unfortunately, the hospital couldn't speak with him. And the Murphy's three children, who were in the accident with them, would not be able to make decisions for their mother because they are all minors.

The hospital would ask the kids if they have any grandparents or relatives they can call. If the hospital is able to get in touch with Mrs. Murphy's next of kin, let's say her sister, the next step would be trying to find out if she had a valid Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will in place.

What if the sister didn't know whether Mrs. Murphy had executed these important documents? What if the sister thinks Mrs. Murphy has these documents, but the sister doesn't know where to find them or how to access them? All the while, Mrs. Murphy is being treated in the hospital, but it is becoming increasingly clear that she will never recover from her injuries.

If the hospital only had a copy of these documents, they could determine what Mrs. Murphy's wishes were and proceed accordingly. If Mrs. Murphy had been carrying an emergency information card in her wallet or car from a service such as DocuBank, the hospital could have contacted DocuBank to request copies of Mrs. Murphy's healthcare directives be sent immediately to the hospital.

Instead, let's say that Mrs. Murphy did not have the actual directives in the car, nor did she have a DocuBank card in her wallet. Mrs. Murphy's sister is frantically searching the Murphy's Kansas City home for the directives, while facing the tragic and untimely loss of her brother-in-law and sister. She is also extremely concerned about her nephews, and desperately needs to get to Colorado to care for and comfort them.

The sister can't find any directives, so she heads to Colorado.

Mrs. Murphy and her sister are very close. About three months ago, they had a very deep conversation regarding their lives, and what they would want to have happen if they were in a terrible accident and were not likely to live. Mrs. Murphy stated emphatically that she did not want “stay hooked up to machines” and that she didn’t want to “be a vegetable.”

But, what do these things really mean? What is a “vegetable?” Does it mean a time when you can’t take care of yourself? A time when your brain’s not working but your body is being kept alive by machines? A time when you sit in a chair and don’t do anything all day? Or, when you’re just a body with some life in it?

Unfortunately, Mrs. Murphy never put her wishes and directions to her loved ones in a legal writing, which she then shared with her family and close friends.

The sister breaks down when she sees Mrs. Murphy in the hospital. She recalls the conversation she and Mrs. Murphy had three months ago, but now feels that Mrs. Murphy would have changed her mind since her husband is now gone. The sister feels that Mrs. Murphy would have wanted to continue fighting no matter what in order to be with her kids.

What the sister doesn’t know is that Mr. and Mrs. Murphy had already talked about all these things. They had even talked to an attorney before they went on vacation about preparing their estate plan, including healthcare directives, but decided not to move forward because of the cost—after all, they had lost a lot of money in the stock market this past year and things had been tough financially even though Mr. Murphy had a good job. Instead, they made some notes in a notebook at their house and tucked it away in a drawer, all the while believing that if something would happen to one of them, the other would know what to do.


If you have not taken the time to execute healthcare directives, don’t wait. There is no time like the present. You never know what life is going to throw at you today, tomorrow, or next week.

Take the time to prepare personalized directives and instructions to your healthcare agents, so your wishes will be known and followed, rather than just filling out some form. You may even wish to write a letter to your loved ones, or make an audio or video tape, to share your thoughts and feelings about what is most important to you.

Whatever you do, please make sure your family is prepared.

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