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Time to talk turkey and carve out time for advanced care planning conversations

Author of “When Life Support No Longer Supports Life” comes to Fergus Falls to help healthcare agents prepare for their role.

Deborah Laxson thought she was prepared to be an advocate for her husband’s wishes during his battle with cancer.  Instead, she says she was caught completely unprepared. “I was totally blindsided by the emotional impact of being a loved one's healthcare agent and having to make end-of-life decisions. My late husband, Bill, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008, and we had been in and out of the hospital several times over a couple of years. The last time that we went to the hospital I was expecting a routine get in, get out, and go home and life would be fine.”

Instead, her husband continued to decline during that hospital stay and Deb found herself with him in the intensive care unit, and he was in a medically-induced coma. “It was several days into the event before I realized that I needed to function as his healthcare agent. I was still his wife, but being his healthcare agent had to supersede being his wife,” she said.  So rather than making the decisions she wanted to make as his wife, she explained how she needed to make the decisions he would have made if he were not in a coma.

“That was an event that was life-defining for me,” Laxson said. While intellectually she felt prepared for the role, she realized emotional preparation was lacking. “Having to step back and realize this is not about me. It's not about my decision. It's not about what I want. It truly is about what my husband wanted and the decisions that he would have made and the decisions that he told me he wanted made if he could not speak.”

After her husband died, she wrote the book “The Gray Zone: When Life Support No Longer Supports Life,” to start conversations and invite people into her story so they could talk about what they needed to talk about in order to be prepared healthcare agents. “I wrote the book because I had been so totally unprepared and as I talked to other people about it, it became clear that the majority of people that I knew would have also been unprepared.”

With funding from the Lake Region Healthcare Foundation, Laxson will be coming to Fergus Falls to share her experience with the community November 14th & 15th. Two public sessions will be held in the YMCA community room:   Monday November 14th at 7pm and Tuesday November 15th at 9am.  Both are free of charge and refreshments will be available. More information and RSVP’s should be directed to Chaplain Deb Forstner at Lake Region Healthcare at 218.736.8077. 

 “We purposely scheduled this prior to Thanksgiving to give people some better questions and better conversation starters with family gathering together over the holidays,” Forstner said. As far as who should attend, Laxson said anyone who is over the age of eighteen is someone who should have a healthcare directive. “We spend a lot of time talking about the terminally ill or the person who is aging, but really, if you're over eighteen and healthy and you have a sudden medical event like a car crash or you fall, you will most likely live longer with a decision that someone makes on your behalf. When you talk about healthcare directives to someone who is thirty and perfectly healthy, a lot of times they feel they don't need to be included, and yet, they do.”

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