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When a Doctor Asked Me About Resuscitation Because of My Chronic Condition

I recently spent four days in the hospital due to a rather nasty asthma attack. I was lying in my hospital bed thinking about my reaction when the emergency doctor asked me, “What have you decided about resuscitation?”

I think I looked rather blank. I looked at my husband and he looked a bit shocked. And finally, I said, “Well, yes I think so, at this stage of my life.” The doctor, who looked like a teenager to me, said, “Yes, I agree.”

This experience was very sobering. It also confirmed the seriousness of my chronic illness, severe asthma. I was diagnosed with this in April 2015. Never had asthma as a child. I am now 68. I have had many hospital admissions, about 16, since my diagnosis.

Last September, a severe episode required intubation and over 24 hours in Intensive Care. After this experience my attitude toward life changed. It was a traumatic experience. But I do understand the implications of this for my asthma. I am now classified as “high risk.” That certainly gets me prompt attention at the emergency room.

This is what I have discovered about being at high risk.

High risk factors for life-threatening asthma:

  • Intubation or admission to intensive care unit due to asthma (ever)
  • Two or more hospitalizations for asthma in the past year
  • Three or more emergency visits for asthma in the past year
  • Hospitalization or emergency visit for asthma in the past month
  • High short-acting beta2 agonist use ie asthma preventers such as Ventolin (>2 canisters per month)
  • History of delayed presentation to hospital during flare-ups
  • History of sudden-onset acute asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease

I can put a tick beside all of these except for the last one on the list. So, I guess I should have expected that “resuscitate or not” question. But I really hadn’t given this a thought!

Like most warriors dealing with chronic illness I have considered my mortality. I recognize that my demise is quite likely to be a result of asthma.

In some private thoughts I have at times thought that not surviving a particular asthma attack might be preferable to the ongoing battle. But these were passing thoughts, times of frustration and times of losing hope. Times of feeling overwhelmed with the new constant in my life, i.e. being chronically ill and being chronically affected by my illness!

How will I answer that question about resuscitation next time? How do I make this decision?

At this point I do want to be resuscitated.

If I had chosen “do not resuscitate” I would have died last September 25th. But, I was intubated and placed in Intensive Care. And, my life is fine, I have lots of joy in my life. But, I do not want “heroic measures” taken. If I have a massive stroke or heart attack I do not wish to be ventilated, tube-fed or have kidney dialysis. The next step then is to have a discussion of this with my family, and especially with my husband.

I didn’t really expect to be asked these questions yet. I have been confronted by this. But, it really is time for me to do lots more thinking. And after the thinking and discussion I will need to set up a plan so that my husband and sons don’t have to make this decision without knowing my wishes.

At 68, I didn’t think it was time for this discussion, but now I know the time is now.

Getty Image by Enigmangel

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