Chapter 21: Learn more about which type of care might be right for you (or a loved one) when serious illness strikes

A recent conversation with a Plan Well Guide User:

Me: What is the biggest learning point for you from going through Plan Well Guide?
User: I didn’t comprehend what having to be in ICU, how that can affect your health. If you are on a ventilator in ICU for one month, it is really going to affect your health coming out on the other end compared to being in the ICU for one week. Even though your life is saved, you know you are going to lose muscle mass, there are some many things that deteriorate in your body, your quality of life will be so reduced. I didn’t realize this. You know, you just don’t think about these things normally.

If you or your loved one become seriously ill, there are many issues that come into play that you may have never thought about before. When you couple this fact with your emotions in the moment, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out how to make the right decisions when you or a loved one is seriously ill. Determining which type of medical care you or your loved one may want is part of this decision process that some feel unsure about because they don’t fully understand what each type of care entails.

Let us help you! We understand that people’s emotions and situations can make understanding medical issues more difficult. That is why we have broken down the three main types of care that someone may receive when seriously ill. We have also included helpful videos, infographics and images on our newly updated learning module. The new and improved features are meant to breakdown complex medical terminology and share it in a way that is easy to understand, as well as clearly explain what the risks and benefits of the different types of care are.

To help summarize each type of care (and to help you think about what might be right for you) we created the following graphic and have highlighted the three main types of care in more detail: 

Intensive Care

Imagine you are suffering from a severe infection or having breathing problems, or maybe you have had a bad accident or major surgery. These types of situations could result in requiring intensive care in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The type of care provided to patients in the ICU are intensive because they are very ill and usually have a condition that causes organ failure. Along with strong medicines, there are several machines used in the ICU, including ventilators or breathing machines, mechanical pumps to keep the heart beating, intravenous catheters (small plastic tubes put into big veins) that are used to provide medications and plastic tubes placed into the stomach to provide medications and nutrition.

Medical Care

Another scenario that you could think of is if you are recovering from a surgery or if you had a less severe infection or perhaps a mild heart attack or stroke or even a problem due to an ongoing disease like diabetes. These types of situations could result in requiring medical care, which is a term given in the general part of the hospital, often known as a hospital ward. Medical Care does not include admission to intensive care or using artificial machines, like breathing machines to keep you alive. Along with medications, some of the machines used to treat you in a general ward are intravenous tubes (IV) to deliver medications and nutrition, tubing to deliver oxygen but not ventilators or breathing machines, blood pressure monitors and specific machines for a disease, such as a dialysis machine.

Comfort Care

Lastly, we would ask you to think about a time when you may need to receive medications to help with pain or breathing problems, but you would not be receiving treatments (such as a breathing tube or CPR) that would keep you alive longer. These types of situations could result in comfort care, which is a term given to patients receiving treatment to make them as comfortable as possible but will not cure them. This can also be known as a “palliative care approach” and may involve services from palliative care clinicians. Comfort care can be provided in a hospital, a long-term care home, a hospice, or at home. The goal in this situation, would be to keep you as comfortable as possible, but not to focus on curing you. 

The most common mistake people make when determining their preferences for medical treatments when seriously ill is that they think they are planning their ‘death’ (when death is certain) and they sign up for comfort care. I have spent a lot of time convincing people of all ages that they shouldn’t give up on the chance to live because there is a good probability they can survive whatever serious illness my strike in the future. To read more about this common error, see my previous blog post, “Have you Erroneously signed up for Comfort Care only?”

Want to learn more? We cover each type of care quite extensively in our free learning module. We encourage you to start your free plan today, so you can make informed decisions about the types of medical care you would want. Simply login and let us help you discover more about the different types of medical care! To log in and make your plan, click here!