What it means to be someone's medical advocate.
Being an Advocate for friend, family member or both is one of the most important jobs we can ever be ask to do. This job requires all of our emotional and educational abilities brought to a consciousness. How can we do this to the best of our ability?
We must consciously clear our own beliefs, learned behavior and open our mind to the person we represent. I feel certain that some are saying if it is necessary to do all this then why was I ask to do this. If the person chose me they must have chose me because of these beliefs, knowledge and attitude. All of what you are thinking and feeling is true, however it is governed by the persons’ belief that we can put our ‘stuff’ aside while advocating for them. We are being asked to act on their beliefs, learned behavior and very basic learned reactions. This is not an ability we can just switch off our own stuff and turn on someone most intimate, basic beliefs.
The ability to be a focused and stand-in for or person is one of the most caring acts we can do. We need to have the ear of physicians treating and consulting in the care of our friend. It is also important to have a basic knowledge of what this person is being treated for. If we have a working knowledge of health care for this person, even if we are put in a position of advocating when a brand new diagnosis comes on the seen. (Example; our family member has a diagnosis of MS but we have come to the hospital due to significant pain in their stomach area. While the diagnosis of the new medical problem, we have the job of making sure physicians are considering how and what the treatment of choice may have on the MS. We need to remind the physicians of allergies as when in emergent situation a new physician on the scene may not have all this information. One example of this is our family member is allergic to shellfish and the new physician has just order a CAT scan. Our first reaction should be to state the allergy and ask if the CAT Scan is with contrast. (If a person is allergic to shellfish – contrast for x-ray procedures can be deadly.) Everything accomplished in the aforementioned example is what our family member would have done for himself or herself if they had been able. This is what an advocate does.
Rarely is an advocate in the position of a choice about death. Physicians will seek out family or clergy if one is a known confident in the person’s life. Our roll is primarily one of keeping the train on the tracks for the duration of our person not being able to answer for him or her. The family, friend or other must make the medical provider aware of your position as an advocate for them. The position should be documented in our primary Care Physician’s records. This position is one we might want a certified copy of a letter giving us this permission too so there is no confusing. There are legal documents that can also give this permission. Perhaps the first act as an advocate, after being ask to fill this position is too request legal documentation of your involvement.
Next we must look deep into ourselves and be sure that we can step up to the plate if necessary. This is not an easy position to fill. We cannot let our beliefs guide us. Perhaps our family member is a very committed religious person and we are not, Can we put our religious beliefs aside and speak up for our friend? Can we ask to have a member of this faith come by and see them? What if our friend is to sick to even acknowledge those present for a visit, can we grab a notebook of some kind and have people sign it adding words of kindness to show they came by? The ultimate question is, can we put our life on hold while this person is ill and needs us?
Very probably this seems at the moment to be overkill, I can assure you this may not be even close. Possibly the most difficult is when our friend asks us to stand up to close family members and share our friends wishes for care in this situation. We must think about these situations and answer the question of “Can I be an Advocate if and why there is a need?” We need to carefully consider and then answer this question with our eyes wide open and agree to be in for the long haul. If we can’t do this it is so much wiser to simply say “I don’t think I can do that, let me help you find someone who can.”
Next week: Where do we find an Advocate, outside of our family or friends?