In the course of a serious illness, there may be lots of possible pathways. Treatment choices, such as tube feeding, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and diagnostic tests, are likely to be brought up for discussion and decisions. It is good to have a general idea as to how and when you might want them used. But almost none of the decisions that you might be called on to make have to be made immediately. Sometimes you need time, experience, and advice to choose a plan. Sometimes the actual plan is less important than what you talk about and who you talk with when you discuss alternatives. And usually, the important decisions are not the ones that show up in legal forms.
Decisions to make include choosing who should speak for you if you are too sick to let the doctor know what you want for yourself. If there is a particular hospital you always want to go to, or a set of procedures you already know that you would never undergo, let everyone around know about it. But there is often no hurry to make a lot of other decisions. Issues need decisions only if and when certain situations arise, and often only then will you know all the details that could influence your choice.
There is no one right way to live with or die of a serious illness. It may be more important that you are comfortable with your situation and your choices than that you have made perfect plans. Most of the really wonderful things that happen as time gets short could not have been planned. If you have a trustworthy nurse or doctor and some folks who will miss you, all the rest can be quite manageable.
Adapted from The Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness, by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold, copyright by Joanne Lynn, used by permission of Oxford University Press.