Introduction: Mary and Ted had
always wanted to take a cruise around the world. The date had
finally arrived, the ship was marvelous, they had stopped in
some amazing places, and they were having a wonderful time. They
were on their way back to the States and had stopped in Hawaii.
While out on an excursion, the bus they were in was hit
broadside by another vehicle traveling at 60 MPH. There were a
number of injuries. Mary had lapsed into a coma. They rushed her
to the hospital. They asked Ted if he was authorized to make
medical decisions for her. Of course he was; not only was he her
husband but they had signed health care directives for each
other just a year ago. The hospital asked for a copy; that copy
was back on Ted’s desk in California!
This is a question I ponder all the time: Should I travel with a
copy of my Health Care Directive?–About to Travel
Dear About to Travel:
Directive Defined: First, let’s make sure we agree on what
we are discussing. A Health Care Directive, also called a Power
of Attorney for Health Care or a Health Care Proxy, is a legal
document appointing another (such as a spouse) to make health
care decisions for the one signing the document if the signer is
incapable of doing so. It is authorized by most states and has
to meet certain legal standards. For example, in California, the
document must either be notarized or witnessed by two witnesses.
Take It With You
Option: Some articles I have read suggest taking it with you
on all trips. Some go so far as suggesting that you keep a copy
in your glove compartment in your car. Personally, I have never
done either of these.
Bottom line: I hate carrying things. Why? Well, this gets a
little Freudian. When I was 5, my Dad had a heart attack. He
recovered but my Mom was always worried about him over-exerting
himself. Couple that with the fact that he was a semi-pro
photographer in the days of metal (i.e. heavy) cameras and guess
who became the “camels” to carry the photographic stuff. Yep, my
brother and myself. Think of a 5 year old, small to begin with,
strapped from head to toe with photographic equipment.
I travel with enough paper work. All of those plane e-ticket
receipts, the itinerary, the hotel confirmations, walking tour
information, etc. On a one week trip I can have 30 or more
pieces of paper; two week trip–just double it. And then I
generally bring magazines to catch up on my reading material.
Out of the country I have passports to worry about. With
everything else that I bring, my carry-on bag in which this
stuff is stored is loaded to the gill and heavy. What I don’t
need is another 10 page document for myself and my wife. So I
don’t bring it.
Have a Friend Fax
it to You: Here’s my thinking: Even in Mary and Ted’s
predicament, it would seem to me that Ted could call his
daughter and have her go over to the house, get the document and
fax it to the hospital. Anything the ER physicians need to do on
an emergency basis they are going to do with or without formal
consent from Ted, anyway. After all, what if Ted were also in a
coma. Do you think they would just let Mary die because there is
no one there with a health care directive?
Since I have never had a hospital ask me for an ink original
when a family member has needed ER or other hospital services, I
suspect copies are acceptable. But even if they needed the ink
original, that’s what Fed Ex overnight delivery is for. And if
Ted’s daughter doesn’t live in the same city, most people have
next door neighbors, etc. So, in the vast majority of cases, I
don’t see a problem with getting a copy to the hospital in a
reasonably timely manner (assuming you know where the document
DNR Situation: Now, you are
probably thinking about what if Mary has a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)
order. If her health is so bad that she has a DNR order, then I
think she is probably not traveling very much and certainly not
very far. So I believe that this is, in almost all cases, a non
Care Directive Digital Vaults: But, if you are still worried
about being able to get that document into the hospital’s hands
and the daughter or neighbor solution is not one you wish to
rely upon here are other solutions. Organizations exist that
will store a digital copy of your Health Care Directive (for a
fee). You carry a card in your wallet with the organization’s
contact information and your registration number. When needed, a
communication to the organization gets a copy of the document to
you (or the hospital). A search on the Internet for “health care
directive storage” brought up a number of organizations offering
this service. Fees run about $10 per year with a three to five
year minimum for the organizations that I looked at.
But then there are “free” alternatives if you are even
minimally computer capable. You can scan a copy of the document
to your computer. Then email it to yourself as an attachment.
Assuming you have an email account that can be accessed from any
computer anywhere in the world (which is virtually every email
account in existence), just keep the email in your In Box. It
should stay there for years, if not forever, and be available to
you whenever you need it. And, yes, every hospital is going to
have a computer that you can use (in an emergency) for this
purpose; but if they don’t, there’s a computer café down the
street that you can use to access it for $10 or so.
Storage-Free Alternative: Don’t like the email approach? How
about just storing it in a DropBox account (SkyDrive, Google
Drive, Apple iCloud) ? That account is also available from any
computer in the world.
Card In Your Wallet:
And if you are worried that you will be in a coma and won’t be
able to access the document for the hospital, carry a card with
the account name and password in your wallet. Just make sure you
store no other sensitive information in that account because if
your wallet is stolen, the thief will have access to everything
in that account.