From Healthcare Ministry Maggie O’Connor and Susan Lampe

We received a question in early April from a Mayflower member and thought others might have a similar one: “Should ventilators be considered heroic measures in COVID treatment? It seems a ventilator is a necessary treatment so lungs can begin to heal and maybe not regarded as heroic at this moment for this disease.”

The ventilator used in COVID supports people through an illness where their lungs are too weak to do the work of breathing on their own. It is a heroic measure; a ventilator isn’t used unless the person is likely to die without it and the doctors think that there is a chance the person will survive if a ventilator is used.

The trick—always—is do you want to start down that road or not? Some people don’t. Maybe they have had a prior experience using one and it was a hard recovery or feel they would never be able to return to things they love to do if they were sick enough to need a ventilator.

The way that COVID is different is that in the past many cases, maybe even most, people ending up on a ventilator have had a chronic disease (like emphysema, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart failure). They had a chance to think about the question with an understanding of their own situation.

A healthy person ,regardless of age, hasn’t had the body-experience of illness, and how it is for them. There is a little bit more reality to the issue now.

In general people can choose between three paths:

  • Full Treatment: I want all treatments. This is asking the doctors to try everything they think might help.
  • Selective Treatment: I want some treatment. I want to go to the hospital, but I don’t want some things. You pick what you want and being put on a ventilator if you have COVID could be part of this. But resuscitation (brought back to life if your heart or breathing stopped) is usually not part of this option.
  • Comfort-focused Treatment: I want comfort and quality of life to be the focus. I don’t want to go to the hospital unless this is the only way to keep me comfortable. I don’t want my life prolonged. This would be a choice for hospice.

If you have a health care directive, review it and think about whether you would to change anything. If you do, fill out a new directive; don’t scratch bits out or add notes in the margin. Why? Because sometimes a member of a family who disagrees with a person’s wishes will do this (yes, this happens).

Happy to answer questions: Maggie O’Connor