Chris Prange-Morgan is a healthcare chaplain who encourages amputees and others to set up advance care directives to prepare for the possibility of an emergency. Following is our discussion with her about this topic.
How did you become an amputee?
I became a below-knee amputee in January 2013 after enduring 11 limb-salvage surgeries to deal with injuries from a 2011 climbing fall. I decided to have my leg amputated to regain my quality of life.
What is advance care planning?
In simple terms, advance care planning is an effort to ensure that your wishes, goals, and values are respected during medical care if you are injured or ill and are unable to communicate them. The plan is considered a living document—one that you can adjust as your situation changes because of new informa-tion or a change in your health.
Did you consider the need for advance care planning before your accident?
No, my only experience with advance care planning was with my parents one holiday. They wanted to have the conversation with me and my sister, and I tried to avoid the subject because I thought it was a downer.
Did your accident change your thinking?
Yes. I had never been in the hospital before my accident, but I ended up with several complications while recovering that could have resulted in compromising situations—things I had never considered since I felt young and invincible. Seeing another young woman hooked up to all kinds of machines in the hospital made me think about what quality of life meant to me and the kinds of situations I could and couldn’t handle if my medical situation worsened.
Did you act on those feelings?
Yes. I talked with my husband about putting my wishes in writing in an advance care plan that was scanned into my medical documents and copied for my family. I encouraged my husband and the rest of my family to do the same, understanding well that anything can happen, and life can change in an instant.
Do you have any advice for other amputees?
It’s a good idea to begin having conversations with those you love about what you value, including how you believe you would want your affairs handled. With the emergence of COVID-19, we have seen and heard about so many worst-case scenarios that came to fruition for many unsuspecting folks. Ventilators. Blood clots. Feeding tubes. Hearing about these unfortunate scenarios gives us a chance to pause and think about what we value in terms of healthcare decision-making. It is important to realize that the goal in medicine is usually to preserve life at all cost, and physicians rarely have the time or resources to sit down and have conversations with patients about their wishes.
As an amputee, you need to be your own advocate. Trust your judgment. Start talking about your values and wishes now, while you are able. Pin down your medical team for answers and clarifications to questions you may have as soon as possible. And get any decisions you make in writing, if you can. The conversation is what is important.
Any resources you’d like to suggest for our readers?
Each state has its own advance care planning documents, but generally all medical facilities should have them available.
Additional resources include:
A great place for comprehensive advance care planning information.
A detailed planning product, offering some free resources.