Do You Have Your Affairs in Order?

How I Gave Myself Some Peace of Mind Before Open Heart Surgery

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With open heart surgery only a few weeks away, my mind is racing! My anxiety is through the roof with fear of the unknown. I should be a pro at this being that this is my second open heart surgery in 10 years but I’m not. The fear is real. Fear that something could go wrong. Fear that I may not wake up. It keeps me awake at night.

Ten years ago, my surgery was done very emergently so I didn’t have time to think about it. That was the way to go! This time, my heart valve progressively failed so I had month after month of waiting for it to require surgery. I would take the emergency anyday over this.

I understand that this may not be the most cheery subject for the holidays. For that I apologize. But, what I’m about to discuss is important so I hope you forgive the above despair.

I’ve read that the anxiety that people like myself experience before surgery is due to fear of the unknown. Many suggest that you should focus on things that you can control to ease the anxiety. It makes sense but it’s harder said than done.

Image by Bryn Mar Presbyterian Church

Are Your Affairs In Order?

After some careful thought, I decided to take that advice and run with it. Despite all of my past health issues, I never took the time to get my affairs in order. Looking back, I’m disappointed in myself for not doing so. If something unexpected happens to me during surgery, what happens to my kids? What would happen to my business? Who would make my medical decisions? These are all very important questions that we don’t like to think about but need answers to.

Addressing these important concerns also helps you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat and in control of your life. I did this by completing two legal documents to speak for me if I am unable to. I know when you hear the words legal documents, you think it is complicated and expensive. At least that’s what I thought but I was wrong. Both documents are easy to complete and inexpensive. Let’s take a look.

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Advance Directive and Healthcare POA

One of my biggest fears about surgery is, that if something goes wrong and I am unable to make my own medical decisions. Solving this problem was essential because I am divorced. I don’t have a spouse who can make those decisions on my behalf.

Getting an Advance Directive was especially important for me because I want to have a say in what happens to me even if I can’t communicate. I also don’t want that terrible responsibility to fall on my children or aging parents. So, I decided to get both an Advance Directive and a Healthcare POA. Here is the difference.

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  1. Advance Directive — Expresses your medical wishes if you are unconscious or unable to communicate. This document outlines your specific requests such as if you would or would not like CPR performed, feeding tubes inserted, life support, or organ donation.

Creating an Advance Directive requires careful thought and it helps to communicate your wishes to your family and friends. Once you decide what your wishes are, you can download an advance directive form specific to the state you live in here.

After you complete it, have two members of your family or friends sign it as witnesses. You can also get it notarized. Most states do not require an advance directive to be notarized to hold up in court but some do. Check your state’s laws to be sure.

2. Healthcare POA/ Medical POA — Allows you to name someone to oversee your health decisions if you are unable to. This person is typically called a healthcare proxy or healthcare agent. You can include this person in your advance directive and also complete a Medical POA form specific to the state you live in.

Medical POA forms can be found on each state’s government website. Then you also need two witnesses and a notary like you completed your Advance Directive. Be sure to check your state laws to complete them accurately.

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Don’t Forget About HIPAA

You’ve gone to all the trouble of creating these documents but one thing can stand in your way. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)! As a nurse, nothing makes me cringe more than those five letters.

Medical records are protected by law and they are only released with written consent AKA HIPAA Authorization Forms. So, for your family, Medical POA, and Advance Directive to all communicate effectively with each other, you need to complete a HIPAA Authorization Form. These forms can be found at the hospital where you are getting surgery or on every state government website.

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Make a Will

So, we’ve covered all of the medical questions. You’ve legally expressed your wishes and also named who is going to oversee your health decisions if you are unable to. Now, what about everything else? Making a last will and testament covers everything else you worry about.

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Name a Guardian

My biggest concern is what happens to my children if I don’t make it through my upcoming surgery. It’s sad to think about but it’s better to be prepared. Without a will, the court determines who will take my children. I don’t know about you, but I’m not okay with that.

Making a will lets me decide who I would like to raise my children. This is called Naming a Guardian. You can even divide it up into one person who will care for the children and another who will manage their finances. You can choose whatever you would like. The best part about it is that YOU choose, not the court.

Image by Finacial Strategists


Now that the children are taken care of, you can move on to finances. Do you own a business, own a home, own a vacation home, or have investments?

If something happens to you that you are still alive but unable to make important decisions, it's important to appoint someone you trust as a Durable POA. This person would manage your finances or business.

If you pass away, then you would need to appoint an Executor. An Executor is the person you choose to be in charge of handling your estate after your death. It is wise to name both a Durable POA and an Executor. I also named backups for both just in case.

Lastly, it’s time to list your beneficiaries. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sit down and make a list of all of your belongings and assets with whom you would like to leave them. Remember, nothing is set in stone. You can always change any of this.

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You’re All Set

Don’t you feel great? Once I signed and notarized everything, I felt this enormous weight lift off of my chest. Honestly, you don’t need to be having open heart surgery to get your affairs in order. What happens if a piano falls on your head while walking down the street? Ok, maybe that’s only in cartoons, but really, accidents happen.

Photo by Piano Street

It’s better to be prepared. The thought of a court deciding who raises my children or runs my business gives me hives and a panic attack. I would much rather be prepared. I’m so happy I stopped thinking about doing it, and just got it done.

Obtaining and legalizing these forms was much more simple than I expected. Once these forms are created, updating them is easy.

Completing these forms has helped me feel more in control of my life. I may not have control of what happens to me during surgery but I do have control of my wishes being honored. That has given me invaluable peace of mind.

Photo via Pixabay

So what are you waiting for? Give yourself and your family the peace of mind of knowing your affairs are in order.

Side note: Please make sure you research and know what your state laws are. These types of forms are state-specific and so are the procedures to legalize them. If you need help or have a complicated case, I would recommend getting legal help from an attorney.

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Hi! I’m Lauren! I’m an RN turned freelance health/finance writer. If you are in need of a compassionate storyteller who loves to educate others, email me at [email protected].

Thanks for reading my article and for supporting my writing! I appreciate it greatly! Special thanks to Jan Sebastian 🖐👩‍🦰, Marcus Musick, The LARO ✨✨, Britt E., Sweet Honeylu, Sophia Tell- Stories 🤓📢🤓, Shanti C K, Emy Knazovic, Kaneesha Allen, Robin Fillner, Alexia Walsh BSN, RN, Kerrin Maher, krista tressa, Rampath 💙, Karen Stetson RN, BSN, MS, Zara Le Roux

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