Medical Emergencies and the Single Girl

How I use my medical identification bracelet to keep all those advance directive, contacts and doctor info connected to me.

When my mother suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in August 2008, we could not find her living will for two days. My mom had watched her own father die a lingering death, his body tied to a hospital bed by tubes, I.V.'s and a catheter, while he hung in a tenuous coma for over a month. Mom had sat by my grandfather's hospital bed the entire time, watching her father fade as the medical staff moved constantly in and out of the room to tweak the dials delivering the medication that kept him in delicate balance between life and death.

As soon as my grandfather died, my mother made sure she had a living will, or advance directive, in place to make sure the same thing never happened to her. The thought of being trapped in a coma for the rest of her living days scared her so much, in fact, that she purchased a copy of the book Final Exit, and kept it close at hand so she could feel she had control over how she would die.

So, not being able to find my mother's living will, while she lay in a hospital bed, her brain destroyed by the hemorrhage, her body tied to tubes in the same way her father's body had been, scared the heck out of me. Finally, we found the document, and my brother, my mother's health Power of Attorney, flew in from Florida, and we sadly helped my mother die. According to her wishes.

I would not recommend the experience of helping a loved one die. It is a horribly sad experience. But I knew this was what my mother wanted in that situation. And I know it is what I want for myself if faced with the same thing. So I also have a living will.

The question became though, what if like my mom, I collapsed suddenly? I live alone, far away from family. What if I were to fall in the middle of the street, only strangers nearby to help? How would they know who to call? And what if my loved ones could not find my living will?

At the time I was friends with a woman who wore a medical alert bracelet. I began to look at wearing one myself. I discovered that medical alert identification companies often offer a service that links your medical ID to a living will/advance directive filed with their organization. They'll also keep a list of your emergency contacts, your doctors and a list of current medications. I am also going to file a copy of my Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST), a document that further defines my wishes and is filed with my advance directive.

Morbid it may be, but I was thrilled. I paid the $35 a year membership to the MedicAlert Foundation, and got my own little medical identification bracelet. The humorous part of the membership came when a representative called me asking what medical condition I wanted engraved on the bracelet. "Well," I said, "I have high cholesterol." We both laughed. The sad thing was that only three years later, I would truly qualify for a medical identification bracelet with stage 4 breast cancer, a medical port and blood thinners. I feel honored.

But the most important thing is that when I wear my medical identification bracelet, it gives me a feeling of safety and assurance. I know that if I were to suddenly lose consciousness, hopefully an unlikely event, medical personnel will be able to quickly find my emergency contacts, talk to my doctor, find my living will and receive an up-to-date list of all my medications and conditions. I know that more than 95 percent of medical personnel check for medical ID jewelry. And with current medical information, hospital staff will be able to make better decisions in my care. What more can a single girl need?

Here's the complication. I am a stylish gal.

I wouldn't be caught comatose wearing the dreary stainless steel drab of a typical medical identification bracelet. You know that I found sources for fabulous yet practical medical ID jewelry. Of course, I did. The wonderful things is that all a good piece of medical alert jewelry needs to work as planned is the Caduceus symbol, the phone number for the organization with my records, and my medical alert ID number. Stylish and safe. A single girl's dream.

Where can you find this stylish jewelry? Well, let me tell you about a few sources. There are many other sources out there, so keep in mind that this is only a start:

  • Creative Medical ID Bracelets
  • Lauren's Hope
  • N-Style ID

Another great source of medical identification jewelry is the site Etsy.com, which is sort of like eBay for artists. There are many beautifully crafted and affordable pieces available through this site. Just search for "medical alert" or "medical identification."

So get shopping, gang. Buy that beautiful piece of jewelry. Send in that medical information, contacts and advance directive for easy retrieval. And then relax, enjoy and go live your life. We'll be here when you need us.