Social Work at Your Service: Sailing Your Own Ship

By Anastasia Korbitz, LCSW

I once worked with a nephrologist, who told his patients in a most affectionate way, "When it comes to your body, you are the captain of your own ship." This means that each person has the right and responsibility, when capable, to make his or her own decisions about their body.

Being the captain of one's own ship requires a lot of responsibility however. You will be required to chart your coarse, sail over choppy or calm waters and anchor when needed. Since you are likely to know what it is best for you and your ship, it's a good idea to let other's know your thoughts and give them the ability to help if your ship ever capsized.

There are three questions you need to answer when captaining your ship. First, how will medical professionals know what is wrong with my ship and how to make repairs? Second, how will I, as chief and captain of my ship, keep track of repairs? Finally, how will I let others know how I want my ship sailed if I can't be the captain?

Letting the pros know

There are many ways that emergency personnel can determine what is wrong with you. You may have signs and symptoms, medical tests can be performed, or an assessment can be conducted. However, there is one thing you can do to help emergency personnel and that is to wear medic-alert jewelry.

Medic-alert jewelry is quite helpful as it contains important medical information specific to you. You can include such information as allergies, your dialysis access, and current medical conditions. A medic- alert bracelet or necklace can be ordered through most pharmacies, and although, would cost you some green, will be worth its weight in gold to anyone trying to help you.

If you are a dialysis patient, you can have one ordered free of charge through the National Kidney Foundation. Talk with your social worker. Finally, there are several web site options for ordering medic-alert jewelry such as www.laurenshope.com.

Keeping Track of Repairs

As captain, you will want to keep track of how your ship sails. You can do this by keeping a Captain's Log or a medical journal, as the case may be. This log will help you keep track of the surgeries and procedures you have had done, along with the results, and your current medications and immunizations. It's a handy tool for travel, when visiting your physician, and to help you keep it all straight. Look at the table below for some suggestions on how to set up and what to include in your Captain's Log.

The End of Your Journey

No one likes to think about it, but our ship will see its final sunset at some point on the horizon. We don't know when, but when it is finally time to retire your ship, it would be helpful to have some control as to who will steer your ship if you can't.

A Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA) is one way you can assign agents, or co-captains. With a POA, your agent, would be in the position to help make decisions regarding your health care if the time ever comes that you cannot. These decisions would be anything from placement in care facilities to end of life decisions.

Most importantly, your agents would be carrying out your wishes. Also, give some thought about organ donation. As you know there is a shortage of organs available for those who need them. Would you like to donate the ships engine if you no longer need it? If you are interested in learning more details about completing a Power of Attorney for Health make a point of visiting with your dialysis social worker.

I hope you found this information helpful, and as said in the old naval blessing "May you always have fair winds and following seas."

Captain's Log
Name: Mr. I. M. Captain
Address: 1234 Ocean Cove, The Atlantic
Conditions: CKD, hemodialysis
Medication: Tums
Allergies: Eggs, Pennicillin
Emergency Contact: Ms. Polly Wana Crackr
Physician: Manover Board, MD
Date Event
6/01/04 Confirms CKD diagnosis
6/10/04 Placement of access
7/15/05 Started Dialysis
*I have a power of attorney for health care