There are these incredible interventions that can save our lives but making sense of them can be overwhelming when facing choices. I put together a couple of figures to make it simpler to grasp what they are about, what they do and don’t do.
Life-supporting care is designed to keep you alive. As shown in the figure below, it includes treatments, devices and medications to keep your heart pumping (cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR], defibrillation), help you breathe (mechanical ventilation, intubation), give you food and water (intravenous [IV] hydration, IV nutrition, feeing tube), get rid of bacterial infections (antibiotics), and clean you body of toxins (renal dialysis). Usually, life-support treatments take place initially in the ICU and sometimes in the ER, and they then can be shifted to other settings.
These treatments are life supporting when applied in an emergency situation in which recovery is expected. These same treatments are used to sustain life in a situation in which recovery is unlikely.
Beginning these interventions requires careful thought if you have a serious, perhaps terminal illness, because while effective in keeping you alive, they are not intended to treat the underlying illness. They don’t fix what’s seriously wrong.
These procedures are aggressive, and the outcome can be uncertain. They stabilize a critical situation. They may be painful physically and emotionally, and they often expose a patient to risks of additional medical complications.
Looking at the figure below from left to right, the intensity of care related to procedures escalates. Because this is purposefully made simple it may of course then not fit all situations.
The figure is provided for you to see how procedures relate to each other and how they differ and which are elevations in complexity. It is to help you and your loved ones to recognize a threshold of complexity that you may not wish to cross in efforts to prolong life. This may mean getting treatments that will not cure, prolong life, and require deciding whether or when to stop them in the future.Tags: CPR, defibrillation, feeing tube, IV hydration