22 July 2009

Surgery, Living Wills, and How Being Queer Actually Changes Things

Tomorrow, I go into surgery for my ankle - apparently, I am awesome enough at breaking things that I managed a spiral fracture in one side of my ankle and something that moved the bone away from my ankle joint in the other ankle while also tearing my ligament at the back of my foot.

So, 3 pins and a metal plate later and I will be a cyborg! So that's exciting.

I was doing the medical history thing with the nurse on the phone today to save time tomorrow - it's outpatient, so if the surgery at is 8:30, they want me there at 6:30 and I should be leaving by 11 or so. One of the (many, many) questions she asked me was: "Do you have a living will or an advance directive?"

They have to ask this with any surgery, I know. And it's not a very high risk surgery. But the question took me aback and not just for the reasons that it does for everyone.

Because, you know what? I used to have a living will. But it was made 8 years ago, in my Sociology of Death and Dying class and it doesn't much represent the things I worry about now, beyond the basic facts.

I still don't want to be kept alive on life support if I have no brain activity. If I have minimal brain activity and don't improve, pull the plug. It's pretty simple, really. I have no funeral directions beyond "please don't mourn someone who isn't me, please remember me with my flaws and all."

But other things have changed. Since 8 years ago, the person who is most likely to be responsible for my medical care if I can't make decisions is my partner. Because we are not (and cannot be) married, she has limited legal automatic right to these decisions.

So, while many heterosexually-partnered people (especially those who are not married) might have living wills, married couples need them to protect the injured/disabled person's rights. Queer couples? We need them to protect my right to have my partner make those decisions; to access medical information, status and care; and to override my parents if necessary.

Because there's a snag. My parents know that I do not want to be kept alive on life support past a very specific point. But, should everything go wrong tomorrow and I go into a coma, could my mother make that decision? I don't know.

And if it came down to Willow knowing what I want and my mother doing what she thinks best, Willow has NO legal standing unless I have a living will.

It's crazy how fast such a small medical situation (it's just a broken ankle, not a stroke, you know?) can drive home how different my life is now than when I was partnered with a man. So we'll be meeting with the living will/advance directive team tomorrow morning to set up some failsafes. They're good to have anyway - really, everyone should have one.

And I'm sure that everything will be fine. Why wouldn't it, right?


  1. You'll be great. I welcome my cyborg overlords! Re: health shit... seriously, I have a stack of papers over an inch high to protect me, Sarah, and the babies. And then of course, the right for me to make decisions about my babies, about my partner, and for her to make them about me.

    It really strickes me as a class thing too, because we paid a lot of money for these fancy pieces of paper. Well over a thousand dollars- for protection that STILL isn't as good as a $40 dollar marriage license. And a lot of queer folk cannot affort to pay to protect their families, because the cost is prohibitive.

    Maybe if she installs some lasers, you can get on kicking some ass about that.

  2. Yeah, D and I faced that when I had my boring, happens-all-the-time, routine hysterectemy. I read 'Why Can't Sharon Kowalski Come Home' in college and it was all I could think about. No, it's not as good as a marriage certificate, but I had a wonderful GYN who followed my requests to the T.

  3. Aimee - Yeah, see, and we're lucky, because we have a couple of friends who are family law attorneys. When Lizzie heard that I had to go into surgery, she emailed over a bunch of stuff to me that she said we could file, as long as I pay the filing fee. Which is ALSO potentially a class issue - not everyone knows a lawyer, you know?

    No lasers yet, but I'm hopeful!

    ahestele - We lucked out, too. The nurses and doctors were amazing (in fact, I suspect my surgeon is a dyke, which makes me very happy). I really do feel like these are the stories, though, that I need to tell my parents and other people who wonder why queer people want to get married (which, actually, I don't, but this is a good reason to) - because nobody needs to be worrying about all of this while going in for surgery, you know?