With more than 82 million people texting regularly, acronyms have become a part of our daily life and vocabulary. FYI and ASAP have been used for ages and come in handy, I must admit. However, I am fairly confident I could live without ever using LOL or BFF. Nonetheless, thanks to technology, the use of acronyms is here to stay. So I’ve created one that I believe everyone should know about and use: MEAP. M.E.A.P. stands for Medical Emergency Action Plan.
My father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in January. The entire right side of his body was paralyzed and he had to be catheterized and tube fed. He could not communicate or do anything for himself. Even with medication and ongoing therapy, he will never be able to do even a fraction of what he once could. My mother was totally unprepared to handle the responsibilities and issues thrust upon her as a result of this medical emergency. It’s a fact that women have a longer life expectancy than men. It is also common for the division of labor in marriage to be based on stereotypical gender roles, so women can expect to bear a heavier burden in a medical crisis. My goal is to educate married couples about what challenges they will face if their spouse becomes disabled or incapacitated, and to convince them of the importance of creating a Medical Emergency Action Plan (or M.E.A.P., as I like to call it).
So here’s a quiz for all of you married folks out there…
When should you create a M E A P?
A. By the time your 1 year wedding anniversary rolls around.
B. When your spouse’s health starts to decline.
C. When your spouse reaches age 65 or retires, whichever comes first.
The answer, of course, is “A. By the time your 1 year wedding anniversary rolls around.”
Now I know most of you are probably scratching your head, wondering why I’m telling you this. The last thing you are usually thinking about when you are still in the “honeymoon stage” of marriage is a medical crisis. The trouble is that soon after the honeymoon stage, life tends to gets busy with children, and work, and regular day-to-day stuff. Unfortunately, almost 1 out of every 2 adults have had at least one chronic illness, and heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year. So statistically speaking, there is a high probability that you will have to face one of these illnesses sooner or later. And believe me, you do not want to be blindsided. Facing a medical emergency is more disruptive than you could ever imagine. Just like auto or homeowner’s insurance, it is better to have an action plan before something unexpected happens!
There are six main areas you want to address as part of your M.E.A.P.:
FIRST: Current health status
Knowledge is power. Knowing about the most prevalent diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke can help you to recognize the symptoms so you can get early treatment. But knowledge also helps with prevention. Take a look at your diet, the amount of exercise you get, your weight, and your level of stress to see where you can decrease the odds of a medical emergency. Better yet, plan to see your doctor for a complete health assessment every year.
SECOND: Financial status
46% of all US bankruptcies in 2001 were attributed to major medical expenses. Do you have adequate medical coverage? What about an emergency fund (which is at least 6 months of living expenses)? Could you pay all of your bills if your spouse could no longer work?
THIRD: Legal documents
The absolute essential legal documents you should have before a medical emergency happens include an advance directive, a living will, and a durable medical power of attorney.
FOURTH: Support system
Stress during a medical emergency is both emotionally and physically draining. Do you have a network of friends and family you can fall back on? Do you have “me time” or relaxation built into your daily routine?
FIFTH: Household IQ
Where is the key to the safety deposit box? Do you know all of the computer accounts/passwords? Who should you call if the car breaks down?
Creating a binder with this and other important information vital to running your household is the best way to keep everything organized and accessible.
SIXTH: Communication system
It is critical to talk to your spouse so you know what is going on in all aspects of their life. Just like cross training at work, you have to know how to do their responsibilities in the event they are unable to. It is also the same as being on any team—you have to be able to perform the role of each member in case you ever need to fill in for them.
Chronic illnesses are among the greatest threats to our health. More than 133 million Americans—or almost 1 out of every 2 adults—have at least one chronic illness. So think of a Medical Emergency Action Plan like you do homeowners insurance or auto insurance: an absolute necessity. Ben Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I believe that is certainly true when it comes to medical emergencies. There is no way to prepare for every possible medical crisis that may arise. But if you have a MEAP, you will be able to cope better. You will be empowered instead of crippled.