Deciding About Being on a Ventilator When You Have a Terminal Illness

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Your Care Instructions

A ventilator is a life-support machine that helps you breathe if you can no longer breathe on your own. The machine provides oxygen to your lungs through a tube. The tube enters your mouth and goes down your throat to your lungs. Most people on ventilators have to be fed through another tube that goes into the stomach.

You may feel that being on a ventilator would prevent a "natural" death or would keep you alive longer than necessary. Or you may feel that being on a ventilator would extend your life so you can do certain things, such as saying good-bye to loved ones.

The decision about whether to be on a ventilator is a personal one. Be sure to talk it over with your doctor and loved ones.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Why might you want to be on a ventilator?

  • You think you may be able to return to your normal activities.
  • You need help breathing because of a short illness or a problem that is not related to your terminal illness.
  • You would like more time to say good-bye.
  • You feel that there are more benefits than risks.

Why might you not want to be on a ventilator?

  • You have other long-term health problems.
  • You may not be able to return to your normal activities.
  • You want a calm, peaceful death. You do not want to spend the rest of your life on a ventilator.
  • You feel that there are more risks than benefits.

When should you call for help?

Be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You want to learn more about being on a ventilator.
  • You change your mind about being on a ventilator.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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