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Are You A "Daughter From California" When Dealing With Family Medical Emergencies?

Symptoms includes showing up out of nowhere, meddling in medical treatments, and being a nuisance to the people who’ve been there all along.

Every industry has its own special slang. A diner waitress might yell out orders for a shingle with a shimmy and a shake, while a Silicon Valley whiz might gossip about a unicorn. Even doctors and nurses have gotten in on the act, and one of their coded phrases is “the daughter from California.”

This doesn’t refer to a person who actually lives in the Golden State and isn’t gender specific. (It can be also be a "son from California," and "New York" can replace "California" for those living on the west coast.) Instead, it’s a catch-all term for a specific kind of patient kin.

As Dr. Angelo Volandes explains in The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care, the so-called "Daughter from California Syndrome" is usually “a long-lost distant relative [who] suddenly arrives at the hospital and insists that the medical team pursue all aggressive life-prolonging interventions” on an incapacitated or ailing patient. This behavior is usually borne out of guilt and denial, but it’s generally viewed as a nuisance to the medical staff, who already constructed a thoughtful plan for the patient with closer family members.

Here’s how to know if you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms:

Are You Ignoring The Rest Of Your Family?

The daughter from California is partially marked by his or her refusal to listen to more level-headed relatives about treatment options. Now, there’s every chance you’re the sole voice of reason in a family of kooks. But ask yourself: Does everyone else seem to disagree with you? Why is that? Listen to their counterarguments and open yourself up to their ideas.

Are You Ignoring the Doctor And Nurses, Too?

No medical professional is perfect, but they tend to know lots about disease and dying. Don’t automatically shut them down just because they’re saying difficult things. When you enter a hospital you have to be prepared for bad news. If you’re having a knee-jerk reaction to what they’re recommending because it’s making you sad, that’s okay. But take a deep breath and process everything before you fight them on the details.

Are You Ignoring Official Paperwork?

If the infirmed filled out an Advance Directive, which is comprised of a Living Will and Health Care Proxy, you should respect those decisions. This document details the types of treatments they want or don’t want at the end of their life, and names a person to make all of their medical decisions. Perhaps you disagree with the types of treatments chosen or denied, or are upset you weren’t named as the Proxy. In reality, if the paperwork is in order and wasn’t filled out under duress, you should be thankful your family member made these important decisions and honor them as best you can.

Are You Really Fighting For Your Relative's Best Interests?

Did you ever talk to your mom, dad, grandparent, or whomever is in the hospital bed, about their final wishes? Not everyone does, but you may have a vague sense of where they stood on healthcare. Use that to guide you. Also consider whether the course you’re recommending would make them more or less comfortable, and put them in more or less pain.

Do You Feel Guilty?

It’s fine to feel guilt, anger, and all sorts of complicated emotions near the end of a loved-one's life, especially if you haven’t been part of that person’s day-to-day for an extended period of time. But are you reacting in a healthy way? Daughters from California aren’t acting out of malice or stupidity, they’re often acting out of desperation and fear. These are powerful feelings that can prevail over your best judgment, so try your best to push them aside as you make decisions with your family.

Help Us Out: If you’ve ever known or dealt with a "daughter from California" please share your story with us here.

  • Aging Care
  • Advance Directive
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