Carolina Sepulveda doesn’t know when she’ll die, but she knows what she wants to get done beforehand.
Sepulveda, a 20-year-old UF biology junior, sat across from a swath of chalkboard titled “Before I Die” as she studied between classes next to the Reitz Union POD market on Tuesday. Before walking to her biochemistry class, she read the goals written in chalk by her fellow students:
“Travel the world.”
“Buy my Ma a house.”
Sepulveda stopped in front of the wall, grabbed a piece of blue chalk and wrote, “Save lives.”
Sepulveda, who hopes to become a doctor, said she didn’t know the wall is part of UF Health’s monthlong initiative to encourage students and Gainesville residents to reflect on life, death and end-of-life health care.
Wendy Resnick, the UF Health senior director of finance, said UF Health installed 12 “Before I Die” walls in downtown Gainesville, around UF Health buildings and on campus for the second year in a row. The walls raise awareness for advance directives, which are written statements of a person’s preferred medical treatment if they are too ill or incapacitated to communicate with a doctor.
About a third of American adults have advanced directives filled out, according to Reuters. Resnick said although death is a taboo subject for many people, the walls are a positive way to start a difficult conversation.
“It takes some of the scariness away from it,” she said.
Anyone over 18 years old can fill out an advance directive and scan it into their medical records in case of a medical emergency, Resnick said.
Advance directive, including a living will or health care surrogate form, designate a specific person, like a family member or friend, to speak on behalf of an incapacitated patient.
“They could step into your shoes and sign for the care you might want,” she said.
Abby Wolz, a 23-year-old UF master of health administration graduate student and project coordinator, said the Depot Park wall was taken down last week because of inappropriate language.
The remaining walls will stay up until April 30, except for the Reitz Union location, which will be taken down Friday, Wolz said. Student Legal Service will offer advance directive assistance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in Suite 3500 in the Reitz Union.
Wolz said the walls have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Gainesville community.
“The walls almost fill up simultaneously,” she said. “I wish I could stop for a day and watch a blank wall fill up.”
UF Health is also screening “Defining Hope,” a nursing documentary, at the UF Health Cancer Hospital on Wednesday and at the McKnight Brain Institute on Thursday and on April 28. UF Health is also hosting a panel on advance directives at the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center next Monday.
Joseph Whelihan Jr., a 23-year-old UF medical student, filled out an advance directive form in March. He said he’ll be ready when he’s on his deathbed.
“Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so I think that everyone needs to go out and sign one of these,” he said.
Whelihan decided to name his mother as his health care surrogate after completing a class assignment to talk to a family member about advance directives. He said he dreaded asking his mother about what she would want when she dies, but he was pleasantly surprised by how open his mother was.
“I think it’s a difficult conversation for a lot of people,” he said. “Especially given that I’m going to be going into a health care field, and I had difficulties, I can’t even imagine what the majority of Americans must feel like.”
At the Sun Terrace wall last week, Whelihan wrote what he wants to do before he dies. In bright yellow chalk, he wrote “graduate med school.”
“Three and a half more years,” he said. “We’ll see if I can make it.”
“Before I Die” wall locations:
- Alachua County Senior Center
- Bo Diddley Plaza
- Haven Hospice Attic Thrift Store
- Possum Creek Park
- Santa Fe College
- United Church of Gainesville
- UF Health Facilities Administration Building
- Orthopedic Sports Medicine Institute
- Sun Terrace
- UF Health Shands Psychiatric and Rehab Hospitals
- 1329 Building
- The Reitz Union
Correction: This story has been updated to fix an editing error. The story now reflects that the Reitz Union wall will stay up through Friday.