Lynn, a registered nurse (RN) for forty-two years, devoted half of her career to providing end-of-life care for palliative patients. She recently retired after thirteen years on the palliative care unit at The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre (TGHC). I spoke with Lynn recently and we discussed Lynn’s long career, palliative care and her retirement.

In 1969, Lynn graduated from nursing school and began her career as an RN, working first at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal and later at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. She joined the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) when she came to Toronto and worked as a generalist community nurse provided in-home care for over twenty years.

During her time with VON, she found herself increasingly caring for a lot of patients who were slowly dying of respiratory diseases. “I was working in the community,” she said, “and began exclusively providing palliative care to those who wanted to spend their last days in their home. Palliative physicians would come and meet me in the community (part of an outreach program) to help care for these patients.”

In 1979, the TGHC was designated a chronic care and palliative care hospital, and opened the first palliative care unit in Ontario. Lynn was first introduced to the TGHC when she began referring her palliative patients from the community there because they had become too difficult to manage in their home environment. “Mainly,” she said, “I referred patients to the TGHC because I always received good feedback from the patient’s family about the excellent quality of care they had provided.”

I asked Lynn how it was that she came to work at TGHC? “I was finding the work very fulfilling,” she said, “but after twenty-two years of working in the community, the last seven mostly with palliative care patients, I wanted a change, and I wanted to explore the opportunity of working at an in-house hospice program.”

Her employment on the palliative care unit at the TGHC was only to be for a year. At that time, the senior staff at the TGHC was very supportive of RNs getting their palliative care certificate. Lynn really wanted that qualification and wrote the exam. She is very proud that she obtained her ‘Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Certificate’. “It’s a credential that must be renewed every five years,” Lynn told me, “to confirm that an RN continues to demonstrate competence in her specialty, and has maintained the latest knowledge and practices on caring for palliative patients.”

I asked her how her one-year employment at TGHC became thirteen? “I’ve stayed this long because I believe the management is very supportive of the professional staff,” she said, then added, laughing, “…and I wasn’t paid to say that.” She also maintains that she found the work gratifying, “I’ve never had a thought where I said this work is awful and I can’t wait to quit.”

With her experience and years of dedication, I asked Lynn what she could tell us about working on a palliative care unit? “It’s not an easy job,” Lynn said, “and as a nurse you find out quickly if palliative care is the type of care you will be able to provide. Our role, as nurses,” she added, “is to bring a professional outlook to the patients and to improve their quality of life by managing their pain and symptoms. It’s also important to remember to respect all patients because everyone deserves excellent care.”

“What will you miss about working at the TGHC?” I asked. “I’m going to miss being part of the interprofessional health team and being part of the work — we all support each other and that is a special feeling,” said Lynn. Elaborating, she said, “The team approach really alleviates the burden of care. Families arrive really stressed about their loved one and immediately a relaxing and calming feeling sets in because the team is there to take over. Sometimes the patient is too sick to notice, but the family is appreciative of the things we do.”

With some disappointment, Lynn said, “I know I will no longer be a part of someone’s story or their end-of-life journey. Now I’ll hear about the patients and the care provided from my colleagues – who I plan to stay in touch with.”

“This might be a loaded question,” I said, “but do you think the TGHC is a good place to work?” “I remember,” Lynn said, “that when human resources presented me with my ten-year employment recognition pin, I looked at the pin and thought, Has it really been that long? Then I looked at my colleagues and I said, ‘Wow, they’ve all gotten older.’” Lynn laughed. “I don’t think you could have a moment like that if you didn’t enjoy the work, your colleagues, the patients…the environment.” She added, “I think the TGHC is a wonderful place and a very good hospital. I think the atmosphere lends itself to the type of care we provide. I truly believe that the management style coupled with the influence of The Salvation Army instills the compassion and care the staff demonstrates towards all patients.”

I asked Lynn about her plans for retirement? “Well, I’m very excited,” she said, “because I’m going to be a grandmother! Both my children live out west and I’m going out there for an extended visit. First I’ll spend time with my son and help with the baby, and then I’ll visit my daughter in Yellowknife.” Lynn plans to take the train and perhaps see a bit of Canada.

“I have that to look forward too,” she said, “and in the future I do plan to volunteer, perhaps at the TGHC.”

“Anything else you’d like to say?” I ask. “Yes.” said Lynn: “I’ll see you all at the opening!”

By Gerry Condotta