Needless to say in Irene Hirtle’s 38 years of nursing, she has seen a lot. Since becoming part of the Palliative Care team at South Shore Regional Hospital in 2003, the now-retired nurse has seen many of her patients in the final days of their lives.

“The end of life and the beginning of life are very special times which is why I have been passionate about trying to allow people to have the end of life experience they want. We must consider the patient’s needs and their family’s needs – whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual, or their well-being.”

Hirtle makes no bones about the strain that can come from working in Palliative Care, where you’re constantly dealing with death. But to her it was all about reframing the situation. “Instead of focusing on the death, I always tried to see where things went well for the patient; where did they or their family get to share a moment, were they able to find comfort – that’s what I focused on. “

She notes the importance of seeing a lot of her clients talk with their families about their final wishes and plans of care while in her department, though there are those that find this too difficult. “It’s always helpful when patients let loved ones know what their final wishes are, yet it is their decision as to what they let be known,” says Hirtle. “We encouraged people to decide about their plans of care, their decision makers, and encourage them to make other end of life arrangements, such as a will. It can provide a sense of comfort for the patient and their family. I wanted our clients to know it’s purely about their wants and needs. They need to be the captain of their ship; we were there to help and be their supportive crew members.”

Working in Palliative Care can put your mortality in perspective and the value of every moment. Hirtle often thinks of her will. She also thinks about the impact people can make locally that truly can change the future of healthcare on the South Shore. From trying to fund books for Palliative Care to giving to the Rose Fund, fundraising for the Health Services Foundation has become part of Hirtle’s life. “I love the fact donating to the Health Services Foundation keeps the monies and invests in healthcare on the South Shore. The money doesn’t go away to be put in one big pot. The money stays right here and helps people we all know.”

“Whether you’re in the middle of your life or at the end, people should consider giving to the Foundation because it makes a lasting difference,” says Hirtle. “It can go on and support so many lives and change the future of our local healthcare. We all can be a part of the change and make a positive difference.”