It was in the context of the AIDS epidemic, when people were dying quickly, in large numbers and alone, that Dan Chisholm, a young RN working at St. Michael’s Hospital, heard of Casey House and joined us shortly after the doors opened in March 1988. He needed to go where clients would be well cared for in their final hours and days. Dan became a member of the team who created an atmosphere where people with HIV/AIDS found acceptance, support and hands-on care; where clients and their chosen family could relax and feel welcome; where dying was a peaceful experience rather than a lonely one.
At that time, clients were admitted a day or two, or just a few hours, prior to their death. This intensive caring took its toll on the clinical team; however, Dan felt he was making a difference, not only to clients, but also to their partners and other members of the community.
Dan will tell you how well he remembers the first client who recovered enough to walk out of Casey House; ARVs were making a difference. This new phenomenon required a different type of nursing. Dan, already an excellent palliative nurse, learned how to support individuals living with HIV as a chronic illness, to manage the systemic and often debilitating components of having a severely depressed immune system. He learned about the disease process, about medications and how they were affecting clients, about how difficult it was to live with HIV, the impacts of aging with HIV and long-term exposure to treatments.
When mental health and substance use became prominent issues for clients, Dan once again enhanced and grew his skill set. Dan, an excellent palliative and then medical surgical nurse became an excellent mental health and substance use nurse. He modified his knowledge, skills and abilities to become a nurse who truly demonstrates the definition of the words ‘holistic care’ as he integrated bio–psycho-social concepts into his practice.
Dan now delivers a wide variety of care: palliative care in one room, chest tubes on a client transferred from an acute-care hospital’s ICU in another, or supporting someone who is homeless, alone and looking for ways of coping with their trauma other than using substances. Dan is a nurse who embraces change; learning and growing as clients’ needs have shifted. Dan mentors new staff, students and his peers so they too can move with the changes we all face in health care. In his role as permanent charge nurse, which he has occupied for over a decade, Dan is the constant, the knower, the facilitator, the mentor, the supporter and most importantly the example of nursing at its finest.
Dan is both celebrating his 30th year at Casey House and retiring this week. Looking back on his time at Casey House it is easy to celebrate Dan and his contributions. Although he started working in a large hospital, Dan dedicated his career to a small organization, serving some of our most vulnerable citizens. Dan has remained committed to our client population despite phenomenal change over the past three decades. Dan is a nurse who leads by example; he has assisted countless individuals to live with their HIV diagnosis, through the peaks and valleys of their health care journey, and ultimately honouring their lives by caring for them as they died. Any nurse can only hope to have accomplished so much and affected so many throughout their career.