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Rural Hospital Uses “Code Joy” to Honor Nurse’s Battle with COVID-19


 There’s a new code going around a rural hospital in Billings, Montana known as “Code Joy”. The nurses on staff will play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” whenever a patient with COVID-19 is discharged from the hospital. The song has become a bright spot amid an otherwise dark holiday season.

Billings Clinic is located in one of the most rural counties in the country, which includes Yellowstone National Park. The facility has been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in recent weeks. Providers are using “Code Joy” to celebrate their patients’ recovery from the virus. The song also means that another bed has opened up for the growing number of people that still need care.

The tradition began in honor of Ellen Edlund, an ICU nurse with over 22 years of experience under her belt. She was working at Billings Clinic until she became a patient herself after coming down with the virus in late November. Here’s her amazing story:

A Near-Death Experience

As an experienced ICU nurse, Edlund is all too familiar with the dangers of contracting COVID-19. When she first came down with the virus nearly a month ago, she remembers playing the worst-case scenario through her head. When the doctor told her she would have to go on a ventilator, she knew that around 80% of ventilated COVID-19 patients die.

The same thing happened when she needed a highly specialized device to oxygenate her blood. She took it as a sign that she wasn’t going to make it. Even the most optimistic doctors thought she was going to die.

But just two weeks later, she was home recuperating with her loved ones.

Recalling the experience, she said, “I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. Just before I was intubated, I asked my doctor, ‘Am I going to die? And, when she couldn’t say no, I knew I was in trouble.”

That was the last thing she remembered before waking up in the ICU several days later.

An Overnight Sensation

Little did Edlund know that while she was under, her colleagues had shared her story on national television along with several local news outlets. They even created a “Love Ellen” Facebook group, which now has over 850 members.

Edlund woke up to discover that she had become a national figure overnight. She even received a get-well message from a stranger in Uganda.

“Everyone was praying for me. I could feel the power of their prayers,” she said.

Her colleagues also started an online fundraiser, which has already brought in over $25,000 to help cover her household expenses and medical care not covered by insurance.

When she was finally well enough to go home, her colleagues wheeled her out of the hospital in a wheelchair as the entire staff started clapping over the sounds of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.

“It takes a village. And because of all of your guys’ love and care and support, I’m leaving today,” she said during the impromptu ceremony.

Staff members have been using the song to celebrate every time someone with COVID-19 is discharged from the hospital. It’s become a reminder of the strength and determination Edlund showed during her own battle with the disease.

Edlund’s experience has also had a profound effect on her colleagues. During her time in the hospital, she was cared for by her best friend and colleague Kelly Duffy, who said, “When your best friend is on the brink of dying from it…it’s just, almost, panic set in.”

After three months of rising infections, the number of people in Montana hospitalized for COVID-19 is starting the come down. The last four weeks have been an improvement in terms of the number of people seeking care.

Speaking after her recovery, “I just am thrilled to be alive,” Edlund said. She also wants her neighbors and fellow Montanans to recognize the threat of the virus, especially around the holidays.

“It’s not taking away your American rights,” she said. “It’s just keeping people safe.”

We could all use a little “Code Joy” as we face a difficult holiday season. We’re thankful for Edlund’s recovery and wish her well as she continues to recover from the virus. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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