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Northwest Territories

‘In Cod we trust’: Remembering Yellowknife ER nurse Martha Codner

People in Yellowknife and throughout the Northwest Territories remember a nurse who left a lasting impression on colleagues, patients and the ER at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Martha Codner, affectionately known as “the Cod” or “the Codmother,” was a registered nurse at Yellowknife for nearly 40 years, including 22 years in the Stanton ER.

Codner died of pancreatic cancer earlier this month. She was 67.

“Whether it was patients or if it was the staff themselves, she just brought a lot of light and wisdom to the ER,” recalls Dr. Courtney Howard. “And I think we’re all incredibly grateful for her presence with us for so many years.”

Cartoon grouse sipping a soda in front of a building.
Codner as Grouse in a painting by Janet Pacey created for Codner’s retirement in 2016. The painting hung on the wall of the old hospital’s emergency room and now hangs in the new one. (Submitted by Jill Kendall)

Howard worked with Codner for 10 years and said that nobody is better at helping people in difficult moments.

“She had an incredible ability to make people laugh,” Howard said. “And to calm her down. She knew what everyone needed, whether it was a hug or a joke.”

Codner was also known for her incredible memory: she was able to rattle off phone numbers for different departments or tell exactly if a patient had visited the hospital the previous day without looking at any files.

The cod scan

Codner was also known for her “cod scan” — where she would examine a patient from top to bottom and immediately know who they were, who their mother was and their medical history.

Howard recalls a particular example when Codner glanced at a patient who had walked in.

“She said, ‘Hmm, that’s so and so. His mother had paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia when she was about his age. He looks a little short of breath. I wonder if he has atrial fibrillation?’ And a few minutes later I went in to see him.

“In fact, he had atrial fibrillation,” Howard said.

Codner also helped orient new employees in the north.

“People from the South who hadn’t worked with residential home survivors — she was able to help people understand the stories she’d heard over the years and how those experiences would affect the way people entered the would come [emergency unit] and how best to treat them,” Howard explained.

“I think we’ve been incredibly lucky to have her with us for so long.”

“Strong, Wild, Proud Mother”

Codner was born in Musquodoboit, NS, the youngest of four siblings. She moved to Yellowknife after receiving her nursing degree in 1978. She took a job in hospital cleaning before getting her first job as a nurse.

She married Patrick “Paddy” Codner in 1987 and had one daughter. In her obituary, Codner is remembered as a “strong, fierce, proud mother.”

A woman bends over a hospital bed and kisses another ill looking woman on the cheek.
Martha with her daughter Kendra at Stanton Territorial Hospital. (Submitted by Kendra Codner)

Codner retired from Stanton in 2016. Speaking to CBC News at the time, she explained why connecting with patients, especially the youngest, has always been a priority.

“If you can ease a child’s anxiety just by being there, or by caring and comforting — that’s work that gets done right there,” she said.

“If you can make a difference and help someone, be it a small cause or a big one. It’s rewarding. You don’t have to say thank you. They just walk away and say, ‘Well done.’”

The ‘excrement mother’

Sister Jill Kendall worked with Codner for nearly a decade before moving back to the East Coast.

She said Codner has a knack for knowing “anything and everything.”

“She was a grooming guru — knew all the old tricks that worked when the new tricks didn’t work,” Kendall said. “She has been a mentor to everyone; LPNs, RNs, students, employees, residents and physicians.”

Kendall said Codner had the “reassuring presence that you would get from her own mother,” and had sometimes seen patients specifically asking about Codner.

“That’s why she was the ‘code mother.’ She took care of you and you trusted her.”

Kendall said she has so many stories about Codner that “I burst out laughing just thinking about it.”

And among friends, Codner’s jokes are “salty,” Kendall said.

“Her ‘Martha-isms’ were full of wit with a dash of inappropriateness that made us all smile and kept us going on the busiest shifts at Stanton,” she said.

“She was a legend. We trust Cod.”

A Celebration of Life takes place Saturday night at the Yellowknife Multiplex DND Gym from 6:30pm

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