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


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

People in Yellowknife and in the Northwest Territories remember a nurse who left a lasting impression on colleagues, patients and the emergency department of Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Martha Codner, affectionately known as “the cod” or “mother’s mother,” worked as a nurse in Yellowknife for nearly 40 years, including 22 years in Stanton’s emergency room.

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

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

Cartoon ptarmigan sipping a soda in front of a building.
Codner as a ptarmigan in a painting by Janet Pacey made before 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 no one was better at helping people through difficult times.

“She had an incredible ability to make people laugh,” Howard said. “And to put them at ease. 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 accurately say whether a patient had visited the hospital the day before without looking at files.

The ‘Codfish Scan’

Codner was also known for her “Cod scan” – in which she looked a patient up and down and immediately knew who they were, who their mother was and their medical history.

Howard recalls a specific example when Codner took one look at a patient who came in.

“She said, ‘Hmm, that’s so-and-so. His mother had paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia when she was about the same 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.

“Sure, he had atrial fibrillation,” Howard said.

Codner also helped orient new personnel to the north.

“People from the South who hadn’t worked with residential school 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 in the [emergency unit] and how best to treat them,” Howard explained.

“I think we were incredibly lucky to have had her with us for so long.”

‘Strong, fierce, 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 housekeeping before getting her first job as a nurse.

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

A woman leans over a hospital bed and kisses another woman, who looks ill, 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 she always prioritized bonding with patients, especially the youngest.

“If you can ease a child’s anxiety just by your presence, or if you’re caring and reassuring, that’s a job done right there,” she said.

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

The ‘Codmother’

Nurse Jill Kendall worked with Codner for nearly a decade before returning to the East Coast.

She said Codner had the gift of knowing “everything and everyone.”

“She was a nursing guru — knew all the old tricks that worked when the new tricks didn’t work,” Kendall said. “She was a mentor to everyone: LPNs, RNs, students, clerks, residents and doctors.”

Kendall said Codner had the “calming presence one would get from their own mother,” sometimes seeing patients who specifically requested Codner.

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

Kendall said she has so many stories about Codner that “thinking about them can make me fall over with laughter.”

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

“Her ‘Martha-isms’ were infused with humor with a touch of impropriety that kept us all smiling and engaged in the busiest shifts at Stanton,” she said.

‘She was a legend. We trust in Cod.”

A celebration of life takes place Saturday night at the Yellowknife Multiplex DND Gym starting at 6:30pm