BILLINGS — Billings Clinic nurse Ellen Edlund, who was previously hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19, was released from the hospital's intensive care unit Monday to continue her recovery at another facility.
"I am forever humbled and thanked by great care that I got and I appreciate you all. It takes a village and because of all of your guys’ love and care and support, I’m leaving today," Edlund said to a round of applause from her colleagues who had gathered to see her off.
Members of the Billings Clinic staff, some of who helped care for Edlund, lined the hallway and lobby of the hospital's north entrance and clapped and cheered for her recovery. During a "Code Joy" ceremony, clinic staff played a segment of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as she was wheeled to the door.
Edlund was hospitalized in late November and moved to intensive care a short time later. She lost consciousness, was placed on a ventilator then on an ECMO machine that acted as her heart, taking blood from her body, adding oxygen and pumping it back in.
Late last week, Edlund's condition improved to where she was taken off the ECMO machine and only needs a ventilator intermittently.
“It amazes me how quickly I got better once they took me off of the ECMO machine, but it was really scary. I thought I was going to die there for a little bit," Edlund said.
Edlund credited her friend and fellow nurse, Kelly Duffy, for keeping her spirits up. Duffy created a Facebook prayer page to help channel people's well wishes.
“Just to try and stay strong. There were times when I was so scared, but my best friend Kelly here would help me stay positive and focus on good things and not be scared or get down. Because honestly, waking up with a (tracheotomy) and not knowing how sick I was, it was scary," Edlund said.
Edlund said her COVID-19 experience brought her closer to Duffy as a friend.
“This girl has been the light of my life, and I think we’ll be best friends until the day we die. We met our first day of nursing school and she got the ball rolling right away for the prayer page and just keeping people informed. Once it went on USA Today or whatever that site was, so many people were calling," Edlund said.
Edlund thanked the team of nurses and doctors that cared for her. She said they could have easily shipped her off to another hospital for care, but decided to keep her in Billings.
"There’s only a few ICU nurses that run ECMO and they ship everybody out. They said ‘no, we want her here.’ They volunteered extra shifts and stayed and did the extra mile so I could stay here where I work and that I will never forget the fact that they did that for me," Edlund said.
Edlund said she worked as a nurse in the intensive care unit for 10 years and spending several weeks there as a patient has changed her perspective.
“I’ve always been proud to work at this hospital but, to be now an ICU patient here as well, has turned my life around. I was an ICU nurse here for 10 years, but then to be a patient, it gave me a whole different life perspective. Through this whole thing I will never be the same. I’ll never forget it," Edlund said.
For people that don't take the threat of COVID-19 seriously, Edlund said, "It's like a suicide mission.
"It tried to kill me. There's really not a lot of explanation why I survived this, and it’s a virus. I thought I had the flu, it hit me that hard and all you have to do is wash your hands and wear a mask. It is that simple," Edlund said.
After she was wheeled out of the Billings Clinic, Edlund was transported to the Rehab Hospital of Montana in Billings to continue her recovery.
"Well, we needed a Christmas miracle, so here you go," Edlund said.