The upbeat songs are played over the hospital intercoms. The applause can be heard from far-off hallways. These are the sounds of celebration, of relief, of hope.
In recent weeks, hospitals across the region have launched joyous sendoffs for recovered coronavirus patients as they leave the hospital — a celebration both for the patients and for the health care workers who treated them. It’s a trend that seemed to initially take hold in New York and has spread to Massachusetts.
“It’s emotional,” said Carole Lestienne, a nurse manager at Beverly Hospital. As she spoke from her office Wednesday, she heard the chime signaling that another patient was being discharged. A clip from “Here Comes the Sun” played. She paused to listen.
“It’s really for everybody,” Lestienne said. “It’s a celebration for the patients, and it’s a celebration for the staff. . . . It’s a battle to get through it, get over it. There’s so many different things that they’re conquering. It’s not only their physical health, but it’s the isolation.”
Beverly Hospital is just one of many local facilities coordinating sendoffs for recovering patients. In videos shared online, the songs are nearly drowned out by the clapping and cheering of hospital staff.
At Boston Medical Center, where more than 400 patients have recovered from COVID-related ailments, the staff chose to play “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey when someone is discharged. At first, the celebrations were just informal, as more patients flooded the hospital’s emergency room than its exits. But that’s changed as more patients have improved, and the song will be played, starting this weekend. The record on one recent day was 37 discharges, said Nancy Gaden, BMC’s chief nursing officer.
For many patients, the celebration marks the first time they’ve been surrounded by people in weeks. Coronavirus hospitalization can be both isolating and frightening, Gaden said. Leaving the hospital can be a moment of realization: “They’re not in their room anymore. They’re going home.”
“The amount of fear in patients when they’re admitted is really, really high . . . up until that moment [when they are discharged], I suspect, they’re never really sure of how they’re going to do. And when they’re discharged, probably the biggest emotion is just enormous relief,” she said.
Employees at UMass Memorial Medical Center took a vote among staff about what song to play. The winner: “Don’t Stop Believing” again. At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the health care workers celebrate by applauding and ringing a bell. At Tufts Medical Center, the staff plays a clip of “Beautiful Day” by U2. At MelroseWakefield Hospital, the staff calls a “Code Happy” and plays “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
“One of the messages that we wanted to send to the community, our patients, and our caregivers is hope,” said Alicia Wierenga, a nurse and senior director of patient- and family-centered care at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “You hear a lot of negative around COVID-19, but truly there’s so many positive things amongst this pandemic that have come through."
At Baystate Health, which includes Baystate Medical Center and multiple community hospitals, they call it a “Code Rocky” when a patient is being discharged, asking available personnel to meet in the main lobby, where they play the “Rocky” theme song. Much like Rocky himself, patients often emerge with their fists up, signaling victory, as they’re rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair.
Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington also does the “Code Rocky” celebration.
“You can’t help but fill up with tears,” said Nancy Shendell-Falik, president of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.
At Tufts, health care workers celebrated a milestone Wednesday of 15 coronavirus patient discharges in a single day — a record for that facility so far.
Brendan Nee, a nurse at Tufts, said he hopes the celebrations are spreading the message that even among coronavirus units, “it’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. People are recovering and people are going home. “It’s not your last stop.”
Even with masks covering each patient’s face, he can see how relieved the patients are to have reached that point.
“They look like they’re crossing the finish line at the Marathon,” he said.
Wierenga, from UMass Memorial Medical Center, said she’s seen the same kind of happiness.
“Even through a mask, you can see someone’s eyes smiling,” she said. “The arms in the air, like they fought this and they won.”