By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In 10 months, Mayo Clinic’s intensive care unit has cared for hundreds of patients with COVID-19.

A team of nurses has been at their side as they’ve struggled to breathe and for every positive and, too often, tragic turn in their hospital stays.

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WCCO asked one to document her time inside the ICU over the holidays and we found perspective from the pandemic that will stay with front-line workers long after this virus is gone.

Amy Spitzner believes what she’s witnessed this last year will stay with her forever.

“I remembered they were very sick, I came back and most of them had passed. That was really hard to even fathom,” Spitzner said.

Amy Spitzner is a Critical Care Nurse at Mayo Clinic Rochester.

“These patients up here, they stay with us for weeks at a time, so we get to know them pretty well,” she said.

Nurse Amy Spitzner (credit: CBS)

“One of the hardest things was the loss and there was nothing we could do to help them,” she added.

Her colleagues inside Mayo’s medical intensive care unit have donned smiles under their masks for months.

“We consider ourselves family. Throughout all of this it has become very apparent, we continue to be a very strong family,” Spitzner added.

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A community also offered its support. In November, Spitzner put out a Facebook call for Christmas cards to pass out to their patients.

“Well that went out like wildfire. We got cards coming from Texas, North Carolina, I had someone reach out to me from Canada asking if they could send cards. The unit is filled. I’m talking with thousands of cards. We don’t even know what to do with them anymore,” she said.

Then, there was a day in December.

“That day I had a horrible day and I was down in the dumps, near tears and I walked out and there was Rochester PD, the fire department, EMS out there all decked out in Christmas lights, playing Christmas music, had signs saying ‘we see you, we hear you. We thank you.’ I yelled out thank you and they yelled thank you,” she recalled.

Spitzner has also been encouraged as the situation inside the ICU improves.

“I don’t know if it was the Governor’s shutdown or what it was but the numbers have just slowed down. There’s still plenty of COVID around but not to the extent that we had it about a month ago,” she said.

And, there is real hope on the horizon.

“Just completed my vaccine. Feeling great,” she told her camera last month. “I told the nurse I work in the COVID ICU and said I am ready for this to be done. And she’s like, ‘yeah, I bet you are.’”

She says getting the vaccine feels like one step closer to the end of the pandemic.

“The end of suffering, and the end of all of this pain,” she said.

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Liz Collin