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Twin Cities ICU nurse: 'You need to know just how real this is'

Mary Turner provided a look into what it's like in an ICU ward right now.
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Minnesota health officials have made it a habit to remind residents of Minnesota that the coronavirus is happening at a widespread, statewide level and that the peak of the first wave of the outbreak is expected to happen sometime between mid-May and mid-July. 

On Friday, Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association who works as an ICU nurse at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, provided an emotional message to for what it's like on the front lines in the fight against the disease. 

"You need to know just how real this is," said Turner. "We have a full floor of patients that are on ventilators and they're on these ventilators for several weeks. Just when we think they're going to get better and we take their tube out, we have to put it back in. 

"This terrible, vicious virus attacks not only the respiratory, but it attacks the heart and it's attacking the kidneys. It's spreading throughout their whole body. I don't know how many calls I've had during the middle of the night, family begging to see their family members. Asking us, 'can you just please put the phone up to their ear so we can tell them we love them.' 

"If you become a patient, or your family ends up in the ICU, you can't see them. They can't come to hold your hand. And as family members you  can only call to the nurse's station to hopefully get a more positive update.

"I want you all to realize just how real and devastating this will be."

Turner's message came on the same day hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Governor Mansion in St. Paul Friday pleading for the state's economy to be reopened, along with President Donald Trump tweeting "Liberate Minnesota" earlier in the day.  

But while that was happening along Summit Avenue, the ICU beds at North Memorial were filled with COVID-19 patients, many of whom who have been on ventilators to help them breathe for weeks. 

"At North Memorial, we have four ICUs and they're anywhere from 13-16 beds apiece. A couple of weeks ago we were getting them one at a time and now our floor is full, and it's staying full," Turner explained. "As we move people out – and we are moving people out, people are getting better – there's more to take those beds. 

"Slowly, every couple days going up 10 more people. I really have this gut feeling that it's going to all of a sudden start to snowball," she added, saying she worked earlier this week and saw patients on ventilators who first arrived at the hospital in need of intubation three or four weeks ago. 

"I mean I worked 3-4 weeks ago and I came back this last weekend and the same people were there. That's how long they're staying on the ventilator. They're blocking up the ICUs for such a long period of time, so it's going to start snowballing faster and faster." 

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm called Minnesota's growth late "measured," although she expects to see it increase more and more as time moves on, a belief that Dr. John Hick, the deputy chief medical director for Hennepin EMS and medical director for emergency preparedness at HCMC agrees with. 

"This has gone from being a novelty in our hospitals to being a commonplace thing and we're probably going to see over the course of the summer that it becomes more of an overwhelming thing," said Dr. Hick. 

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