Inside a hectic, chaotic Twin Cities COVID-19 ICU

A COVID-19 patient recovers from the coronavirus at Methodist Hospital's COVID-19 ICU unit in St. Louis Park, Minn.

Inside a Twin Cities area COVID-19 intensive care unit, frontline healthcare workers and patients described what has become a “hectic” and “chaotic” day-to-day existence.

FOX 9 went inside Methodist Hospital’s ICU for the first time of the pandemic.

Entering the ICU, FOX 9’s Paul Blume first noticed how loud it was. The air ventilation systems are always churning and the machines are always beeping. Jenna Jacobs, an ICU nurse, said the sound sticks with her when she closes her eyes.

“Our main goal is to keep people alive,” said Jacobs of working in the ICU over the last nine months. “That’s where we are at.”

Sadly, the patients hooked up to breathing tubes and cocktails of medicine drips and steroids keep coming shift after shift.

“These people are dying alone,” Jacobs said.

Before COVID-19, family and loved ones were allowed in ICU rooms, providing love and comfort. Not now, however.

“It’s very hard,” Jacobs said. “It’s reality now. We are holding people’s hands on their last breaths every day.”

The St. Louis Park hospital is operating 35 ICU beds, at least half of which are filled by COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Nima Desai, the Chief Medical Officer, gave FOX 9 a tour.

“What we really want to show: This is real,” Desai said. “This is something we’ve seen. We’re living every single day since the pandemic started.”

Desai said Methodist remains just short of capacity, leaving space for patients of all ailments and illness.

She points out that facility enhancements in the ICU to keep staff safe include moving IVs and other machines needed to keep patients alive out into the hallways so care teams can limit their exposure to the virus.

“We’ve been at surge levels since April,” said Desai. “In the initial surge, we have 40-60 patients of COVID-19 per day. Now 80-90 per day. So that’s continuing to increase.”

Minnesota health experts have predicted rising case ounts especially coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday with frontline staff noticing the ages of those showing up in the unit getting younger and younger.

“No one is exempt,” said April Brown, another nurse. “I’ll give you an example. 18-year-old gentlemen, healthy as a horse, 18, played football, defensive lineman, intubated and sedated.”

Monday, the Methodist team had a reason to smile, however. A patient who came in very sick, barely able to walk, went home.

“I was pretty low when I came in on that Thursday night,” said Virginia Farquhar, the COVID-19 patient. “My oxygen was really low.”

FOX 9 spoke to Farquhar through a window. She is a kidney transplant survivor who will need to continue to isolation after her hospital discharge.

“I’m not out of the woods,” she said. “I am still positive. I am on my own oxygen now. I am not dependent on oxygen support.”

Farquhar was so grateful for the care she received at Methodist where doctors, nurses and staff are improving outcomes each and every day, often cutting down on required hospital time as they learn more about the novel coronavirus.

The hospital needs help during this season of giving and are begging people to follow public health guidance in wearing masks, washing hands and keeping distance from others as they wait for a vaccine.

“You do not want to end up here,” said Brown. “We’re good at what we do, however, prevention is the best medicine.”

“Where is this light at the end of the tunnel?” asked Jacobs. “I’d like to see it. I’m hoping it’s the vaccine, I mean, we just keep going day-to-day. This is our norm.”