PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- When you work in health care like Nichole Herr, you almost expect to work some holidays. But in 2020, the holiday season comes months into a deadly pandemic.

"I think we're all exhausted," she told Arizona's Family on Wednesday evening. "We're tired. We're defeated."

Herr is getting ready for six shifts in a row. She's a critical care nurse in the ICU at the Mayo Clinic in the Valley.

"We're locked down again, so we can't have visitors come unless they're literally end of life," she said. "And I feel like every patient we have is end of life, every day."

Herr usually gets to know her patients and their families. This year though, those connections and visits can only be made through a screen.

"It's really hard to not be able to have them there. Because so many people get better for other people. And so when they hear nothing familiar, we sit, and we put a computer up sometimes for hours and families will just talk," she said.

With her whole family in Minnesota and with no small children, Nichole usually picks up holiday shifts. Her boyfriend also works in her unit. Nichole typically gets to see her family around the holidays but won't this year because it's not safe to travel. Her co-workers and everyone at the hospital often become family.

"It fills our cup, definitely, when a patient will send something, or we'll hear from somebody how they are doing," she said. "That's the holidays for me this year."

Brittani Sanford is also an ICU nurse in the Valley. The last month has been especially hard because she usually goes home to Indiana to see her family. She had COVID-19 over the summer but doesn't want to give it to someone who may have a bad outcome.

"It's been hard the last months. We have these super sick patients I can count on one hand how many patients I've seen not make it out here in a body bag," she said, emphasizing that she only works in intensive care where she sees the most critical patients.

She has no family in Arizona, and this will be the first time in her entire life she hasn't seen them at some point in the holiday season. Her dad is her best friend, so not being able to hug him is hard. The last time she saw him was in March. While there is Facetime, it's just not the same.

"I'm fortunate enough to still receive both phone calls from mom and dad," she said. "And there's a lot of people this year that aren't going to get that. They don't get that anymore. So I'm blessed."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory declaring "postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19."


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