LONDON, ONT. -- Looking back on the first 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the director of the Critical Care Trauma Centre at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) says it has taken a toll on staff.

“We’ve seen a number of tragic deaths related to this disease and that just guts us,” says Dr. Rob Arntfield. “No question, it’s taking its toll on our team as it’s turned into one big long emergency.”

Photos provided to CTV News span months, from the early days of the pandemic to ones just a few weeks old. They show heartbreak and fierce determination from the collective drive of many different departments.

“With nursing being the absolute back bone, but respiratory therapists, pharmacists, social workers, dieticians, environmental service workers who clean the rooms,” all play a role Arntfield says.

The emotional toll is evident in one of the the photos that shows a nurse kneeling in front of an iPad after delivering the most unimaginably difficult message to a spouse whose wife had just passed.

Inside LHSC's ICU
Inside the London Health Sciences Centre's Critical Care Trauma Centre in London, Ont. (Source: LHSC)

“You have people critically ill and/or dying alone. And that is heart-wrenching, and I think that will stay with us for a long time,” Arntfield says, the tragedy is juxtaposed with the feeling of success when a patient recovers.

“To see the patients leave the ICU, when they are up against death from a deadly respiratory pathogen, it’s exciting to have those milestones and to have those patients graduate and eventually go home.”

Looking back, Arntfield says the last 11 months have been filled with both success and tragic endings. But learning about the disease, and how to treat it, has been the greatest challenge.

“The establishing of care of experience and nuance, and all these things that we lacked early on, was additionally difficult for us as providers. Obviously we’ve gotten a lot better at managing the illness over the ensuing 11 months.”

There is still a long road ahead before COVID-19 releases its grip, but Arntfield is optimistic that road will become smoother in the near future.