ER doctor on the pandemic frontline says resilience is learned

Dr. Robert Norrie (BSc '96) and his health-care team practised, over and over, how to respond to different scenarios

In those early days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 was crippling hospitals in New York City and northern Italy, health-care workers in the small community hospital where Dr. Robert Norrie (BSc ’96) works were running drills in the parking lot.

The emergency room of Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus, Ont. is normally a refuge for people from nearby rural communities who arrive at all hours with sick babies, fevers or after accidents.

But in those early days of the pandemic, Dr. Norrie says the hospital was eerily quiet.

Nobody understood yet what COVID-19 could do, so Dr. Norrie and his team practised, over and over, how they would respond to different scenarios. The team ran drills on how they could safely perform CPR and intubate patients. The procedure is lifesaving in normal times but COVID-19 meant aerosols from a patient could infect health-care workers and others in the emergency room.

“We would meet the ambulance in the parking lot to start the resuscitation, and there were times when we had to pause CPR and ask, ‘Is it safe to continue?’ This was a huge paradigm shift for us,” Dr. Norrie says. “We knew we needed to protect everyone.”

It was practice, teamwork and the support of the community that got Dr. Norrie through the difficult times—not any intrinsic superhero traits.

I don’t think physicians are more resilient than anyone else. Through our medical training, however, we are taught teamwork.

“I don’t think physicians are more resilient than anyone else. Through our medical training, however, we are taught teamwork,” he says. “Being able to adapt to anything that is thrown at you is about working with your team. I’ve never felt alone or that I didn’t have people to help me.”

working in a hospitalThe practice drills in March helped the health-care team at Groves build resilience when ER visits picked up in the summer. “Resilience is not something you have or don’t have,” Dr. Norrie says. “It’s something you develop.”

When he thinks of resilience and the pandemic, Dr. Norrie thinks of patients and their loved ones. “Patients dying without their loved ones at their bedside in the hospital was devastating for many in the community,” he says.

He also remembers new mothers who delivered their babies while masked, in a room without family and medical staff covered in PPE. “As much as our PPE protects us, there is also a very real way that goggles, masks and gowns separate us from our patients.”

When Fergus residents thanked and praised him for his front-line dedication to the community, he responded: “Don’t thank us. You are the ones who are helping us get through this pandemic by following the rules.” 

Don’t thank us. You are the ones who are helping us get through this pandemic by following the rules.