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  • Writer's pictureE. Sclafani Bayless

Take Five: NYC Infectious Disease Expert, Dr. Laura Fisher

Since the pandemic hit, I have found myself communicating with my friends more than ever before. I actually feel the NEED to connect with them in order to keep my sanity.  I think it's a direct connection to the outside, "normal" world, which over the last few months has disappeared from our lives. 

Chatting and reminiscing about old times what we plan on doing in the future gives us each a glimmer of hope that this crazy way of life will not continue forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

In talking with them, some of my pals I have not spoken to or have seen in decades (you know how life gets in the way!) while some are buddies that have been a constant in my life since I was a kid, and some of them are brand new friends. 

In speaking with them, I realized we are all going through the same emotions, challenges, and fears due to COVID-19. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the people I am lucky enough to call my friends and learn how they are dealing with this surreal moment in time.

This is not a "one size fits all" kind of group; they're from totally different backgrounds, jobs, lifestyles, and ages - but there is a common thread amongst them all: each person is unique, interesting, and enlightening.

I look forward to sharing their thoughts on how they are coping with today’s new life...

Meet Dr. Laura Fisher: Internist and Infectious Disease specialist in private practice in NYC – she specializes in general medicine, preventive care, Lyme disease, and travel medicine.

She is not only my good friend but also my primary doctor.

I've known Laura for almost 20 years. In addition to being one of the best doctors in the country, she is also one of the kindest and most sincere people on this planet. 

She also has a fabulous sense of humor and totally “gets it”~

Laura spends a big chunk of her days “these days” working with patients who are COVID-19 survivors, as well as those currently battling this terrible virus.

Yep, she is 100% dedicated to her practice and patients, BUT  she is an over-the-moon proud mom who is dedicated to her three daughters. Micaela, 21, who just graduated from Brown University this past weekend, Jesse 20, who will be a senior, and Gabriella,19, a who will be a junior, both at Brown as well. (No surprise they chose Brown since the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree; Brown is Laura’s alma mater.)

Laura comes from a long line of doctors in her family. Her dad was a physician, her mom had her Ph.D. in biophysics, and her four brothers and two sisters are all doctors. WOW!

I chatted with Laura this week about how life on the upper east side of NYC has changed since the pandemic hit and what it’s like living with three adult daughters at home again "these days."

Ernestine: So how are you doing these days? Laura: These are very strange times, but after two and a half months of quarantine and social distancing, I feel like we’re settling into a new (and hopefully temporary) normal. I’m used to being in control and having a daily and weekly routine. Before COVID, I’d see patients Monday through Friday, get to the gym six days a week, attend concerts, see friends and family and visit current exhibits in museums. All that has been turned upside down. At first, I felt anxious and out-of-sorts, but now I’m learning to go more with the flow and to accept things as they come.

E: Being an infectious disease doctor, did you ever imagine this could happen or was it as shocking to you as it was to the rest of the world? Laura: Truthfully, I never imagined that we’d experience a pandemic like COVID. The last pandemic was the 1918 flu and we’ve come so far since then. Now we have a flu vaccine and medications to treat the flu. The AIDS epidemic was a shock to all of us, but HIV is not airborne and therefore did not become a pandemic. Although we still do not have a vaccine to prevent HIV, we do have oral medications that help prevent and treat the infection.

E: How has your day to day life changed? Laura: My daily life continues to change. At the beginning of COVID, I was inundated with many patients with new infections. At first, I had my patients come to the office for exams and treatment, but then the office was closed for a month. I still came to my office each day but I had my staff stay in their homes. I fielded up to 60 patient calls daily – the vast majority were about COVID signs and symptoms. My phone rang off the hook at night and I barely had a chance to sleep. I am not an advocate of telemedicine, because a doctor truly needs to see and examine a patient to make a proper assessment and diagnosis, but I was forced to adjust to telehealth limitations during the quarantine. Thankfully, the rate of new COVID infections in Manhattan has dropped and I am able to see patients in my office again. A major and wonderful change is that all three of our daughters have been home since mid-March when Brown University closed. What a joy to have their company. We spend lots of time together, eat together, do puzzles, and play Rummikub and Bananagrams. We sit out on our terrace and read together... Another adjustment was that my gym has been closed and I began heading out to Central Park for exercise and stress reduction. I have been walking at least 7-8 miles daily. I have encouraged my friends, family and patients to do the same.

E: What have you learned about yourself during this period? Laura: I have learned that I am resilient and can adjust to new situations. I’ve learned to accept that I can’t control everything and must make the best of a changing environment. I have been reminded of how important family and friends are. I have also been reminded of how beautiful nature is. Walking in Central Park every day has revealed to me the joy of breathing fresh air and being one with nature.

E: What have you been watching, reading, or listening to as a reprieve? Laura: I am a voracious reader. Currently, I am reading The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer. Before that, I enjoyed Trilby by George du Maurier. I am part of a book club and we’ve been doing Zoom gatherings. Since I spend a lot of time in my office, I’ve been taking advantage of videos offered by the 92nd Street Y, Carnegie Hall, The Strieker Center and Boston Symphony Orchestra. It’s been a treat listening to jazz, contemporary and classical music, watching ballet and listening to fascinating lectures.

BONUS QUESTION: E: Being a true New Yorker, what has surprised you the most about living there during this time? Laura: Truthfully, nothing surprises me about New York or New Yorkers. But I love the fact that people still cheer for the first responders and essential workers. Every night at 7:00, people clap, cheer, ring bells, blow whistles and bang on pots to show their gratitude. I am also so impressed about how people have come together to deal with this challenge. All of our hospitals have been working together to share their knowledge and experience. New Yorkers are very strong and creative and have a wonderful can-do spirit. 

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