These past 15 months, no matter how “hard” or “easy” any of us had it, we’ve learned a lot. Good stuff even. Our learning, you could say, has been one of the pandemic’s silver linings. To acknowledge some of those Silver Learnings, we’ve invited friends from different walks of life to share what they’ve learned from the pandemic. Our guess is you’ll hear some voices that sound like your own, and some that offer a window into a world you’ve not known but from which we can all now learn.
Charles Fishman, M.D. is a pulmonologist with the New York Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, and an attending pulmonary medicine physician at NYP Lawrence Hospital. He is a member and past president of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY, a longtime friend of the Dreskin family, and a staunch supporter of Jewish camping.
Nancy Mills Fishman, MD, FACP, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and a Medical Oncologist and the Director of Cancer Survivorship at New York Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital. She specializes in the treatment of gynecologic malignancies and breast cancer. Nancy lives in Hartsdale, NY, with her husband, Dr. Charles Fishman. They have two daughters, Alexa and Kimberly. Nancy has served as both Vice President of Education and Vice President of Ritual and Programming at Woodlands Community Temple, and has served as a Board Member of URJ Eisner/Crane Lake Camps.
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On March 2, 2020, I was at home when I received a phone call that literally changed our world. I was informed that the patient I had been seeing in the hospital, with severe respiratory distress and an unusual and rapidly progressive pneumonia, had just tested positive for the novel coronavirus. He was the first patient in the New York area to be diagnosed with Covid-19. We didn’t even have the capacity to test for Covid yet and his test had to be sent to the CDC in Atlanta. A new world order was just beginning.
Soon thereafter, the New York area went into lockdown and we were forced to rapidly learn how to take care of Covid patients. This meant a fundamental change in how we work, to try to protect our patients, ourselves and, by extension, our families. The learning curve was steep. We soon were fearful of shortages of gowns, masks, gloves, ventilators — but there was no shortage of sick patients. We gradually acclimated ourselves to life with Covid. I went an entire year not seeing a patient without wearing complete personal protective equipment; most of my new patients have no idea what I look like.
But we did what we had to do. It wasn’t courage exactly; it was just our responsibility. The patients needed our care and needed our compassion. We all learned to adapt, and I have learned the vast capacity of the people with whom I work to rise to a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
Treatments for Covid-19 have gradually improved, but sometimes unfortunately the best we had to offer was just our humanity.
Charles Fishman, M.D.
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As an oncologist treating cancer patients during the pandemic, I had to continue to treat patients with medications that suppress the immune system despite the risks of predisposing to severe Covid-related illness. One patient toward the beginning of the pandemic remained Covid positive for many weeks after recovering from her illness. She needed chemotherapy for an aggressive breast cancer, and at the time, our knowledge about Covid still in its infancy, we did not know whether treating her would unleash the wrath of Covid upon her. Finally, the patient had the courage to come back to the cancer center where my nurse and I, decked out in full protective equipment, started her chemotherapy. Despite the risks, she ultimately did well. My definition of courage is this patient, who persevered into the unknown. My staff and I just did what we felt was our responsibility.
The turning point for me was the day I received my first dose of Covid vaccine. I felt like I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I became quite emotional as the nurse administered the vaccine. While there has clearly been an improvement, we still see too many ongoing Covid cases. I feel that the vaccine is the only way we will ever be able to restore the world to wholeness. We will never go back to the way things were, but I now have hope that we can learn to accept a new normal. I am ever grateful to the brilliant scientists who worked tirelessly to create these vaccines with unprecedented speed. They are the true heroes.
Nancy Mills Fishman, MD, FACP