Catching Up With One of the First Covid Patients to Be Put on a Ventilator
David Lat, writer and lawyer, was one of the first New Yorkers to fall seriously ill with Covid-19 in March 2020. He was hospitalized for 17 days, including six days on a ventilator.
“I was one of 12 people they admitted,” said Mr. Lat, now 46. “By the time I left there were seven or eight floors of people sick with Covid.”
Mr Lat’s struggle gripped much of the city, as he and his relatives updated his condition on Twitter in the early days of the coronavirus, when knowledge was scarce but panic was widespread.
Since his recovery, Mr. Lat has made several life-changing decisions. He left his post at a legal recruiting firm to write about law full time. And in June, he and his husband, Zach Shamtob, 38, also a lawyer, and their son, Harlan, 3, moved from Manhattan to Summit, NJ.
As the Delta variant of the coronavirus increases anxiety levels again, The Times caught up with Mr. Lat. The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Q. What was the scariest moment from that point on?
A. In the middle of the night, a doctor or a nurse came into my room and told me that I had to be put on a ventilator. This person also started asking me questions – if I was ready to be an organ donor (I was) and if I wanted to be resuscitated if needed (I did). It was terrifying to think, as they subdued me, that I might never wake up again.
I went to the hospital when the city was a bit normal. When I left, we were confined. My voice was shot down because your vocal cords are damaged by the ventilator. I couldn’t speak. I had to text people who were next to me. They slowly wean you off oxygen until you can breathe on your own, or what is called “room air”. Eventually, I was transferred to a room shared with three other Covid patients; one was younger than me; it was sobering.
Was the recovery difficult?
It took about a year. It took months to breathe normally and not run out of breath on the stairs. The taste has returned. I started to walk, then to jog; I still can’t run that fast. I was a runner. I completed two marathons before this happened. In September, I was able to run a mile. In October, I returned to the gym to work out. I saw a pulmonologist and a cardiologist. A few weeks ago they said I was doing great and didn’t need to come back.
Are you participating in research on the Covid?
I signed up for a hospital study before I left. At first I had my blood tested every few weeks because they were looking for different markers of immunity: antibodies, T cells and B. Now it’s every three months. They are also researching vaccines. I was vaccinated with Pfizer on March 1 and 22. They have 150 people registered; not everyone was hospitalized. They are trying to find out if you have had Covid, if you need both injections. It’s nice to contribute. They saved my life. The least I can do is help them with their research.
What made you leave town?
My near-death experience made me see New York in a different light. This caused us to press a reset button. Zach and I had talked about the suburbs for a long time. Both of our parents live here and they help a lot with our son. Moving has allowed me to focus on something other than my illness.
Now we have three times the space. When someone asked my son what his favorite room in our old apartment was, he would answer the hallway outside our door because that’s where he could get on and off. Now it has a front and back yard which is awesome.
Why did you change jobs? What other changes have you made?
As a writer, I am in control. I feel a greater sense of connection, which I didn’t have in my old job. It’s not as lucrative, but it’s more personally satisfying. If there’s something you want to do, go for it.
I returned to the church. When I got sick, my mother prayed for me constantly. I received a flood of support and prayer from other people I didn’t know. And I survived. When I got better, she said, all these people reached out to you, you have to pay next. People ask me to pray for them, so I do. I try to pray every day.
The positivity rates are increasing again due to the Delta variant. Are you worried about this?
I am anxious, but mostly in conflict. We are all very confused. I worry about a return to the sickness and death that we saw last year. And I am concerned about the harm that foreclosure can do to people’s lives and jobs.
Zach and I both work from home, so we don’t go out much. When we see friends and family it is often outside. I have started to wear a mask again when I am indoors in a public place, like the pharmacy. As someone who has had Covid and then got vaccinated, I feel pretty safe. Research suggests that people in my shoes tend to have strong immunity, including variant immunity. I worry about contracting Covid again without knowing it and then passing it on to others, even though I may not have symptoms. So that’s the main reason I wear a mask.
Do you have any advice for us if we or our loved ones get sick?
I would recommend taking a pulse oximeter. And I cannot stress enough the importance of building a support network. When I was in the hospital, I was so comforted to know that so many people were praying and shooting for me. So do your best to stay in touch and reconnect with people.
What do you miss in life in Manhattan?
The charcuterie and the bodegas 24 hours a day. If I wanted a pint of ice cream, I only had to walk two blocks to a deli. Now, if I have a late night urge, I have to tackle it before 11pm. I miss the variety of culture and cool public art. Art is everywhere in Manhattan.
I miss the metro. And the bus. I used to take the M3 with my son to school. We had a ritual. He would say hello to the driver. He walked back and hit the button when it was time to get off. Now I tie him in the car seat and we go to school. I don’t like driving, I’m not particularly good at it. I miss our doormen, who were super nice. Now it’s just us.
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