Catching Up With One of the First Covid Patients to Be Put on a Ventilator

David Lat, a writer and lawyer, was one of the first New Yorkers to grow critically ill with Covid-19 in March 2020. He was in the hospital 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 loved ones updated his condition on Twitter in the early days of the coronavirus, when knowledge was scant but panic was widespread.

Since recovering, Mr. Lat has made several life-changing decisions. He left his position at a legal recruiting firm to write about the 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, N.J.

As the Delta variant of the coronavirus raises anxiety levels once again, The Times caught up with Mr. Lat. The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

Q. What was the most frightening moment from that time?

A. In the middle of the night a doctor or nurse came into my room and told me I would have to be put on a ventilator. This person also started asking me questions — whether I was willing to be an organ donor (I was), and whether I would want to be resuscitated if necessary (I did). It was terrifying to think, as they were putting me under, that I might never wake up again.

I went in the hospital while the city was somewhat normal. When I left we were on lockdown. My voice was shot because your vocal cords get damaged by the ventilator. I couldn’t talk. I had to text people who were next to me. They wean you off oxygen slowly until you can breathe on your own, or what’s called “room air.” Eventually I was moved to a shared room with three other Covid patients; one was younger than me; that was sobering.

Has recovery been difficult?

It’s taken about a year. It took months to breathe normally and to not get winded walking up a flight of stairs. Taste has returned. I started to walk, then jog; I still can’t run that fast. I used to be a runner. I finished two marathons before this happened. In September I was able to run one mile. In October I went back to the gym to work out. I was seeing a pulmonologist and a cardiologist. A couple of weeks ago they said I was doing great and didn’t need to return.

Are you participating in any Covid research?

I enrolled in a hospital study before I checked out. At first I was getting my blood tested every few weeks because they were looking for different markers for immunity: antibodies, T and B cells. Now it’s every three months. They are doing vaccine-related research, too. I was vaccinated with Pfizer on March 1 and 22. They have 150 people enrolled; not everyone was hospitalized. They are trying to figure out if you had Covid, if you need both shots. It’s nice to contribute. They saved my life. The least I can do is help with their research.

What made you leave the city?

My near-death experience caused me to see New York in a different light. It caused us to hit a reset button. Zach and I had long talked about the suburbs. Both our parents live out here,= and they help so much with our son. Moving gave me something to focus on other than just my illness.

Now we have three times as much space. When someone asked my son what his favorite room was in our old apartment he would say the hallway outside our door because that’s where he could run up and down. Now he has a front and back yard, which is great.

Why did you switch jobs? What other changes have you made?

As a writer, I’m 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 do it.

I’ve gone back to church. When I got sick, my mother prayed for me constantly. I received an outpouring of support and prayer from others I didn’t know. And I survived. When I got better, she said, all these people reached out to you, you need to pay it forward. People ask me to pray for them, so I am. I try to pray every day.

Positivity rates are rising again because of the Delta variant. Does this worry you?

I’m anxious, but mostly conflicted. We are all very confused. I’m worried about a return to the sickness and death we saw last year. And I’m concerned about the harm that lockdown can do on people’s lives and jobs.

Zach and I both work from home, so we don’t go out much. When we do see friends and family, it’s often outdoors. I’ve gone back to wearing a mask when I’m indoors in a public place, like the pharmacy. As a person who had Covid and then got vaccinated, I feel fairly safe. Research suggests that people in my shoes tend to have strong immunity, including immunity to variants. I worry about unknowingly getting Covid again and then passing it along to others, even if I might not have symptoms. So that’s the main reason I wear a mask.

Do you have advice for us, should we or our loved ones get sick?

I would recommend getting a pulse oximeter. And I can’t overstate the importance of building a support network. When I was in the hospital, I drew so much comfort from knowing that so many people were praying and pulling for me. So try your best to stay in touch with and reconnect with people.

What do you miss about living in Manhattan?

The 24-hour deli and bodegas. 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 hankering, I have to address it before 11 p.m. I miss the variety of culture and the cool public art. Art is everywhere in Manhattan.

I miss the subway. And the bus. I used to take the M3 with my son to school. We had a ritual. He’d say hello to the driver. He would walk to the back and push the button when it was time to get off. Now I strap him in the car seat and we drive to school. I don’t like driving, I’m not particularly good at it. I miss our doormen, who were super friendly. Now it’s just us.

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