Fourteen days ago, David Lat lay on a stark white hospital bed in Manhattan, getting oxygen 24 hours a day because his breathing had grown so labored. And he dared not look ahead too much, he said, as he eyed his battle with a severe COVID-19 infection.
“I don’t know that I’m getting any worse,” he said by cellphone on March 18, speaking about his illness. “And at this point,” he said, “I’ll take it.”
Lat, the founder of the legal blog Above the Law, did not know that just two days later he would be rendered unconscious by medical staff, suddenly intubated, and hooked up to a life-preserving ventilator for the next week, as he fought to survive, and as doctors administered to him novel drug therapies that they hoped—despite lack of solid scientific evidence—would work.
And he couldn’t know that, during his recovery, he’d be offering vials of blood in hopes of helping doctors and scientists find a proven treatment for the coronavirus scourge.
On Saturday, March 29, Lat was transferred out of intensive care, not long after being taken off a ventilator. And on Tuesday, in his first media interview since he’d returned to stable condition, he talked gratefully about being ready to finally go home—most likely, he said, on Wednesday evening. He also tried to reflect—for perhaps the first time, he said—on what he had just gone through in his battle with a coronavirus-caused infection that had ravaged his life.
“I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head—and heart—around the enormity of what I’ve just been through,” he said during an extensive interview conducted via direct messaging on Twitter.
“It’s wild to think about how close I came to dying, to leaving my husband Zach to raise our two-year-old son as a single dad,” he said. “I guess my main emotion is gratitude. I’m so thankful for all the people, many of whom I’ve never met, who were praying for, thinking of, and otherwise pulling for me throughout this ordeal. … And I’m so grateful to be alive.”
Lat also made clear how thankful he was to the medical team at NYU Langone Hospital, where he has been a patient since March 16, for the care they’ve given him. And on Monday he’d credited them, publicly on Twitter, with saving his life. He wrote that “maybe 1.7 times” the doctors and nurses had saved him—a specific calculation that he laid out in a Twitter thread that bore the directness that his tweets have become known for.
Lat, long a widely known figure in the legal world and today a legal recruiter, appears to be making continued progress and, according to his latest conversations with NYU medical staff, he is on the verge of being discharged.
Early on Monday, as he slept, he said, a team of nurses turned off the oxygen he’d been continuing to get since coming off the ventilator.
He was glad that they did it without telling him, he said, “because I think the oxygen had become a psychological crutch.”
And as of Tuesday late afternoon and evening, as he DM’ed with a reporter, he was able to breathe on his own “fine,” he said, “as long as I don’t exert myself.”
“My heart rate still tends to spike over 100 even for something as simple as walking 15 feet to the bathroom,” he added. “But that’s to be expected given what I’ve been through over the past three weeks.”
He was dealing with some pain, he said, as he sent direct messages back and forth, interspersed with an occasional tweet to his 86,000 followers. (On Monday and Tuesday alone, his many tweets ranged from information about his COVID-19 battle to patient advice to a retweeted announcement of the president’s latest nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.) Moreover, he said, his voice has been “very hoarse from the vocal-cord damage from being intubated for six days.”
“I try to speak as little as possible,” he said. In addition, he noted, he still had a “low-level cough” that is “probably not a true coronavirus cough but a so-called ‘follow-on’ infection.” Plus he remained “with all sorts of things—heart rate monitors, IV drips—stuck into me.”
“I haven’t shaved or showered since being admitted,” Lat also said. He then explained that “back when I had a private bathroom, I was in the ICU and too weak to shower, and now the shared bath in the hallway is one the nurse suggested I avoid using, especially since I’m so close to discharge.”
He sat up at a 45-degree angle in his hospital bed, messaging and tweeting throughout much of Tuesday, he said. His face stayed under a cloth-type mask and a wide plastic eye shield. (“Look ma, no nasal cannula! Or non-rebreather mask,” he tweeted below a picture of his head.) His tools were his iPhone 8 and a MacBook Air.
Asked about the source of his energy so soon after being in intensive care, Lat said in a DM that “reading and tweeting about the news is something good to do from a hospital bed.” He also noted “that I haven’t been doing real work, in terms of either legal recruiting or heavy-duty writing, since getting admitted to the hospital.”
During the week that he was intubated and having a ventilator do his breathing for him, he said, he was “pretty much totally out of it.” Doctors and nurses heavily sedated him for the week, and at the same time administered to him one drug therapy after another. In fact, he said Tuesday—while noting that he’s now read various recent articles about his coronavirus fight—he was given more medications than had been previously known.
“I ended up receiving an antiviral called Kaletra, a combo of the antimalarial drug called hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic called azithromycin, and an IL-6 inhibitor called Clazakizumab,” he said.
But asked whether the NYU Langone physicians have told him that the drug therapies employed had helped him turn the corner and survive, Lat, 44, said that they haven’t said that—because they don’t know.
“In terms of what did the trick, the doctors can’t say,” said Lat, who is also a former federal prosecutor and a Yale Law School graduate. “From a clinical perspective,” he said, “I’m glad they tried so many different drugs. But from a research perspective, it does mean it’s hard to say what worked.”
“It’s like that famous JFK saying about victory having many fathers, while failure is an orphan,” he said.
For now, said Lat, he will simply look forward to soon reuniting with his young son, his husband of four and a half years, Zachary Baron Shemtob, and his parents.
Though in the meantime, over the past couple of days, doctors have taken vial after vial of his blood, he said, and thanked him repeatedly for it. NYU Langone is running a study on the plasma of coronavirus patients in an effort to find an effective treatment for a deadly viral scourge that has no proven, effective therapy. And Lat has volunteered to be in it.
If he is discharged on Wednesday, said Lat, it will have been 25 days since he first started having symptoms, ranging from intermittent fevers to joint aches, chills, fatigue and coughing. Then, by March 15, the labored breathing set in, forcing him to get to his nearest emergency room right away.
A lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-recuiter-and-speaker, Lat said Tuesday that he can’t wait to be with his family again.
There are videos of his 2-year-old son, he said, that he has “watched dozens of times,” while he’s fought a war for his life with the novel coronavirus.
“They bring me joy,” he said of the videos, “and there’s not a lot of joy here in the hospital.”
One of them, which he posted with a Facebook announcement on Saturday night letting his friends know that he’d made it out of the ICU, shows his boy bouncing up and down, strumming a guitar and singing.
“I gotta wake up, warm up, clap my hands!” goes part of the song his son sings out. Lat said it is one of the videos he has watched so many times.