Day 6

'I wasn't ready to die': COVID-19 survivor David Lat recounts his harrowing recovery

After New York-based lawyer David Lat was diagnosed with COVID-19 his illness escalated quickly, leaving him unconscious, intubated and fighting for his life. Lat, a 44-year-old marathon runner who suffers from asthma, is now recovering at home.

'I was just gasping for air,' New York-based lawyer says of his initial symptoms

New York-based lawyer David Lat posted several tweets and photos while in hospital after contracting the novel coronavirus. He's currently recovering at home. (David Lat/Twitter)

After New York-based lawyer David Lat was diagnosed with COVID-19, his illness escalated quickly, leaving him unconscious, intubated and fighting for his life.

Lat, a 44-year-old marathon runner who suffers from asthma, spent 17 days at NYU Langone Health centre, including six days on a ventilator.

He documented his progress with a series of hospital bed-bound selfies on his Twitter account.

Now at home recovering, Let spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the ordeal. Here's part of their conversation.

We heard several other COVID-19 victims describing the way this illness affected their breathing. What did that feel like for you? Can you describe what your breathing was like?

I was essentially having very laboured breathing, like gasping for air, as if I had run a race and I was just panting and panting.

But unlike running a race when you stop and eventually return to normal, it just keeps on going. It was like that. I was just gasping for air.

You don't want to be awake for an experience like that, where this breathing tube is shoved into your mouth and down your throat.- David Lat, COVID-19 survivor

Were you panicking?

Yes, I think that's a big part of the difficulty of breathing. It's just the anxiety of thinking, "Am I getting enough oxygen into my lungs?" I think that is the thing that makes it terrifying.

Some people have asked, "Is it painful?" I wouldn't say it's painful; it's not like being burned or being cut. It's more just feeling like you're suffocating, you're not getting enough air. And it's coupled with this anxiety that you're going to suffocate or something.

Four days after [you were admitted to the hospital], you were told you needed to be placed on a ventilator. Tell us about that moment. What did you think when they told you that?

Well, I was very scared because I had heard that not everyone who gets put on a ventilator makes it through that experience. So I was terrified when I heard that.

They sedated you, correct? They put you under?

Yes, which is good because you don't want to be awake for an experience like that, where this breathing tube is shoved into your mouth and down your throat.

So what they'll often do is they'll sedate you first, and then they'll administer a paralytic to make sure that you don't move during this process.

But you knew you were in terrible shape then, David. Did you think that that might be your last moment of consciousness?

Absolutely. I was thinking to myself, I wasn't ready to die.

My husband and I, we have a two-year-old son. I started thinking about how I want to live to see him graduate from school, maybe get married. I was praying the Hail Mary pretty fervently at that, as they were getting me ready.

What do you remember about regaining consciousness?

Very little, actually. I think I was in a bit of a haze after being extubated. I think I went right back to what I had been talking about with my husband before I was intubated, even though that had been almost a week ago.

I asked him, "Did you bring those books from home to the hospital?" It was as if time had stopped for me. I had basically just fallen asleep for six days and didn't remember anything from my time on the ventilator, which isn't always the case.

Some patients — [coughs] sorry, I still get a little winded.

It's OK.

Some patients on ventilators have nightmares or hallucinations.

Did you know that the worst was over when you regained consciousness and that maybe your life was going to resume again?

Yes. I mean, I did eventually understand that I was fortunate enough to have been one of the people who makes it off a ventilator. And so after a certain point, a day or two, I think I regained my sense of clarity and realized how lucky I was.

You've said that you owe your life to a ventilator, and in your city right now in New York, ventilators are being shared between patients. What goes through your mind when you hear about those shortages of life-saving equipment?

I do feel a certain amount of guilt, because if you're on a ventilator it does mean that there's somebody else out there who might need it and isn't.

At the time that I was placed on the ventilator, the hospital I was at, NYU Langone, was not at the point of having to ration ventilators. I don't know if that's changed since then, but it does vary depending on where one is.

You've been home for more than a week now, David. What does recovery look like for you moving forward?

So a lot of it is just trying to get some exercise, trying to walk around a little bit each day. When I was in the hospital, I couldn't walk around at all because when you're a COVID-19 patient, you're confined to your room.

So there's not really much you can do. You spend most of the day in bed, which causes your cardiovascular capacity and your muscles to atrophy. So I try to move around.

I have this device called a spirometer where I practice breathing exercises to help my lungs recover. I try to eat well and sleep well. But yeah, it's just a gradual process. The doctors and nurses told me it could take weeks or even months.

And what about your lungs, David? Do you expect them to return to the way they were before you were ill?

That's a good question, and I think it's too early to tell. I'm planning to see the pulmonologist in a few weeks. It is quite possible that I have some kind of long-term damage, but time will tell.

I do think that they'll get better from where they are now, but I'm not sure if I'll return to full capacity compared to where I was before.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview produced by Annie Bender. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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