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Dr. Mehl, 73, the son of European immigrants who escaped the Holocaust, grew up in Brooklyn and spent his entire 50-year career at N.Y.U., where he could often be found in the hallway kibitzing with lab technicians, cafeteria workers or security guards. Colleagues referred to him as the Mayor of N.Y.U.
He could also be unabashedly emotional. “When he dropped me off at summer camp, he’d be the only father crying,” his daughter said.
Dr. Mehl was a voracious reader — history books about World War II, Israel and the United States were his favorites. When he traveled, he’d wake up each morning to tackle an exhausting itinerary of museums, monuments and restaurants. “He’d be planning the next vacation even before we came home,” said his wife, Nancy Greenwald.
At a time when many doctors are plotting retirement, Dr. Mehl insisted on working full time, though last March, he finally agreed to take off Fridays. He laid out a meticulous plan for that first Friday: Wake up, read the newspaper, return to bed, eat breakfast, and then have a nap. But he woke up that day with back pain, and when it became excruciating, Ms. Greenwald decided to call an ambulance. (Four of the patients he had treated the previous week, they later learned, had tested positive for the virus.)
It was only when the ambulance crew refused to allow her to climb inside that Ms. Greenwald realized her husband might be sick with the coronavirus. Her most searing memory was standing outside N.Y.U. later that day as a long line of ambulances, their lights flashing, waited to drop patients off at the emergency room. A few days later, she, too, fell ill with Covid-19 but quickly recovered.
In one of his last conversations before being intubated, Dr. Mehl assured his wife and daughter he’d be awake in 10 days, but not before making a wisecrack about the lousy food. He lingered on a ventilator for 50 days, and died on May 20.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.