When prayers went out on Facebook for Dr. Tony Levitas, the reality of the pandemic hit home.
Atlanta native and graduate of The Galloway School, Levitas has returned home from his monthlong stay at Northside Hospital.
“As a mental health professional for 30-plus years, something valuable I’ve learned is that one way we get through tragedy and loss is to try to make something good come from it. There are many opportunities for this, but you have to keep your eyes open for them.”
Levitas has a master’s in counseling from Georgia State University and a masters and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology. Here he shares his journey from office to ventilator to home.
AJT: How did you contract COVD-19?
Levitas: I saw a patient in my psychology practice on March 6 who called a couple days later to state that he had been diagnosed with the virus. I got sick on the 11th, sicker than I’ve ever been with a high fever and horrible cough. My girlfriend also helped save my life by getting me to the hospital on the 17th. I was on a ventilator for 17 to 18 days and finally discharged on April 13th.
AJT: How have you progressed since leaving Northside?
Levitas: I initially needed a walker but was able to walk in my own after a couple days and continue to walk daily. I do light PT exercises and some work with weights. I still tire easily and have to listen to my body to rest when necessary. I’m susceptible to stress and anxiety and practice staying calm, breathing and meditating to combat these.
AJT: Wearing your therapist’s hat, what advice can you give to others dealing with anxiety about the virus?
Levitas: Everyone’s anxiety is high because of it and being locked down. People miss social and physical contract and are gravely worried about finances. The daily news reports about deaths are scary and likely retraumatizing us.
It’s important to turn the news off and shield children from the horrors as much as possible. Kids need reassurance that we will get through this. It’s important to let them have their feelings and tell them it’s ok to be scared.
They also do better with structure. Creating daily activities, lessons, games, exercise and even yoga or mediation could be helpful.
Being in the hospital for about a month with no visitors, I had time to think. I’ve vowed to make healthy changes in my life, to de-stress and strive for the three P’s: be patient, present, and positive. It is critical to monitor your thoughts and redirect them when they go dark. Thought leads to feeling. I’m also trying to be cognizant of these reminders before I think or speak: Is it kind, helpful, necessary?
AJT: Has your awareness toward the medical professional changed?
Levitas: The staff at Northside saved my life. They were caring, professional and dedicated to their patients while under enormous pressure and stress, putting their lives on the line every day.
I will be forever grateful to them.
AJT: What has community support meant?
Levitas: This illness is extremely hard on loved ones because of the helpless, fear and worry, and the inability to visit in the hospital. My family, loved ones and the entire community has been incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Not just the Jewish community; I’ve received prayers from all over the world and many different faiths. I believe this helped pull me through.
My son Graham organized a project “Tunes for Tones” where he got musicians to record and submit versions of my songs (on YouTube). In the hospital, I began writing lyrics to a new song and finished it when I got home to my guitar. It’s called “Not My Time to Die.” My voice is still a bit weak from being on the ventilator. As soon as it strengthens, I will record the song and make it available.
AJT: How do you look forward?
Levitas: My plan is to continue focusing on healing every day and taking things super slow. I will re-evaluate where I’m at in a month and hope to start doing tele-therapy sessions via phone or video chat online.
I am immensely thankful for all the help and love I’ve received and to be alive.
Still trying to figure out why I’ve been given a second chance, but I’m determined to make something positive come from it and to help others.
They tell me I came close to not making it. Miracles do happen; I’m one of them!