Farheen Raza, 37, is a Muslim-American community activist, radio personality and mother of three boys from Flower Mound, Texas. She's the host of the Authentic & Unfiltered Podcast and Real Talk with Farheen on Radio Caravan in Dallas. Known for her fearless approach to dissecting tough topics, Raza helps her viewers and listeners unpack cultural stigmas while bringing hope and healing to all. Follow her on Instagram at @FreeniRaza.
I began feeling sick back in March when coronavirus had just been declared a pandemic. I officially tested positive for COVID-19 on April 13, 2020 and almost one year later, I'm still suffering from COVID symptoms. Although the worst of the illness had already ravaged my body, I have become a "long hauler" — a person who is still experiencing symptoms, which have only become more concerning as I am four months pregnant.
When I was extremely ill with COVID, the world was still unsure of what actual symptoms were, or how to treat them. I never had the low-grade fever commonly associated with it. Instead, I had backaches that went from the base of my neck down to my spine. The radiating pain slowly moved into my arms, as though someone had put tight clamps down my back and to the end of my fingers. My oxygen levels were pretty normal but I couldn't take a deep breath. It felt like someone was holding my lungs in place, so I was experiencing shallow breathing — and then came the headache.
It was the worst headache I've ever had in my life. I used to suffer from migraines so I know them inside and out. This was excruciating pain that I felt dead center on my forehead. The pain was constant. The headache lasted for about seven days and was the worst of my symptoms.
By the time it was the middle of May, my symptoms were gone but I didn't feel completely back to normal. Here in Texas, it stays decently hot year-round and at the time, it was very warm out but I was feeling cold all the time. By June and July, breathing had started to feel really difficult again. I would get up from sitting down and lose my breath. Walking up the stairs to bring laundry to my kids' rooms felt like I had climbed a mountain. During interviews for my podcast, I would have to take breaks from talking because I felt like I had run a marathon but I was just sitting at my desk, not doing anything. Then as the summer progressed, the aches and pains started coming back.
Once I had learned I was pregnant, I wondered if my symptoms were related to the pregnancy. I asked my doctor, who consulted my OB-GYN; she said that she's been seeing many women who are pregnant and had COVID. They said their pregnancies brought back some old COVID symptoms but they started to feel better during their second trimester.
But because I was still feeling really cold all the time and out of breath into my second trimester, my OB-GYN suggested I see a pulmonologist to get my lungs checked out. Upon taking a breathing test with a lung specialist, I was told, "You're breathing as if you're using only half of your lung function."
The lung specialist said he had so many patients coming to him with reoccurring symptoms. He helped me find a Facebook group called Survivor Corps, which is filled with people who have survived COVID and want to share their symptoms and stories.
I began to search breathing issues in the group, and the popular consensus was that the loss of breath comes back and stays with you. It lingers. It was eye opening to see thousands of people talk about having been very active, healthy people and then suddenly, they can't do anything they used to because of the virus.
"You're a long hauler," my doctor said, adding, "I've been seeing this happen very often." She and my husband, who's a physician, have a lot of returning patients with bad breathing issues, leg pains and cramps. My husband observed that a person's worst symptom seems to flare up and then lay dormant until something else happens to trigger it to flare up again.
I'm coming up on my one-year anniversary of COVID in a couple of months and I worry that my symptoms may never go away. I also worry about the new variants. Having gone through fighting COVID once, you never want to go through that experience again — ever.
I am hoping to get the vaccine; I don't want to be pregnant and experience COVID again. I spoke to my OB-GYN, who currently has a patient who is pregnant and on a ventilator. She said that most of the babies are fine, but the moms suffer pretty badly, and advised that if I can get ahold of a vaccine, I should go for it.
I asked my husband if spousal vaccines are being offered since he works on the frontlines and could possibly bring COVID home to our kids. He said because there aren't enough vaccines at this point, I have to sign up online and wait like everyone else. The last I checked, I am around number 75,000 on that list.
For moms who are thinking of getting pregnant or have a baby on the way, please take all precautions seriously. Whether it's your first child or your fifth, be ready to be flexible with your birth plans and ask as many questions as you can so you are fully aware that anything can happen. You may find yourself in the delivery room alone or with only one other person who is allowed last minute, so it's best to have already thought about and accepted several different scenarios.
For those who still don't believe COVID is real, it is and you should be taking it very seriously. It's disheartening to know that believing in the virus has become political somehow, because it is a real virus that's taken millions of real people's lives around the world.
The virus doesn't care what side you're on or who you are, your religion, sex or anything. Take it from me, a long hauler who has made it her mission to keep sharing her story in an effort to help others understand that this can happen to anyone. If we all do our part, we'll be closer to enjoying life as we once knew it.
- As told to Diane J. Cho
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