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Living with long Covid: ‘One day I will heal and return to my old self’

Thousands of people worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from severe fatigue and struggling to breathe to coping with memory or hair loss. Health24 spoke to a number of long haulers. This is Azra’s story.

Azra, 42

Contracted Covid-19 in January and June 2021.

I hadn’t even properly recovered from the lasting effects of my first Covid-19 infection when I was reinfected in June. My first infection caused blood clots in my lungs and I was put on oxygen. I only came off it recently.

In March 2021, I was hospitalised because of the clots. I was given injections in my stomach for the blood clots to dissolve and was put on blood thinners.

The second time I fell ill with Covid, I ended up having very bad sinus problems. I saw an ENT specialist, and a CT scan showed that my entire face was affected by the disease. I had to undergo sinus surgery. Doctors had to cut through my forehead to drain my sinuses because they couldn’t work through my nose alone.

long covid

Image: Supplied

Covid affects healthy people too

I was very healthy before my Covid infections. Some people say that Covid only affects those with low immunity, but that’s not true because I never got sick. I didn’t ever get the flu, yet Covid affected me badly. From loving beach runs, skipping, and never having to rest, a 500-metre walk became too much. I lost muscle mass and suffered from arm and leg pain.

Last month, doctors found out that I have tachycardia (fast heart rate). There have also been issues with my arteries from my heart to my lungs – they’re damaged due to Covid.

Hair loss, fatigue, brain fog, difficulty breathing, muscle cramps, and body shivers in summer heat – these are some of the many other long Covid symptoms I’ve been battling with.

I’ve also experienced eye floaters. It’s like I see little insects flying or walking on pillows. I saw an ophthalmologist about it and she said that they have noticed it in other Covid long haulers too, but she couldn’t tell me exactly why. Sometimes it goes away for 2–3 days and then it returns, often worse than before.

I had 20/20 vision prior to my infections. In fact, I used to always tell my family that I’m the only person with 100% vision because I could see clearly and really far ahead. 

Now, I don’t even drive because I have blurry vision as a result of Covid.

Sudden change in lifestyle

My lifestyle changes have been difficult to accept. From being independent and always on the go, I’m now unable to drive myself because of blurry vision and really bad brain fog. I once tried to drive to my mom’s house which is straight along the road from my house, but it was problematic. For example, when I parked the car, I couldn’t figure out the distance between me and other cars.

The brain fog has also made me very forgetful and I find it difficult to concentrate. I used to love reading, but these days, I can’t even finish an article. I’ll read a sentence three to four times and then realise my brain isn’t processing what I’m reading.

I’ve had body shivers that come and go. Sometimes, on a hot day, I’d feel ice cold and shiver and shake on the inside, so I’d wrap myself in a blanket or put on something really warm – but then a few minutes later, I’d be boiling hot again.

There are times where I’ll feel good for a day and think, “Today I can be normal and do a little extra activity,” and then I’d relapse and feel terrible for the next two to three days.

My sense of smell comes and goes; I feel it is slowly improving after my sinus surgery, but there are certain things I still can’t smell at all. My sense of taste, however, is entirely gone. I still can’t taste anything, 10 months after Covid. People have told me to try eating sour things, but I don’t taste anything at all. If I eat spicy foods, something I avoided before my infections, I find my eyes and nose becoming a little runny, but it wouldn’t burn my mouth at all.

No treatments have helped

My GP told me that some Covid survivors are suffering from lingering symptoms up to 18 months post-infection, which means they don’t yet have a time frame for recovery. Months have gone by, and I’ve visited several doctors looking for new treatments and hoping for a miracle. I went to see a group of doctors who came from Johannesburg to Durban who do blood tests on long haulers, and, based on your results, treat you with a particular drip.

I do feel like I have a bit more energy after the last few drips, but there hasn’t been any improvement in my day to day life. I have terrible fatigue and I can’t do the things I used to.

For the past three months I’ve realised that this might be my new life and that I need to just embrace it.

Cooking a pot of food or taking a shower makes me so tired that I have to lie down afterwards. Since my first infection, I’ve had trouble sleeping. For the past 10 months, unless I take something to help me sleep – which I try not to do – I don’t sleep well.

I came across a page on Facebook called SurvivorCorps. It actually covers the really weird side effects of Covid. There were about three or four times when the the skin on my hands randomly started peeling. When I searched the site, I found that I wasn’t the only long hauler experiencing this symptom. Some really bizarre things have happed to me since my infections. Finding the symptoms on the site is helpful because I know these things are not only happening to me. There are also days where my skin feels wrinkled, like after a long bath. It’s totally bizarre.

I was an outgoing person before my Covid infections. My husband used to say that the sun never set for me because I enjoyed being out and wouldn’t get tired. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going to stay like this forever.

My journey to health continues at a snail’s pace. I remain positive and believe that one day I will heal and return to my old self. Covid left me with life, but took a lot out of my life.

*Many people suffer from the long-term effects of Covid-19, even many months later. If you are one of those people, and wish to share your experience, let us know, and your story can be told in our Living with long Covidseries. You are not alone. E-mail your stories to zakiyah.ebrahim@24.com

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Living with long Covid: People tell the stories of the debilitating symptoms left in the virus’ wake

READ | Living with long Covid: ‘I survived the illness, but the life I knew was snatched away from me’

READ | Long Covid: More than 50% of people who survive infection will experience lingering symptoms – study


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