Living with long Covid: ‘Feels like I’m dying every time I have shortness of breath or palpitations’

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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 Maboko’s story.

Maboko, 39

Contracted Covid-19 in June 2021.

It feels like a long road to recovery for Maboko (39), who experienced a Covid-19 infection in June 2021 and has been battling persistent symptoms, known as post-Covid-19, or long Covid, ever since.

Recovering from his acute infection took around two weeks – an illness he describes to Health24 as the “worst two weeks I have ever had in my entire life”. He battled with terrible headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pains during this time – but his health eventually improved.

Maboko thought the worst was over. 

But when on his way home from a funeral in Soweto on 25 July 2021, he started experiencing “a very funny feeling”, he says.

Returning symptoms

“I thought I was healed, and that’s why I went to the funeral. But that day, it felt like I was dying. I felt so dizzy – like I could just fall. I sat down and then went blank for a few seconds,” he says.

This continued for about an hour. Fortunately, it passed. A week later, however, Maboko was completing work on his computer and felt dizzy and experienced what felt like a blackout.

“I immediately stood up and went to the bathroom to get a glass of water and returned. After a few minutes, my heart started pumping in a very strange way. I went outside to cool off but it continued for a few minutes,” he says.

During this time, his breathing felt very heavy. “I felt that I could easily fall down while I stood against a wall to regain my balance,” he adds.

He realised that this warranted serious attention and decided to see his doctor, who asked him to take a Covid test to rule out potential reinfection. The test came back negative, but his doctor confirmed that his blood pressure was abnormal.

long covid
Image: Supplied

'I didn't have underlying conditions'

“It was the first time this had happened because I’ve been a healthy person all along. I was surprised that I had high blood pressure all of a sudden. I didn’t have underlying conditions. I was healthy,” Maboko says.

He was put on medication to control his hypertension, and this has thankfully improved to the point where he no longer needs it.

However, to this date, he still experiences shortness of breath, severe chest pains, dizziness, and heart palpitations – some of the commonly reported symptoms in long haulers, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Maboko has tried to make lifestyle adjustments, including adopting a healthier diet and incorporating exercises into his weekly schedule. These changes, he says, have made a notable difference in his life.

Improvement

“At first, after my Covid infection, I couldn’t even walk a short distance because I would feel so tired. Now, I can do a 10-kilometre jog,” he says.

While the chest pains are not as severe as they once were, unfortunately, heart palpitations occur almost every day and often get in the way of a normal day. When he experiences palpitations, he has to stop whatever he’s doing and lie down for a few minutes.

“It can be normal for a day or two, but the third day it’ll return and I’ll have a heavy heartbeat,” he says.

The blackouts also haven’t stopped. “When it happens, it feels like I’ve lost myself for a little bit, like I’ve just taken a nap,” he says.

All of these symptoms have taken a physical and emotional toll on his health, making his return to a normal life a lengthy battle.

“It feels like I’m dying every time I have shortness of breath or palpitations. It’s a terrible situation that I’m currently in,” he says.

Still, he feels lucky to have survived his Covid infection and is hopeful that scientists and doctors will, through their research, find a solution for long haulers. 

Trusting the experts to find treatments

There is an urgent need for research on long Covid, especially because it appears to be more common than previously reported. A recent study estimated that more than 50% of people who survive Covid infection will experience lingering symptoms weeks or months later, Health24 reported.

The CDC states that it is currently trying to identify how common post-Covid conditions are, who is most likely to get them, and why some symptoms eventually improve for some people while lasting longer for others. Researchers in South Africa are also on an urgent quest to find treatment solutions for long Covid.

“I’m trying my best to stay calm during this time as my anxiety kicks in sometimes. But I'm hoping my symptoms will go away in the near future and I’ll go back to my normal self,” says Maboko. 

*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 Covid series. 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: ‘One day I will heal and return to my old self’

READ | Living with long Covid: Real stories of the months-long health battles after Covid infection

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

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