While some people generally recover from COVID-19, medical professionals are finding that there are others who experience long-term challenges from the illness, called “long-haulers.” (Courtesy Photo)
Interviewed By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
Since before March 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, many doctors, media outlets and elected officials have talked about the numbers of people contracting, surviving and dying from the novel coronavirus. However, very few have discussed the lingering effects that come with the illness. According to published studies, up to 80% of COVID-19 patients have lingering symptoms three months after their diagnosis, and a new term is rising for about 10% of those who have extremely prolonged effects, called “long-haulers.”
The AFRO spoke to Biarro H., a healthcare operations manager, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Nov. 8, 2020 and, over four months later, he is still experiencing prolonged discomfort and symptoms related to the virus. Biarro was diagnosed with Long-Hauler COVID-19 Syndrome in February. While he is continuously working to be restored to full health, Biarro said he hopes his story helps others who are either experiencing similar long-lasting symptoms, or for those who need a reminder on the severity of COVID-19.
AFRO: Thank you so much for your willingness to share your story. Tell us about your initial experience with COVID-19 and how you felt when you first tested positive?
Biarro H: My initial experience with COVID was intense. The onset of the symptoms happened so quickly. I actually collapsed while I was working because I just had very little strength to stand-up. I didn’t initially want to go to the hospital because I thought maybe it was just stress and extreme exhaustion. When I got home, I could barely even get out of bed, so I was seen at Northwestern Hospital here in Chicago where I tested positive for COVID-19. The feeling was really emotional at the time, because I couldn’t believe that even after limiting social interactions and staying safe at work, I still ended up contracting the virus.
AFRO: Were you hospitalized?
Biarro H: I was determined ineligible for inpatient care at the time. So, I was treated at the ER and released later that day with strict quarantine guidelines.
AFRO: Did you have severe symptoms?
Biarro H: I felt that I had severe symptoms, but they were not considered severe enough for me to be hospitalized.
AFRO: If so, can you explain some of what you experienced?
Biarro H: I could barely walk for several days. I had daily migraines, persistent cough, fever, chills, a loss of smell, intense fatigue, difficulty breathing and speaking, and I had trouble doing daily tasks by myself.
AFRO: How long did initial COVID-19 symptoms last?
Biarro H: The fever and chills were gone after a few days of antibiotics and over the counter cold medicines. My sense of smell returned after three months. But the other symptoms have persisted to this day.
AFRO: How did getting COVID-19 affect you executing daily tasks?
Biarro H: Every day was a challenge for me. My employer set-up my virtual systems for me but trying to manage my migraines and fatigue was so debilitating that I couldn’t even sit up at my desk at home for more than an hour at a time. I had trouble lifting things, walking up and down the stairs of our apartment building, I didn’t even have energy to cook or clean very much. Everything became difficult and it was really disheartening to not even be able to do things that I was able to do just prior to contracting the coronavirus.
AFRO: When you tested negative did you feel better?
Biarro H: I didn’t test negative, as it was advised for me not to retest for the first 90-days as the remnants could cause me to test positive. After that point, the continuation of symptoms rendered me uncomfortable retaking the test again.
AFRO: Have symptoms lingered and, if so, how?
Biarro H: Yes, I was officially diagnosed with Long-Hauler COVID-19 syndrome in February. This was due to my continuation of symptoms that have not improved since contracting the virus. I also developed lung and heart complications due to this and I am undergoing further evaluation and treatment for these issues.
AFRO: Have you been treated or received any advice or found ways of treating lingering symptoms?
Biarro H.: I’ve seen so many doctors in the past few months that sometimes it feels emotionally overwhelming. Many of the Doctors have no answers for me. So, I have sought out articles and support from groups that center around those with this “long-hauler” condition. It brings me a bit of peace knowing that I’m not crazy and I’m not alone in this. There are many others who are experiencing this from so many different backgrounds and age groups. I have also adopted some healthier life choices from friends and family to manage my symptoms and I’m thankful to my parents, grandmother and aunt for being so supportive during this time. They purchased and shipped me many things to help me care for myself.
AFRO: Do the lingering symptoms affect your daily life to this day?
Biarro: Yes, they do. There are some moments where the pain isn’t as bad as it could be, and then it returns. So, I use a cane to walk as needed (I’m only 29), and I use other assistive devices, and the support of my partner to carry heavier items and order groceries when I can’t make it to the store. I have also since gone on an official medical/disability leave from work.
AFRO: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
Biarro: I want other people to know that your health is the greatest priority in life. If you’re experiencing these COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms, you’re not alone. I really encourage those who are suffering from these debilitating symptoms to also make sure they have emotional support as some days can be really challenging. I’m confident that one day, we will have more answers on how we can get back to living and feeling normal again.