Radio Host Farheen Raza Says Faulty Coronavirus Testing Caused Mental Health Struggles
PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during the pandemic
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 Musings of a Modern Muslim 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 @theModMuslim.
I can still remember the events that led to my positive diagnosis so clearly. It was March and coronavirus had been declared a global pandemic. My husband, who's a physician, started seeing patients here in Texas right away.
At home, we were being extra careful. No one knew at the time how bad things would get, but my husband was adamant very early on that we take things seriously. We lucked out because our kids were on spring break, but we had to pull them out of baseball and their other in-person activities. My youngest, who has a speech delay, was in preschool for barely two and a half weeks before we decided to keep him home. We started to order our groceries and did most of our shopping online. I wasn't even allowing our kids to play in the backyard because it was all so new. We had no idea if COVID was sticking in the air or traveling in the wind. We were in a total and complete lockdown mode at our home. Then, three weeks into our new normal, I started to feel pain going up and down my spine.
It started in my lower back and went up to the base of my neck. I suddenly began to feel extremely weak. I went to sleep thinking that I was just tired, but by 4 a.m. the next day, I woke up feeling feverish and like someone was siting on my chest. I knew something was wrong.
I woke my husband up and he immediately asked me a series of questions. I told him I was able to breathe fine and we checked my temperature two different times, but I didn't have a fever. We both started to backtrack our steps to try and think, if I had contracted the virus, how could I have been exposed?
My husband had seen a COVID positive patient five days prior, but he had on all the proper PPE at the time and took all of the necessary precautions that his hospital was enforcing. The only place I had been besides our home was at the store to pick up some food. I called my doctor and luckily she had five COVID tests available. This was when testing was extremely scarce, so I was relieved. On the day of my appointment, I drove to the office and had the test administered while I was in my car.
People have described the COVID test as being very uncomfortable but to me, it felt like a flu swab. The test came back four days later and my results were negative.
Negative? I thought. How?
From the day I took the test to when I got my results, my body became severely weak. Breathing became difficult and I could not even think about going up the stairs in my house. Going from my bedroom to my bathroom felt like a marathon. I was tired, achy, had a tingling sensation in my hands and stomach issues. I also could not taste or smell anything. Fear began to consume me. I thought, If my test came back negative, then what do I have?
I didn't have the flu or strep either. These negative tests worried me as my sickness grew and my mental health began to decline. I was so scared.
What do I have? Am I dying? Is it cancer?
I told my doctor that I was still incredibly sick, but since my tests were negative, she said to take an ibuprofen and rest. I felt like I was being completely brushed off, so my husband called a friend of his who was able to get us another test. This time, it was administered in our home and my husband was there to supervise. He also watched a few videos online of how the test should properly be done just to prepare.
When the nurse put the nasal swab up my nose, my husband immediately said, "That's not far enough."
"But that's how far I've been doing it all week," she responded. My husband protested again, and the nurse said, "Do you want to do it?" Since he is a doctor, technically he can, so my husband swabbed me. This time, the test felt very different.
I wouldn't say it was painful, but I would say it feels like someone is tickling the back of your brain. My husband also noted that a lot of test sites are only swabbing one nostril when they should be swabbing both. Thinking back to my first test, I remember that I was only swabbed on one side but I didn't know at the time that both had to be done.
My test results took a little longer the second time but when it arrived, it came in the form of a 17-page PDF. Once I scrolled through, I found that on the very last page it said, "Coronavirus Detected."
Detected? What did that mean? Did I have it or not? I wondered why they couldn't have made it more clear. I called the lab right away and they confirmed that I was positive for COVID-19.
On top of feeling incredibly sick this entire time, the process of getting tested and then retested after we had realized the test had been improperly administered was grueling for me mentally and emotionally. When I came up negative the first time, my mind went into a terribly dark state because I had no idea what my sickness could be. My symptoms were so painful that my husband and I started to discuss what would happen if I didn't make it. If it wasn't COVID, what could it be? We weren't sure, and so many people were dying. New information was coming out every day about the virus, so our minds continued to spiral.
The entire experience taught me that you need to trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, don't ignore that feeling. It's more important than ever to get tested properly and when in doubt, stay home as much as you can because you could be spreading the virus unknowingly.
As we continue to watch as the pandemic unfolds, we should be using this time to be selfless. Even if you are healthy, please wear a mask. If you are getting tested and something feels off, ask for a second opinion. Since I was once positive for the virus, my husband and I are assuming that my whole family are carriers so we're staying home and being extra cautious. We have elderly neighbors and as much as we want to return to our old lives, we're choosing not to because we don't want to be the reason someone else gets sick. It's not about just us anymore, it's about the health and safety of our entire community, and I think that's something that the country as a whole needs to realize.
Be safe, stay healthy and stay home. If we're all doing our part to help each other, we will get through this.
- As told to Diane J. Cho
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