From Symptoms To Triage At The ER, What It Feels Like To Get COVID-19

Michael Bane, a 42-year-old Berwyn resident hospitalized since March 21, says his experience has been nothing short of “brutal.”

Michael Bane COVID-19 Patient
Michael Bane recovers in a Chicago-area hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Michael Bane
Michael Bane COVID-19 Patient
Michael Bane recovers in a Chicago-area hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Michael Bane

From Symptoms To Triage At The ER, What It Feels Like To Get COVID-19

Michael Bane, a 42-year-old Berwyn resident hospitalized since March 21, says his experience has been nothing short of “brutal.”

Berwyn resident Michael Bane, 42, has been in the hospital for COVID-19 for more than a week now.

He’s currently using an oxygen tank to breathe while being treated for bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 at Rush University Medical Center.

After being admitted, Bane used time between treatments and check-ups to write down his experience with this illness — from contraction, to getting tested, to hospitalization. He said he wanted to convey the seriousness of this virus to his friends and family.

“It’s not real for some of us until it happens to us or someone we know,” Bane writes.

He published his essay in a post on Facebook, which has now been shared more than 324,000 times.

WBEZ spoke with Bane over the phone and helped him record his essay (press play above) from his hospital room. You can read an edited version of his original post below.


The short version?

It’s brutal, and I have no doubt it can kill you.

I’m 42 years old, and I’m relatively healthy. On March 3, I went to a routine doctor’s appointment at the hospital where my wife works. I thought it would be nice to surprise her with flowers. On my way, I had a brief encounter with someone who would later test positive for COVID-19. I didn’t see my wife, but I left the flowers in her office.

Fast forward to March 14 — I have a sore throat and slight cough. I see a post that says if you can hold a deep breath for 10 seconds without coughing, that’s a good sign. I can.

The next day, the symptoms are worse. I can’t sleep, and I have a slight fever.

I call Rush’s 24-hour corona-hotline and am told to schedule a video appointment tomorrow.

Monday, March 16 — The video chat costs $49 up front. After a two-hour wait, I’m face-to-virtual-face with a physician’s assistant. She says I should get tested and that I’ll have an in-person appointment within five days.

I’m trying to work from home here and there, but the constant pain is wearing on me. My fever continues to worsen.

An arctic blast hits my body. My skin is on fire. This doesn’t feel right at all. My wife insists that I get in a room temperature bath. I try to get in, but it feels like ice. Clearly, my wife and the virus are working together to kill me. But I soak for 30 minutes and feel a lot better. I’m not sure if I even need this test.

Tuesday, March 17 — I need this test. The fever is back, and the cough is worse. I don a mask and drop my daughter off at daycare. I have 30 minutes to make my testing appointment.

There is traffic on 290. How is this happening? Isn’t everyone staying home due to the national emergency? Turns out the gate of a truck popped open, and hundreds of cases of liquor have spilled out. The earth itself has to be drunk from this one.

I call the testing site and tell them a truck has spilled booze everywhere, so I’m running a couple minutes late. They confirm what kind of car I’m driving, what I’m wearing and tell me to pull into a reserved spot. I arrive and do as I’ve been instructed.

A hospital employee steps out in a mask and motions for me to get out of the car. He immediately instructs me to put my hands in my pocket and not to remove them. He unlocks a door, and I follow him inside.

The doctor at the end of the hall is dressed like she’s about to enter Chernobyl. She asks me how I’m doing. I try to think of a clever response, but whatever I mumbled is largely ignored as the doctor muses to herself she should stop asking that question.

She explains the nasal swab process and says that the probe is going to go in real deep.

She puts my sample in a vial and opens the door while instructing me to put my hands in my pockets. She yells “clear?” down the hallway and a few seconds pass before an affirmative “clear!” is shouted back. I exit and go home to wait for test results.

Wednesday, March 18 — It’s been two weeks since I was exposed.

My wife asks me if I can keep an eye on my daughter while she goes downstairs. I watch her as best I can through open doors across a hallway. My wife comes back upstairs, and I close the door. I cry alone in my room for a while. I haven’t been able to interact with my daughter in four days.

Thursday, March 19 — I don’t know how much fight is left in me. I think about all the people in Italy who may have died alone this way and begin to sob uncontrollably.

To everyone who said it was just a bad cold: f**k you.

Friday, March 20 — I get into a few arguments with people on social media regarding the term “Chinese Virus.” My opinion as an Asian-American is quickly and skillfully invalidated with well-crafted lines of reasoning such as, “Just another snowflake.”

Saturday, March 21 — Breathing is getting harder. I don’t exactly feel near-death, but more like life-adjacent. My wife finally convinces me to go to the ER.

Triage is weird. I’m told to go sit in a chair in a barren, cement room.

My phone rings. The health professional on the other end tells me I’m positive for COVID-19.

I text my family, a few close friends and my boss. My boss lets me know they’re going to have to inform the office someone tested positive, but they’ll keep me anonymous. I tell him to use my name. It’s a scary message to get, and if people have questions maybe I can help.

So here I am: in the hospital on the 13th floor with a lovely view of the city. Take that isolation!

The point of all this? This is horrible, brutal, devastating, and it feels l might be cashing my chips in. People have died. People will die. It might be someone you love.

Please take this seriously.

Protect the people you care about as best you can.

Michael Bane is an attorney at Dieghan Law, an accessibility rights firm in Chicago. He lives in Berwyn with his wife and daughter. The story was produced by WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel, with audio production assistance from Steven Jackson.