How Michigan native Michael Bane battled COVID-19 — and won
By Nicole Frehsee Mazur
At first, Michael Bane didn’t think anything of the back aches and muscle pain he started experiencing on the evening of March 15. “I had gone to the gym earlier, and I assumed maybe I lifted something wrong,” says the 42-year-old attorney, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. But hours later, he woke up with a fever, and a dry cough soon followed.
This was only a few days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the U.S. had reported fewer than 3,500 cases of the virus. “I was thinking the odds of me actually having this ‘thing’ were very low,” says Bane, who has no underlying conditions and stays physically active. “I didn’t know anyone who had it at that point.”
But he soon realized he was dealing with more than just the flu: His fever continued to climb, his cough worsened and his pain got more intense. He was able to get a coronavirus test because he had a known exposure — his wife worked at a Chicago hospital, and on March 3, Bane had dropped by to bring her flowers. He later found out that someone he encountered during his visit ended up testing positive for the disease.
At the start of Bane’s illness, he began logging his symptoms in hopes they would help others facing similar situations (his early Google searches on coronavirus symptoms didn’t yield anything “useful,” he says). He eventually posted his account to Facebook — and from there, it made its way across the world, getting picked up by outlets everywhere from the U.K. to China.
Now recovering at home after 10 days in the hospital (which included an ICU stay), Bane — who grew up in DeWitt, near East Lansing — spoke to SEEN about his harrowing experience with COVID-19.
How did you know that you were dealing with a serious illness, and not “just a bad case of the flu,” as so many have called coronavirus?
When I got tested for COVID-19, I was also tested for influenza A and B. When those results came back negative, I was running out of ideas of what this could be. My temperature was getting higher and higher — it went over 104 at one point — and I was in an amount of pain that rendered me unfunctional for large courses of the day. And my cough was continuing to get worse. It was hard to get air and my extremities were tingly, which was from my oxygen levels dropping. I told my wife, “I don’t feel like I’m going to make it.” That’s when I drove myself to the ER.
What was your experience in the hospital after you were admitted?
It turns out I had pneumonia in both lungs, which I assume is the reason my oxygen level was dropping. The doctor estimated that I was probably around halfway through [the illness]. He said, “It’s going to get worse but there’s no reason to believe you won’t come out of it.”
Over the next few days, I felt like I was coughing my lungs out and my fevers were running upwards of 102, 103. I’d take out my supplemental oxygen — I had tubes under my nose — and on all the monitors around me, I would watch my oxygen levels drop. [The plan seemed to be], “Let’s keep you comfortable and hope your immune system kicks in.” I also got started on azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine. I can’t say that the drugs helped or didn’t.
You ended up being transferred to the ICU. Why?
A few days into my stay, I was texting a colleague when my computer mouse fell off of my bed. I bent over to pick it up, and my oxygen level dropped into the low 80s. It was the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever had: I was breathing but I couldn’t get enough air. I paged the nurse, who couldn’t understand me because I couldn’t talk. All of a sudden, my room flooded with seven or eight people, trying to assess if I was going to die. I was told that they were sending me to the ICU and if my oxygen levels didn’t improve, that night I’d be put into a medically induced coma and put on a ventilator.
How were you feeling when you heard that?
It was really hard to deal with. I have a 2-year-old and a wife. It was terrifying. A couple nights before [the breathing incident], that was the first time I thought anything other than, I’m gonna get out of here. Now I thought, When I leave the hospital, I might not be a living person.
What happened next?
After having fevers for nearly two weeks, my fevers stopped. To me, that meant that the virus has effectively been beaten — or my immune system just quit on me, and now I have a much larger problem. I couldn’t walk around the room without feeling like I needed to lie down. Thankfully, I wasn’t put on a ventilator, and I was moved out of the ICU after one day.
How did your story get noticed?
A lot of my friends were being idiots about coronavirus, saying, “It’s an overreaction” or “I’m not scared of a cold.” I’m still hearing that from some people! So on the day I checked into the hospital, I posted all the notes I’d been taking [about my illness] to Facebook. I got up the next day and found that it had been shared 8,000 times. The number eventually climbed to 327,000. The media started calling my hospital room, my inbox blew up with thousands of messages, people were calling to wish me well. Some people called to accuse me of making it up, which is bizarre because, you know, you’re calling me in the hospital.
You were discharged from the hospital on March 30. How has life been since you’ve been home?
I’ve been in our basement for the past 11 days. I haven’t gotten to see my wife or daughter other than through the window and on FaceTime. I’m probably not contagious at this point but I don’t think I could handle it if my wife or kid gets it. [Editor’s note: Bane was hoping to rejoin his family at the two-week mark.]
I’ve started taking walks outside — avoiding everyone, of course, because I feel radioactive. I’ll feel back to normal and then I’ll go walking and realize I’m not: I’ll feel wobbly and like it’s time to close my eyes. My coughing is down to nothing, but they told me it’ll be a few weeks before my lungs fully recover.
How has this experience changed your life?
I’ve always had a feeling of invincibility since I was in my teens, but this has definitely changed my approach. I had to acknowledge the fact that I’m [eventually] going to die. I don’t know if trauma is the right word, but it’s depressing to think about.
Do you think there’s any silver lining to everything you’ve been through?
As a bonus, I would assume that I have some sort of immunity for a while. When it comes time to go grocery shopping, I’ll be [the one] doing that. I’ve lost 20 pounds, a month of my daughter’s life and I have tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of medical bills headed my way. But I’m home.