This is the first story in an ongoing series on Chicagoans who contracted COVID-19 and have fully healed or are on the road to recovery. Check back for more stories.
LOGAN SQUARE — For Marianna Harrison, the illness came on all of a sudden, on April 20. One minute she felt fine, and the next she felt extremely exhausted and had to lie down.
Then came persistent headaches, loss of smell and a dry cough.
“Not being able to taste, that, to me, was a trigger,” Harrison said. “My boyfriend’s mom had just had it and she said she couldn’t taste or smell.”
Harrison has been battling a COVID-19 infection for 18 days and counting.
The 41-year-old Bucktown resident is one of thousands of Chicagoans who have been sick with coronavirus and are recovering or are fully recovered.
As the virus continues to spread, Harrison and other Chicagoans are sharing their stories in an effort to push back against rampant false claims and misconceptions surrounding the crisis.
They also want to provide hope to those who contract the virus in the weeks and months ahead.
‘It feels like an alien has taken over your body’
Harrison said she got tested the day after she started feeling sick. Her symptoms had worsened to the point where she felt “awful.”
“My mom was very smart and was like, ‘go get tested, then you’ll know,'” she said.
Harrison said she had to wait two hours at the medical clinic, but the test itself wasn’t as scary as it looks. The coronavirus test is a nasal swab the doctor sticks into one or both nostrils.
“You watch the videos of people getting it. … and it’s like, oh my god, that’s in [your] brain! But it’s going to make you feel like you have to sneeze. That’s all it was. It was so fast. It was uncomfortable for a couple of seconds,” she said.
After the test came back positive, the doctor told Harrison to take some Mucinex for her cough, drink a lot of fluids and rest and then sent her on her way.
Harrison said she remembers feeling exhausted driving to the clinic and back.
“I drove maybe 10 minutes to the clinic and 10 minutes back. That drive was difficult,” she said.
That extreme exhaustion was a constant throughout her illness. Harrison said for the first next six days she was so exhausted and uncomfortable she could barely get up. On the worst days, she could only leave her bed to eat.
Harrison said she didn’t feel feverish most days, but one day she had an 100-degree fever. She felt tightness in her chest which she treated with an inhaler.
“It’s not the flu,” she said. “I try to describe it to people — it feels like an alien has taken over your body. It doesn’t feel like anything you’ve ever had. I’ve had a flu and been really sick before.”
“You just don’t feel right. You can feel that there is something different and you can’t explain how it feels. You’re just so tired, your whole body aches. … you’re not hungry but you know you have to eat. I know that I’m lucky because they would consider my case a more mild one.”
By day seven, Harrison started to feel like she was getting better, but her sister, who works at a hospital, warned her that she could experience a second wave of symptoms.
Sure enough, that’s what happened. By day eight, Harrison said she felt more sick than she had in days.
A few days later, things started to turn around and now Harrison is on the mend. She can do the dishes and take a shower without feeling like she’s going to pass out.
“Little things like that I can do. There’s no way I could do a lot of strenuous activities,” she said. “I live on the third floor, so when I go downstairs and take the trash out, I have to sit down because I’m exhausted.”
Like so many others, Harrison isn’t sure how she contracted the virus, but she suspects she got it from her boyfriend’s mother. Harrison said she was with her boyfriend’s family in Michigan while his mother was sick with the virus, but she had very little contact with her.
“I did everything that you’re supposed to do. I wore a mask everyday. I was never around her but she gave us some stuff from her house. … I assume I got it from the stuff from her house, but my boyfriend got the same stuff and he tested negative,” she said.
Harrison said her boyfriend’s stepdad also contracted the virus, but they have both since recovered.
Harrison said it’s important people know the road to recovery is long and jagged. The over-the-counter medications don’t do much to ease symptoms, she said.
“Nothing makes you feel better. It’s just time. That’s the number one thing I really want people to know. If you have it, just know that it takes a long time to feel better,” she said.
People should also be aware of the psychological toll living with the coronavirus can have, Harrison said.
“I’m not religious, but when I got into bed, I was like, “Hi there God, please let me wake up tomorrow. Please take care of all the other people who are sick,” she said.
For Harrison and so many others, life won’t be returning back to normal anytime soon.
Harrison works as a script supervisor on film sets and has been out of work since before she got sick. She said one of her co-workers had the virus so her company shut down production.
“It’s going to be a while before I get to go back to work,” she said.
But Harrison said she’s focused on the positive right now — that the worst days are in the rearview mirror.
“Each day, I’ve started to feel a little bit better and that means everything. You get scared,” she said.
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