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November 13, 2022

My Butterfly Visitor: A Tale of a Wondrous Experience that Warmed My Heart

Recently while at home recovering from a bout of Covid from the latest variant, I came across this article I wrote in January of this year about a patient I took care of in the Intensive Care Unit and decided to share it because her story was so touching.

“What happened to the patient in the corner room?” I inquired from the night shift nurse as I came into the Intensive Care Unit and sat down to get report on my patients. It was a Monday morning and I had been off the last three days.

“She died on Saturday.”

“She died?” I asked, not wanting to believe it was true.

“Yes, she finally tired out. We intubated her and put her on a ventilator, but she was just too sick. We tried to save her, but she didn’t make it.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.

The patient in the corner room had been a young woman with Covid who was in our intensive care unit for a couple of weeks fighting for her life. She came in, as many Covid patients do, short of breath and needing oxygen. She was unvaccinated. She had been mostly healthy, but she had a few comorbidities. For whatever reason, Covid took hold of her and wouldn’t let go.

Her oxygen requirements went up and she struggled to do the simplest of things.  She was unable to get out of bed because she could not catch her breath. Turning over in bed to lie on her stomach, one of the few things we have found that can sometimes help Covid patients to improve their lung function, took every ounce of her energy.

I had been her nurse on multiple days. It was difficult to watch someone so young having such a hard time breathing. I had been cautiously hopeful that she would turn the corner. The last day I took care of her she seemed to be showing a little bit of improvement. She had come down a little on her oxygen, and I had been able to help her drink a nutrition shake. Unfortunately, the next day she took a turn for the worse and she was unable to recover.

As an ICU nurse I have seen many patients die. It is never easy, but many are older and it seems it is more their time to go. The fact that this girl had her whole life ahead of her, and died from a virus we have a vaccine against, was what made it so sad and hard to accept.

Her death really bothered me, as it did my fellow nurses, our doctors, and really all of our hospital staff from our dietician to the housekeepers who cleaned her room in our small hospital.

I felt discouraged and depressed. To try and make myself feel better, I went on a hike on my day off. Getting out in nature and exercising helps me recharge. When I got back from the hike I went to sit in my backyard to eat my lunch. I sat down in a chair next to one of my succulents in my garden and noticed there was a monarch butterfly sitting on the plant.

Oddly, it did not fly away when I sat down next to it. It just stayed there and seemed to not be bothered by my presence as I continued to eat my burrito over the next 10 minutes or so. I started looking through my emails and an email referring to a post in the app “Nextdoor” caught my attention.

The post was written by a woman who had known my young patient. The woman worked at an outreach center for homeless people.  In the post she went on to explain that Maria (name changed for privacy), had not had an easy life.  She was homeless, but was trying to make changes in her life to try and regain custody of her little boy. Maria had also sought help from a pastor of a local church.  The woman went on to say that Maria had passed away over the weekend and she was very saddened by her death.  Many people had reacted to the post with grief.

After I read the post I looked back over at the butterfly that was still sitting on the plant. I stared at it for a moment and it seemed to stare back at me. I put my finger out in front of it, and miraculously, it stepped over onto my finger. I brought it over in front of me so that we were face-to-face and looked closely at it. It seemed unafraid. I spoke to it and asked it if it was ok. I asked it if it could fly. I then walked over near my milkweed plant and it flew off my finger and landed on a plant in my garden.

After my encounter with this butterfly visitor I felt at peace. I believe this little messenger came to bring me comfort and calm my troubled heart. I shared the experience with my coworkers when I went back to work and we all were buoyed by this beautiful butterfly visitant.

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Kersti Burningham Lewis  |  Contribution: 5,615