The Five Patients You Meet In Heaven

Here is a story for Nurses' Week that takes you on a fantasy voyage to the Good Place, where you encounter several patients you took care of in your earthly life....including one whom you'd never expect to run into in the hereafter.


  • Long Term Care Columnist / Guide
    Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 26 years experience.
The Five Patients You Meet In Heaven

Imagine, if you will, emerging from the best sleep of your life and finding yourself in a strange land, surrounded by light and peace. Realizing that you have arrived at the gates of Heaven, you look around and note that there are other people here with you.......hmm, must've been a bad day on Earth for so many folks to be moving in at the same time. But there is also overwhelming relief in knowing that you've worked your last double, and you wait patiently at St. Peter's desk while he searches for your records, anticipating joyful reunions with long-departed loved ones.

After a couple of minutes, he pulls up the file, briefly clicks through the pages, then pauses. "So, you were a nurse," he chuckles knowingly. He beckons to you as he smiles and says, "Come with me.....I have a few people for you to meet before I take you up to the Big House."

Curious, you follow as you're told, marveling that your feet no longer hurt and your back has stopped its ceaseless groaning. St. Peter then calls to a shadowy figure in the distance: "Mrs. Perkins, look who's come to join us." Suddenly she materializes right in front of you and greets you warmly; you instantly recognize the sweet elderly woman you cared for as a new nurse. She was dying of metastatic ovarian cancer then, in tremendous pain despite a morphine drip, yet she had treated everyone with kindness and never even complained when you came in every two hours to reposition her. You'd had to excuse yourself and cry in the bathroom when she finally passed; it's good to learn that her prayers to "go home" were answered.

The next person you meet is the 42-year-old tele patient---a husband and father of two little girls---who coded on a sunny Tuesday morning as you were admitting him. You've never forgotten his pleading eyes, nor how he went from pink and freckled to grey, then blue, then almost purple within minutes. He had clutched your hand and begged you not to let him die just before he lost consciousness. So you never quite got over feeling as though you'd failed him somehow, despite knowing that the battle was lost before it began. Now he stands before you, pink and freckled again, and he reaches for your hand once more, as he did that fateful morning. "I know you did everything you could," he says. "Thank you for trying---as you can see, it all worked out for the best."

You can practically feel the old wound heal instantaneously as you are guided to the third patient, a 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran who had spent his last years in the nursing home, lying in bed listening to his TV (he was nearly blind) and dealing with phantom pain in the limbs he'd lost to diabetes.....when he wasn't at dialysis, that is. A man of few words and even fewer complaints, he had won your admiration with his positive outlook despite having such poor quality of life, and the day you attended his military funeral, and heard the lonely bugle playing "Taps" at the end, was one of the worst in your entire life as a nurse. Yet here he is, happy and whole like you've never seen him before, and his voice is strong now as he says "Thank you, babe" like he used to whenever you did something for him.

The fourth patient you meet is something of a surprise: she's the patient you thought was from the Bad Place. She'd come to your assisted living facility under protest, and to make her anger known, she berated nurses and aides for any reason and no reason, refused meds and then complained that she felt bad, and reported everyone for even the smallest infraction of what she thought should be the rules. In fact, she was generally so rude and nasty that half the staff refused to go into her room, and the other half usually came out of it in tears. But somehow you managed to slay the dragon with a combination of skill, active listening, and old-fashioned emotional intelligence.....and while she never warmed up to the facility (let alone made any friends), she now kisses your cheek and expresses her appreciation. "No matter how badly I behaved, I always knew you cared about me," she says with the first smile you've ever seen on her face. "You made me feel safe."

But it's the sight of the fifth patient that blows your Sunday-school concept of Heaven to smithereens and makes you question, just for a moment, where you've landed......for this one is the alcoholic, meth-addicted, HIV-positive frequent flyer who bit you and drew blood while you were admitting him for something like his eighth detox in the two years you'd worked at that hospital. What a nightmare THAT had been.......the frequent blood tests, the waiting, the sheer fear that you might come down with that dread disease. And for what? So this loser could go out, drink and drug himself nearly to death, and come back in (on the public dime, no less) for treatment he didn't want and threaten the staff with exposure to a deadly illness?

Strangely, he too looks amazingly well for someone who'd been such a shambles the last time you saw him on earth. He is clean-shaven and sober; his shoes and socks are no longer one; and you notice that he's actually quite handsome.

Still, you can't help reacting, and the words "What are YOU doing here?" fly out of your mouth before you have the chance to stifle them. He grins shyly, ducks his head and blushes a little, and then begins his narrative.

"Well, it's a long story, Ma'am," he says. "When I was in the hospital that last time---when I bit your arm---I hit bottom. My mom came in to see me after I got detoxed and told me she was done with everyone else in my life. She said that she couldn't deal with a son who'd try to give HIV to someone who was helping him---it was like attempted murder, she said. So I guess God or somebody---maybe it was you? told me to let the social worker get me into a rehab. And I did."

He pauses briefly while you stand there, astounded at what you're hearing. "Long story short, Ma'am, that changed my life. I cleaned up, went back to school, found a job. I even got married and had a couple of kids before I went into full-blown AIDS. Those were some tough times, but I never drank or used again......thanks to you."

"Me?!" you sputter, nonplussed. "You gave me the scare of my life! I took care of you because it was my job, not because I wanted to. In fact, I used to curse whenever I saw your name on the report sheet, or heard you were coming up from the ER. I couldn't let YOU know it, but....."

"And that's just it," he interrupts, softly but firmly. "You treated me like a person, even after I bit you. You never stood over me and judged never came in with a bunch of other staff and talked about me when I was passed out and nobody thought I could hear them. I figured if someone like you could show me respect, even with everything I'd done, then I should at least respect myself that much. That's the only reason I made it."

His words fill you with gratitude as you shake hands, and the thought occurs that maybe, just maybe, you DID do something right as a nurse.....and as a human being. And as St. Peter guides you toward your ultimate destination, you finally come to understand what it really means to make a difference. Not just in the Johnson & Johnson commercial way, but in real life, for real people. And for that, you can rest easy knowing you've truly earned those angel wings.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

I'm a Registered Nurse and writer who, in better times, has enjoyed a busy and varied career which includes stints as a Med/Surg floor nurse, a director of nursing, a nurse consultant, and an assistant administrator. And when I'm not working as a nurse, I'm writing about nursing right here at and putting together the chapters for a future book about---what else?---nursing.

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Has 3 years experience.

I'm crying just reading this. I also put on Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven to accompany this. Heck, I'll even provide it here:



1,170 Posts

Very nice gift to us for the beginning of Nurse Week. thanks

Specializes in LTC, Hospice, Case Management. Has 37 years experience.

Wow - guess you could say you came screaming out of your "writers block". What a fantastic article. Great job.


590 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 5 years experience.

Very touching.

Specializes in Trauma, ER, ICU, CCU, PACU, GI, Cardiology, OR. Has 55 years experience.

simply sublime, what the author bestowed upon us with this article...mahalo & aloha~

Jackfackmasta, ASN, RN

1 Article; 164 Posts

Specializes in Adult ICU.

I thought this was a copy and pasted article from some website. It was so good and written with such intensity that it kept me glued to the screen. Loved it!!!!! :heartbeat

Psychtrish39, BSN, RN

1 Article; 290 Posts

Specializes in MDS RNAC, LTC, Psych, LTAC. Has 13 years experience.

Loved it.. in tears... Thanks Viva... Happy Nurse's Week all :loveya:

Psychtrish39, BSN, RN

1 Article; 290 Posts

Specializes in MDS RNAC, LTC, Psych, LTAC. Has 13 years experience.

Loved it.. in tears... Thanks Viva... Happy Nurse's Week all :redbeathe

tntrn, ASN, RN

1,340 Posts

Specializes in L & D; Postpartum. Has 34 years experience.

She's baaaack! And that's a good thing.

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18 Articles; 30,666 Posts

Specializes in Education, FP, LNC, Forensics, ED, OB.

Truly inspirational. Thank you. :)