Behind the mask: In trying times, local nurses witness so much loss - and so much love

RENTON, Wash. -- We see images of health care workers who look like nurse Tatyana Huber every day - the eye protection, the gloves, the gown, the mask. But we hear very little from the nurses behind the mask, like the one who made sure that 75-year-old Carolann Gann knew she was loved and at peace when she passed away recently from COVID-19 complications.


Q13 News first told you about Swedish Issaquah nurse Tatyana Huber last week. She used FaceTime - and her personal cell phone - so a local woman could be with her mother in her final moments.

Carolann Gann spent 38 of her 75 years on this Earth working as a nurse. And at the age of 75, thanks to Tatyana, she died surrounded by them.

Carolann's daughter Michelle Bennett, a major with the King County Sheriff's Office, wanted nothing more to be by her mother's side. COVID-19 almost took that chance. Tatyana called Michelle when the time was nearing, then held her phone up to Carolann's face in her final moments, giving Michelle a chance to say her final goodbyes and tell her mom, "it's OK to go."

Michelle said the other nurses who suited up and went in with Tatyana rubbed Carolann's head and hands as Michelle spoke through the phone. Make no mistake: the mask and protective equipment do nothing to shield these nurses from the heartache and raw emotion they witness day in and day out.

"When moved the screen from my mom's face after that last goodbye, she was crying," Michelle said. "I could see the tears through her mask."

Tatyana told us this week what it's been like to witness so much loss -- and so much love -- from behind the mask.

"It's hard, it's scary, it's upsetting," she said. "I think I've come home just not even knowing how to articulate what has happened overnight. I come home in a foul mood more than I ever have before this epidemic."

But that night, Tatyana and her fellow nurses once again, somehow, found the strength to be someone else's rock.

"You could see Carolann starting to relax a little bit, and in a lot of ways Michelle did the most generous thing that she could have done for her mother - and that was giving her permission to go. It was just so heartbreaking that she wasn't able to be there in person."

Tatyana has been there before. One of her sisters passed away in 2017, and Tatyana was not able to be by her side.

"It's painful. It shouldn't be this way," Tatyana said. "I hope you know that until passed, we continued to remind her how much she was loved ... that she was forgiven and that it was OK."

Meanwhile, Michelle is looking forward to the day she can hug Tatyana and thank her face-to-face.

If you'd like to share a kind message with workers on the front lines, you can go the Swedish Foundation's Gratitude Garden.

Trust us, they'll appreciate it.