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'One last conversation': Local nurse says she was honored to connect mother and daughter

Michelle Bennett talks to her mother, Carolann Gann, using FaceTime. Tatyana Huber, a charge nurse at Swedish Issaquah, connected mother and daughter one last time, before Gann died of COVID-19 on March 26.
Courtesy of Michelle Bennett
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Michelle Bennett talks to her mother, Carolann Gann, using FaceTime. Tatyana Huber, a charge nurse at Swedish Issaquah, connected mother and daughter one last time, before Gann died of COVID-19 on March 26.

When people die after becoming infected with COVID-19, they typically spend their final moments in isolation, surrounded only by nurses and doctors. A nurse in Issaquah recently made it possible for a mother and daughter to connect one last time.

Tatyana Huber, a charge nurse at Swedish's Issaquah campus, started her shift at 7 p.m. March 25 — within the final hours of Carolann Gann’s life.

Gann wasn’t responsive. She had rapidly deteriorated in the past five days, a short time after testing positive for the novel coronavirus at Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center where she lived.

Michelle Bennett, Gann’s daughter, wanted to be at her mother’s bedside. But it’s not safe, and hospitals aren’t allowing visitors. So, Huber did what she could to bring them together.

Huber suited up head to toe in protective gear. Using FaceTime, the nurse held her personal cellphone up to Gann’s face. Bennett spoke her last words to her mom, about love and forgiveness.

“I was just so relieved that Michelle was able to give Carolann that permission that she needed to let go,” Huber said. “It was just the greatest thing that she could have given to her mom.”

Then, Huber promised Bennett that she’d stay with her mother until the end. And she did — holding her hand, stroking her hair, and talking to her.

Huber wishes Bennett’s final words to her mother could have been delivered in person. Still, Huber was honored to make that moment possible.

“It’s difficult to describe the pain and the regret and all the things that you'd like to say to someone that you love, but you weren't able to,” said Huber, who recently experienced her own loss, the sudden death of her sister a few years ago. “It was important to give them this one last conversation before it was too late.”

As more and more people say goodbye to their loved ones this way, nurses are working to make sure that dying in isolation doesn’t mean dying alone.

But it also means nurses are shouldering a lot of emotional weight.

Huber says taking care of themselves is important, as she and her colleagues continue to be the last conduit of life for these patients. Her outlet is art: dancing, coloring, making dream catchers.

“I think it's a really powerful experience to be able to come home and create something beautiful after having a really difficult or challenging shift,” Huber said.

She says the emotional well-being of patients also is a priority, and that’s an increasingly challenging part of patient care when they’re physically isolated.

“So we're just trying to come up with some creative solutions to help people keep in touch and stay connected,” Huber said.

That end-of-life FaceTime conversation was among those creative solutions. Huber hopes to one day meet Bennett in person, to comfort her in a way she couldn’t during the call.

“As soon as social distancing allows us to hug, there is nothing that I would love more than just to meet her and hug her," Huber said.

To hear more about Carolann Gann's life, and her final moments with Tatyana Huber, listen to Episode 7 of our podcast, Transmission

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Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.
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