Tatiana Cruz, a nurse with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, was not too thrilled when she was asked to work a Friday night shift on her day off last month.
“I was immediately like, ‘no,‘” she said.
But her manager really needed her and it was extra money and, besides, her boyfriend, Dominic Gatta, a nurse practitioner at HUP, told her he was working that night anyway.
“Go for it,” he said.
So Cruz did. At work, she was first assigned to one floor but then re-routed to another — the one where the hospital helipad was located. A co-worker suggested they check it out. Cruz thought that was a little weird since it was raining, but what the heck? As they walked outside, she noticed two people out on the helipad. That seemed a little odd, too.
“That’s when I saw Dominic standing there. I thought, ‘Why isn’t he in scrubs? He told me he was working,‘” said Cruz. “I was so confused. I said, ‘What are you doing here?‘”
And there in the rain, Gatta got down on one knee. And out came the ring.
Across the way, the staff of Founders 14, the floor where the couple first met four years before, stood at the windows and cheered.
For Gatta, 28, a Brooklyn native and Penn graduate, asking Cruz, 29, of Northeast Philly, for her hand at the place where their love story began made all the sense in the world.
“I wanted to do it at work because Penn brought us together,” Gatta said. “That’s where we became best friends. I feel I owe a lot to Penn because they gave me Tatiana, so I wanted to do it there.”
Their love story started in September 2016.
“I remember the first time I saw Tatiana,” Gatta said. “It was in front of the medicine cart outside one of the patient rooms. I remember being immediately taken aback.” In other words: “I thought she was gorgeous.”
He introduced himself to her and the nurses she was with and soon learned that Tatiana was seeing someone. He and Cruz became friends, and their friendship grew as they worked their demanding nursing jobs together. Each was impressed by the compassion and kindness the other showed toward patients.
“I found I would pick up overtime knowing she would be there,” he said. “I would get excited seeing her lunch box in the fridge as I was coming in, knowing she would be at work.”
He also took on the role of their floor’s Sunshine Club director, so he could organize social activities to do things with Cruz and their co-workers outside of work.
But like the couple Jim and Pam in the television show “The Office,” Gatta knew that, like Jim, he was going to have to wait.
He wasn’t the only person who picked up on their chemistry. Once, they were caring for a patient together. When Cruz was gone, Gatta recalled, the patient said, “‘You like her, don’t you?’ Before I even responded, she said, ‘I bet you marry her one day.‘”
After about a year or so, Cruz and her boyfriend parted ways. For their first date, Gatta picked up Cruz at her parents’ house. They ate at a little Fishtown restaurant and stopped at a couple of bars. Cruz surprised Gatta by knowing her way around a pool table. On the car ride home, she asked him about the music he was playing. He explained that it was a playlist he put together of songs that reminded him of her. She started to cry.
“This was a very good first date,” Gatta said.
After about a month, they were official.
“At that point, it was a done deal,” said Cruz.
As a couple, they discovered they loved exploring Philadelphia. Their favorite restaurants were little neighborhood places, like Effie’s, the Greek restaurant where they celebrated with their families after they got engaged.
The couple’s adventures took them on road trips, too — Brooklyn, Washington, Atlantic City. They enjoyed going to concerts together. True to their “Office” romance, when they bought each other takeout coffee, he’d write “Pam” on her cup, and she wrote “Jim” on his. Cruz took Gatta to Portugal, where her family is from. Gatta’s parents heartily approved of Cruz, and her parents really liked him, too.
This year, COVID-19 struck, and of course the impact on their hospital was profound. Gatta was going to be working with some of the most seriously stricken patients in the intensive care unit. Cruz volunteered to care for other COVID-19 patients elsewhere in the hospital. The couple decided to quarantine together.
It was hard not being able to see their families for the month of their assignments. But both of them took pride in their work, and they found it rewarding to be able to support their patients. And knowing they were there for each other just made their bond even stronger.
By this summer, the couple pretty much knew engagement was in the cards, but Gatta wasn’t letting on when — despite Cruz’s best efforts.
“I’d been working it. We were both talking about it, but I was the one that was non-stop talking about it,” Cruz said, laughing. “We had a mutual understanding that we both wanted to be together.”
Gatta had his work cut out for him to pull off the Aug. 7 proposal. Aside from arranging it with the hospital and getting a photographer, Cruz almost didn’t agree to work the shift to get her there. While Cruz was telling the supervisor she didn’t want to work, Gatta was texting the manager, who was his accomplice, suggestions of incentives to offer Cruz so she’d take the bait.
He was hoping for good weather. The forecast? Showers.
But then he remembered: In “The Office,” Jim proposed to Pam in the pouring rain.
Talk about good luck.