CRESTVIEW — The day Hurricane Michael struck Panama City will forever stick in Betty Gates’ mind.
Gates, who is nearly 80, had been in a nursing home for 13 days following a broken leg. The staff hadn’t planned on evacuating patients because they didn’t expect it to be more than a Category 2 or 3. But that wasn’t the case.
As the storm approached, the nursing home’s roof and walls collapsed. Ceiling titles and light fixtures fell. Shards of glass from windows shot down the hall. Through hanging wires and torrential rain, the staff rushed 130 residents to safety.
“They shoved me and my husband in a biohazard room with other patients,” Gates said. “We all just grouped together and began to pray.”
Some nurses wrote their personal information on their arms, thinking they wouldn’t survive. Gates wasn’t sure she would make it either.
“We didn’t know where to go,” she said. “No one knew what to do. And just as rapidly as that angry sky was swirling and making noises, it quit just like that.”
Once the storm passed, the staff called other nursing homes in Okaloosa and neighboring counties to find somewhere to take their patients. One of those facilities was Crestview Rehabilitation Center, which agreed to take 30 patients.
“We got them in church vans and buses, and actually unloaded them, had them triaged and in a bed in two hours,” said Angela Haskins, LPN unit manager for the hallway where Gates stays.
Gates and her husband Jerry, a retired Florida state trooper, were able to drive their car to Crestview. With her leg propped up in an uncomfortable position, she screamed in pain for most of the 100-mile trip while Jerry’s knuckles gripped the steering wheel until they were white.
It seemed like an eternity, Gates said. But once they made it to Crestview, everything fell into place.
Since arriving at Crestview Rehabilitation Center, Gates’ leg has healed rapidly. She credits visits from an orthopedic doctor and regular physical therapy for the progress. Without it, she said, she probably wouldn’t be walking.
Sitting in her warm bed Wednesday afternoon, Gates recalls the selflessness of the Crestview Rehabilitation Center staff for the past three months. And while she is excited to return to her Bay County home on Saturday, she will miss the nurses who have become a second family to her and her husband.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gates said. “I’ve had businesses and I’ve never seen this efficiency in my lifetime.”
Between the constant care and attention, good food and entertainment, Gates has enjoyed her time in Crestview and wants the community to know about it.
“I don’t know what we would have done if they hadn’t been so generous,” Gates said. “These nurses go beyond what they have to do. They are the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen. There is no place that could be better than this.”
They even allowed her husband to live in her room while their home was repaired. And for Christmas, her nurses pitched in to buy her a new dress and Jerry, an avid University of Florida fan, a Gators blanket.
Jerry recently returned home to Panama City and Gates will soon follow. She has traded phone numbers with many of her caretakers and plans to keep in touch after she leaves.
“They have so much love and care in their heart to take care of some people who can’t even thank them,” Gates said. “You know they’re tried, but no one ever complains. It will be a sad day when I have to leave their care.”