Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the Florida panhandle as a Category 4 storm on October 10, was unusual in many ways. The storm surprised everyone by how quickly it intensified—going from a relatively innocuous tropical storm to a raging hurricane in no time at all. It struck later in the season than most powerful hurricanes, struck a portion of the country that rarely receives a direct hit, and the sheer power of the storm was record-breaking.
“Students in tropical-meteorology classes are going to be talking about this storm for 20 years,” says Colin Zarzycki, a tropical-cyclone scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
But something not unusual about the catastrophic event? The response seen by nurses.
The damage of the storm was unprecedented, closing more than five hospitals, 15 assisted living communities, and five nursing homes to completely shut down. Others were left running on generators, while the nurses of one Panama City hospital scrambled to keep the emergency room open despite damage to the building.
Before the wrath of the storm had even reached the coast, nurses from two assisted living facilities were already making tough choices in favor of their elderly patients. Despite their own concerns and the threats to their own homes, one group of Panama City nurses decided to stay with their patients during the evacuations, many unsure whether they would see their homes intact again.
“I don’t know how (my) house is, if it’s still standing, so we’re just braving it, trying to get through,” nurse Linda Cooper said. “It’s very hard, it is, it’s difficult, but I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I think you’re mindset that way, you take care of people and you think when you have time about what happens in your own life.”
Many of their patients suffer from severe dementia and required regular assurance in the new unfamiliar surroundings. And the nurses, despite their own worries, delivered—playing music for the patients, keeping spirits high, and focusing on their mission.
“There are several staff that still have not been able to locate their families, and we know we have staff here that do not have a home to go to, so it’s been very challenging,” Seagrass Village executive director Victoria Folks said. “They have been remarkable and they’ve put their residents first no matter what, and they are our heroes for that.”
Across the country, other nurses are stepping up to assist their brothers and sisters in scrubs as they deal with the destruction.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, Nurse Leslie Silcox is organizing volunteers to send to Florida while collecting and packaging donations for those impacted by the storm—all while continuing to collect aid for those in the Carolinas hit by Hurricane Florence.
Also headed to Florida are the nurse volunteers of the RN Response Network, who are traveling to the panhandle to assist with medical aid.
“Hurricane Michael is the strongest storm to hit the Florida panhandle in 100 years, and our RN Response Network volunteer nurses are committed to helping those in its path—including providing relief for our local nurse colleagues, whose homes and families will also be impacted,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN. “As nurses, it’s our duty to help patients in need, and RNRN volunteers always rise to the calling. We want the people of Florida to know that our hearts are with them, and the nurses are on their way.”
And nurses such as Jeannie Cashin of New Hampshire are responding to the call for help. Despite her distance from the catastrophe, Nurse Cashin saw the call for help from the Red Cross and knew she had to be involved. (You can see an interview with Nurse Cashin here).
We may not be able to avoid every storm or tragedy, but the one thing we have been shown again and again is that no matter what comes our way, we have an army in scrubs always standing by to help put things back together.