By DR KENNETH D KEMP
MANY of us spend so much of our lives consumed by what’s happened in the past or what should or could happen in the future, that we fail to live in the present. Those who fall into this category aren’t truly living, they’re simply surviving day by day and hoping that their next day is fractionally better than the last. But then there are others who live in the moment. Grateful for every second of life, oftentimes because they’ve come so close to losing it.
In 1944, my patient who we’ll call Rebekah, was born on an outer island of The Bahamas called Andros during a simpler time and as World War II was nearing its end. She had a stay-at-home mother who raised her and her three siblings with a warm heart and a gentle touch. Her father was a fisherman who went to sea for weeks at a time catching conch, fish and crawfish that he sold in Nassau before returning home. Her entire childhood was peaceful and happy, which is a cruel juxtaposition to the multiple trials that she’s had to endure in her adult life.
Rebekah relocated to Nassau with her parents and siblings so that she could attend college to become a teacher. She met her future husband during this time but shortly after their wedding, their marriage became irreparably damaged by constant bouts of his infidelity. They were married for nearly twenty years and had three children together. After the fourth or fifth incident, she lost count of how many times he cheated on her. Every time he was unfaithful, she forgave him but lost a piece of herself in the process. It left her broken and lonely.
She’d grown up understanding that a husband often has to leave his family for an extended period of time to provide for them financially. So the fact that her husband came home every night left her grateful, no matter how late the hour. It never dawned on her that he could be spending time with another woman and raising another family. To this day, she regrets her naivety.
It wasn’t until one of his mistresses came after her and stabbed her with a butcher knife in her left lower back that Rebekah, while fighting for her own survival from the attack, finally found the courage to leave him.
Rebekah has an irregular heartbeat so when the knife angled upwards penetrated her clothing, tearing through her flesh and subcutaneous tissue, her heart began to vibrate rapidly. The knife was so deep that it contused her lung inducing the most severe pain that she’d ever experienced. Her first thoughts were her children, knowing that their life would forever be deleteriously marred if she didn’t survive. And so, she did. The day she left the hospital, still barely able to walk without eliciting pain, is the day that she took her children and moved in with her parents.
Her mother and father were married for 60 years so it was comforting to be surrounded by the warmth of their love to remind her what was possible and what she truly deserved. Unfortunately, a few years later her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer but it wasn’t until her father died from prostate cancer did her mother’s health truly take a turn for the worse. The loss of her father was painful but when her mother became ill, Rebekah also felt physically sick. The thought of living in a world without her mother and closest confidante was too unbearable to imagine. She cried, begged and pleaded with her not to die.
As her mother’s organs began to shut down, Rebekah never left her side. She prayed daily for a miracle but within weeks, her mother died from kidney failure. Rebekah acknowledges that long before her mother’s kidneys failed and her legs and feet became swollen and blistered; long before the weakness, nausea and shortness of breath occurred and her skin became dry and gray, her heart was broken from the death of her husband and she’d given up on life that very same day.
In an effort to help support herself and her children, Rebekah got a second job at a clothing store to augment her teacher’s salary. For a while, though exhausting, she developed a routine. She’d learned how to be independent watching her mother take care of their home, saving and budgeting her monthly finances according to how much money her father made from his fishing trips. Adopting this same philosophy, soon enough Rebekah was able to stay financially afloat. She paid all her bills, her children were thriving in school and she was happy. For the first time in a long time, she felt free and her life was moving in a positive direction.
Then one Saturday evening, after locking the store that she managed and getting into her car, an armed assailant approached. Rebekah had been distracted for a moment, wondering if she should go home and cook or stop to buy something for dinner. It wasn’t until she felt the coldness of his gun and body aggressively jamming into her back that she realized her life was in danger. Her mind raced. She’d hoped, given her previous stabbing incident, that she’d be better prepared. She wasn’t. Rebekah felt tears roll down her cheek and she managed to say please and then softly mutter that she had children at home waiting. But within seconds, while attempting to steal her bag, his gun discharged and Rebekah was shot at close range. The assailant ran off with her belongings and was never captured.
Laying there on the ground, bleeding to death, Rebekah once again thought of her children. The beeping sound from her car drowned out any other thoughts. Unable to help herself, she depended on the assistance of people, who came from a night club across the street. She couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to her. Rebekah had spent her entire life being a kind and caring person, forgiving to a fault, perhaps. But being kind wouldn’t save her now so Rebekah dug deep within and was determined to fight. She prayed to God for her life to once again be spared.
Patients, like Rebekah, with an irregular heartbeat are at an increased risk for blood clots, heart disease and stroke so the stress of getting shot added threatening pressure to her heart. Prompt surgical intervention was paramount if she were to survive the night. Fortunately, once she arrived at the hospital and was whisked into the operating theatre, her surgeons realised that the bullet went through her stomach and out through her back, missing all of her major organs in its path. Rebekah would be in an excruciating amount of pain for the next few weeks, but her prayers were answered and she survived.
Once discharged from the hospital and still recuperating, Rebekah had to attend her son’s college graduation in a wheelchair. Over time, physical therapy helped her to regain her strength but it would take years before her nightmares finally stopped. Regretfully, little did she know that her nightmares had only just begun.
This is the KDK Report.
• Part 2 of this series will be published next Monday, September 5.
Nicknamed ‘The Prince of Podiatry’, Dr Kenneth D Kemp is the founder and medical director of Bahamas Foot and Ankle located in Caves Village, Western New Providence. He served as the deputy chairman for the Health Council for five years and he currently sits on the board of directors for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in his role as co-vice-chairman.