By DR KENNETH D KEMP
IN January of this year, the biggest volcanic eruption in three decades occurred in Tonga, a Polynesian country consisting of 169 islands scattered throughout the Southern Pacific Ocean. With a total population of approximately 105,000 people, this cataclysmic eruption was so loud that it was heard in both Australia and New Zealand, leaving three people dead and many more missing.
The United Nations World Health Organization reported that this event resulted in a mushroom cloud of smoke and ash hovering over the country, measuring over 65,000 feet and clearly visible from space. It was soon followed by a tsunami with rocks that rained down from above and waves so ruthless, it destroyed 50 houses and left another 100 damaged.
The day his appendix burst, my patient likened it to the eruption of this very same Tonga submarine volcano. His own organ had betrayed him and its internal explosion yielded agonising pain and an infection that shot through his entire body like a seismic tidal wave and left him in a coma, near the brink of death.
Telling his story, he wanted to start from the top and revealed that at the age of four, he ran away from home. At the time he was living with his mother in a small house under the harshest of circumstances so, one day, he packed some clothes and walked for over an hour to his father’s electrical shop. His parents were never married. His mother had six children and his father had fourteen, so it took some time before anyone noticed that he was gone. Eventually a neighbour discovered him wondering outside the shop and phoned his father. Afraid that he might run away again if he sent him back to his mother, my patient’s father agreed to let his son live with him. His mother, hurt and angry, refused to speak to him for 10 years.
His father was not always the easiest person to be around. He was sometimes short-tempered and incredibly strict but he loved his children and taught them valuable lessons. My patient matured quickly. In March 1984, he had to run an errand for his father. On his bicycle, he pedaled along the cobble route, waving to neighbours and racing local street dogs eager for his attention. One of the dogs started barking angrily, running back and forth in a frantic desperate manner. By the time my patient turned to see why, it was too late. A car burst through an adjacent fence and hit his bicycle head on. He went flying but his pant leg was caught on the bike’s pedal so he was dragged, his body bouncing up and down and beating the concrete road, several meters at full speed until the car eventually slammed into a lamp post.
As he lay there, his face, thigh, hip and back were scorched extensively but his right leg was visibly crushed, abnormally rotated and bleeding profusely with bones exposed. His entire leg was numb. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t move. Bystanders ran to assist and one of them recognised him immediately. He was taken to the hospital and spent the next 14 months recuperating. He required multiple surgical grafts to repair the skin defects all over his body. Steel rods had to be fixated to his leg bones with metal plates and screws utilized to rebuild the skeletal system in his right lower extremity. Because of his prolonged immobilization in bed, he developed bed sores, particularly on the right heel, which had to be surgically debrided and treated for an infection.
Once released, he had considerable leg shortening, nerve damage and muscle wasting on his right side causing him to ambulate with crutches for the next three years. Then one day his father took his crutches and broke them in half, right in front of him, forcing him to walk from that point forward without assistance. For the first few weeks he hopped everywhere, mostly using his toes, but eventually he began to walk with more confidence. He still had a notable limp but he was deeply indebted and grateful to his father for forcing him to walk and use his injured leg. The accident led to the eventual reconciliation with his mother.
Not long after that, his father developed a sharp headache that wouldn’t go away. He was taken to his general practitioner and sent for scans, which revealed that he had a brain tumor. Before the family could decide how to proceed, the cancer metastasized throughout his body and on a rainy Monday he died surrounded by his children, two years following his initial diagnosis.
Meanwhile, he started a family of his own ultimately having nine children. He now has his own business and with hard work, over the years he’s become very successful. But the stresses of his job took a toll on his health and he began experiencing severe pain in the middle and lower right side of his abdomen that increased exponentially when he stood or attempted to walk. He felt nauseous and had an alarmingly high fever that quickly intensified.
His cousin is a medical practitioner and when he called her for advice, she advised him to go to the hospital immediately. He was quickly admitted into accident and emergency but laid on a gurney for an hour waiting to be evaluated by the on-call surgeon. Fortunately a friend recognized him and instigated for him to receive prompter service. Within minutes of seeing him, it was apparent that his appendix had burst. He was transported directly to the operating theatre but by the time the surgeon opened him, his appendix looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off and the tide of thick and malodorous green-yellow pus inside had already surged out. He was in a coma for eight days and in the hospital for 19 days, released and then readmitted for another nine days to control his infection.
Today, at the age of 52, he can be found in his shop helping customers, in his community helping neighbours or with his wife and children imparting the same lessons that his father gave to him. He often ignored advice from his wife and children to slow down and to see his doctor whenever sick. Not listening to them sooner almost cost him his life. So, the message he wanted others to take from his story was to listen when loved ones beg you to take care of yourself, take charge of your health and not put off seeking medical care. Be receptive to their advice, he stated reassuringly, because they love you and at your weakest moment, they’ll be the ones you need the most.
A shining example that not all heroes wear capes, this patient has survived many hardships. Despite that and with a glaringly positive outlook on life he remains perpetually grateful for his family. Upon reflection he states that they have consistently and open-heartedly throughout his entire life provided him with his most cherished blessing – an enduring and coveted shelter from whatever storm may come his way.
This is The KDK Report.
• 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. He is the recipient of over 15 global awards and certifications.
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