By Dr Kenneth D Kemp
OVER the years, Eric had been hit in the face with a baseball, broken his right arm twice, dislocated both shoulders and ruptured his groin but nothing prepared him for this latest trial. Last week I shared that Eric abruptly began experiencing flu-like symptoms that quickly worsened. Multiple in-hospital tests were performed but they were all non-definitive so doctors were left baffled as to what was making him so sick. Eric’s mother still desperately seeking answers is where we resume his story.
As Eric’s symptoms continued to worsen and, with no definitive etiology in hand, his doctors quickly grasped the gravity of his situation. His medical team brainstormed night and day and consulted with colleagues in Nassau. Eventually, they took a step back and took a more global approach. Doctors began probing what he ate, favorite activities, medication history and recent history of travel. When their questions expanded to his living situation, a light bulb went off.
Their family moved into an apartment five months before Eric’s symptoms began. He slept in his own bedroom. The carpet was a bit old and had a mild musty smell but it looked clean and the smell was often masked by air fresheners, carpet deodorisers and fresh breeze from his open window. Eric’s father went home to investigate. There was a portion of carpet near his son’s bed that was lighter and more worn so he made a small slit in the area with his pocket knife to look underneath. He couldn’t see anything so he made a bigger slit and pulled back further, pushing Eric’s bed to the side while peeling more and more carpet away. What he saw made him gasp in utter disbelief.
Beneath Eric’s carpet, a mere few inches from where he slept for seven hours every night, was a thick layer of toxic black mold. The air conditioning unit had a small, barely noticeable, leak that caused moisture to build up beneath the carpet. Experts were called in that same day and based on what they saw, had it been Eric’s younger sister sleeping in that bedroom instead of him, she likely would have died. Shock barely describes the feeling of what his father found, something potentially deadly and tragically so commonplace it was life-changing. Once his doctors were made aware, they started Eric on a course of corticosteroids and his symptoms resolved within days.
Prior to this, because of his previous injuries, Eric felt like there was a dark cloud hovering over him. But now, much more reflective than he’d ever been, Eric was monumentally relieved to be well again. He’s felt overwhelmingly blessed and appreciative since then, a feeling that’s stayed with him, never diminishing in the slightest, despite his subsequent predicaments – knowledge that defined his present and future path.
Eric’s interest in pursuing a career in medicine began to grow. While attending college in Florida, he considered several opportunities that he could pursue within the medical field after graduation. He discussed it with his parents a month later when he came home on summer break. His family moved into a condominium and it was nice to spend time with them and his dogs, throwing a ball and running on the beach once more.
Wanting to also spend time with his older brother, Eric offered to help him fix his car. But, not long after they started, Eric leaned forward to take a screw off the engine and his hand slipped. The screwdriver he was holding drove forward into his right eye with the force of a bullet fired at close range. Fortunately, before the screw driver made contact with his eyeball, he was able to move it just enough that it angled outward. Had it gone straight in, it would’ve in all likelihood blinded him instead of tearing his cornea. Eric had to wear an eye patch and apply medicated eye drops several times a day for a month before he recovered completely.
Eric never finished schooling in Florida and instead transferred to the University of The Bahamas in Nassau. There, he was offered a soccer scholarship majoring in biochemistry with his ultimate goal of going into medicine undiluted by the financial impediments. Being an athlete with full board and tuition covered took away the burden of cost. So, despite his injuries, Eric has always recognised and appreciated the door that sports opened for him. But his injuries kept coming.
Once, before 5am practice, he accidentally hit his head against the fan stationed over the bunk bed in his dormitory. He suffered a concussion forcing him to fall asleep mid-sentence and stumble during ambulation. It took two months before those symptoms subsided and he was cleared to play.
The following year, during a soccer match Eric attempted to tackle an opponent. As his opponent swerved to kick the ball, he missed, fell back and accidentally kicked Eric in his testicles. Eric describes it as feeling like a missile had exploded on his groin. The pain was extreme and within seconds his testicles and penis were red, swollen and throbbing in pain.
He was taken to the hospital immediately, where on examination it was noted that the force of the impact caused one of his testicles to sling shot through its protective scrotal sac and into his abdomen. His doctor anesthetized the area and squeezed it back into position. Eric iced his groin several times a day, took pain medication and wore a protective strap but it took three months for his pain to dissipate. He now only has one functioning testicle but it’s posed no health risks or limited him in any way so he rarely thinks about it.
As much as it pained him, Eric and his parents decided that it was time for him to walk away from the sport he loved so much. He never played soccer again but finished his semester and within weeks enrolled in the Defence Force programme . Since then, apart from a bout of food poisoning and sustaining a toe fracture at work, he’s remained healthy and looks back on his journey with a lot of gratitude and a sense of pride.
“I never gave up,” Eric says. “I’ve always known that I’d make it through some way and somehow.” He feels blessed that he can still be so active and is thankful for every single person who’s helped him during one of his injuries.
At a time, to the rank and file, when the world seemingly appears deficient in compassion, common decency still matters and Eric, now 24, is one of the most decent young men I’ve ever met. He’s traded his passion for sports for compassion, kindness and an all-around healthy lifestyle worrying less about who wins and more about what it takes to survive and give back. Passed down from one generation to another, being kind is a lesson Eric learned from his parents and grandparents, and when the time comes, one he plans to pass along to his children should he continue to be so blessed.
Eric doesn’t necessarily understand the complexities involved in genetic biology. But he knows that inside the matrix of DNA and along the double helix of genetic codes, in every cell throughout his body, lies a coiled labyrinth of biological information that connects him to his ancestors. Constantly rising every time he falls, it is on their shoulders that he stands so tall, understanding in the words of Maya Angelou that he may come as one but he stands as ten thousand. Eric is an amalgamation of their best qualities, and it is in their honour that he pushes forward ensuring that their legacy and his ultimately tell the story of a man who never gave up and hoping that story, in all its generational manifestations, withstands the vigor of time.
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.