By Dr Kenneth D Kemp
MOST visible scars on the human body represent hypertrophic remnants of a traumatic event. For the fortunate, and those particularly diligent with their treatment, those scars may eventually wane with time. But there’s one scar on all humans that never fade. That’s because this scar, called the umbilicus (navel or belly button) is our body’s centerpiece, constantly reminding us that we were once physically attached to our mother, developing for months within her body.
The umbilicus, via an umbilical cord, connected us to our mother’s placenta, establishing an essential bridge transporting the necessary food (nutrients) and oxygen required for our development. It’s formed as early as four weeks following conception, performing double duty taking nutrition in and waste out. After birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, eventually falling off as the healed navel scar remains.
For most of us, mothers continue to be a dependable source of love, support and protection. That’s because, in the best of circumstances, mothers are superheroes disguised in ordinary clothing and hidden in the crowd, unfailingly ever-vigilant in keeping us from harm. That harm, as presented in this report, sometimes presents as men with malicious intentions who are also hidden in the crowd, dawdling behind the shadows and lying in wait for their opportunity to terrorize.
When my patient was just eight years old she came face-to-face with one such man, enraptured by evil intent, during a harrowing experience that she’s never forgotten. Years later, she faced another tumultuous trial plunging her life into chaos yet again that left her beating at death’s door. In both circumstances she miraculously lived to tell the tale and is hereafter referred to as Ariel, which in Hebrew means Lioness of God.
Ariel was born and raised on one of The Bahamas’ larger out islands. The eldest of two daughters, she was raised in a Christian home understanding from an early age that her life would be one of service. Ariel’s father was a pastor and he had a stern but fair, gentle presence that complemented her mother who exuded joy, love and compassion from every pore in her body. Their partnership manifested into a warm and loving environment and a remarkable home to be raised throughout her entire childhood.
The smell of the salty ocean air, mixed with the valley of ripening guavas and mangoes that lined her street, is vividly ingrained in Ariel’s memory. Retelling her story, it was 1977 and their neighbourhood was quiet, flanked by hard-working and honest men and women, all surrogate aunts and uncles with a watchful eye and a penchant for island gossip. Colloquially referred to as sharing ‘sip sip’, neighbours ate breakfast and shared stories about the latest happenings in the community. Of notable interest at the time was the rape of several young girls throughout their settlement.
It was the year that rock and roll legend Elvis Presley died of a heart attack while The Love Boat, Little House on The Prairie, Happy Days and Charlie’s Angels kept millions glued to the TV screen. Ariel was eight years old and one ordinary day, while walking home with her younger sister, it began to rain. So, when a nice, respectable man she’d seen many times in her quiet neighbourhood offered her and her sister a ride home, Ariel was grateful. It was shortly after 3pm and thinking nothing of it, they jumped into his car anxious to escape the drizzly weather.
Then, as that nice, respectable man drove in the opposite direction of her home, Ariel even at her young age immediately knew that she and her sister were in danger. She softly asked where they were going but her captor, believed to be in his mid-30s, never responded. He smelled like smoke and old cologne. He drove the car deep into a forested, secluded area and stopped. Ariel held her sister’s hand and with the wisdom of someone several decades her senior, she closed her eyes and began softly but repeatedly telling him that it will be okay. Never opening her eyes, even when he separated her from her sister, she thanked him over and over again for being so kind and for being a good person, her declarations growing louder the closer he drew near.
Ariel felt something wet and sticky on her clothing and when she opened her eyes, her captor was crying. They were there for hours until he drove them to a spot near their home and told them to get out. Night had fallen and the streets were dark. Ariel grabbed her sister’s hand as tightly as possible and they ran together until the flashing sirens of multiple police cars could be seen leading up to her home. She recalls the tight embrace her mother gave her. Every other girl he’d captured had been raped but she and her sister survived, untouched. Not long after, Ariel was able to identify him from a police line-up ending his reign of terror on their small community.
Following that ordeal, her mother quit her job to be with them and for many years, both parents were incredibly over protective. But by the time Ariel graduated from high school, they loosened their grip allowing her to attend college in the US. Years later, she met and fell in love with her future husband and she married him at the age of 27. They had three children and their first child Eric was introduced to readers in my last two reports.
When Ariel was 28 weeks pregnant with her third child and only daughter, she stumbled at work but caught herself before falling. In the process, it felt as though she pulled a muscle. At first, she experienced mild but unrelenting soreness searing throughout her sternum and abdomen that was easily muted by taking slow, distinguished steps. Ariel went home to lay down and with her husband watching their other two kids, she quickly fell asleep. Hours later, in the middle of the night, she heard a loud, unfamiliar, voice telling her to wake up immediately. Ariel pitched up to severe cramping in her stomach. Her husband, awoken by her sudden movement, felt the wet bed sheets beneath them and panicked when he turned on the lights.
The entire mattress was eclipsed by a lake of dark red blood. Ariel’s placenta had ruptured at some point during the night and she was hemorrhaging a dangerous volume of blood. As her body began to swell, large clumps of blood poured out of her. Ariel was rushed to the hospital and on the way, her baby was kicking incessantly. While waiting in the ER, she began to lose consciousness. Ariel’s husband yelled for assistance. Doctors saw her predicament and immediately ordered intubation. She was rushed into the operating theatre where an emergency C-section was performed.
Surgeons warned Ariel’s husband that both mother and child were in critical condition. Short on equipment and staff at the family island hospital, they asked him to choose who they should focus their efforts on. At the time, doctors were performing CPR on both of them. An air ambulance was called to transport their baby once stabilized to Nassau but she coded three times before take-off. Ariel remained at that hospital as her daughter and husband left for Nassau because the risk of her dying mid-flight was too high. Determined to be with her daughter, Ariel prayed for a miracle.
Within days, Ariel was out of bed and walking, strong enough to arrange travel to Nassau. Her daughter, however, was barely hanging on, with a countdown ticking as to when she’d take her last breath. Ariel got to the hospital in Nassau and was immediately wheeled to her daughter in the neonatal ICU. There, struggling to survive and smaller than the palm of her hand, weighing one-and-a-half pounds, she touched her tiny fingers. With all her heart Ariel whispered words of encouragement, repeatedly telling her that everything will be okay.
Hours later, Ariel’s daughter had a resurgence, crying and kicking for the first time since delivery. She remained in hospital for several months and was discharged weighing six pounds with no medical deficits or developmental challenges. Today, Ariel’s daughter is 13 years old and is a constant reminder to her parents of how blessed they’ve been. Their take home message to readers is that we’re not in control, so hold on to your faith during turbulent times and trust that God will see you through all things.
Birthdays often celebrate one person when in fact they should celebrate both mother and child as a reminder of the day that one body became two. Instead, one day out of the year is reserved to honor r and celebrate mothers who during gestation were our lifeline. And although on our day of birth, that physical connection is severed, the bond between mother and child never disappears.
In the light and dark, hidden in the crowd, evil lurks amongst us. And, as the air we breathe melts away, left in its wake is the realization that for every demon, there’s an angel, comforting and guiding us safely back home or telling us to wake up and a mother waiting to hold our hand and softly whisper that everything will be okay.
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.