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THE KDK REPORT: This life and the next

By DR KENNETH D KEMP

AT the start of a new year, it’s common practice as an adult to reflect on our lives. We assess our successes and failures throughout the preceding year and set goals for the near future. And every year, aside from wishing for more success, the hope ultimately is that we and our loved ones retain good health and even stronger relationships.

But in the dark of night, when the whispers of our mind are at their peak, there is an unchecked foreboding sense of dread as to what calamity the new year may bring. No amount of celebratory confetti or champagne can mask it. And while thoughts of those who didn’t make it to the new year may be short-lived, the knowledge that tragedy could either end or change the course of life in less time than it takes to drive a city block in rush hour traffic, haunts us.

A few weeks ago, early into the new year, one of my patients died suddenly. He was 50 years old with a history of diabetes but I, and everyone who knew him, imagined that he had many more years of life to enjoy. And yet, without warning, he was gone. He was being treated initially in the hospital for an infected wound. The infection subsided but he died anyway. And now, his family has been castigated into the deepest dark. We can all easily relate to their grief as we accept in our own mind the fact that only a split-second separates life from death.

It saddens me that even while knowing this, so many people waste precious time being angry over trivialities. I ended my column last year talking about the importance of gratitude so it feels appropriate that I start this year off with the same sentiment. I am grateful that I had a chance to know this patient and hear stories about his life growing up on one of our Family Islands. Although it was not under my care that the end came, I am grateful that he chose me to be his doctor and flew to Nassau regularly for routine care. I’m grateful knowing that someone so loving and so kind was loved in return and that he left a legacy that can be so easily remembered in this life and the next.

There’s nothing that I or anyone else can say to ease the pain and sense of loss that my patient’s family now face. His parents, fiancée, children and grandchildren need time to heal but so does our wider community as pockets of families throughout our nation suffer through the loss of their loved ones due to either criminal acts, suicide or illness. The juxtaposition of living in paradise and not enjoying an idyllic life is difficult for foreigners to appreciate. Paradise or not, we have our challenges but focusing on the positive aspects of our lives can make navigating hard times all the more bearable.

In an in-office discussion with another patient some time back, I learned that she lost her husband of 50 years when he was traumatically injured in a car accident. Her world was shattered in an instant and it’s never been the same since. Now, in the twilight of her life, she’s had to traverse life without her soulmate and some days it’s still so crippling she doesn’t want to get out of bed. The life lesson that she learned over the years is to never sweat the small stuff because in the end, it simply doesn’t matter. She regrets that it took her a lifetime to figure that out.

In an effort to console her, I offered that it’s always better to learn a valuable lesson late, than to never learn it at all. Then I shared with her a story that I learned in college many years ago.

Alexander the Great is the former king of Macedonia who forged one of the greatest empires in history before dying at the age of 32. His net worth, adjusted to present-day would have been in the trillions (USD) making him one of the wealthiest men in history. Up until the age of 16, he was tutored by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and was considered wise beyond his time. As a reflection of his wisdom, it’s rumoured that before his death, he assembled his closest generals and laid bare his three wishes to be carried out after he died.

His first wish was that only physicians be allowed to carry his coffin because he wanted the world to see that even the best doctors on earth cannot save you from death. His second wish was the path to his grave be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones to show everyone that chasing wealth and power in the end amounts to nothing. Finally, he asked that his hands be left open and allowed to dangle outside of his coffin so that everyone can see that for all his wealth and power, he left the world as empty-handed as he came into it.

Not long after this, Alexander the Great died and by all accounts, his three wishes were never performed and many scholars have chalked it up to folk legend rather than historical fact. Nonetheless, the lessons remain steadfast. Leaving behind a lifetime of memories encased in laughter and love is the best gift my patient’s husband could have left her and for that I challenged her to hold on to the good times and dive into those memories whenever sadness encircles her heart.

To put preaching into practice, whenever I get angry, I’ve discovered that it’s worthwhile to stop and ask myself if I’d still care about whatever’s vexing me if it was my last day alive. If it doesn’t, then I let it go. Now ask yourself what would you want to do if it were your last day alive, what would you spend time being angry over and what regrets would you have? At the start of the new year, perhaps asking you this will inspire the change you need to live a more grateful and fulfilled life or in the very least help you overcome a recent tragedy.

This year, as my column moves to a once-a-month format, I encourage readers to truly digest the lessons that my patients have shared about their lives and health experiences in hopes that it may in some small part reshape how you think about your own health and mortality. What I share with you is what I have learned from them.

My Family Island patient didn’t know that when he walked into the hospital at the start of the year, he would never walk back out. He didn’t know he would soon be eating his last meal, sending his last text message or hugging his family for the last time. But I pray that like him, we can learn to love life, be at peace with our decisions and live in gratitude at all times both in word and in deed, in public and in private. I am grateful for all my patients and I’m so happy that I got to really know this one, be a friend to him in this life and I solemnly pray that we’ll meet again in the next.

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.

Comments

birdiestrachan 2 months, 1 week ago

Ecclesiastes 1 calls it vanity and vexation of spirit it does not satisfy attributed to Solomon who Had All the riches and many women

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