THE KDK REPORT: Slow motion


Time is rather peculiar. We all live within a vortex of irreversibly sequential events and yet, there are many days when hours feel like seconds. There are other days, especially on an island, where it feels as if time has been suspended, drifting between a snail’s pace and standing still. On those days, when the world feels like it has stopped spinning, I can’t help but think that I’m living in slow motion. And while such challenges may be easily psychoanalysed as perception versus reality, this feeling, can persist unabated for an extended period of time. Nowhere is that clock stopped ticking sensation more pronounced than in at the irreversible moment of tragedy. In a world of slow motion, death is at its coldest and most vengeful - and grief most prolonged.

Born in Mississippi in 1946, my patient hereafter referred to as Cookie has endured a lifetime of conflict and challenges. She’s described her latest trial as moving slowly blindfolded, in a direction that she neither knows nor controls. Her life, she says, is playing out in slow motion which is a far cry from when she was a little girl and the weeks flew by so quickly they seemed to blend into one. But as she shares her life story with me, in a true testament of time’s peculiarity, the events of her youth feel like they occurred just yesterday.

When she was just six months old, Cookie’s family moved from Mississippi to Staten Island, New York. In the late 40s, immediately following World War II, New York was booming with prosperity. Cookie’s mother was a dietician and her father was a hospital maintenance worker and they were able to afford a middle-class life for their family of two girls and two boys. Cookie attended a predominantly white school because that was the district that she was assigned to. She loved school and it wasn’t until she was much older that she realized how pioneering her presence in that classroom would be. She recalls the isolation of being a minority but she was able to make a few friends and it was enough that she looks back at her time there with pride and a pocketful of happy moments.

It wasn’t long before she decided that she wanted to go to nursing school. Cookie’s aunt was a nurse and seeing her in her stiff white uniform and cap fascinated her. Her aunt went on to become one of the first black nurse anesthetists in the state of New York. She became hero and role model to Cookie. Surrounded by smart, strong, hard-working women, made her realise what women, particularly women of colour, could do professionally with determination.

Cookie studied daily and her hard work eventually paid off. She became a straight-A student and her grades were high enough to get into any nursing college in the country but she was rejected from every single one that she applied to. Her rejection letters all delineated the same sentiment – nursing was not a proper fit for her based on her standardised psychological testing and she would likely fail so they implored her to consider another career. Determined to forge her own path, despite her initial rejection, Cookie applied to several other nursing schools, some even more prestigious than her initial cohort, but this time she chose not to include a picture with the applications. Unsurprisingly, she was accepted to all but she ultimately chose to stay close to home and matriculate at a nursing school in New Jersey.

After she was accepted, she opted not to go for the interview and pretended to be sick. So, when she showed up at the first day of classes, everyone stared at her in shock. Needless to say, Cookie was the only black person in the entire school and both students and faculty alike were flustered. But it was too late and they couldn’t reject her without breaking newly enacted discrimination laws. Cookie’s plan worked but within hours, she was reassigned to a private dorm room because other students refused to share a room with her. She could feel them staring at her with curiosity and confusion as they quickly looked away and mumbled amongst themselves. Alone in her room she wanted to cry but it wasn’t long before she heard a knock on her door.

Standing there was a well-manicured and affluent white student. She reached out her hand and introduced herself and said something that Cookie will never forget. Fighting back tears, Cookie vividly remembered her saying her name (hereafter referred to as Linda) and proclaiming defiantly “I’m going to be your friend!”. It was the lifeline that she needed and, in that moment, Cookie’s fears melted away. But the introduction was more fortuitous than even she could have realised in that moment because this very same white student who became her first and only friend just so happened to be the daughter of the president of a large hospital.

Spending time with Linda and her family opened a new world for Cookie. They introduced her to fine dining, exquisite clothing and the etiquette of high society. She would routinely listen in amazement to the business conversations that Linda’s father had and she realized that she was so fascinated with how hospitals are run that she didn’t just want to work at a hospital, she wanted to be involved in making policies that impacted how they operate.

Her aspirations were nearly derailed however when just before leaving nursing school, she found out that she was four months pregnant. The stress of school often disrupted her menstrual cycle so when it was delayed, she quickly dismissed the obvious fears. The school policy was to discharge any student who was pregnant. So, with the advice of an advisor, she never told anyone about her predicament and a month later she left school on sick leave. She wasn’t showing at the time.

Cookie had her daughter, hereafter referred to as Destiny, in 1967. Destiny’s father was Cookie’s high school sweetheart but they broke up in her second year of nursing school. She never wanted to marry him because she felt he would be a road block to her professional aspirations. Though Cookie never embraced her pregnancy, she instantly fell in love with Destiny from the day she was born and the guilt of leaving her to go to school was near crippling.

Cookie returned to nursing school immediately after she gave birth so no one at her school ever knew. Her aspirations to continue her nursing education subsequently led Destiny’s father to sue for custody of their daughter. While she was away attending school, Cookie’s mother and sister took care of Destiny and he felt that Cookie was unfit because she chose not to leave school and take care of Destiny herself. Fortunately, Cookie won but the lawsuit took its toll on her.

Cookie obtained her nursing diploma and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Then with stellar grades and excellent references, she got her masters in Nursing Administration from Hunters College and another masters in Health Administration from Columbia University.

Despite their initial struggles, Cookie encouraged a relationship between Destiny and her father and the two remained very close until he died in his late 30s from pancreatic cancer. Because of societal pressure, Cookie got married when Destiny was eight years old. This was her husband’s third marriage and her first. The marriage lasted 13 years and ended because she preferred working to being a wife. She felt a sense of relief when he started having an extra-marital affair and by the time he passed away later, he was married to his fourth wife.

Personal relationships aside, Cookie’s career soared. She was named hospital administrator for a very prestigious hospital in New York and over the course of her career she was in charge of in-patient care co-ordination focusing on continuity of care and transitioning patients back into the community following hospital discharge. Not long after the AIDS crisis emerged, she was given a grant for a mobile testing unit and she went on to work in the hospital psych unit, urgent care, outpatient treatment and ambulatory facilities, primarily developing treatment centers in urban communities.

Everything went by so quickly until one day in 2022, not long after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Destiny, now in her early 50s, called to say that she was experiencing abdominal cramps so severe she couldn’t go to work. Throughout the course of the day, she took a laxative and pain reliever but continued to experience increasing pain and discomfort. Cookie insisted that Destiny go to the hospital. By 4pm, the pain became unbearable so she did just that. But by midnight Cookie hadn’t heard from her and she instinctively knew something was wrong especially after Destiny’s phone kept going to voicemail.

Panicked and worried, Cookie called around to different hospitals in the vicinity of her daughter’s apartment. By luck and logical deduction, she called the right hospital emergency room. She stated who she was and asked if her daughter was being treated there. A nurse answered and frantically yelled for a doctor. When he came to the phone, he told Cookie that Destiny was there, it was extremely urgent because she’d been rushed into surgery and he needed her to get to the hospital as soon as possible. As her worst fears were realized, Cookie dropped the phone and made her way to her daughter. Her mind and heart raced frantically but her body felt like it was moving in slow motion. In that moment Cookie knew, despite everything she’d endured, that this would be the start of her greatest trial.

This is The KDK Report

• Part 2 of this series will be published next Monday, March 18.

• 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.


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