August 16, 2021
Stories this photo appears in:
THERE is a rhythm to island life that foreigners may appreciate but only natives can fully understand. Day by day, the oft dull percussions of the land and sea beat slowly with no regard for time. Islanders move at their own pace and work if they feel like it or if they must.
I was born in Nassau, Bahamas, many years after the 1960s civil rights movement and segregation fight that plagued America, our closest neighbour. So, as a young black child, with the fortune of time, I was mercifully and geographically shielded from the weight of my own complexion.
ON an island where time already crawls, during rainstorms it can sometimes feel as though the world has just stopped spinning. Within this vortex, where the sun is blanketed by thick dark clouds and all forms of life have retreated to shelter, time feels suspended, like dust particles in the air without a breath of wind. For those who live alone, the quiet can be deafening leaving an eerie, palpable, feeling that you’re the only person on the planet.
RAISING parents is hard work. In the Caribbean and perhaps in other locations and cultures as well, children and their parents, under the best of circumstances, maintain an inextricably close bond.
AS blanketed as it may initially sound, humans enjoy and rely upon the concept of order. Whether it is in law or in life in general, we depend on certain conditions, practices and expectations without which we would be awash in a sea of confusion. On a daily basis, the sun rises and then the sun sets. Simple and easy to understand.
I once worked at a prestigious hospital in New York and there were many days when I tracked how many times I walked up and down the stairs from the residents’ lounge to various parts of the hospital. Sometimes I timed myself.
MANY years ago, while I was still a resident on my orthopedic rotation in New York, I was paged to the surgical floor for a code blue emergency. One of our in-house patients was in severe respiratory distress. She was an elderly lady in her late 80s, perhaps early 90s and she was surrounded by her adult children when she suddenly felt weak, began slurring her speech and then stopped responding to their questions altogether. As her children panicked, rubbing her leg and chest and calling out her name, one of her sons yelled for someone to help. The cardiac monitors were beeping loudly and a nurse came running in as the crash team quickly assembled.
IN my last report, I told the story of my patient Whitney who, in September 2019, fought against unimaginable odds to survive as the winds and swiftly rising waters of Hurricane Dorian pummeled her home on Grand Bahama. The surge of water was so strong, so fast, so deadly that she and her neighbours were forced to escape without warning, walking against the winds and sharp stinging waters attacking them as they made their way to the nearest shelter, a church less than three blocks from where they lived.
BEFORE getting up, my patient Whitney stretched her entire body, rolling over repeatedly making maximum use of her comfortable king-sized bed. Even after a solid seven hours of sleep, she was still yawning and yearned for more rest. It was a typical Saturday morning and she vividly recalls how soft and warm her bed felt particularly since outside was abnormally cool for early September. She turned on her TV to hear the weather report.
DOCTORS told Emily with a modicum of certainty that she’d never be able to have children. She was 21 at the time. Diagnosed with a severe form of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), her ovaries were inundated with cysts and for months she’d been exhibiting irregular menstration, weight gain and excess body hair. Emily was happy to finally have an answer that adequately explained all her symptoms but the news that she would never have children was devastating.
THIS past week, I was fortunate enough to watch as one of my former summer interns walked across the stage at the prestigious University of California (UCLA) school of medicine to accept and don his white coat for the first time and recite the Hippocratic oath that all aspiring doctors take.
EVERY year, Bahamians from one end of the archipelago to the other lament the relentless broil of the summer’s heat. And this summer’s simmer has been particularly ruthless. Some of the hottest days on record occurred during July of this year with a heat index (feels like temperature) that oscillated between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. But unlike other, less tropical, locales we are often shielded from the intense heat by the shade of palm and coconut trees and cooled by the balmy breeze of our turquoise ocean.
IN a moment of self-reflection, it is not unusual for an overwhelming torrent of emotion to inexplicably take hold of your soul as you plummet into a dark void. In that downward spiral, your heart feels like it’s being squeezed, your breath sucked out, and you wonder if the slow beat of a once happy heart will ever return. In those moments of grief and melancholy, even the strongest amongst us can succumb to the tentacles of depression. It’s unbelievably harder when the one experiencing the unexpected is still a teen.
BRENDA slowly got out of bed. Her clothes were soaked in sweat; her legs shook uncontrollably. And with her lower back pulsating, like hammers beating on a goatskin drum, she stumbled to the kitchen to get the next glass of water so she could swallow the anti-inflammatory by her bedside. It would be the sixth attempt in less than 24 hours to reduce the inflammation that was now dominating her life.
A BLANKET of milky white clouds, as far as her eyes could see, assembled in quiet unison and then slowly drifted away.
Death is an ever-present shadow, looming and growing more ominous as we age. The older we get, the more the threat of death seems to close in on us.
ON a daily basis, I meet and interact with patients from all walks of life. Last week, I wrote about how a friend from an affluent background complained about the rising price of water lilies, which she needed to purchase for the Koi Pond in her garden.
IN Japanese culture, having a garden pond filled with Koi fish is believed to bring good fortune to home owners and their visitors.
THERE are approximately two trillion galaxies in the universe. The Milky Way galaxy houses Planet Earth and over 100 billion stars including the sun. To give this an accurate sense of scale, just consider that over one million Earths could fit into the sun. Now it’s easy to appreciate that despite how self-absorbed we all are, the truth is whether we’re a large nation or a tiny island, we are but a speck of dust in an infinite planetary system.
LOCATED 20 miles west of New Providence and spanning 104 miles long by 40 miles wide, Andros is by far the largest island in The Bahamas.
MY earliest tangible moment of self-reflection occurred when I graduated high school. It was the first time I’d ever looked back on my life and contemplated my future; seriously contemplated that is. Before that, there were lots of times when I contemplated a piece of that future, like what the next Saturday night would hold or how many more weeks I had to wait to get my driver’s license. But nothing compared to ending the longest chapter of my life to date, the school years before I would have to leave home and all the comfort and familiarity it represented.
MIRRORS are a tool of visual self-reference extensively used and universally trusted, so much so that the expression “mirrors don’t lie” has become near commonplace.
FROM the sixth to the 16th century, the Roman Catholic church was by far the most dominant religion in Great Britain.
THROUGHOUT out the world, and especially in sophisticated Western industrialised societies where divorce has evolved from scandalous to commonplace, one of the most common reasons that couples split is infidelity.
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.
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.
ALONG the double-stranded DNA helix, and coiled chain of anti-parallel genetic code, lies the biological information necessary for the survival of our species.
THE concept of time can often seem arbitrary. One day it may feel like the day is crawling forward at a snail’s pace and the next it can feel like the day flew by so quickly you barely had a second to relax. Years go by and you wonder where the time went as your baby, who was only just crawling, is now applying for a driver’s permit. In those moments, it’s natural to wish for life to slow down.
THE famed Nile River is located in north-eastern Africa where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Whether or not it’s the longest river in the world is up for debate but certainly, without reproach, it remains the most historically significant. Dividing Egypt in two, the Nile was quintessentially critical in the evolution of the Egyptian civilisation as it was used to transport goods, provided a never-ending supply of food and single handedly nourished crops utilised for sustenance and trade.
QUITE often when a loved one dies, it’s the silence of the loss and the regret of things left unsaid that cripples us. Then, as others leave us for the unknown, this grief, the words left unsaid and the hugs we intended but didn’t fulfill, add to our personal guilt, compounding the pain we feel from the loss itself.
ADAM opened his eyes but quickly shut them. He’d been living in darkness for over a week because opening his eyes elicited such burning pain that his head felt like it would explode. His eyelids were swollen to twice their size and half of his face felt tight and twisted.
PEOPLE rarely ask ‘how are you?’ any more. Perhaps it’s a consequence of this new era in a post-pandemic world, one where unmasked individuals, flanked by their own problems, no longer feel the need to make small talk with strangers. Or maybe it’s not that we don’t care, but we don’t want to open the conversation for fear of hearing about yet another person who’s died from COVID or cancer.
AT ANY given moment, life is like a revolving door. Where you emerge determines your choices. Decisions you make set your course of opportunities or challenges. But with every challenge comes the possibility of loss. And if there is a loss, is there a lesson that will give birth to new beginnings? Then with hard work, wisdom and luck, will blessings someday follow?
IN 2006, while sitting outside her home with family members and enjoying the cool night breeze, my patient (who’s chosen the alias Kelly) felt an urge to urinate. She dashed but before she made it to the restroom, she felt warm liquid trickling down her legs.
WE OFTEN learn life’s lessons, whether consciously or subconsciously, through our own experiences or by learning from what others have taught us but the lessons that resonate most deeply typically come from individual trials.
MOST human beings suffer from childhood amnesia. We don’t remember being born or learning to walk or speak.
IN an effort to combat illicit drug use amongst minors, US First lady Nancy Reagan created the slogan ‘Just say no’ in the mid-1980s, just as the war on drugs ramped up in the United States. The campaign was international and throughout her husband’s presidency, it became her mission to educate children about the danger of peer-pressure and the physical and social ramifications of drug addiction.
THE internationally beloved movie, Mrs Doubtfire, starring Sally Field and Robin Williams, was released in 1993 and quickly became a smashing, box-office success. In it, Williams played a devoted and loving but unreliable father who temporarily loses custody of his children following his divorce.
PSYCHOLOGISTS have long proposed that the reason we love comic book superheroes is because we all secretly desire to be the heroes of our own lives.
SEVERAL years ago, a palliative nurse in Australia wrote a book detailing the top five regrets of individuals on their deathbed.
MANY beloved fairy tales were morbidly gruesome in their original connotation. Sleeping Beauty, for example, was unconscious when she was savagely raped by the king. Then, to add to the heinous nature of the act, he murdered his wife hoping to be with the woman he assaulted when she awoke. Soldiers were told to cut out Snow White’s liver and lungs to feed to the evil queen. In retribution, she was forced to dance at Snow White’s wedding in burning hot iron shoes until she died.
IN January 2020, while getting ready for church, my patient sat in his living room chair to put on his shoes.
BEFORE the internet became mainstream, my father owned a set of medical encyclopedias.
TIM spent summers with his grandparents on the island of Andros during some of the happiest times of his life. He recalls as a child awakening to a warm, bright sunlight that boldly danced across the island sky and wrapped it in a deep red and golden yellow hue.
WHEN obligations conflict with one another, whether it’s work versus family or friends versus other demands, it may start as little more than a slight irritation or hurdle to overcome and then quickly mushroom into what feels like an insurmountable mountain. Sometimes trying but failing to climb that mountain leads to a gut punching sense of failure where you begin to feel like there’s no way out and you’re being sucked under by quicksand. The farther you sink into the unknown, the more you feel like death is closing in and you’re drowning, just four feet below the surface.
FOR over a century, The Commonwealth of The Bahamas has been revered across the globe as a tropical paradise.
FOR over a century, The Commonwealth of The Bahamas has been revered across the globe as a tropical paradise.
GROWING up on a remote family island with limited access to traditional western medicine led many indigenous Bahamians to find alternative natural cures for their medical ailments.
THERE are certain, remote, sections of The Bahamas that are so serene and untouched that the sheer beauty of this sun-kissed landscape is utterly breathtaking.
AT any given moment, our lives can change forever. Just the notion of how split-second fast it can happen is frightening.
HAVE you ever noticed that whenever you take a breath; not a shallow, routine, in through the nose and out through the mouth breath, but a deep sustained proper breath – everything suddenly gets a little better. Your mental clarity is enhanced, your posture improves and you immediately feel more relaxed and energetic.
AT 6,500 feet, while flying a single engine plane from Nassau to Florida, my patient’s engine failed. He was alone in a cocoon of absolute silence. He knew that his survival hinged on his ability to locate a safe place to land. Fortunately, he was able to restart the engine but four other times during his one hour flight, the engine malfunctioned. At the time, my patient, hereafter referred to as AJ, was in his mid-30s and although he managed to land safely, this would be the first of many lessons he was forced to learn about remaining calm in the face of life-threatening danger.
THE last speech ever delivered by civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr took place on April 3, 1968, and was entitled ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop’. The speech was in support of economic justice for striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee but Dr King Jr also spoke about having personally faced difficult days. It would end up being the final and most memorable of his words. The man who tried to change the world through peace died by violence. He was assassinated the following day.
THERE are certain definitive sink or swim moments throughout our lives that define each and every one of us. Those moments, while outwardly silent but internally screaming, require hope, stamina and strength of character to survive. This necessary strength is bolstered by knowing that someday, over time and as the seasons change, life will once again become bearable and if fortunate enough, happy and fulfilled.
MANY of us spend so much of our lives consumed by what’s happened in the past or what should or could happen in the future, that we fail to live in the present. Those who fall into this category aren’t truly living, they’re simply surviving day by day and hoping that their next day is fractionally better than the last. But then there are others who live in the moment. Grateful for every second of life, oftentimes because they’ve come so close to losing it.
THERE’S something uniquely American about baseball – its simplicity, the hot dogs and the cheering fans in the stands create what feels like a community connected.
AT 1AM, my patient receives a phone call from the police. There’s been another car accident. He kisses his wife goodbye, puts on his overalls and grabs his work bag in the garage. Within ten minutes, he arrives at the scene, tonight and often times before the ambulance on call. The road is blocked by at least four police cars and the glare from their flashing siren lights pierces his cornea in the darkness of the hour. After almost 40 years in this profession, he’ll never be fully comfortable with the nightmarish feeling that a night like this elicits.
Every human being, at some point or another, is called to the spotlight. In that moment you finally feel noticed and, in the best of circumstances, appreciated publicly for either your talent or physical attributes. This is the moment when stars are born. The very best of us excel during those moments and, from then on, spend a lifetime living beneath the intense glare that’s demanded by being at the centre of the stage.
JUST before sunset, the yellow, red and orange of the horizon are kissed by the dusk of a glooming nightfall. In those moments, light, for the final time that day, quickly but majestically peaks through the window pane.
MANY years ago, I was employed as the chief resident for foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York at both the main Manhattan and the smaller Queens locations.
WORDS matter. Repetitive encouragement can strengthen a child who’s lost their way but a solitary negative comment, by contrast, can incarcerate that same child in a prison of self-doubt forever. Words, over time, can also begin to lose meaning. The word Diabetes some 20 to 30 years ago evoked intense worry among patients and their loved ones. Today it’s become so commonplace, especially here in The Bahamas, that it’s no longer taken as seriously as it once was.
FEAR is unpredictable. It can turn the brave into heroes or lay bare previously camouflaged cowardly traits for the world to see. But in our darkest hour and for a small few, the fear of the unknown can manifest courage so great it nearly defies explanation. Those are the stories that make headlines. It can also allow those willing to face the storm directly to channel their adversities with grace.
UNDER the cover of darkness, Anastasia and her family fled the bombing and gunfire now ravaging their homeland. No one in the car that evening could understand how they arrived at this point.
GROWING up and living on a remote family island offers a wealth of peace and tranquility few outsiders can comprehend. With a small population, everyone on the island is either a family member or neighbour and there’s a genuine sense of community throughout the entire land.
WELL-KNOWN for its beautiful beaches and world-class museums, Niteroi is a city in the southeast region of Brazil, facing Rio de Janeiro and just across from Guanabara Bay. It is also the birthplace of one of my patients, who like so many others, has had to overcome more than her fair share of challenges.
THROUGHOUT the course of history, we’ve all inherently benefited from the immeasurable sacrifices of our forefathers. Men and women who, through their contributions to the betterment of mankind, have made our lives infinitely easier.
WHEN two people choose to marry and unite their lives into one, they make a legally binding contractual commitment to be together and love one another from that day forward, in sickness and in health. It is a solemn vow that they pledge in front of a priest or wedding officiant and a congregation of friends and family. But I often wonder, if people could look into the future and see the trials that they’ll endure as a couple, if they could see the sickness as well as the health, would they still be as readily forthwith in reciting those very same vows.
THROUGHOUT the course of our lifetime, there is an unwavering and universal truth that we must all accept.
RELATIONSHIPS, both romantic and platonic, are often complicated and even ones that have lasted for years can begin to wane beneath the pressure of distance and time.
ALL musicians, spanning the breadth of history, can attest to the fact that music has the power to heal. There is a song for every heartache and one for every celebration. No matter the genre, every melody, chord, tune, lyric and sound is capable of touching the soul and jarring or soothing our every emotion.
THERE was a time growing up in Nassau, and perhaps many places, when finding out someone had cancer was so rare that it was considered shocking. The island gossip mills churned for weeks on end with callous disregard and absolute bewilderment by the mere occurrence and in some cases friends of the newly diagnosed quietly shied away out of fear that it might be contagious.
A POPULAR theory amongst gardeners is that the lunar cycle can affect plant growth. It follows that as the moon’s gravitational pull alters the rise and fall of ocean tides, it also directly influences the amount of moisture in the soil. In doing so, planting seeds in the right moisture conditions will allow the seeds to germinate much faster and accordingly yield bigger, healthier plants.
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.
IMAGINE having chest tightness so excruciating it feels as if there’s a 300- ton crane sitting on top of you, intermittently squeezing more and more deeply and crushing your sternum making it harder to breathe. In 2019, following four years of the most agonising chest pain imaginable, my patient was wheeled into the operating theatre for her third heart surgery.
VERY few individuals can comprehend the intense and extreme mental toll placed on a person when multiple loved ones become sick at the same time. This is the real-life story of one such saga, so compelling I am telling it in a two-part series. This is part one.
IN the early nineteenth century, long before the Prohibition Act was passed, there was a lesser well-known movement in the United States to ban the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors, the consumption of which was conveniently blamed for all of society’s ills.
A COMMON saying, widely attributed to ancient African cultures, asserts that it takes a village to raise a child. This responsibility is made infinitely more onerous when just a single parent is involved in the process.
SPREAD across the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the chain of islands that encompass The West Indies are ripe with cultural observances. Locally here in The Bahamas, Junkanoo is by far our most celebrated and globally acknowledged ethnic tradition. For those unfamiliar, Junkanoo is a street parade held historically during the winter, on both Boxing and New Year’s Day.
The proprietor of my after-school day care loved to watch soap operas. It was such a constant fixture of my childhood that I learned the theme song for each show long before I could properly tie my laces.
NONE of us can recall the exact details of the day we were born so our knowledge of that day is limited to what our parents tell us. Despite this, every birthday is a cause for celebration whether someone organises it or we are old enough to do it ourselves. Some, like myself, prefer to travel to celebrate while others enjoy a quiet evening at home with loved ones. Many like to throw parties where food, cake, music and alcoholic beverages are typical expectancies and turning milestone ages like 18 and 50 often triggers the most extravagant events.
GETTING punched in the eye is a different experience altogether from getting punched anywhere else on the body.
A UNIVERSAL unwavering truth is that at some point, we will all die.
A UNIVERSAL unwavering truth is that at some point, we will all die.
HAVE you ever noticed that members of the Rastafarian community have largely remained relatively unscathed by the COVID- 19 pandemic?
There’s a stark difference between being captured and imprisoned and being born into captivity. The major difference is in the mindset of the prisoner. A man once free and then locked up oscillates between anger and depression, drowning in the loss of the freedom he once enjoyed. Someone born into it, however, simply cannot appreciate this loss with the same level of desperation and comprehension.
Every parent has a dream for their child. Some have intricate plans of what schools they should attend and what career they should choose. Others are less rigid, focusing more on the type of person they will develop into and the hope that they can find happiness along the way. The patient highlighted in today’s report is the mother of three children and her dreams for her second child, her only son, were shattered when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 20.
In 1992, Mike Tyson, the heavy-weight champion of the world, was charged with rape, tried and found guilty. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to go to space, the notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar escaped from prison and Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States. That year is also notable for the Los Angeles riots which erupted following the acquittal of four white police officers on trial for the beating of Rodney King.
In The Bahamas we have a special breed of dogs known as Potcakes. Colloquially named after the overcooked (burnt) rice at the bottom of a pot that nobody wants, these dogs are incredibly resilient. As such they appeal to those who like animals but are not so crazy about caring extensively for them.
EVERY human being has at least one physical characteristic they’d like to change or, in the very least, enhance. That demand has fuelled a multi-billion-dollar global make-up and skin care industry.
I have flat feet. My mom has flat feet, my dad, my siblings, my cousins. We’re just a happy flat-footed Cartwright family.
SOME of the most beloved children’s novels lie within the portal fantasy genre. The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter are just a few standout examples.
ONE of my favourite subjects in high school was English literature.
MY entire family, at one point or another, went to the same nursery. It was our first of many centres of matriculation but while there, we were never exposed to typical scholastic pursuits. In fact, to the best of my recollection, we never once learned anything about the alphabet, colours, numbers or writing.
A grilled chicken and bacon sandwich with spinach, spicy mayo and avocado. It did little to show his creativity but for the 26-year-old chef featured in today’s article, preparing that meal was a welcome relief.
Before moving back to The Bahamas, I trained and practiced medicine at hospitals in Canada and the US, ultimately becoming the chief resident for foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. It was there that I was taught to inspect the operating theatre before every surgery. I learned the importance of speaking to the nurses, scrub technicians and the anaesthesiologist and to introduce myself to anyone that I hadn’t worked with before.
THE universal thread that connects each and every human being is the need to be heard, wanted, trusted and appreciated. Many people search their entire lives to find their proverbial soulmate - that one true love who makes them feel safe and wanted. Young girls start planning their wedding long before they even have a mate.
I’ve lived in three different countries and four different states and one of the many lessons I’ve learned throughout my travels is that the person who is quick to smile is the same person who is quick to cry. As diametrically opposed as the two may be, they remain two halves of the same coin.
THERE are some days when getting out of bed comes with great ease and other times when it is a hard-fought mountainous struggle.
I’M OFTEN asked by friends, patients and family members alike what I consider the most frightening, the most difficult or the most agonizing of all medical conditions that I’ve seen throughout my career. In every case they were, as I assume you will be, surprised to hear my response.
There is a line in Les Misérables wherein one of the characters affirms there is often a grief that can’t be spoken and the pain goes on and on.