When I left Grand Bahama in 1997, I left knowing two things for sure. One was that I was going to be a physician. The other was that I would return to Grand Bahama to open my practice and serve the community that I love.
True to the promises I made to myself, despite many obstacles, detours, and pitfalls along the way, in January of 2019, I came home.
The welcome was warm. I opened my pediatric practice at Lucayan Medical Center on March 1, 2019, and much to my surprise and delight, the patients came streaming in.
Week by week, my practice was growing. I was making a living doing what I loved in a place that I loved. I remember sitting in my office one day in between patients thinking, “It doesn’t get better than this.” With a sense of foreboding, I also remember thinking, “This is too good to be true.” September 2019, I found out that it was.
In preparation to finally put down roots in my hometown, I was looking at real estate. Did we want to buy? Did we want to build? I didn’t care as long as I was home.
The Sunday before Dorian hit, I came across a home that was for sale over the bridge. I was so excited. I got my mother-in-law, and we went driving to see the house in person. I just knew it had possibilities. I was already doing the remodel in my mind. This house was where we would put down roots.
We made an appointment to view the home with a realtor for the following week – once the storm had passed.
That viewing would never happen. A week to the day that I drove by that house, Dorian came and destroyed everything. This monster destroyed homes, snuffed out lives, stole the peace of thousands, and it killed my dream.
When the roads were made passable again, I made my way over the bridge to assess the damage. And I wept.
I wept for the people I did not know whose family Bible was lying tattered in the bushes. I wept for the little girl whose doll was mangled in a fence. I wept for the man whose Sunday suit was strewn in pieces waving like a flag of surrender from a canopy-less pine tree.
I wept for the owner of the house I was going to buy, who was presumed washed out to sea, whose body has yet to be recovered. He is still listed as “missing.”
I wept for myself – for my dream denied.
If you know me, you know I have an enormous capacity for denial regarding Freeport. I watched for two decades as the Magic City gradually became a shell of her former self. I watched business after business, close. I watched landmarks go to ruin, yet the only thing I saw when I looked at my city was her glittering and glorious self.
I saw – and still see – what she was and still could be. This is just a temporary setback, I told myself. We’ll be back. But it sounded weak even to my own ears.
When power was restored at Lucayan Medical, I went back to work. So at least I had that, but then I didn’t.
Daily, my parents came in saying, “Doc, we’re leaving. Can we get a copy of the immunization records for their new school in Canada…in the U.K.…in the U.S.?”
Much like Freeport itself, little by little, I watched my practice shrink to a shell of what it was, of what it could be. And I made the difficult decision to relocate. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, I was taken back to Nassau, shell shocked, kicking, and screaming.
My kids had to eat, and unlike many other physicians, I didn’t have the safety net of a government salary. So if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat.
I take care of people. It’s my job, but it’s as much a part of who I am as my brown eyes or the scar on my left knee.
So in the days following Dorian, as my friends from around the world reached out to see how they could help, I took the money they sent, went into Cost Right, and bought cases of chicken wings, rice, take-out plates, and utensils. Then, I drove to my mom’s house with my supplies and told her we had work to do.
That was the beginning of an 8-week effort to provide hot meals to families in areas devastated by Dorian.
Families were without electricity, gas, and essentials. Many could not even make a cup of hot tea.
I remember an elderly lady in Heritage hugging me and bursting into tears because I gave her a bottle of water. At that moment, I was so overwhelmed by the scope of work to be done. I felt insignificant in my efforts because I knew that it would never be enough.
It didn’t matter how many 40 foot containers of donated supplies I cleared. And no matter how many generators or gas stoves or bottles of water I gave out, I knew that it would take years for Grand Bahama to return to even being the shell that it was when I came home in January 2019.
Hope is a powerful thing. It can make you stubborn to the point of stupidity – depending on who you ask.
Hope has me boarding a plane every week to see patients at Lucayan Medical Centre. Hope has me looking past the abandoned houses with tarp on their roofs. It has me looking past the closed signs on the businesses that never reopened after Dorian. Hope has me looking past the piles of debris lining some areas even two years later.
And hope allows me to see the magic of my city even now. Hope allows me to consider that my dream is merely delayed and not denied – and that one day, I will be able to finally, come home.
My Kids’ Doc Tamarra Moss M.D., D.M. is a Grand Bahamian pediatrician living on New Providence. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and an associate lecturer with the University of the West Indies School of Clinical Medicine and Research. A regular contributor to The Nassau Guardian, she practices in Nassau at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates, and in Freeport at Lucayan Medical Centre. Follow her on Instagram at @mykidsdoc242, and online at www.clubkidsdoc.com.