Heroes on the front line

From tending to the sick, to enforcing the law and stocking shelves, a special grouping of people commonly referred to as “essential workers” helped push the country through uncharted waters, offering selfless service and invaluable sacrifices through one of the roughest times in The Bahamas’ modern history — earning the title of “hero”.

While everyone stayed indoors, in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, these individuals left the comfort of their homes, many at unusual hours, sacrificing time with their families, their own peace of mind and in many instances their own life, to uphold their duty to the country.

While this article celebrates only a handful, there are countless others whose service throughout the pandemic is worthy of honor.

After spending five nights a week stationed at the intersection of Baillou Hill Road and Cowpen Road as part of the road block team of police and defense force officers, 40-year-old Inspector Freddie Lightbourne said the toughest part for him was parting ways with his crying four-year-old daughter, Skylar, who clung to his arms and legs begging him to stay home with her and her mother every night.

Freddie Lightbourne.

“People who are not parents would never understand how hard it is to still walk out of the house when you have your daughter pulling on your arm,” Lightbourne said.

“Daughters are attached to their fathers, especially my daughter. Every time I would get up to grab my shoes or my uniform, she would know that means daddy is going out for the night. She was used to daddy being home with her reading her a story at night or lying down with her. It got to the point where I had to start keeping my uniform in my car and telling her I’m just going to get something, when really I was going to work. But on the same token, if I don’t go to work, then there’s a hole, per se, because I’m responsible for things. So, I have to pull away from her, my four-year-old child, to uphold my duty to my country.”

Lightbourne described the work done by members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force as “invaluable” and said officers go above and beyond, upholding the law, and it was evident during the peak periods of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lightbourne was a part of a team of officers conducting checks of individuals passing their roadblock during lockdowns and curfew hours.

“We became like family, man,” Lightbourne said. “It got to the point where we got familiar with people. I knew who drove what, who worked where, what time they were coming and going. It became like home away from home. And every officer who went out there and did their part should be considered heroes. Yes, it is our job and yes,  it is what we signed up for, but they are all heroes.”

In October, Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said over 200 police officers had contracted the novel coronavirus since March.

The news came after Ministry of Health officials noted a cluster of cases among the uniformed branches of law enforcement.

Lightbourne said his concern was ensuring he did everything he could to protect himself and his family from the virus.

“When I got home, I would take off all my clothes at the door and place them in the washer,” he said.

“I’d have shoes for outside and shoes for inside. It wasn’t always the most fun, but you know, it’s what I signed up for and is a part of serving my country.”

Lightbourne’s story of dedicated service to the country, regardless of what it cost him and his family, was quite similar to that of hundreds of other Bahamians considered essential to the day-to-day operation of the country during this rough time.

For some, their service to the country nearly cost them their life.

 After working as a nurse within the public healthcare system for 27 years, 54-year-old Anarose Reckley thought she was at death’s door in September, after contracting COVID-19 while working at PMH.

Anarose Reckley.

Working at the dialysis unit, tending to patients with kidney issues, Reckley said she knew something was wrong in early-September, when she fell ill.

“It started with me just feeling nauseous on the first day,” she said. “Then on the second, I started feeling very weak, but I still went to work.

“About three or four hours in, I noticed that I felt a bit warm. So, I got a thermometer and noticed that I had a fever. I called employee health (department) and told them that I was feeling very unusual. I had never felt that way before. So, they told me to stay home.

“By day three, I felt like I was going to die. I started having shortness of breath and I was just feeling really bad, loss of appetite and everything. Even though I didn’t have all the signs like coughing and sneezing, I still took the test and sure enough, I have COVID-19.”

Reckley said there is a certain joy she gets out of being a nurse, being able to help people who need it most.

She calls it her gift and her calling.

“One morning, I woke up and said, ‘you know something, I’m going to talk to the Lord’,” she said.

“I said, ‘Lord, you gave me this profession to be in and you said I must go out there and minister to people through my hands and I know you’re not going to let me go like this’. I thought I was going to die.”

After two weeks of bush medicine, walking outside and working to get her spirits up, Reckley said she was able to return to work within less than a month.

There have been dozens of nurses who contracted COVID-19 while on the job; some who lost their life.

The mother-of-two said while the work of nurses may go unnoticed or under-appreciated sometimes, the sacrifices made are unmatched.

All of them, she said, should be considered heroes, having given of themselves, their time and their all without second guessing.

“Three weeks after fighting COVID-19 myself, I was back on the battlefield,” Reckley said. “But it’s because I love what I do.

“I love ministering to people through my hands. Sometimes, because of what’s going on or what people may see in the media, some may think we don’t do enough, but nurses work really hard and we do what we must to help with the health of our nation.”

Never in his wildest dreams did 28-year-old Dr. Devon Creary imagine that he would spend his second year as a senior house officer at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) on the front line in the fight against a deadly virus.

Dr. Devon Creary.

But it was a challenge he faced head on daily, donning a hazmat suit and fully decked out in personal protective equipment (PPE).

For the young doctor, his duty as a physician who stepped up when he was needed most, was even more challenging as he balanced taking precautionary measures with preparation of becoming a father.

“It was to the point where I would try to hardly be around, but be around as best as I could,” he said.

“Changed my clothes just [as] I got in the door, sprayed down everything as I got in the house, just doing everything I could to be sure I didn’t bring anything home or did anything to my family. Every single day, I worried about it.”

With his son, now four-months-old, Creary said things haven’t changed, as he foresees his extra-precaution being the norm until the virus goes away.

Creary said everyone who has worked in hospital throughout the pandemic deserves recognition — from doctors to the support staff, as they were all on the front lines daily doing what they must to positively impact the lives of their patients.

“There were definitely times when we were burnt out and it got exhausting, but everyone pushed through and worked,” he said.

“We knew we had a job to do and everyone did it selflessly. We know there were persons at home trying to get better to come back to the workplace. You know, we have to take care of ourselves, but there are many sacrifices made.”

There were times during the second wave when health officials described PMH as overcapacity amid triple digit daily confirmed cases.

Creary said even for the strongest of doctors, there were times when they needed to sit back and regroup.

“Many days, I woke up and I [said I] can’t do this,” he said. “But I gave myself a pep talk, whether it was with a relative or even looking at my son for some motivation. I know that there are people out there who need us. Again, this is what we signed up for. We have to push through.”

At the end of the day, Creary said, there’s a love and passion for what he does and he’s sure just about all of his colleagues feel the same. 

He said while there is definitely a risk associated with what doctors do, their duty to the country is important.

“I had a few exposures where I had to go into quarantine three different times due to contact with positive patients,” Creary said.

“When you work on call and you see these patients in the emergency room, you’re not too sure what’s going on or what happens when they come in. You try to ensure that you have all your PPEs on, your gowns, your face shield, face mask and stuff, but sometimes things can get a bit hectic in the ER; or if there’s a patient who might have to go into the operating theater, you don’t have time to wait for a test for that patient, so you have to take precautions going in as well.

“Every day you go in to work, you know there is a possibility of catching COVID-19, but at the same time, you have to protect yourself. This is the job we signed up for, to help save lives and that’s what we do at all costs.”

After being a member of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) for 31 years, Chief Petty Officer Dwayne Mackey said this has been the most challenging year he has seen.

Chief Petty Officer Dwayne Mackey.

“Our manpower, we had to break it down because you didn’t want everyone on one time. If somebody got sick, then everybody would have been sick. So, what we did was we broke the department down in shifts. So, definitely, this year and this experience has been the biggest challenge, as far as I can remember,” Mackey said.

“The closest thing to this, in terms of challenging, in my recent memory, would have been Hurricane Andrew in 1992.”

Throughout the pandemic, Mackey has been responsible for the RBDF’s speedboats used during the blockade of Nassau Harbour and Family Island ports in an effort to secure the country’s borders.

His role has gone without major recognition or praise, as he and his team were not the officers usually seen on the streets.

A father of two, including a 16-year-old son he raises alone after the passing of his wife, Mackey said things got challenging personally at times, arranging for things like pick-up or drop-off.

Mackey’s 24-year-old daughter is in university, but home for the holidays.

The officer said his love for his work keeps him going, even when times get rough.

“It’s what we signed up for,” he said as he chuckled.

“Especially, what I do in the engineering section, I’m responsible for ensuring the boats come and go. So, I have to look at it like if I fail, then there’s a huge part of the engineering department that fails.

“So, you just go above and beyond to get the job done. We realize and hope that all of this doesn’t last forever, where everyone can get a break. All of our officers work hard. They work extremely hard.”

Mackey said throughout the past 10 months, there has only been one positive COVID-19 case on his team, which even then created quite the scare.

“We did have a case where a boat near the Berry Islands capsized and a member of our team went down there to rescue the people,” he said.

“He had to go in the water to get those people and bring them back to harbor. By making contact with one of those persons, he contracted the virus and I think he was out for two or three weeks.”

Speaking with Mackey, you’d quickly learn about his positive outlook on life, looking to impart all of what he’s learned, during his three decades on the RBDF, to younger officers.

“My department, I try my best to support them and support the command, so the command can get up in the morning and know that they don’t have to worry about that section of engineering because they’re straight,” he said.

“So, we try our endeavor best to keep that department running as close to 100 percent as possible. And my next thing is being able to impart my knowledge and experience to the younger people who work under me. That brings me great satisfaction to actually see at some point, they come from underneath you and become in charge of a department.”

One of the most forgotten roles during the pandemic has been that of those who kept shelves stocked in grocery stores.

From the beginning, when long lines wrapped around stores as Bahamians followed strict protocol with designated days for grocery shopping, to the uncertainty of when stores would be allowed to open, these unsung heroes kept bread, milk, eggs and other items in reach of consumers. 

A construction worker, Sterling Cooper, 53, was left wondering his next move when work on a project ended in March.

Sterling Cooper.

In an effort to keep food on his table, Cooper took on the job of stocking shelves at Hadji’s, a small convenience store on Perpall Tract in New Providence.

“When the bigger stores got packed, people came here and man did they shop,” Cooper said.

“We had quite a bit of people day in and day out. There were times when there were basically no groceries in the first two aisles. As you stock the shelves, people cleared them out. So, we had to just keep stocking and stocking. And you know, I enjoy doing it. The guys who work here, we all did it together.”

Among the hot sellers in the store were breadbasket items, as well as other less expensive items like noodles and soup, in addition to cleaning products.

As bread became hard to find, Cooper said, people eventually cleared the shelves of flour and yeast to bake their own.

Cooper, who has never had children of his own, said he has learned a lot throughout the pandemic.

“You really have to appreciate what you have,” he said. “You just never know. I would have never expected I would be in construction and without a job. You never know. You really have to appreciate everything and save. You know, they say save up for a rainy day. That saying is so true because you just never know.”

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Kyle Walkine

Kyle started with The Nassau Guardian in June 2014 as a broadcast reporter. He began anchoring the newscast four months later. Kyle began writing national news and feature stories in 2016. He covers a wide range of national stories. He previously worked as a reporter at Jones Communications. Education: College of The Bahamas, Bachelor Media

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