This song has been covered by numerous noted singers such as: The Hollies, Billy Fury and Glen Campbell to name but a few.
Like myself at the age of twenty-one years, Conway Twitty had gone to live in Canada because he believed it was the ‘Promised Land’ for music and up-and-coming singers. The song was released in my 15th year of life. The previous three years had witnessed my world being turned upside down after having been run over by a wagon and left with my twisted body wound around the main drive axle shaft until I was freed an hour later.
My multiple injuries involved almost every bone in my body broken and a damaged spine and a lung puncture; injuries that brought me to death’s door. My parents were told over my first three weeks in the hospital that I would die. I’d been unconscious for many days and was on the danger list for over one month before I discovered that having no feeling below my waistline indicated my spine to have been irreparably damaged in the accident and that I’d never walk again.
In the days of 1954, all hospitals were run by Matrons, Consultants, Doctors, Medical Juniors, Sisters, and Nurses. Down at the bottom of the hierarchy was the ‘Orderly’. The Orderly was an attendant in a hospital who was responsible for the non-medical care of patients and the maintenance of order and cleanliness in the ward. While part of their role was to mop the floor, wash all the surfaces, wash out the bedpans, clean out all the patient’s bedside lockers and attend to any request the patient might make, they were far more important than these mere tasks suggested.
They provided an important thing that hospitals lack today (largely due to the many administrative changes since the 1950s and insufficient funding resources to meet current levels of patient needs). They provided a human face who you saw daily, someone who had the time and inclination to talk to you, a person who would go out of their way to attend to your every need if at all possible: someone who did not remain in that safe corridor of ‘professional detachment’, but who instead spoke with you like a good neighbour or best friend might!
After I had been in the hospital a month or thereabouts and had been removed from the danger list, although I was mightily aware of the pain everywhere in the upper half of my body, I could feel none below my waistline. Both of my legs had been operated on several times to straighten them out, and naturally, it never entered my mind that I’d never be able to walk on them again. Although my parents had been told this news earlier, they left it to the doctors to explain it to me and answer the questions they knew I’d have.
I’ll never forget that morning in 1954 when my hospital consultant accompanied by two other doctors in white coats and a stern looking matron (in a shade of blue that suited her prevailing mood) stood at the end of my hospital bed. I had been moved out of the sideward a few days earlier into the Male Adult Ward of Batley Hospital. In the adjacent bed was a hospital patient bandaged from head to foot. He’d been a war correspondent who’d had a horrific accident and broke his back. He was a close friend to the Jazz celebrities of the day, Humphrey Lyttleton, Johnnie Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and it pained him immensely to know that his love of Jazz would never see him dance to it again. He’d been told he'd never walk again. He did, however, introduce me to jazz.
That morning, my world fell apart when the hospital consultant told me that I’d never walk again. My father had, in his twenties, played international football for his country of Southern Ireland and I (also having good soccer skills, and having been born in Southern Ireland) had also dreamed of one day playing internationally like my father before me. I instantly welled up in tears and after the medics had left my bedside, I broke down and cried into my pillow.
A few minutes later, the Orderly called Gwen saw me in tears and after silently approaching my bedside with half of her usual wide smile, she simply cuddled me as much as my body dressings, hospital attachments to my broken arms and plaster-of-Paris moulded chest would allow. After a minute or so, Gwen asked, ‘What’s worrying you, Billy?’ (The names of all ward patients were at the head of the bed). Tearfully I said, “The doctors have just told me I’d never walk again!” I will never forget her reply.
Such news from the medics was news that my ears didn’t want to hear at that time; news that every part of my being didn’t want to believe. This Welsh orderly, who was a somewhat oversized lady of small stature and jovial characteristics straightened my bed covering calmly as she said, “What do they know about it! Who says what they say is the be all and end all?”
These were words I needed to hear at that precise moment. When western medicine tells you that you will never walk again and you don’t want to believe that message, then you start to believe in something else; a different message that offers hope. I refused to accept the medical prognostication, and over the months and years ahead, this 12-year-old boy started to read everything he could get my hands on about eastern medicine and disciplines in meditation, relaxation, dance and balance.
I eventually started to believe in much of what I read (no doubt because that is what I wanted/chose to believe in). In short; I started to believe in the words that Gwen the hospital orderly, friend, mother-figure and my Florence Nightingale had spoken to me on the morning of that fateful day my life changed for the better. Essentially, the message that I was receiving from Gwen was, ‘You choose what beliefs you want to hold; you and nobody or nothing else determine what you choose to believe, and only God chooses what will be.” This sentiment was also summed up in Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio
I know that in many ways, others today will simply hold the view that ‘It is Only Make Belief’ that I was at play with that fateful morning as Gwen uttered her prophetic words. However, nothing will ever persuade me that though others may have thought I was engaged in 'make belief' that I made that morning’s make belief ‘my belief’ over the crucial years ahead. Within three years of my traffic accident, my spine had medically inexplicably re-connected with my brain and I started to regain the use of my legs. I started to walk again at the start of my 15th year of life.
Love and peace Bill xxx