My song today is ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’. This country music ballad was written and composed by Kris Kristofferson and released on his 1970 album ‘Kristofferson’. It was covered later in 1970 by Sammi Smith on the album ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’. Sammi Smith's recording of the song remains the most commercially successful, and best-known, version in the United States. ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ also became Smith's signature song.
Other cover versions which were inspired by Smith's success with the song included Tammy Wynette: Loretta Lynn: Glen Campbell: Dottie West: Joan Baez: Jerry Lee Lewis: Elvis Presley: Mariah Carey: 10-year-old Lena Zavaroni: Michael Buble: Gladys Knight &The Pips, and Willie Nelson.
Kristofferson's original lyrics speak of a man's yearning for sexual intimacy. They were controversial in 1971 when the song was first covered by a woman, Sammi Smith in that case: "I don't care what's right or wrong, I don't try to understand / Let the devil take tomorrow, Lord tonight I need a friend."
Many people will stay awake nights for many different reasons. Some may be unable to sleep because of pain or illness, others from worrying thoughts preying on their mind, and some because they are facing some momentous event the following day that will emotionally drain them and sap their energy levels. Fear may stop some people getting to sleep while nightmares may produce a fearful awakening. Whatever prevents one settling at night, the one thing of which we can be sure is that not being able to sleep is a most unwelcome and health-draining experience.
I recall a lengthy hospital experience after incurring a life-threatening traffic accident at the age of 11 years, when a large wagon knocked me down on the estate where I lived. The wagon ran over me and stopped on top of me with my body wrapped around the main drive propellor shaft. I suffered several life-threatening injuries including a damaged spine, collapsed lungs, a crushed chest and every limb in my body broken in at least two or three places each. I was at death’s door for a month and when I eventually regained full consciousness, I was in excruciating pain. I remained in hospital for nine months and had over fifty operations on my legs during a two-year period. I was unable to walk for three years after my accident.
When I was initially run over, my body was in so much pain that it did not register. When I eventually regained consciousness in the hospital, it was like being run over by a lorry again. No number of analgesics could numb the pain. For many months, pain registered only in the upper part of my body initially as my spinal damage left me with no feeling at all below my waistline. At first it was feared that I would never walk again, but after four or five months in hospital, the connection reappeared between brain and legs as the spinal signal system corrected itself. Once my spine started functioning again, the pain reappeared in my legs with an intensity that is indescribable, but ‘pain in my legs’ represented ‘life having returned to my my legs’, and I was happy to feel it!
For almost six of my nine months in Batley Hospital, the high-level of pain I felt continuously would keep me awake all night as the rest of the ward slept soundly. It was very strange and frightening for an eleven-year-old boy in a man’s hospital ward to be awake in the dark of the night while other patients slept soundly, unknowingly groaned, farted, and even died (requiring the nurses to get the porters to take the corpse to the morgue while they remade the bed with fresh sheets, ready for a new occupant the following day).
Those long nights awake on the hospital ward left one with their thoughts being the only thing to occupy them. I learned that things which are capable of scaring any boy during the daytime appear ten times more frightening in the dark of night with only oneself to talk them over with.
In my 60th year of life, I had two massive heart attacks in the same week and was unconscious for four days as my family gathered around my ‘death bed’. After having a pacemaker installed, I miraculously recovered, as the heart stents they installed all collapsed. Paradoxically, I have not had any trouble with my heart functioning since, although I have greatly modified my lifestyle and never over-energise myself.
During my 70th year of life, I contracted a terminal blood cancer and needed three years of monthly blood transfusions (each one lasting six hours) and two nine-month courses of chemotherapy. During this three-year period, I was to have three emergency admissions when I was close to death after developing a lymphoma. Indeed, my death was medically expected by the hospital staff, and I was placed in an ‘end-of-life’ ward and had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ placed on me without the knowledge of myself and wife, and most certainly without the sought permission or consent of either of us. Beware! It appears that this unconventional and morally indefensible medical practice is seemly perfectly legal under certain medical circumstances and conditions prevailing and can be authorised by any head of the ward that day.
During each of these emergency hospital stays (lasting around one month each), I remained critical in condition while being fully conscious throughout my hospital residency. On each occasion, my death was thought to be imminent, although this thought never once crossed my mind. To me, I was poorly, and I felt very ill, but I never once considered myself to be dying. What I do recall vividly about these emergency hospital stays was the high level of body pain that kept me awake during most of the night, and which led me to sleep on and off during day-time hours. My third emergency hospital stay saw me being in ‘an end-of-life ward’ with three other dying patients.
I found it very unsettling after I told them ‘I was on the wrong type of ward’ and I was simply ignored. Indeed, my first conversation with another patient on that ward was to introduce myself by saying, “Hello there, I’m Bill. Pleased to meet you!” to which the other patient replied, “You won’t be knowing me too long as the doctor has just told me that I only have 14 days left to live!” It was after this unexpected response I received the added information, “There again, we’re all dying on this small side ward, as it is an ‘end-of-life ward’, you know!” The point was, prior to that precise moment, I didn’t know! As soon as I found out, I wanted out of there as soon as possible, but my request was repeatedly denied.
My response was one of utter anger. The patient across from me who had been handed a doctor’s death warrant half an hour before I was admitted to the ward then told me that the other two patients in the small ward had also been served with their medical death warrants and added that all three of them were being allowed home ‘to die’. I was not able to go home, and my request to move wards was flatly refused. I was so angry that I determined that whenever and wherever I was to die, it would not be now or on that ward! The other three patients on the ward subsequently died over the month ahead. I still recall the long nights in pain for three weeks of my stay when I was unable to even manage half an hour’s sleep.
This hospital experience took my mind immediately back sixty years to the time when I lay awake as an 11-year-old boy in Batley Hospital during the early morning hours as other patients slept or occasionally died around me. Indeed, I found it wholly inexplicable that any of the other cancer-ward patients could sleep, knowing that within the month, that is all they would never do thereafter! After I determined not to die there and then, my immediate response was to start writing another novel. I already had 63 published novels to my name, and I was determined that I would write another called ‘Fourteen Days’ which I drafted in rough during my long nights awake on the end-of-life ward in ‘Airedale Hospital’. The beginning of the novel contained a factual account of my entry onto the end-of-life ward, and after penning the first few factual chapters, I allowed my artistic licence to stray into the realm of pure fiction. It is ironic that writing about my own dying experience during the night was probably a major factor in keeping me alive to live another day, and then another, and another!
I had been a Probation Officer for over 25 years before disability obliged me to retire prematurely at the early age of 53 years when severe osteoarthritis impeded my walking ability once more. During my Probation Officer career, I was to work with many people who spent nights unable to sleep because of some problem they experienced. The range of problems would be physical, mental, emotional, or psychological, often dating back to their years of their childhood and early life. Some clients had recurring nightmares because of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a father figure. Some women had been raped or had been married to a wife batterer, and from three women serving long prison sentences in a Wakefield women’s prison with whom I worked, one had killed her crying child one night by smothering the child with a pillow, after the distressed child had kept her awake on three consecutive night, crying all night long. The two other women prisoners I worked with had killed abusive partners they had lived with and could not escape from. Both were frequently reported to have been victims of forced sex and physical assaults by their partners.
Since I have been a member of the social media network of Facebook, I have befriended many people (women mostly) who have had bad experiences with menfolk they have either married, met, or courted before being betrayed, lied to, and deserted by. There are so many women out there who spend most of their nights awake and ruminating about things ‘that might have been, if only…..’
In my professional past, I soon discovered the real harm that prolonged periods of lost and unsettled sleep can cause. That is why fifty years ago, I specifically made a relaxation tape that was designed to send the user off to sleep with its pace of speech (identical to the breathing pattern of a sleeping person) and its subliminal messages (self-hypnotic suggestions). The tape was highly successful, and since 1972, over 10,000 recordings have been freely handed out to people with sleeping disorders. I turned down an offer of £10,000 to sell the copyright to the relaxation tape during the 1970s to a musical company, and have always provided copies of the tape free to people in need of it.
Because I have practised Relaxation Training since the age of 11 years (I am now 78 years old) and because I have instructed Relaxation training for over fifty years, even in the mid-1970s, I was regarded as being one of the country’s most authoritative sources on Relaxation Training. Anyone wishing to improve their sleeping practice, or lower their blood pressure levels, or simply reduce their stress factors has free access to my tape, ‘Relax with Bill’. Bear in mind that although produced to the highest of studio quality for its time when it was originally recorded (and which cost me £2000 of my own money to produce in 1973/4), that original recording is now fifty years old, and yet it is still being daily used by hundreds of satisfied people across the world. It could ‘help you make it through the night’?
PS: Three types of people for whom the Relaxation/Self-Hypnosis Tape is UNSUITABLE include: (1) Persons with brain damage: (2) Pregnant women: (3) People whose blood pressure level is always low. The reasons for the above exclusions is that the Relaxation Tape significantly lowers blood-pressure levels, which is ideal for the vast majority of trainees, especially people whose blood-pressure levels are far too high anyway, but which is medically dangerous for people whose blood pressure levels are usually too low. The Relaxation Tape also helps to produce favourable brainwave changes, but it is considered unwise to be used by people with brain damage of any type. If you play the tape in bed, before the month is out, you will be asleep before the tape reaches its ends
Love and peace Bill xxx