I am presently seventy-six years of age, and over the past seven years I have had a terminal blood cancer, a lymphoma that almost killed me during Christmas 2016, and three skin cancers; one of them deep and malignant, and for which I await a medical decision if I am to be offered a third operation to remove in the New Year (two previous treatment/operations to remove this skin cancer proved unsuccessful).
The first strange thing that happened to me in life, for which no medical explanation could be provided, was my inability to talk properly before the age of four and a half years old. Seemingly, I was able to make baby noises and babble but not in any way that would make my utterances understandable. The medic my mother took me to in Waterford simply tried to reassure her by telling her," I can find nothing wrong with the boy. Don't worry, once he starts talking, you won't be able to stop him!"
At the age of 11 years, a lorry ran over me. Upon entry into the hospital, and for the following three weeks, my parents were informed daily that I would be dead by the following morning. I was given the Last Rites no fewer than seven times by several Catholic priests during the first three weeks while I remained on the critical list. My injuries were extensive. I had no feeling below my waistline, as a consequence of my body having been twisted around the main axel of the lorry, causing severe injury to all my body and leaving me with a damaged spine that prevented me walking for three years; along with the medical prognostication that even if I lived, I would never walk again. All but two of my 24 ribs were broken in my chest, giving me a punctured lung and a distorted chest. I also had two arms, two legs and a collar bone broken. Indeed, one leg was so smashed up that it required 53 operations over the following two years to straighten it.
Although a tallish boy at the time of my accident, my growth was stunted thereafter, and I never grew another inch taller. Aggravating my overall condition of posture, my left leg was left three inches shorter than my other leg after the 53 operations on it.
A national newspaper described me as ‘a miracle child.’ The medics had no explanation ‘how’ or ‘what’ had led to my spine being able to transmit and receive pain signals again after having been severely damaged; thereby making it eventually possible for me to walk again! Between the ages of 14-18 years, I frequently attended Batley Hospital to have my injuries viewed and discussed by an assembly of doctors, consultants and surgeons. I was effectively acting as a guinea pig of observation for the advancement of the medical profession.
In later years, at the age of 40, I was examined and exhibited all the signs of having cancer of a kidney. For three days, I prayed in the hospital awaiting further examination before they operated to remove the infected kidney; only for the medics to discover that all trace of previous kidney disease which had been diagnosed had vanished during that hospital weekend between the first and second medical examination. The doctors had no medical explanation and therefore assumed the original diagnosis to have been wrong.
Between the ages of 56 and 58, I had two knee replacements and one hip replacement. The only significance of these more normal operations was the lifetime of bone breakage and reconstruction that preceded the replacements, along with the rheumatoid and osteoarthritis that has occupied my body since the age of twelve years of age.
At the age of 59 years, I incurred two successive heart attacks in the space of seven days. My first heart attack resulted in a narrow escape from death after two anxious days of uncertainty. Following my second heart attack, which was more severe, I remained unconscious for four days and nights and had to be resuscitated after my heart stopped three times during that period. The medics attempted to save my life but all their efforts seemed to fail. After their failure to insert stents that merely collapsed and a pacemaker, my family was told the bad news and I was simply supposed to die. For four days, all my family sat around my bed praying for the best but fearing the worst to happen. One day before I regained consciousness, the medics could not explain to my family why I was still alive against the odds.
I mention these episodes of my life, itemising the neverending catalogue of body conditions, injuries/accidents/illnesses I have experienced since childhood, and the outcomes which the medics could not provide an explanation for, not to seek a more favourable comparison with others or to identify any inner strength and miraculous motivational factors of character I was mysteriously endowed with. I describe these events/experiences in the most accurate and factual of words at my disposal as an illustration that they happened to a person who had sinned and offended against others as much, if not more than his peers before their twentieth year of life, and to point out that I am no stronger, more faultless or any less flawed an individual as the next man or woman in the bus queue.
While it was me who undoubtedly benefited from these strange interventions in my life, I have not the slightest doubt that without 'my belief in God' and what I view as nothing less than ‘the power of prayer’, that I would have died long ago; many times. I believe that it was God who prevented me from dying 'yesterday' and who enables me to live 'now', 'tomorrow' and 'every day'.
I know that there will be many of you (whom despite your respect for, and favourable impression you may have of me as a person), cannot come to believe in a God or a spiritual force greater than self and all living matter. But even if you cannot bring yourself to believe in God, I ask three things of you this New Year’s Day of 2019.
First, I ask you to accept that in my life I have committed many wrongs of which I am not proud, but rather ashamed. My worth as a person, therefore, is no greater than your worth. Secondly, believe as factual, the accounts of my illnesses, accidents, medical responses and outcomes that I have fully outlined for you, and please accept them as being 'a true account' of what happened. Third, I ask that you believe there is a power within me that has so far defied medical odds and has kept me alive and walking around, however badly I hobble. This power has been combined with a lasting grace that turned me from a ‘wrong ‘un’ in my first twenty years of life to an ‘okay guy’ in the latter stage of my life.
I know that power within me to be a power that is not of me but is nothing less than ‘the power of God’ in residence. I know that it is God who has watched over me during troubled times and who has never once deserted me in my time of need. I know that as my late mother used to say whenever she heard today's song sung by Jim Reeves on the radio, “Billy, never forget, it is no secret what God can do”. Since meeting and marrying Sheila, I know my faith in God and all mankind to have grown stronger and I am now able to see daily in all walks of life the love of man towards woman and man towards man more clearly, where once, I could but suspect it.
Sheila and I wish you happiness, hope, health and prosperity in this New Year of 2019, and whatever you chose to believe in, please believe in yourself, the intrinsic sense of goodness in others, and the positive power within yourself awaiting unharnessing at your pleasure. Whether you find yourself able to believe in God or not, make your resolution for 2019 that you will become a ‘Puppet of Love’, whoever it is that is pulling the strings!
Love and peace, Bill and Sheila xxx