At ten o’clock they started to pray. Earlier in the evening the family had been called to the bedside of my father as he lay dying in hospital in Preston, Lancashire. They had been summoned by the doctor because he wasn’t expected to survive the night.
The illness had started a few days earlier as he rode his Panther 600 motorbike home to Ambleside from Coventry where his fiancée, later to be my mother, lived. As he battled against driving rain on the old A6 towards the Lake District he developed a headache which intensified as the miles passed. By the time he arrived home it was so bad he went straight to bed to ‘sleep it off’. Next morning the pain was worse and his mother persuaded him to see the doctor who admitted him to hospital.
“TB meningitis” the consultant told his family, “there’s not much we can do. Patients reach a crisis point; some get better, others don’t make it.”
This was before antibiotics were in general use to fight the infection revealed in the tests on his ‘lumber puncture’. I remember my dad describing the lumber puncture process with relish when he retold this story. A long curved needle was inserted between the discs in his back into his spinal fluid. A sample was drawn off for tests. His hands and fingers used to describe the arc and length of the needle whilst his face grimaced as he recalled the experience.
So they waited. The crisis came and passed with no improvement. He hadn’t eaten for days, he was thin and weak and had only slept through the intense pain with help from medication.
After the family returned to Ambleside there was little conversation. My mum’s family, the Newsholme’s, were strong in their faith. Grandad Newsholme was Pastor of a large Pentecostal Church in Coventry. They actively believed in miracles. On my father’s side the family was divided. Some were believers, some not. Grandma Stephenson had helped to start the Pentecostal Mission in Elterwater but her husband hadn’t been involved. All four of dad’s younger siblings were believers too. The four older one’s, I was told, weren’t.By ten o’clock only the believers were left in the room. Grandad Newsholme suggested they prayed for healing. So they did. Thirty five miles away, a dying man went to sleep naturally for the first time for two weeks.
The next morning my father sat up in bed – pain free – and startled the young duty nurse. “What’s for breakfast?” He asked. The nurse left the bedside without responding and called the ward sister. He asked her the same question. “What’s for breakfast, I’m starving?””I think you’d better get him something quick.” The sister said to the nurse. That morning he ate a full English breakfast and waited for the puzzled doctor to arrive. He ordered another lumber puncture and then another one.The doctor had reprimanded the lab staff for mixing up the samples because they reported that there was no trace of the infection in my father’s sample. Convinced there was a mistake he ordered the second procedure with the same result. No infection. He concluded in the light of my father’s surprise recovery that it must have been a miracle. The miracle explanation was confirmed when he was told about the impromptu prayer meeting in Ambleside the night before.Within days dad was discharged from hospital and steadily gained strength and weight to be restored to his family. It was 1947. A few months later, in March 1948, he and my mother, Alice, were married in her father’s church in Coventry. I arrived the following summer.
I often reflect on how my existence is due to a miracle of healing two years before I was born and thank God for answered prayer.