Annemarie van Gaal: It’s a miracle!

Some people’s powers of recuperation are nothing short of miraculous, writes Annemarie van Gaal

It’s a miracle!


Today I witnessed a miracle. I accompanied a reintegration specialist on a visit to an employee of a company who had been off sick. She has a fixed contract and has been suffering from ill health for a number of years.



A bladder infection meant three months off work, and so did a pulled molar. She had been suffering from every conceivable condition, from heart problems, incontinence and hyperventilation to asthma.



She had come back to work after each episode but now she had been struck down by an undetectable form of rheumatism and had been off sick for over a year. When we came to see her she was wearing a bandage around her right hand. She winced when I made a move to shake it. ‘This’ll have to do,’ she whispered and offered me three limp fingers of her left hand.



Her whole body was shaking and she leaned her head backwards as she talked. She didn’t expect to be able to get back to work any time soon; it would take another year at least. Yes, it was very unfortunate she would end up on invalidity benefit because, really, all she wanted to do was work.


Fortunately, her colleagues couldn’t have been nicer. Some even rang her during the day to listen to her tales of woe.


We said goodbye and I walked to my car. As I was putting my stuff in I decided to go back in and wish her luck for the coming weeks. The front door hadn’t shut completely and as I opened it I saw her standing in the hallway carrying a heavy bag.



The hand that moments ago had been too feeble to shake mine, was now holding a sizeable bag. I realised I had been witness to that special moment: a miracle cure. It was awesome.

Much, perhaps too much, has been said about disgraced top cyclist Lance Armstrong this week, but my divine experience put me mind of his last Tour victory in 2005. Amid rumours that his dominance might have been slightly suspicious, Armstrong had this to say: ‘You people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics: I pity you. I feel sorry for you because you don’t believe in miracles.’


Armstrong’s invincibility wasn’t miraculous. The miracle in his case was that he – and the whole cycling profession with him – was able to con the world without anybody shouting ‘the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!’. That really and truly is a miracle.




Bernie Madoff was known as the miraculous investor, and let’s not forget Tara Singh Varma. The former GroenLinks MP pretended to suffer from an incurable disease and no-one dared suggest it might not be true. Just like no-one dared doubt Madoff or Armstrong.


As long as you are convincing and believe your own stories, you can take in anybody. Armstrong is the Tara Singh Varma of the world of sports. No more and no less. The illness they share is an insatiable craving for attention.


We will probably never solve the doping problem. Armstrong was surrounded by doping experts and the doping authorities will always be panting to catch up with the latest developments. One percent of the population has the personality structure of an attention-addicted, manipulative con artist.


The good news is that personality disorders can be detected. Perhaps it’s time the organisers invited a couple of psychotherapists to join the Tour.




Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality.

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