Alex Hilton: Near-death shock opened my eyes

It is difficult to know the correct amount of gravity to apply to this statement. I am OK. I am still in hospital. I am getting better. But on Friday I nearly died.

After a stressful week at work and what I thought was an evil bout of flu, I was stricken with an incomparable headache, which led to me being taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington on Friday afternoon. It was midnight by the time I got the diagnosis that I had the brain infection, meningitis. It was made clear that had I spent another night vainly popping random painkillers, I would have been an ex-PRWeek columnist.

St Mary’s Hospital, from the porters to the grandest consultant, has treated me with the greatest care, compassion and respect.

Furthermore, despite my fevered hallucinations, staff sought to engage me in my own treatment, to respect my autonomy as a patient and my confidentiality. And on top of these ‘niceties’, they saved my life.

It is strange to think autonomy can be so important, but when reduced to a pain-soaked shell one feels irretrievably powerless. It would be so easy for hospital staff to treat patients as a passive element in their care. But they took time to explain and reassure and I felt at every point that it was me that was being treated, not my ailment.

As a lowly PR guy, the first thing I think is: Why does my perfect experience of this hospital, and presumably that of most patients, not come to the attention of the hospital’s comms team? On the contrary, there is never a shortage of bad news stories about hospitals in the press.

Maybe they are too busy firefighting the things that go wrong. This selfless and humane culture in St Mary’s does not seem to include a dredging of patient experiences for PR-friendly diamonds.

As a PR professional, I do not know now what advice I would offer them. But as a patient, I could not think more highly of them for their sensitivity.


Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey

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