Just over three months ago, Shaftesbury resident Simon Hill was given a shocking medical prognosis. He was informed that he was unlikely to live and leave Shaftesbury’s hospital. But Simon has made an incredible recovery.
Now he is determined to help the friends and family of people in comas and intensive care understand a patient’s perspective on what is happening. ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones met Simon.
Simon Hall was sipping tea, sitting on a stool in the High Street Bakery, when I spoke with him. Dressed smartly in a tweed jacket, shirt and tie, it was hard to believe that he’d recently been given ‘end of life’ care. It was just before 10am on Wednesday morning. Simon was staring out of the window, watching the heightened activity as the town’s traders opened up and Shaftesbury sprung into life. It was a scene Simon had not expected to see again.
As we chatted, Simon explained how a family meal in Berkshire had turned into a medical emergency. “After lunch, I had the most chronic stomach pain. Lorna, my wife, had to drive us back to Shaftesbury and it just got worse and worse,” said Simon. “The next day I spoke to my GP. He said ‘phone for an ambulance – you’ve got to go to Salisbury hospital’. They discovered that I’d fused my bowel and they needed to do an operation. I had a heart attack while they were doing it. My heart stopped, but then I developed pneumonia. So, with the combination of the heart attack and the operation, they decided I wouldn’t survive a further op. They told my wife and son that they would transfer me to Westminster Memorial Hospital for end of life care. That was fourteen weeks ago.”
Simon says he was ‘shaken’ when he was told he was being offered end of life care. “But one has to remember that in an intensive care unit, you’re quite heavily drugged. It doesn’t come over quite as dramatically as it sounds. It’s a discussion about how poorly you are and, therefore, how do they progress?”
I was surprised to hear that Simon had ‘cheated death’ once before. Thirty or so years ago, he contracted Legionnaires disease. He needed specialist care and was transferred from Reading to London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, where he spent a month in an induced coma.
“One of the side effects was that I lost all ability to move. So my muscle capacity disappeared and all I could move were my eyes and one finger, but then I got transferred back to Reading. I was still unable to use any muscles. I spent another month in Reading and then got well enough to be transferred home, but still confined to a wheelchair,” said Simon.
He recovered and went on to successfully manage businesses on the South Coast. He started researching experiences of coma patients and began voluntary work helping one of the hospitals that saved his life. “I got to know a lot about being in a coma. Before we moved to Shaftesbury, I had started to get involved in the voluntary support team for the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.”
Simon can still recall some of his feelings. “During an induced coma you have some horrendous nightmares and some very odd experiences. I also had them in Salisbury, in ICU. I wasn’t in an induced coma there. It is thought that is how you react to being critically ill.”
Simon says he can remember some of the conversations he heard when he was in a coma. He had some unusual moments, events that other former coma patients have recalled. “You have these interesting experiences of levitation, where you’re looking down on yourself,” explained Simon. “I also had what they call a near-death experience, which was when my heart stopped. So you’re in a bright tunnel and, in my case, at the end of the tunnel I could see my father who had been dead for fifteen years.”
Simon said he doesn’t recall any sense of frustration when he was aware of what people were saying but couldn’t communicate with them. “That’s not a concern at the time. But one of the experiences you get is that you think the hospital staff are trying to kill you. I even have a book on the subject now.”
Now, in his recovered state of health, Simon accepts that staff weren’t intending to harm him but, at the time, his suspicions seemed genuine. “There’s nothing to suggest that but at the time it felt like it,” he said.
After his two traumatic medical events, Simon is offering to chat with people who have had similar experiences. “The patient won’t discuss it with the hospital staff. They won’t talk to friends and family about their dreams in case they think they have gone ‘mental’,” said Simon. He’s keen to reassure patients who have had similarly harrowing encounters that it’s quite common and normal.
It’s an odd and rather unsettling conversation to have during the mid-morning bustle in a town centre café. Simon is testimony to the excellent medical care available and he feels that some former patients may benefit by sharing their personal stories.
Simon’s GP has been pleasantly surprised to see Simon recovered and walking around town. “He can’t believe it,” Simon said. And he says his second serious health scare helped him to evaluate what is important to him. “I suppose I’m beginning to think more and more. I really want to start doing things to enjoy myself and get involved with, because I don’t know how long I’m going to be around.”
If you think that chatting to Simon would help you, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.