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As a news reporter, I’ve covered many stories of emergency dashes to hospital.  Earlier this month, I was myself at the centre of one.

The details are startling, and I’ll keep them brief.  My partner and I were on a family holiday in a cabin on the coast of Western Canada.  All day, I’d felt as if I was coming down with a heavy cold, so I headed early to bed.  

My next memory was dreamlike, in a hospital room, a man in a white coat asking my partner if I’d prefer to be allowed to die, or would wish to be kept alive in a vegetative state.   My next memory: my mother gazing into my eyes, calling my name, calling me back.  Gaining consciousness now, I grasped that I had had two brain seizures.  In the ambulance things had seemed at times touch and go.  A lumbar puncture, CT and MRI scans followed. 

The consultants’ conclusion: I had been very lucky.  This was an attack of viral meningitis, and with rest, I would soon recover.  Ten days later, I was indeed back home — taking things easy and reflecting on my good fortune in being near a hospital when it happened, the skill of the consultants, and the kindness of nurses.  

It’s given me time to think about communications and empathy in business, too.  I wrote a couple of handwritten thank you letters to the senior management at the hospital involved, and the emergency team that saved me, enclosing a modest donation to help with their fundraising.  I’ve had two replies. 

The first thanked me in person, quoting phrases from my letter that had touched them, with a handwritten PS saying that the nursing staff would be delighted to read my thanks. 

The other, a few days later from the finance department, was simply a printed out screenshot of the bills I’d incurred, with a message scrawled in marker pen warning me that these bills needed to be paid because I wasn’t covered by Canadian health care.

I’ll pay them, of course.  Travel insurance has paid off.  And I’ll use the shock of that second letter to think even harder about empathy in business relationships.  Do I sometimes treat subjects of my news reports as some sort of news fodder?  Do you sometimes treat your clients’ problems as an intellectual challenge rather than a chance to help?  Surviving a news story at 53 has reminded me that when it comes to communicating, kindness counts. 

PS:  many friends and family have told me that they thought meningitis only effected young people.  It’s not the case.  You can find some very useful advice on what to look out for at the Meningitis Now website.

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