By Kathryn Samson and Jack Thomson
Doctors told SNP MP Amy Callaghan’s family there was an “imminent risk to life” as she was raced to hospital for emergency brain surgery.
The politician collapsed at home in June after suffering a brain haemorrhage but managed to call herself an ambulance, before her partner returned and found her.
The 28-year-old, who represents East Dunbartonshire, embarked on a four-month recovery at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, having to learn to walk again and eventually returning home in October.
Remembering the night she was taken to hospital, Callaghan told STV News: “I was in the bathroom and suddenly lost all movement and feeling in my left-hand side, in my arm and in my leg, and collapsed on the floor.
“When I regained consciousness, I had a piercing headache like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, the worst pain ever.
“Fortunately I had my phone in my pocket and managed to phone myself an ambulance and then my partner came home and found me.”
Asked how concerned NHS medics were when she got to hospital, Callaghan said: “The phrase they used to my family was ‘there was an imminent risk to life’. That’s quite scary.
“That’s the first time I’ve said it out loud, I think. Scarier for my family, at that point I wasn’t aware of how serious it was.”
Callaghan, who unseated then-Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson in the 2019 general election, underwent intensive rehabilitation from two life-saving surgeries.
She said: “You want to skip to the last stage, don’t you. Everyone goes into a rehab unit saying they’re desperate to walk again, but before you learn to walk, you need to learn to sit. I couldn’t sit up straight.
“You need to learn to stand and then you work on your balance and then they let you loose with a zimmer frame to try walking again, so that was quite an intense process, but in typical Glaswegian fashion we used humour to get ourselves through it.
“On a Friday in rehab we would play different songs to have a more upbeat gym session. We would play songs like ‘I’m still standing’ or ‘I’m alive’ just to keep ourselves going and motivated.”
Callaghan, who previously battled skin cancer, said she has learned to treat scars from surgeries as “marks of courage and strength”.
“I think I’d always hidden behind my hair because of the scar on my face,” she said. “I’d used it as a shield to stop myself from being exposed to the world.
“So I’d always worried about scars. It’d always been an issue for me since my teenage years.
‘I always knew that I had the strength and the courage and the determination from being unwell previously to see myself through this.’Amy Callaghan MP
“So waking up to having another one on my head was just devastating to me, but I’ve come to terms with it and I’ve realised now that these scars are what saved me and they are my marks of courage, my marks of strength and I’m not going to hide them any more.”
While her recovery has not been without “dark times”, she knew she would be able to push on.
Callaghan said: “I didn’t ever let myself get to the place where I thought I wasn’t going to make it through.
“I always knew that I had the strength and the courage and the determination from being unwell previously to see myself through this, but of course there were some very dark times that my family experienced and went through as well, so I do sometimes see how happy they are to have me here and that just means that wee bit extra.
“Having Christmas together will be a really lovely time for us all, extra special this year, as it will be for everyone I’m sure coming through this terrible year.”