The Conservative MP Thérèse Coffey has claimed she “came close to dying” from a brain abscess and blamed it on the stress of being a government minister.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Coffey revealed she was diagnosed with the rare brain abscess in May 2018, after she had pain in her head for several days.
Coffey said she sought treatment after she began slurring her words and hallucinating. Her sister, who has worked in her parliamentary office as a secretary since 2015, then raised the alarm.
“The hospital rang home and said somebody needs to get here quickly,” Coffey told the paper. “So my mum, who must have been in her eighties by then, came up and we did the flashing blues and twos down to King’s [College hospital] and I was operated on that night.”
She added: “I woke up the next morning, and the thing I was most distressed about was that I had lost my eyebrows. They had just gone. I think it was just the stress of it all.”
After the operation, the MP for Suffolk Coastal spent a month recovering in hospital and was unable to drive for the next year.
She said she has since had to work on rebuilding “aspects” of her memory. “I couldn’t remember the words for certain things. I can remember thinking … I can’t remember what these things are,” she said. “It was slippers, and it still happens now. It’s like my brain had locked itself and then if I said a word again, it would come back again.”
Coffey, 52, resigned from her role as environment secretary last month before Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle. Before that she held the post of health secretary and deputy prime minister under Liz Truss.
The MP blamed the brain abscess on the stress of her job at the time as under-secretary of state in the Department for Environment.
“I just overdid it and burned the candle at both ends,” she said. “Michael [Gove] had come in [as environment secretary] and had really upped the pace and was really pushing on a variety of issues, and we were working very long hours trying to get stuff done and really trying to make a difference.”
She said Gove and Julian Smith, then chief whip, urged her not to return to work until she was properly better and assigned her responsibilities to another minister.
Coffey said she had since learned to better manage stress and that experiencing a brain abscess led her to “live in the moment” and “grab opportunities”.
“I do value life more now than ever,” she said. “I came close to dying, and I think looking back that if my sister hadn’t phoned St Thomas’s [hospital] and they hadn’t done that scan, I probably would have been dead in a matter of days. It gives you a different outlook on life and it’s not me trying to be a depressive Catholic on this, but the truth is this could all stop tomorrow.”