Part One: When I Was a Child
Welcome to the Boyle Family
My story really starts on 1 April 1961, the day I was born.
Whenever I go past it now, Bangour Hospital looks a sad, deserted place, because it has been closed down and all the services transferred to St John's Hospital in Livingston. The listed Victorian buildings stand derelict and abandoned awaiting development into flats, if the local economy ever starts to turn around.
In 1961, however, Bangour was a thriving model hospital built in the form of a village on a hillside. It led the world in some medical fields and the maternity unit served the whole of West Lothian. When my mother arrived there in labour, the hillside was bright with golden daffodils and the sight of spring lifted her spirits for a moment. She was apprehensive. Having given birth to eight children over a period of twenty-three years, she had been advised not to have any more because of physical complications, but when she was forty-five along came yours truly. The doctors considered the danger so severe that they offered a termination, but, as a devout Catholic, that would have been unthinkable for my mother. She wanted to give this new life a chance.
It was two weeks before I was due and my mother was suffering from high blood pressure and oedema. During the birth it was touch and go for her as well as for me, but, eventually, I was born by emergency Caesarean section. When my mother came round from the anaesthetic, the doctor was looking at her very seriously.
'You have a girl,' he told her. 'She's very small and she needs help with her respiration, so we have her in an incubator.'
There was none of the usual, 'Congratulations, Mrs Boyle! A beautiful baby girl!'
When my father appeared at my mother's bedside, she knew immediately that something was wrong.
'She was starved of oxygen for a wee while,' he said.
Although the words hadn't yet been spoken, my mother was an intelligent woman and she knew what that meant.
'She's all arms and legs, like a wee frog!' my father told her, smiling.
It was a few weeks before my parents were allowed to take me home. The doctors had explained that it was likely that I had suffered slight brain damage caused by perinatal asphyxia. 'It's probably best to accept that Susan will never be anything. Susan will never come to anything, so don't expect too much of her.'
I'm sure they had the best intentions, but I don't think they should have said that, because nobody can foretell the future. What they didn't know was that I'm a bit of a fighter, and I've been trying all my life to prove them wrong.
In those days, people like my parents thought that doctors knew everything. It must have been very shocking news, especially as my mother was still fragile after the birth. They'd had eight kids who in their eyes were perfectly 'normal', although their second little girl, Patricia, had died in infancy. Then along comes this baby with problems. How on earth were they going to cope with that at their late stage in life?