Tuesday 30 January 2018

A story about Ben Buie

Map of Mull
Lochbuie from Glenbyre
Lochbuie, at the southern end of Mull, is a Southwest facing sea loch which points straight past Colonsay and Northern Ireland. Prevailing South-westerly winds bring huge interrupted Atlantic waves to the heart of the bay, which is a haven for wildlife, including Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles, and Otters. This is the ancient seat of the Clan MacLaine. They accumulated spiralling debt and in 1922 sold the entire estate and moved to South Africa. Past clan members are buried in a mausoleum at Laggan Sands about which graze Highland cattle, Swaledale sheep and Fallow deer. Towering above the settlement is Ben Buie, a 717m mountain the summit of which, on clear days, offers spectacular views across the West Highlands, the Paps of Jura, and the Skye Cuillin.

Lochbuie is home to the only Stone Cicle on Mull

Ben Buie
I have an unusual relationship with Ben Buie. I first ran up this mountain in October 2005. I was a 4th year medical student on a general surgery placement in Oban at the time. One Saturday morning I’d taken the boat over to Mull to meet up with some local hill runners. We’d left a car near the high point of the road between Loch Spelve and Loch Scridain and taken the very boggy path past Loch Airde Glais to the southern coast of Mull. We then turned back inland and struck up towards the summit of Ben Buie itself. We’d reached the summit and were making our way along the rocky ridge back towards the car when I suddenly got the strange feeling of that something was very much not right inside my head. There was no pain, but my eyes could not focus. I think remember wondering if I was having a stroke. I shouted help. And then I remember nothing more.

2 minutes into the climb and the Paps of Jura appear

Half way up and Ben More appears
When I regained consciousness, I had body under each shoulder and with lots of support I was slowly staggering down the grassy mountainside. By now we were just a few hundred meters from the car, probably 2 km north of where I had collapsed. John Coyle, a high school teacher in Tobermory had seen children having epileptic seizures in the past, and he was sure this was what had happened to me. At the moment I lost consciousness my entire body had gone stiff, I fell to the ground, and was shaking violently for 2-3 minutes. I was covered in scratches from the rocks and I had bitten my tongue. Over the next few weeks I had a few tests (blood tests, MRI brain scan, EEG brainwave test) to see if there as any explanation as to why this happened. A neurologist wondered if it had been triggered by an abrupt change in my heart rhythm so I wore and ECG monitor for 7 days. According to the cardiologist who reported it this did not show anything to worry about, though in deep sleep my heart rate occasionally dropped to 17 beats per minute!

The West Highlands from Ben Buie Summit
Despite being a medic – and having a good understanding of the biological basis of what happened to me – over the following months I still felt a peculiar sense of shame that I should have had an epileptic seizure. In many societies today, epilepsy is associated with witchcraft, evil forces, and demonic possession, as it was the world over in times gone by. Yet even here and now epilepsy-related stigma persists.  This is likely associated with the total loss of control the sufferer experiences during a seizure, and the lack of understanding of its biological causes. Perhaps my own experience of this was part of what lead me to devote my career to understanding the causes of epilepsy better.
Since 2005 I have not had another seizure, and until this week I had not been back over Ben Buie. Friday January 26th was a glorious winters day, and I took the opportunity to revisit the summit of this mountain and it was well worth it

Summit Panorama

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