I guess Tuesday 13th August 2019 will stick in my mind for a long time (and is probably etched on Mr M’s mind for ever). As usual I was heading out onto the hills with my walking pal, Beatrix the Collie dog. No Mr M as his knees no longer allow him to tackle the high Munro peaks. So off the two of us set with my rucksack packed with plenty warm clothes, a picnic for me, a picnic for Beatrix, a flask of tea and a drink of juice. Of course, there was Kendal Mint Cake too.
Now those of you who have read my previous tales of heading out towards Glen Lyon, will already know that the drive itself is a bit of an adventure up from Killin on the single track road. It’s not so scary when there is no snow or ice about though (or when you don’t have a backseat driver).
Anyway, arriving at the car park on the Ben Lawers Reserve, the views were already great. I could see a few ominous black clouds but there was a fair old wind about so they’d be blown away, hopefully to give a day of sunshine and showers. It was decidedly chilly for the time of year though so I already had my long trousers and jacket on before I set off.
Ben Lawers is probably one of my favourite climbs (and still remains so even after this latest adventure). Sitting high above Killin, it is the highest mountain in the southern part of the Scottish Highlands and is actually the tenth highest Munro in Scotland. Is that why I love to climb it? Not really. I love this range of mountains because of the remoteness you feel even though in reality you are only a short distance away from civilisation. The route I prefer takes you first up the smaller Munro of Beinn Ghlas. The route twists and winds its way up the first mountain and with every turn you are blessed with views that seem to open up even more, revealing mountain after mountain. The route is a mixture of a bit of scrambling at times but also a feeling of strolling along a grassy path, with the extra bonus of a short ridge to descend before the final ascent to the goal of Ben Lawers at 1,214m (3,984ft). To put it in perspective, Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain is 1,345m (4412ft).
I was having a fabulous day. I chatted to lots of different people, including a lovely lady and her son who spent time throwing stones for Beatrix (who would soon become my heroes). Shortly after leaving the car park I found myself surrounded by the biggest, juiciest bilberries I have seen for many years. I worked out that by the time me and Beatrix had eaten our picnics on route, our sandwich bags would be empty and I would be able to amaze Mr M with a huge batch of bilberries for turning into our lovely wild berry jelly jam. Usually you have to spend all day picking these tiny berries to gather enough for even a small batch, but today would be different. So I made a plan to gather these lovely bilberries on my way back down to the car.
Before long, the heat of the sun and the shelter of the mountains brought out the dreaded midges on mass. I stopped and smothered my midge spray over my face and hands and even rubbed it into my hair as I could feel them munching on my scalp. Always one for taking a bit of reaction to midge bites I am always armed with midge spray.
However I was soon laughing at the midges as before too long the afore mentioned ominous black clouds opened and my waterproofs were swiftly put on. The rain was soon blown away again but I left my waterproofs on to be fore armed for the next downpours (a move that proved very helpful later as I lay on the ground).
So we progressed up the twisting path of Beinn Glas. Beatrix found her stone for the day and encouraged everyone she met to throw it for her. Trust me! Collies have a way of letting everyone know exactly what they want you to do.
It was turning into a glorious day. The views were, as always, just stunning, the sun was shining and I was feeling great. As you near the top of Beinn Glas there is a little respite where you almost feel to be walking along a grassy field. The steep twisting climb has been conquered and there is a good long section of level walking before the next final haul to complete the first Munroe of the day. The wind at this point starts to pick up as you gain height and exit the shelter of the lower mountains so my trusty woolly hat was now on (again another good move for later).
Once over the final ascent to Beinn Glas you get your first view of the summit of Ben Lawers and the route now descends over a shoulder ridge. I always put Beatrix on her lead at this point as the ridge has some step drops. It’s funny to watch her because she always waits at for me here as though she knows the lead will be coming out. Maybe she is glad of the security of the lead over this section (or maybe she thinks I need her help over this section!). Anyway, as we descend we have a bit of a chat (yes I chat to my dog!), Beatrix gets a couple of her biscuits, I have my Kendal Mint Cake and I take lots of photos.
As we approach the final section of Ben Lawers, we stop to have a chat to a couple of other walkers who also have a collie. Beatrix and the dog have a bit of a run about together and I chat away to the walkers for a good 10 minutes. We parted company once more and they set off down the mountain and I set off to finish Ben Lawers. That’s when totally out of the blue my head started swimming and I felt like I was spinning round. Sit down a minute Debra I told myself. I sat on a rock and watched the world literally go round and round. I must be a bit dehydrated I told myself so I sat a little longer and ate my apple. Looking up at Ben Lawers I suddenly lost all inclination to climb to the summit.
Just at this point is actually where you can join an old deer stalker’s path around Beinn Ghlas that eventually takes you back down to join the path down to the car park. I decided that not feeling too clever, the best thing would be take the easier track down. I could gather myself on the easy walk down, find a good spot for lunch and then pick the bilberries on my way back to the car.
Standing up felt a little strange and I was certainly light headed. Undeterred, I started down the track. Now going along a track on a slight descent you would imagine would be an easy task. All of a sudden I felt like I was carrying an elephant on my chest, I had pins and needles down both arms and across my face and breathing was, well, a bit difficult. Just putting a foot in front of the other was so difficult but I managed to get myself to a flat looking rock and plonked myself down. A little voice said to me, “Debra, get your lunch out, have a sandwich and a cup of tea”. So I tried this but not very successfully. The little voice laughed at me now and said, “You’re trained in first aid Debra, you know what’s happening really”. So lots of things started going through my mind. I was fit, healthy and not even out of breath at the top of the mountain, why would I be having a heart attack. Seriously? What to do? Laugh as you will, but I got out my iphone and took a selfie of myself to see how I actually looked. Well, that scared me even more than how I felt. Yep, I was having a heart attack. Right, let’s phone 999 and summon help. Well it’s at this point that I realised by walking down the track that little way had in fact taken me away from the phone signal you get at the top of the mountain. Oh flip! I know I thought. That WhatsApp thing that Benjamin told me about is good when you don’t have a signal. Not wanting to alarm Mr M at this point, I sent a message to my trusty pal, Crafty Sal. I told her how I felt, where I was and that I had no signal to call 999. Oh flip and more flip! I could see that the message did not go.
It was at this point I really started to have a bit of a panic. I looked back up the hill and saw the lady and her son I had been talking to earlier. Right Debra, calm down, try to relax and wait for them to get to you. Beatrix by this point was starting to have a bit of her own panic as she realised all was not good with her walking pal and was barking away to tell the whole world. As they approached me I told the lady I did not feel too good, though I guess she could probably tell this. I remember having a discussion about what to do and she said that she would go back up to the top of the mountain and summon help.
So, I waited. I moved myself down onto the ground, and waited. To be fair, there was not much I could do by then because my whole body felt like it was getting buried in cement. My arms would not move. It’s funny the things that cross your mind at times like this. I thought how sad it was that I now could not manage to send a message to Mr M. What if I died of this and he then found out I had sent a message to Salena and not him. I was sure that Salena would have enough about her not to tell him though. What about Ben and Chloe?
So from there, things get a bit blurrey. I remember hearing Beatrix barking and barking like she has never done before. She was licking my face and bringing more stones for me (stones make everything ok in Beatrix’s eyes). I was aware that more people came and told me everything was going to be ok. They wrapped me up in my spare jackets and I told them I had emergency blankets in my rucksack. Emergency blankets that I have carried around with me for over 30 years and never needed to use! It’s at times like this that the closeness of a stranger’s face, the feeling of somebody holding your hand and a reassuring voice is everything to you.
Amidst my confusion, shock and nausea I was aware that somebody said the helicopter was on its way and that somebody had spoken to Jim. I was conscious enough to worry then that Beatrix would be afraid of the helicopter and even more afraid that I was getting lifted into it. It was also at this point I realised just how strong the down-draught of a helicopter is!
I remember bits of the helicopter ride and getting aspirin to chew. To be honest, by the time I was Ninewell’s Hospital, the heart pain had diminished and I was just exhausted. I no longer felt that the worse was imminent and even told myself that I had been exaggerating how I felt.
Fast forward a few hours – Salena by now had received my message and was phoning me to tell me to calm down and to phone 999. Can I just tell you that twice I have needed Salena’s help and twice she has not answered my call so her friendship membership was well and truly cancelled. (We have laughed about this since though and I reinstated her friendship membership).
What followed was a blur of blood tests, drugs, more tests, more drugs and a tired Mr M eventually finding his way up to me after hours of worrying and driving. He of course, had the tough decision, knowing that I had suffered a heart attack and was being airlifted to Dundee, to have to get one of our lovely neighbours, Chris, to drive up to his favourite Glen Lyon, collect Beatrix and my car, drive all the way to Kirkintilloch then drive all the way up to Dundee.
Anyway, over the next week or so, I was fastened to a heart monitor, had blood tests, echograms, an angiogram, more blood tests, was discharged home, re-admitted to hospital in Glasgow, more echoes, more blood tests and an MRI.
All the results showed that yes I had suffered a heart attack and my heart has suffered a little muscle damage. However, my angiogram and MRI show that all my arteries are perfectly fine. So, although there has been a heart attack, the cause is most likely to be an infection of some sort attacking my heart rather than my heart being in poor shape. Tests are being carried out for Lyme’s Disease and I am being pumped full of antibiotics after I told them of an infected bite on my ankle a few weeks back. As the consultant told me, get back to your usual self as quickly as possible, rest when you want to rest and before long you will be back making scones and climbing Monroe’s as normal. I am at no greater risk of suffering another heart attack than any other person. This could have happened to me at any time and was not caused by climbing the Munroe.
So now I need to recover. I am tired. I am sore. I am a bit emotional. But I am Debra and those of you who know me well will know that I will aim to be back in action before long. I am on a bucket load of drugs that lower my already low blood pressure, lower my already low pulse and lower my already low cholesterol so I am a little unsteady on my feet and constantly feel light headed. My body will adjust to this soon though. My right arm is still sore from the angiogram so I can’t roll out pastry at the moment! My veins look like every one of them has been punctured and I am bruised everywhere. But that’s all.
I am incredibly grateful for the amazing people who helped me, both on the mountain, in the helicopter, in Ninewell’s Hospital and Glasgow Royal Infirmary. A bit of public investigation has told me that it was a lovely Sarah and her son who originally found me and ran back up and down the mountain to get in touch with the emergency services and Jim. Judith and Colin were the young couple who helped get me covered in jackets and my emergency blankets. Caroline was the lovely lady who sat alongside me, kept me calm, warm and held my hand. Niall and his brother were amongst those on the hill helping to keep me warm and safe and took the most amazing video of my helicopter rescue. There were so many people whose names I have not found out.
Beatrix did what she thought best and barked the whole world to my rescue. Dogs really are man’s best friend.
The comments I have received on Facebook have been absolutely overwhelming and really have kept me going over this last couple of weeks. You are all amazing.
Of course, I am blessed to have the magnificent Mr M at my side. I will always be eternally grateful for this and for the fact that he loves and knows me enough to not have said those words, “you will never go on the hills alone again”. He is though getting me a new GPS device that will allow me to contact emergency services when I am out of phone signal!
And where do the Lemon Wannabes come in? Well fortunately I had a stash of these with me on the hill and at home so these kept me going in the hospital when I just needed some of my home baking.
Of course, the song for this blog has to be How Long Have I Been Sleeping by Jackson Browne.