A person getting struck by lightning is a rare event. Surviving a lightning strike is even rarer. And the injuries caused by a lightning strike vary so much that doctors rarely know what to do. The effects can be immediate or delayed, present in different organs, and work against each other. Then there’s psychological damage, as survivors deal with fear of the outdoors and a sense that no one understands what they are going through. Shana Williams Turner was struck by lightning in 2015. No one knew how to react, so her sister searched the internet for guidance. The results said to go to the hospital.
When lightning hits a person, it sends 300 million volts of electricity across the body in three milliseconds. The current flows externally, disrupting or short-circuiting the body’s electrical systems, such as the one that controls the heart. Cardiac arrest is the most common cause of death from a lightning strike. Brain damage from blunt-force trauma caused by the shock wave is also common. The jolt can severely burn skin, and in some cases it etches an intricate web of scars on the body that resembles the form of a lightning bolt itself, known as Lichtenberg figures, which fade within days for reasons unknown. Most people survive because the lightning hits the ground nearby or passes through a taller object such as a tree, or, in Shana’s case, the transformer.
Greg pulled up to the emergency room entrance and Shana stumbled out. She felt a rising panic, as if everything was caving in on her. A security guard, sensing that something was wrong, took her under his arm and dragged her into the emergency room. When doctors learned that Shana had just been struck by lightning, she was rushed onto a gurney and hooked up to an electrocardiogram. Nurses dashed around her in a blur, taking more vitals. Later, a doctor said that her blood pressure was abnormally high, but that there were no burns or obvious signs of injury. For that reason, no additional tests were ordered. Shana stayed overnight for surveillance, leaving the next day feeling as though she knew next to nothing about what had happened to her.
The worst effects of the lightning strike took time to emerge, and were often discounted by doctors and insurance adjusters. Shana suffered psychologically, but was that from her injuries or from the fact that no one believed in them? She finally found validation in a nationwide support group for lightning strike survivors. Read her story at Narratively. -via Damn Interesting
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