2 Forward, 1 Back?

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving to the SW, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

For all that I feel like I was a WLB for writing this post, I have to admit that it was good to write it. It was a reminder to myself, and mayhaps others, that it is okay to have bad days. They are going to happen and we just have to ride them out. While the memory/cognitive side recovered quickly, and a memory ended up being recovered, the body has not and it was an interesting weekend.

To answer some questions, I want to expand on this post where I talk about what happened. Obviously, one of the first questions people have is ‘what was it like’ and one of the follow-ups is often along the line of ‘why aren’t you moved yet?’ I want to expand a bit on what it was like and some of what I’ve learned over this last year and a half.

Understand, some of the memories from around the time I was hit may be fuzzed up a bit. Go figure! It’s another reason I want to share this as if you or someone you know has a close encounter, there’s good reason to get checked out even if you think it missed.

I’ll skip a lot of the background, and will say that I don’t remember any lightning anywhere close to me at the time. There may have been a strike several blocks away, but nothing close. It was a habit to do flash/bang calculations of distance while watching storms, and I knew from that and radar that the storm was moving off.

Our best guess is that the lightning strike that got me hit a tree just off the porch and that some of it came over to say hello. How much is a good question, and the sad answer is that we don’t know and there is no way to tell. This is especially true since it took a couple of weeks for us to figure out I had been hit. More on that in a bit.

I think I remember that I had just put down the phone, which is in an insulated case, before the strike. In fact, just after I had done so was when my world went white. I remember thinking that I had clenched up out of fear, and yes I had a Buckley moment where I thought ‘this is going to hurt.’ Even as I thought that and my world went white, there was a roaring sensation — not sound — in my head, and it felt like my brain was vibrating at a very high frequency. Then my world went black and I remember part of my mind thinking ‘bleep, power’s out we will have to reset every flippin clock’ followed by the thought of wondering if I would see Hell, Heaven, or something else when the lights come back on. I really didn’t want to see Hell, but also remember being strangely calm and curious as I sat there locked up.

When I could see again, I was still on the porch. I was much relieved, and had several thoughts along the lines of ‘wow that was close, too close!’ I was surprised the phone was still working and that the lights were on inside. I will note that the radio in my car, which was parked partially under the tree at the time, was later found to be fried.

Since I was alive, I obviously couldn’t have been hit. Cough. Just take it as a given that in a case like this, you might not be thinking clearly. Add that to my normal Captain Oblivious state, and I didn’t have a clue. No major blast or burns, so again, I couldn’t have been hit. The most common injury reported in lightning strikes are concussion symptoms, and there is data that suggests that burn and blast injuries may not occur in a majority of cases. Keep that in mind if an arrogant/ignorant/inexperienced doctor tries to tell you that you/other don’t need to be checked out after a close encounter because you don’t have such. Keep in mind that most doctors never see, and even ERs may only see one or two lightning hits in a year or years. The linguistic/cognitive therapist who worked with me (wonderful lady!) was told she would only see one such case in an entire career. She has now seen two.

Now, let me take a moment to give some thanks and note a couple of miracles that morning. After all, one of the things I did after going inside was to give thanks to God and the Blessed Mother that I was alive and it had missed. Yeah, off a little on that last. First miracle, the entire bolt did not hit me, as at least some portion took out my car radio, and I suspect some went into the ground. Second, I wasn’t dead on the spot. If I had been sitting on the other side of the table, the electricity that did go through me would have gone directly through my heart, with the most likely result being me dead right there. Instead of the left, it went down (mostly) the right side of my body. Why do I say that?

Let’s chart the damage. In my right ear, I no longer hear any higher frequencies. The associated nerves are dead. My heart took some damage, but I was alive. There was a small, black hole in the ball of my right foot, and when I checked the shoes I was wearing that morning, you could see where rubber melted at the matching spot on the sole and where rubber had melted and reformed in lightning-type shape as the electricity ran to ground. I had concussion symptoms out the wazoo, and still have occasional moments of something similar to vertigo. The EEG and MRI show no tumors and obvious physical damage to the brain, but more on that in a bit. There may have been some other, non-permanent things, but if so, I missed them.

What I find fascinating is the amount of delayed damage if you will. We will never know for sure what might have turned out different if I had gone to the ER that morning. Could things have been caught/prevented? No way to be sure, as just doing a 12-lead would not (and did not) catch some of the damage. That took a heart cath. Do I wish I could have gotten in for cognitive testing and therapy much, much sooner (or that I had a neurologist who wasn’t as useless as teats on a boar)? Yes. Would it have prevented anything? No.

The cardiac issues were, in many respects, somewhat straightforward. The first indicator I noticed that there was damage/issues was when my BP hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 214/148. Two weeks (pretty much to the day I think) after the hit, the BP sent me to the ER though I just knew something was off. Visit to my doctor’s office the next day slowly started the ball rolling. I reached out to a very nice, helpful, and sadly retired MD who used to treat lightning strike and electrical shock victims. It was her gentle questioning that resulted in my learning that I had locked up, not clenched up, and it was somewhat amazing I was alive. It also led to my finding the hole in the ball of my right foot, which looked almost like a large-bore needle hole, but instead of the red track down through your skin and such, this one was black like carbon. It was also hard to see given the suddenly large callous. More on that in a minute.

My GP and I never did do a thorough search in my scalp and back, given that about three weeks had passed at that point. I really do wonder though if we might not have found an entry point back behind my ear given the number done on the audio nerves and other parts of the ear.

This was also the time of the Great Referral. With the BP issues continuing and increasing, time for a cardiologist. With the concussive effects and various issues cropping up, time for a neurologist. Issues were cropping up with the right foot, time for a podiatrist. No partridge in a pear tree though. Took some time, as only select doctors take my insurance. Cough. For all that it is not the best out there, and quite a few don’t take it, I will take a moment to note in thanks that for the last year and a half they have stepped up and done more than I ever expected. That could stop tomorrow, but it’s been a major factor in not moving as fast as I would like to do, as it will not move with me.

Let’s start with the podiatrist. It took a few weeks for my GP’s office to find one they liked that would take my insurance. Then we had to find an opening in his schedule. By then, it was painful to stand and walk on my right foot. Got in, he looked at my foot, and was the first doctor who believed me from the start. Even my GP had been skeptical. But, as the podiatrist looked things over, he sat there and told me how he wasn’t surprised it had exited there, why, and some other interesting stuff. He also was the first referral not to recommend surgery. Instead, he grabbed a scalpel and started back towards my foot. Think my reaction may have hurt his feelings, but it is better to tell me ahead of time what you are doing when approaching with sharp objects. He cut off a large amount of dead stuff, recommended custom orthotics and regular visits to a nail place to keep it trimmed, and since my insurance was not going to cover the orthotics, how to modify store bought to work. Great guy, if I ever need a podiatrist again, would go back in a heartbeat. While I bought some things to work on the callus, I did have to hit a nail place a couple of times as they wield the cheese grater far better than do I, and for about six to eight months after the strike it grew like the dickens.

Guess we do have to discuss the neurologist. To say they don’t have a good bedside manner is to venture into opposite world. The immediate take was, if I had been hit (no burn, no blast, pah), nothing can be done. Almost grudgingly ordered an EEG and MRI. When those showed no tumors, lesions, fractures, or other signs of gross physical damage, think they were pretty much done. Took a LOT of effort to get the referral to RHI for cognitive testing. Was worth it, even though the first opening they had was some six months out. So, it wasn’t until around February of 2022 that I got in to see them.

Spent a day being tested. Good news, I didn’t fail (NOTE: edited the good as just got my files and while I did good on some…). Bad news, yeah, you took a hit. Took a while to get it worked out with insurance, but did several therapy visits over a month or two where the excellent people explained things, helped me develop several coping mechanisms for the short-term memory problems, and did what they could to help. One of the most important: don’t beat yourself up. There are going to be slips, oopses, and such. Take a moment, relax, start over. That and pay attention to how you are doing. Know it’s a bad time, don’t try to do too much. Those are both sorta hard for me. Learned a lot from them, including the time it is likely to take for my brain to fully heal.

The cardiologist is the one I still see. Methodical. Took longer than I would have liked to get the BP down and under control. I’m not an impatient patient, really (sounds of hysterical laughter coming from my doctor’s offices). Some things weren’t adding up for her, so we started doing some testing including a nuclear stress test and imaging. Heart cath ordered, but afib got so bad that I was sent to the ER. At the ER, told them why I was there (and something told me to grab the go bags) and I was quickly put in a people mover (not a wheel chair) and sent back for a strip. Nurse/tech looks at it and disappears. When she comes back, I’m pushed back out into the waiting room and told firmly that I was admitted, I was not to leave or get up from the mover, and they would get me back as fast as they could given that they were full. Think I’ve put the full story elsewhere, but I ended up spending the night in the ER (FUN!), the next day had a heart cath, then a visit from the nice surgeon who said I could wait up to two weeks but it really would be a good idea to have open heart surgery the next morning. We did so, and it proved to be a remarkably pain free event and recovery. Still tease him that I want ten percent back from the bill since my cut is at a diagonal rather than straight up and down.

After recovery came the rehabs. 2022 was a year of rehab and testing. There was cardiac rehab, where I really enjoyed a couple of the staff (think I got one hooked on Baen Books) though I was rather frequently told to slow down, stop, take it easy. For whatever they may think, I was being good. Honest. At least for me. I’ve always pushed heart rate, endurance, and such as high as I could at the gym. For that one person, write down what the patient tells you not what you want to put on the chart, and also saying that the doctor is wrong and you are the only one who can save someone is not a good look. Don’t miss that one. Looking for some way to join the Y that’s nearby, need to be working out more. Even the cardiologist is encouraging that.

The neural rehab was interesting and on some levels fun. I’ve learned a lot about the brain, cognition, and how to work around some of the issues. Some of it may seem fairly straightforward, but the angel of healing lies in the details. I still have my binder out where I can get to it to check things. The help they gave is why I can do as much as I do. I’m actually quite thankful that things were not such that I had to be in some sort of facility. I like my life as it is, having minders would crimp my style. Not that I do anything the doctors wouldn’t like. *best innocent look* Another two or so years, the brain should be fully healed, and maybe something can be done to see how much of the “missing” files we can find.

The testing last year leads into a very interesting area. Early on, I was told to beware of other survivors attributing a range of things to the lightning strike, from cancer to various endocrine problems. It is interesting how many survivors do develop other problems, ones that clearly can’t be directly linked to the lightning (or electric shock) strike. Hence some of my discussions of quantum probability cascades in a not completely joking manner. In my own case, a couple of things (like the diverticulitis) were there at a you-have-it-no-big-deal level before the strike. 2022 saw more “Welcome to the ER” moments than I care for. Not quite on a first name basis with the ER staff a block away, but closer to it than I care for. So, several CT scans and a colonoscopy later, I am glad to say that no cancer we know of and everything else is livable/treatable at need.

Now, that may end up with me getting new shoulder joints. I had a doc recommend an “emergency” replacement of the right joint a couple of years ago, with a push to go ahead and do both. Got a second opinion about a year after that, and the idea is to wait (if possible) for five to seven years to do the surgery. There are some issues going on, including having blood flow cut off to my arms at night such that they “go to sleep.” So far, have always caught it early, and while I don’t like the tingles, I can live with it. Suspect it is a positional thing. Need to remember to tell this to the GP. Meantime, lots of pain and hard to sleep as a result. Hoping this doesn’t turn into an ER or surgery moment in 2023.

As for the arthritis, I do wish I could remember which doc told me I had advanced severe osteoarthritis. I’m thankful it’s not rheumatoid, but that doesn’t make it fun. Since the strike, it has — in my estimation — kicked up. Lower back, hands, arms. Given that I have done a few interesting things in life, from jumping out of planes to a lot of hiking/backpacking and a small amount of marching, I’m amazed my knees and hips are as good as they are. There’s not much that can be done, so I try to ignore it as much as possible. Meantime, between this and the shoulders, Ranger Candy!

Allergies are the one thing that don’t seem to have increased since the strike. In fact, other than needing benadryl for the CT scans, have been doing pretty good. More of them than I care for, but that’s been true since childhood.

That’s enough for today. Safety Brief: Be smart, be safe, and remember that if the lightning is at a range of 1-3 miles, you are in range too. Even if there are no obvious burns or blast damage, if you have a close encounter with lightning, go get checked out and remind the doc that the most common symptom of a lightning strike are concussive effects. Otherwise, press on and remember to count your blessings and give thanks for them. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for prayers, they do make a difference.

UPDATE: From the comments, getting hit by lightning can and does cause personality changes. It can also have an impact on if you can learn new things, or remember to do things you used to know how to do. While I have heard of someone getting nicer, most of the information on personality changes trend towards nice people not being as nice (to be polite). Thankfully, any personality changes for me seem to be fairly minor, and while it takes a lot longer, an old wolf can eventually learn new tricks. Sorta.

2 thoughts on “2 Forward, 1 Back?”

  1. When I was in high school in the late 60s we had a young man in our school who was hit by a near-strike of lightning. He was visiting a college and was sitting on a concrete bench in the open quad on a cloudy day. Rain was in the forecast, but it had not yet started. The bolt hit the bench next to him, and blew him off his seat.

    He also went to the same church I did. He had dedicated his life to becoming a minister, and spent a good amount of time helping around the church. He was really a nice guy. Thoughtful, and mature for his age. Everyone liked him.

    Until the lightning strike. He was absolutely a different person and personality afterwards. He was mean, aggressive, foul mouthed, with no interest in the church. Did the lightning cause a physical brain change? Did the near-death experience reveal a deeper, hidden side to him? The family shrugged their shoulders, as they had no idea what to do about it other than pray.

    Don’t know what ever became of him, but I occasionally remember him when the sky turns nasty and lightning is around.

    1. Sadly, they can and do cause personality changes. I’ve been told about cases like the one you cite, where it’s not a nice person who emerges. Much rarer to hear where they become nicer, but have heard of a couple. Any changes in me have been more minor, which is good. Also, odds are that if a major change were to happen, it should have taken place by now. Not absolutely guaranteed, but…

      When you are hit, it is much like firing a powerful stun gun into a computer. You are never sure what will happen, just that it’s probably not going to be good. That much energy crashing into and around the most powerful bio-electric computer in the known universe does a lot of obvious and inobvious things. In my case, my directory file is corrupted, hence the brain not being able to access some memories as it no longer knows where they are. The issues with the short-term memory are unsurprising, though in some ways I suspect less well understood. Other changes can be much more subtle.

      In the case of your school mate, it quite literally was not something he could help or control. Some of the more modern therapy might help, but for all we know about the brain, we still are just beginning to understand it in many ways.

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