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Survivor Story: Charmaine

Struck at a Picnic While Holding Plugged Electronics

On Saturday, July 14, 2012, In Belfair, WA, I was volunteering at an outside event for my work. I was setting up the sound system which included a power amplifier, speakers, and a wireless microphone to.

picture of bruised arm from lightning strikeThere was a lightning storm around us but we didn’t think anything about it. I don’t think anybody thinks lightning will strike them. I remember a little boy said he was going to sit in the bus because his grandpa said it can be dangerous to be outside during lighting. I don’t remember the lightning strike or the thunder that followed, but I was told later that a lightning bolt struck two trees behind the institution, came through the ground, took out the power and phone lines, then traveled to the power box we were hooked up to then through the power amp. I was holding my iPod which was attached through a cord to the power amp. I felt a horrendous shock enter through the tips of my fingers and travel up my arm. Then I felt a powerful whack to my chest that threw me out of my chair. My heart was beating really fast and at first I even thought I was having a heart attack. I held my chest and shook my arm to try to shake out the pain. When pain started to fade, I thought I would be okay. A large bruise appeared on the front and the back of my bicep muscle and it looked as though voltage went up my arm, exited out of my bicep muscle front and back, then traveled into my chest. The muscles under my armpit and chest still ache.

picture of torn shoePeople were screaming “We got Hit.” When I realized what happened, I looked up and thanked God for sparing my life. I told people I got a bad shock and they asked if I was okay. I was walking and talking so I thought I must be okay, at least that is what I think I remember. My heart was racing pretty fast, but I thought it was just the adrenalin of the shock. I only remember bits and pieces of the event afterwards. I remember I didn't want to go to the hospital because this was a really important event for the facility and I didn’t want to ruin it because I was hurt. Someone showed me pictures a few days later and I shook my head because I couldn’t remember much. It was like I was looking at someone else.

By Monday (two days later), I woke up feeling light headed. I drove to work feeling really disoriented and dizzy when I would turn too quickly or bend over and stand up. I reported it to my supervisor and was told to fill out an accident report. I had problems with the form so I contacted the facility safety officer. He came over, helped me complete the form, then insisted I be taken to the hospital. After a half hour of arguing I gave in and let him take me. At the hospital they ran lots of tests and gave me a bag of fluids and told me I was very lucky to be alive. The paperwork they sent me home with, said electric shock and chest contusion and the full effects might not be evident for up to 10 or more days. They were right. The strangest things started to happen with my body. Before the strike I was also dealing with pain in my lower back and leg from a herniated lumbar disk and my neck had been giving me problems. But all that pain was gone for about 10 days after the strike. I was virtually pain free and I felt pretty good. My arm tingled a little and I had pins and needle feelings in my fingertips, but I had no pain in my back or neck. My neurosurgeon had been working with me prior to the strike for my back, then sent me an email shortly after the event that I could have a procedure done for my herniated disk. But I told him I had no pain. He told me it sounds like I had a giant Rhizotomy. I think he was right!

Unfortunately, when the pain went away my brain went all fuzzy. I remember feeling like I was in a thick fog and everything was confusing. I got lost in my own house and at times I didn’t even know where I was or what I was supposed to do. I would be driving and not remember what exit to take or how to get places. I'm usually a master of multi-tasking, but I had problems doing even one thing at a time. At work I would sit and stare at my computer trying to remember how to do things and have little panic attacks in my head. As the days progressed the fog started to clear. When my head got clearer the pain returned more intensely than ever. My body hurt from my neck to my toes. I remember waking up 16 days after the hit and I could hardly put my shoes on. I went to work but could hardly function. It felt like I had been hit by a truck.

I decided to take a trip to urgent care to see if I could get some help. The doctor looked at my reason for the visit, then took one look at my arm and started filling out paperwork to send me to see an occupational medicine provider who sees patients for work related injuries. The pain was so debilitating it sent me into a bout of depression. I had never had depression like this. I was so wiped out and hurt so much all I wanted to do is lie down and sleep. I didn't know there’re was so many phases that went with the healing process of a lightning shock.

It has been just over 3 months as I write my story and I am in pain 24/7. Sleeping is difficult and I still have a hard time remembering to do things unless they are right in front of me. I put everything on my calendar on my phone and work, but I still miss things at work, appointments, birthdays. I used to be a Type A personality, but now I’m not. People at work used to refer to me as a hummingbird, but now they say that bird’s wings got clipped. I prefer to be alone more and try to focus on staying positive through my daily challenges. Teaching fitness classes has been my best form of healing. It gives me something positive to look forward to and the cardio is what may have protected my heart from being injured more. I has also helped my brain to multitask and remember things.

My doctors think I’m depressed and have Fibromyalgia now, but I think it’s more to do with my nervous system being jolted and my nerves being in shock. This episode may have triggered a type of chronic pain syndrome like Fibromyalgia, but I think there is a lot more to it. It feels like my electrical system is out of whack. I have neuropathy in my feet and the muscles in my legs buckle making it hard to walk. It was only my right side that hurt before because of the disks, but now both sides hurt from my neck to my feet. I can only sleep a few hours at a time. I pray someday I can find a doctor who can give me a correct diagnosis and find something to cure this pain.

I thank Steve Marshburn, for the Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors (LSESSI) website. I joined LSESSI as a lightning survivor and have received some valuable information from books I ordered on their site. I hope to attend the conference next summer to meet other survivors and their families.

I want to warn people never assume the lightning is too far away to hit you. If you can hear it, get in a safe play and away from any source of power. I wish I would have known this because it could have saved me from all this suffering.


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` June 25, 2013