Title ideas: How Not to Get Lit UP, Flash Facts and the People Who Lived Them, Electrifying Tales, Shock Therapies
Dan, who is the owner of Bayfield’s Lightning Bolt Chiropractic, was moving pretty fast when, twenty feet from his car, lightning crackled through the sky and struck a nearby telephone pole. The bolt went down into the ground and traveled through the earth another fifteen feet, where it surged up, entering Dan’s left hand. In less than a second, the bolt shot through Dan’s left arm and exited through his right foot, leaving the lingering sensation of a burning bbq briquette in the bottom of his foot. Twenty years later he still has that burning sensation. It never goes away. (Picture of Dan last week in the spot where he was struck pointing at the lightning pole).
|Photo by Donna Stewart|
Aside from the burning sensation in his foot and feeling like he’d been cold-cocked by Thor’s hammer, at first he thought he was more or less alright. He went to work the next day happily cracking grateful patients back into shape. But the day after that? He couldn’t even get out of bed. An MRI revealed that he’d “cooked” his lower vertebrae. So began a long journey of recovery that he reflects on with gratitude. He credits the experience not only with impressing upon him the preciousness of life, but with a heightened intuition that has greatly enhanced his abilities as a chiropractor (hence the business name Lightning Bolt Chiropractic). (Picture of Dan with Dog, Thunder)
|Photo by Donna Stewart|
Dan was lucky on several fronts. Most obviously, a lightning strike can kill you and Dan survived. But lesser known is that 90 percent of people struck by lightning do survive.
But that doesn’t make them alright. Generating more heat than the surface of the sun in less than a second causes a shock wave we generally experience as thunder, but anyone standing within 30 feet of the actual strike could experience the equivalent blast of a 5 kg TNT bomb that can literally blow your socks off. The sudden intense rise in temperature can vaporize your sweat instantly, resulting in steam that can blow off your shoes, your socks and everything else.
Closer proximity or an actual strike can cause spinal cord injury (like Dan), severe neurological problems, burned retina, or third degree burns caused by the immediate and intense heating of any metal on your body.
|Photo by Jonathan Bowers|
The blast can scramble the body’s signals, stopping the function of the heart, lungs, or any combination of the functioning of your organic matter. This might be a good time to mention that a person struck by lightning will not carry an electrical charge after the hit, so you can, should, and please do, perform CPR immediately if someone near you is struck by lightning and lies unconscious and not breathing. That is, if you know how to perform CPR. Not all strikes are equal, however.
Mother of 3, Kristi Murphy was standing on some rocks with four friends beside the Slate River in Gunnison, Colorado, when lightning hit the other bank. Murphy thinks she was knocked to the ground but truly doesn't remember. "I felt a tingling sensation in my body just before lightning struck the opposite bank." Four of the five people complained of symptoms like tingling sensations, nausea, and concussion symptoms like headaches that lasted for a few days after.
Murphy said that she not only had headaches, but a peculiar “buzzing” sensation in half of her body, “The tingling feeling stayed on one side of my face and body for the next two days.”
Since later symptoms seemed relatively minor, no one in Murphy’s group sought medical attention, though they all wondered if they should. Most people don’t know whether to head for the ER after being struck, especially if their symptoms at first seem mild. But experts highly recommend getting checked out. Lightning strikes can cause significant damage to the brain, spine and other internal organs that might not be immediately apparent. Murphy was one of the lucky ones and her symptoms cleared up.
But not everybody makes out like Kristi Murphy and the good Dr. Dan. Our beloved Stacy’s Loop trail in the Horse Gulch Trail System is a living memorial to mountain biker, Stacy Thomas, a young woman who’d attended Fort Lewis in 1997. It was a late August afternoon and she was mountain biking with two friends on Telegraph Trail. The three were riding about 15 feet apart, with Stacy in the middle, when she was struck by a lightning bolt. They’d started out under blue skies, but Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton, who was among the first on the scene that day, said that, “it was a typical broken day, like any other summer day in Durango, meaning there were scattered thunder showers.” (Pic of Trail map highlighting Stacy’s Loop and Telegraph Trail where she was struck)
Knowlton remembers, “We recognized immediately that Stacy was critical and did everything we could to revive her.” Knowlton called in a helicopter for immediate transport, but to no avail. Stacy was gone. Today, a host of bikers, hikers, joggers and even horses enjoy the loop daily. (Pic array of Stacy’s living memorial with bikers, horses, jogger with dog and Spring Lupine)
|Horses grazing along Stacy's Trail, photo by Donna Stewart|
As sweet as that is and as much as we all love Stacy’s loop, you’re probably wondering how to keep that story from becoming any part of your own.
Well that gets complicated. Here’s the thing, according to Knowlton, “Lightning is absolutely impossible to predict. You can stay indoors all your life, but even that is no guarantee you won’t be struck.”
It’s pretty rare, but there are plenty of stories about people being struck by lightning that came in through windows, electrical outlets or even plumbing. Inside a building or car is your best bet, but who wants to live trembling behind a curtain?
Ready to live life anyway? Here are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure. If you’re inside, stay away from windows, electrical outlets, tubs, faucets and other plumbing during a storm. Check the weather before you head to the wild. Generally, in Durango, the earlier the better, especially during the June/July monsoon season. If you get caught “out there” stay away from water, wire fencing (or wire of any kind), and exposed high points. Do not shelter under trees, boulders or cliffs, while at the same time, don’t be the tallest thing out there. If you’re in a group, spread out so if someone gets struck someone else can perform CPR and/or run for help. If you can safely keep moving out of harm’s way, keep moving til you can reach a metal topped car or a building. If you have to stay put, get low to the ground with the least contact to the earth as possible (lightning squat method). There are no studies showing that really helps, but it’s worth a try if it’s all you got.
Ron Corkish, President and Mission Coordinator for La Plata County Search and Rescue told me, “Remember the fundamentals of Know Before You Go: If in doubt, don’t go. Going out is an option. Coming home isn’t.” For more information visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/lightning
Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the award-winning author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. She’s chocked full of character and cautionary tales.