If you're like us, you may occasionally play a round or two of "What if?" What if you won the lottery? What if zombies are real? What if we did some actual work around here once in a while? Most of the time, we rely on our imagination for those answers. But sometimes, the internets provide us with a more definitive truth. Which is how we found out what happens when someone is struck by lightning. (Spoiler alert: It's not good.)
"Lots of things happen to the body" when it's struck by lightning, David Claypool, M.D., tells Accuweather.com. Dr. Claypool, an emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, says the effect "depends on how much force you take" and whether you're hit "directly or indirectly."
Potential problems include being temporarily blinded by the light(ning) or rupturing an eardrum due to a clap of thunder. Cardiac and respiratory arrest also are both common, as are burns — including "Lichtenberg lines," which Dr. Claypool describes as "fernlike, superficial burns" that may appear temporarily in some people. A lightning strike can also lead to "long-lasting effects on the brain," such as memory loss and seizures, he says.
One person who could tell you firsthand about some of that is Justin Gauger, who shared his shocking experience with The Atlantic earlier this year. Justin, who tells the magazine he ended up at Mayo Clinic seeking help for the frustrating aftereffects of being struck, says his "whole body was just stopped" when he was hit by lightning near Flagstaff, Arizona, during a fishing trip. "I can't explain the pain except to say if you've ever put your finger in a light socket as a kid, multiply that feeling by a gazillion throughout your entire body," Justin says.
People who witnessed the strike and rushed to his aid later told Justin his body had been "smoking." Photos that accompany the article bear that out: the boots and socks he was wearing are singed. The magazine reports that now during a storm Justin is (understandably) "most comfortable sitting in his bathroom closet, monitoring its progress with an app on his phone."
He's not alone. Thunderphobia — worries about strong weather — is no joke. Even people who have never been hit by lightning can have it. (As many dog owners can attest, it's a common canine condition, too.) To keep yourself safe, remember this advice from the National Weather Service: "When thunder roars, go indoors." (You don't have to tell us twice.)
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