from the what-happens-if-it-strikes-twice dept.
Ferris Jabr writes in Outside Magazine that every year, more than 500 Americans are struck by lightning. Roughly 90 percent of them will survive but those that survive will be instantly, fundamentally altered in ways that still leave scientists scratching their heads.
For example Michael Utley was a successful stockbroker who often went skiing and windsurfing before he was struck by lightning. Today, at 62, he lives on disability insurance. “I don’t work. I can’t work. My memory’s fried, and I don’t have energy like I used to. I aged 30 years in a second. I walk and talk and play golf—but I still fall down. I’m in pain most of the time. I can’t walk 100 yards without stopping. I look like a drunk.”
Lightning also dramatically altered Utley's personality. “It made me a mean, ornery son of a bitch. I’m short-tempered. Nothing is fun anymore. I am just not the same person my wife married." Utley created a website devoted to educating people about preventing lightning injury and started regularly speaking at schools and doing guest spots on televised weather reports.
Mary Ann Cooper, professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of the few medical doctors who have attempted to investigate how lightning alters the brain’s circuitry. According to Cooper the evidence suggests that lightning injuries are, for the most part, injuries to the brain, the nervous system, and the muscles.
Lightning can ravage or kill cells, but it can also leave a trail of much subtler damage and Cooper and other researchers speculate that chronic issues are the result of lightning scrambling each individual survivor’s unique internal circuitry. "Those who attempt to return to work often find they are unable to carry out their former functions and after a few weeks, when coworkers get weary of 'covering' for them, they either are put on disability (if they are lucky) or fired," writes Cooper. "Survivors often find themselves isolated because friends, family and physicians do not recognize their disability or feel they are 'faking'. (PDF)"