Lightning strikes are an extremely rare event -- the odds are 1:700,000 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The group of people who survived to tell the tale are even smaller, about 800 a year. We spoke to members of this band of brothers (most people who are struck by lightning are male, for some reason) to find out what really happens when lightning strikes your body.
"Nobody is unscathed," explains Michael Utley
, who was struck on a golf course in May 2000 and now works to educate others about lightning's often devastating effects. "People who are struck by lightning usually recover with significant impairments. Only about 10 percent die."
Steve Marshburn Sr. was at his bank job taking a business deposit when lightning struck. Marshburn, who has since founded Lightning Strike & Electrical Shock Survivors International, Inc.
, shared his experience by email.
He wrote: "WHAM! A bolt of lightning struck our drive-through window's speaker, which was not grounded. The bolt entered the bank [that way] and hit my back, breaking it, with the most unbearable pain ever experienced. I remember it threw me on the window. I could not speak. No one came to my aid. At the time, folks thought if you touched anyone that had been struck by lightning you would be injured [which is a myth]."
"My back felt as if it had been slashed with a machete. My spine, from tailbone to head, was in trouble. I was holding a metal teller stamp ready to stamp the deposit ticket for the businessman. The bolt crossed my heart. I knew the wiring in my body was affected."
of Sulphur, La., survived multiple lightning strikes, first in August 1999, and again in August 2005.
In a hydrogen plant in 1999 when lightning struck the adjacent building, he recalls "You feel like you're on fire. There is no way to explain how much pain is involved. Lasting a fractional second, getting struck by lightning changed everything. My back and neck are messed up. I couldn't recognize things. I had burn marks and (doctors concluded) I had brain damage."
Bea, his wife, says "I don't know if he's the luckiest or unluckiest person alive!" (LeDoux has also survived a bear attack.)
While being struck by lightning would certainly seem unlucky, some survivors believe that they manifested new abilities after their strike.
, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon from Oneonta, New York, was struck by lightning in 1994. Within two weeks of recovery, the former Led Zeppelin enthusiast developed an intense craving for piano music.
Prior to this experience, he was uninterested in classical music. Buying a Vladimir Ashkenazy Chopin CD, he became "absolutely smitten." He started to teach himself about music.
Months later, he dreamed of a large concert hall and saw himself performing there. The music, finished with a crashing crescendo that woke him, demanded his attention. When he sat down at the piano, "The music would play every day while I was teaching myself. When I started taking lessons, my teacher, (Juilliard-educated) Sandy McKane, worked with me on what I was hearing."
In this way he captured the music that became "The Lightning Sonata
, author of 1994 bestseller "Saved by the Light
," reports two strikes, which he says gave him a supernatural perspective into future events.
In 1975, "Lightning came down the phone line and hit me in the side of my head, went down my spine, through my shoes. I had a pair of Bass Weejuns on, the heels are tacked on with nails. The heels of those shoes just happened to be over the top of the floor nails. It melted the phone and grounded me, threw me out of the shoes and welded the nails to the floor. I was thrown in the air, suspended in air. I could see the ball of fire moving, it threw me back down on the bed." Paralyzed for six days and partially paralyzed for months, Brinkley relearned how to walk and feed himself.
He says "I went from a single, two-dimensional reality into a quasar, cosmic multiple dimensional reality," and returned from a near-death experience with information about possible future events.
But for most the only side effect of their unique experience is a long road to recovery.
Says Utley, "I can't pop light bulbs, don't tell the future, can't stop watches. None of that neat stuff. Ten years later, I still fall down when I walk. I'm emotional and irritable. Traumatic brain injury doesn't go away. You're walking around, you look normal but you don't work right. You don't work the same way."