My Husband Survived a Lightning Strike
And I’m grateful for It every single day
Reading the news last month about Katherian Diaz’s death hit home with me. There she was, a 22-year-old surfer, an Olympic hopeful, standing on a beach in El Salvador when she was struck by lightning. When her life was taken from her. In the blink of an eye, her life was gone.
That tragedy brought back all the memories and emotions from the day my husband was struck by lightning. Thankfully, my husband’s story has a different ending.
Ronnie and I went out kite-boarding in the North Flats on South Padre Island. It was a typical day. Light wind, some clouds, a hint of rain, and lower 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.
Little did we know that the day was going to be anything but typical.
We parked our car and opened the back gate. As we were talking to friends, a storm built on the horizon, and thunder and lightning grew in the distance. Something told us that this was not a good day to go kiting, so we called it a day. I climbed into our car and started the engine while Ronnie was behind the car closing the hatch. (In typical beach fashion he was barefoot and shirtless.)
Suddenly, he felt a little strange.
His hair stood up and his stomach had an anxious feeling like something was going to happen. He reached up to pull the hatch down to close the door when suddenly, he was surrounded by the brightest of light.
Ronnie got struck by lightning!
The entire experience took less than a couple of seconds, but it felt more like 30. The lightning either struck his hand or it went straight into his back. Ronnie’s best guess is that the bolt went directly into his back because that is where a giant burn spot remained. It is also where the most severe pain was at the time of the impact. Ronne said it felt as if someone was slowly pushing a hot metal rod through his body. During the strike, he looked down at his knees and saw lightning bolts shooting out of both of them. His right knee had a very large bolt shooting out of it, and his left knee had three smaller bolts.
Where was the lightning going? Directly into the trailer hitch of our Rav4. Ronnie could hear the electricity leaving his body like the machine in an old Frankenstein movie. Popping and crackling. He tried to move, but couldn’t. He was frozen in position. Ronnie saw the car bouncing and heard a fierce boom. When the flow of electricity stopped, he fell to the ground. The next thought that went through his head was, “Get in the car!”
During the entire strike, I was inside the car. It felt like a giant lifted the car off the ground and shook it violently. My ears were in pain from the noise and the concussion. It was like 1,000 freight trains all at once. I opened the door and stepped out of the car and said, “I think we got struck by lightning”. It was only then that I saw Ronnie lying on the ground behind the car and I screamed, “Oh my God, YOU got struck by lightning!” It was all so difficult to process. All I knew was that my baby was lying on the ground.
Ronnie tried to stand up but could not. Both of his legs were paralyzed. He dragged himself across the beach to the passenger door as I came running around trying and help him.
The entire scene smelled like sulfur and burnt hair.
I was able to help put Ronnie into the car and once inside, we just sat there and tried to replay what the heck just happened. We sat there for ten minutes confused about what to do. Slowly the feeling came back into Ronnie’s legs. First his left leg, then finally his right leg.
At the time of the strike, our friend was recording a video of the storm. She had her hand outside of the truck window holding her phone. When the lightning struck, her fingers were shocked, and the concussion blew the phone out of her hand and across the beach. When she retrieved her phone, it was damaged and there was no video.
Still trying to process what had happened and figure out what to do next, I tried to start the car. I turned the key and nothing. Absolutely nothing. There are around 29 computers in a 2017 Rav4. How do we know this? Because all of them were blown. Besides that, two tires had their steel belts sticking out through the rubber. Our car wasn’t going anywhere. I helped a sand-covered and shirtless Ronnie out of the car and into our friend’s truck. His legs were stiff, as if they were in splints. He could not bend his knees or ankles.
Our friends drove us back to our rental and Ronnie hobbled up the three flights of stairs to our condo. The first thing he noticed once inside was that when he walked by outlets, he could feel the electricity wanting to come out towards him. He needed a shower so he could wash off all the sand and mud. He took off his flip-flops and stepped into the shower, but once he put his foot on the ground, the bottom of his foot felt like it was getting stabbed by a thousand needles. So he left his flip-flops on. Now we were worried about the water.
Is it safe to take a shower after getting struck by lightning?
We didn’t know, so Ronnie grabbed a broom. He held on to it and instructed me to watch him. “If I look like I’m getting electrocuted, pull me out of the shower with this broom and turn off the water.” Thankfully, all went well with the shower and I didn’t need to pull him out with the broom.
The phone rang. It was another friend of ours. The news was spreading fast on the island about what had happened. He asked us if we called an ambulance and we said no. He begged us to call an ambulance and get to the hospital. Why? Ronnie felt fine. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I decided that yes, it probably would be best to call 911. I mean, Ronnie got struck by lightning.
I called 911 and two minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was a Sherriff’s deputy. He was called to assist the EMTs. I answered the door while Ronnie was getting dressed. The officer asked, “Where’s the guy that got struck by lightning?” I answered, “He’s getting dressed, he will be right out.”
Let’s just say the Sheriff was expecting a completely different scene. He was speechless that Ronnie was up and walking around. The officer helped Ronnie down the stairs to the EMTs who were rolling their gurney towards him. Ronnie climbed on the gurney and they loaded him into the ambulance.
Ronnie felt fine. He was lucid, laughing, and very aware of his surroundings. No memory loss. He knew his name and address. His EKG looked good, but his blood pressure was something close to 200/120. The EMT said, “That is pretty high, do you typically have high blood pressure”. Ronnie answered, “Not really. I had some coffee today, and I was just struck by lightning.” They all had a good laugh, and Ronnie made the decision that he would not go to the hospital. The EMTs asked, but we just felt like it wasn’t necessary.
This scenario reminded Ronnie of a story about his father.
His dad was run over by a stray wagon full of corn.
The wagon broke his femur.
Did he go to the hospital?
So in that spirit, Ronnie refused the hospital visit as well.
Our goal was to have Ronnie go to bed and sleep through the night and wake up the next morning. All night I watched him closely. I woke up every hour to take his blood pressure and check his EKG. (Thank you Apple watch!). All went well, and he woke up in the morning. Ronnie’s legs were very stiff, and he still felt like he was walking around on needles. But he was up and walking around, and for that we were thankful. Ronnie brushed off the bottom of his feet and when he did, it felt like tiny pieces of glass were falling off. Did the lightning strike turn the sand under Ronnie’s feet into glass? Did the glass shards stick into Ronnie's bare feet? That is our guess.
The holes in Ronnie’s knees where the lightning shot out of were raw and bloody, but not bleeding. They took over a week to heal. Interesting side note; as the wounds were healing, Ronnie pulled out a white mucus-like ribbon that looked like plumbers Teflon tape out of them. Is that normal? I don’t know.
All I know is that I was so thankful to still have Ronnie in my life.
Every morning I wake up and think, “I could wake up alone.”
As Tyler Durden said to Raymond K. Hessel in Fight Club —
“Your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you’ve ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your life.”
You never know how much time you have.
You never know if tonight, when you eat dinner with your loved ones if this is the last dinner you will have together.
You never know if this is the last time you will see them, or hug them.
I know it sounds cliche, but it couldn’t be more true.
We need to make every day the most beautiful day of our lives.