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Survivor Story: Johanna

Unlocking Bike

 

I was on my way back from volunteering at a festival in Denmark, when the weather turned wild. My friend who's frightened of thunderstorms–with reason apparently–experienced my ignorance, "you never get struck by lightning". I got off the train in the middle of Copenhagen, and considered myself quite safe considering that taller buildings were surrounding me and that it's a rare phenomenon to get in a large city. So I went to unlock my bike to start my journey home, not knowing that the second I stood up against the pylon my bike was locked against, the lightning would strike into the pylon. I experienced conduction, with the lightning traveling through the pylon, my bike and then me.

The seconds seemed like forever and all I remember clearly is myself screaming very loudly, a power going through me and being surrounded by intense white and purple colors. As if you were traveling in a spaceship faster that light - that's how crazy the colors looked. I didn't faint–luckily–otherwise my heart most likely would've stopped or I would've experienced heart problems. The shock you experience when something so unreal happens to you is indescribable og unfathomable, and you're overwhelmed with sadness, ridiculousness, confusion, laughter and luck.

I called the ambulance myself when my arm started to tingle, spasm and tense up in unreal ways–also seeing as I thought it would be safer to get checked by medical experts. A fast trip to the hospital turned into an overnight stay with long needles and company consisting of pensionists being positive about their heart problems. They did not expect a nineteen year old girl as a roommate for the night that was sure.

I was released with the comment that nothing is wrong but you might experience some psychological trauma. I experienced way more than that. It may have been because of the psychological trauma, but no doctors in Denmark had knowledge of what exactly the symptoms are from getting struck by lightning. No one really knows how to deal with it.

This was the biggest realization for me. It was not as normal as having PTSD from a car accident or other trauma, it runs deeper because you start to question the health of yourself.

At first I thought everything was fine, of course my muscles and nerves were more tense than ever but I was in school, stressed and carried heavy books every day. A more reasonable cause than your safety system still alarming yourself. I went to physical therapists, acupuncture, psychologists, chiropractor and spoke up about my feelings and symptoms. Yet nothing seemed to help permanently. Thinking back I realized I've been way more affected than I thought so.

I've experienced what I realize may have been a slight depression, had a personality change from extroverted to closing myself off from others. I've struggled sleeping and felt like I was fainting, fatigue not being uncommon by now. I'd never really experienced headaches before, and now they occur more often than pleasant. Not knowing if it's because of the muscles tensing up or because there's actually something wrong.

The uncertainty makes you go into a spiral of anxiety where you overthink whether the tingling in your legs, arms and fingers come from something way more critical than "just" muscle tension. Your heart beats fast and suddenly goes faster. You think you're suffering from a heart attack or high blood pressure. It all blends together and you experience an unusual anxiety attack where you still function but with less concentration, more introverted and more tired. Your body working on extra high alert exhausts you in a way only people with experience can imagine.

The incident changed me, and it's debatable whether it was for the better or worse. You are forced to look into yourself and question the actions of your body, but it also limits you to do things you would've been able to do before. Getting struck by lightning is such a rare incident that no one really knows how to act around you when you experience changes, and medical experts have such little knowledge about the symptoms that they have a hard time guiding you.

I'm sure other victims of electrical shocks and lightning shocks will have had similar experiences.