Sieglinde was struck by lightning. For six years, she didn’t know what was going on with her, until she finally found the suitable clinic. A report of a suffering.
The 4th June 2008 started like every other working day. In the morning, I got into the car to drive to the neighboring village two kilometers away. I didn’t think about the weather warning of the evening before, as I had already experienced a lot of thunderstorms in my 42 years of life.
My place of work, an old people’s home, is located at the on the outskirts at the tips of the beautiful Westerwald forest. The house itself was run-down. It stank of urine in the hallways and the holders of the power sockets came off the walls.
At the time, I was working as a cook although I am a trained tailoress. I cooked potatoes with sausage or pasta with minced meat sauce. When my colleague and I cleaned the kitchen on the 4th of June 2008, I didn’t think about the weather warning. She soaked the metal surface where the food was served to the residents of the home. I told her: “You finish the paperwork, I take care of the rest.”
I reached for the wet dishcloth, then everything becomes blurred. Sometimes I remember that my hand stuck to the surface, then again I think that I pulled it away quickly. Did I really hear the canon shot or was that my own scream?
My colleague says that I came to her shivering and could not stop talking. She said to me: “Sit down on the chair and calm down!”
Not much later, the director of the care service came down to us. He said that a lightning struck the roof, there was a power failure on the upper floors. We were wondering that the dishwasher was still running and the light bulbs didn’t burn out. I only understood later: when I touched the metal surface, I controlled the current flow as a human lightning conductor.
In the changing room, I noticed the reddish-purple discoloration on my right arm and right leg. It looked as if I burned myself in a hot shower. I was still too flustered to think clearly. At home, my husband said: „We better go to the hospital.”
The two doctors that examined me were still young. They repeatedly called their supervisor to ask him what to do. My ECG was unremarkable, I didn’t have any severe burns and didn’t seem to be confused. That’s why they didn’t diagnose an electric shock and sent me home.
Soon, I returned to work, but my life was suddenly a different one, as if the lightning adjusted something in my body. A few weeks later, I had to abandon my work. My heart was racing, I was feeling dizzy and sweated a lot. I was sure that my blood pressure fell because I always suffered from low blood pressure. However, my family doctor said that it was too high.
My husband is a self-employed master painter, he leaves the house early in the morning and comes home late from the construction site. Before the lightning injury, I did the accounting and the customer service for him. I always liked mathematics and the customer contact. But when I called a customer now, someone else answered the phone because I dialed the wrong number. I also made spelling and numeric errors in my invoices and letters.
Have I become nearsighted?, I thought. I visited an eye specialist who prescribed glasses. However, when I was reading, I still couldn’t see the letters clearly and I still couldn’t remember the customer’s phone numbers.
Even before the lightning injury, I had vertigo, but now it got worse. When I went to the gym, I almost slipped off the exercise bike because I got dizzy.
The worst thing was the fear of the next thunderstorm. Sometimes it came at night, sometimes during the day. When there was lightning and thunder outside, I got attacks of sudden cramps and the pain became unbearable. It felt as if my body was enclosed by a shell that was contracting more and more. Then, my right arm changed color and my hand got ice-cold. At the beginning, I screamed: “Help me! Please help me!” But nobody in my family knew what was going on with me. Officially, I was in perfect health. Later on, I only cried “I want to die”.
I have three wonderful children. At the time of the lightning injury they were nine, thirteen and seventeen years old. My husband and I used to go on many trips with them. We went to the ice cream parlor in the neighboring village by bike or we went hiking in the nearby forests. Then we had my legendary meatballs for a snack. The children devoured them and my husband and I looked at each other and smiled.
After the lightning injury, we didn’t go on these trips anymore. I didn’t have the strength anymore. My husband had to drive the children to their football training and do the grocery shopping. I did still drive the car, but I shouldn’t have done that. In these years, I was a danger for the public roads. Sometimes, the road doubled behind the windshield, I saw four lanes and drove in the wrong direction. I don’t know how many accidents I caused in the years after the lightning injury. There were so many and I often was a hit-and-run-driver.
The relationship with my husband became more difficult. At night, I woke up sweating and wanted everything to stop. I woke him up with my screaming, which didn’t please him. He had long working days at the construction side ahead of him. When one day I huddled up on the basement stairs and cried because the next thunderstorm was coming, he yelled: “You’re gonna drive me crazy!”
I never stopped visiting doctors. I often went to my family doctor who referred me to a psychologists and a neurologist. I was diagnosed with a non-specified depressive disorder with “insomnia and nervous restlessness”. That was absolutely correct. However, nobody could tell me where it came from.
One and a half years later, the old people’s home went bankrupt. I got a new job in a daycare centre’s kitchen. I like children, I have three myself. But the noise became increasingly difficult for me. When the many bright little voice talked at the same time, it strained me more than before.
At that time, I lost trust in conventional medicine. I started experimenting with natural medicine: I made lavender tea, took homeopathic globules and alcoholic Rescue drops. I kept increasing the dosage. At one point, I drank the whole bottle of Rescue drops as if it were high-proof alcohol.
The teachers in the daycare center started gossiping. Why is Sieglinde staggering? Why does she smell of alcohol? That can only mean one thing!
I was invited by the city administration for a personnel interview. Our village is very small, so the mayor is part of these interviews. Nobody believed that the Rescue drops caused my breath to smell of alcohol. Yes, I have vertigo! Yes, I cannot concentrate anymore! And I don’t know either why my right hand doesn’t work like it used to and peeling the potatoes takes longer.
This personnel interview with people who didn’t understand me was too much for me. On the way home, I caused an accident. Again! I was a run-and-hit driver. Again! Why should I have stopped, now that I had a clear goal: to put an end to this. I had put up with the world long enough. I’ve had to put up with it.
At home I took all the pills I could find.
I woke up early in the morning. Alive, here and now: I panicked, the old reality struck me as if a second lighting had hit me. I jumped out of the bed, ran into the kitchen. I don’t remember whether I realized that my daughter who turned eighteen, sat at the table and ate her cereal. I saw the knives in the knife block, short and sharp blades. I remember that my husband pounced on me, we fought and screamed, I tore up his shirt.
I don’t remember the policemen who came to our house shortly after. I can only recall that my wrists hurt for several days. I fought so hard when I panicked that the handcuffs cut deep into my skin.
They brought me to a psychiatric clinic nearby. I told the attending doctor: “This bloody lightning strike changed my whole life.” She asked: “What lightning strike?” She came up with the brilliant yet trivial idea to look for a specialist clinic for people who have been struck by lightning on the internet.
When I was in a more stable condition, my husband brought me to the Centre for Lightning Injury of the District Hospital Regensburg.
In Regensburg I learned that I forgot phone numbers and made spelling mistakes like a distracted pupil because the lightning harmed my nervous system. This is because a short-term excessive power input can lead to loss of memory and concentration problems.
I understood that there is a reason why my body cramped when I thought about thunderstorm. I was afraid to get struck by lightning again and to experience this terrible pain again.
In Regensburg, the doctors explained why there were no lightning patterns burned into my skin – these light red ramifications which are the most common symptom for victims of lightning strike. The water on the soaked metal surface which I was about to clean had reduced the current. The lightning didn’t strike me but the house and only when I touched the metal surface, part of the current flowed through my body.
The doctors in Regensburg told me why the lanes sometimes doubled when I was driving. The lightning strike can affect your binocular vision, the ability to see three-dimensionally. I caused rear-end collisions and mixed up the lanes because my right and my left eye didn’t cooperate properly anymore.
The two young doctors in the district hospital sent me home because my ECG was unremarkable. Had they contacted Prof. Schalke, who directs the Centre for Lightning Injury in Regensburg, he would have explained to them that an ECG can also show normal results after a lightning strike if the person hasn’t been hit in the electrically sensitive phase of the heart.
The most important thing that I received in Regensburg was a diagnosis. It reads: persistent personality disorder of extreme stress. This was the proof that I didn’t imagine all of this. The lightning strike didn’t just inverse my life, it also changed my personality.
Finally, after more than six years, I went to a rehabilitation clinic to treat the consequences of the lightning strike. I was relieved, but also very tired. When I lied in bed in the evening and talked to a friend on the phone, I repeatedly passed my hand over my right breast. I didn’t know why I did that. The breast felt somehow different. My friend said: “You are in a hospital. Let it get checked!”
A few days later, a doctor in the rehabilitation clinic told me that I had breast cancer. I thought: Is everything over now? For a moment, I was relieved. At one point, there was enough fighting against my own body. It’s enough. If this is it, this is it. But then I thought: No, you can’t give up just like that. You survived the lightning stroke, you will fight against this little nodule in your breast. The tumor is a weak enemy. You can see it on an X-ray image. You can feel it and you can get it surgically removed.
Between 100 and 200 people are struck by lightning in Germany every year. In 2017, there were 190 people injured and 6 deaths. Most people who have been struck by lightning have similar stories like Sieglinde. They survive, but the lightning strike affects them severely.