Bolt from the blue triggers bizzare hallucinations

I just found this amazing case study of a female mountaineer who was struck by lighting while climbing the Latemar Peak in the Alps and subsequently experienced a series of unusual symptoms.

She was taken off the mountain by helicopter and was so agitated in hospital she had to be put under for three days. On wakening she was having some remarkably bizarre hallucinations.

On 3 September 2004, a 23-year-old healthy woman was hit by a “bolt from the blue” while climbing on a ridge at 2750 m shortly before reaching the Latemar Peak in the Alps from a southern direction. The accompanying climber was about 50 m from the casualty, and reported that at the time of the incident (about 15:00 Central European Time (CET)), the sky was clear and sunny. He heard cracking thunder and was thrown to the ground by a massive shock wave.

The patient was also thrown to the ground, lost consciousness for a few seconds and was confused afterwards. She had no vision, dazzled by a bright light. On arrival of the air rescue team, her Glasgow Coma Scale was 9. She was hospitalised and because of extreme agitation, set to a drug-induced coma for 3 days. The initial CT scan showed bilateral occipital oedema, but no intracerebral or subarachnoid haemorrhages or skull fractures…

In the evening, still awake and 6 h after extubation, strange phenomena occurred. These exclusively visual sensations consisted of unknown people, animals and objects acting in different scenes, like a movie. None of the persons or scenes was familiar to her and she was severely frightened by their occurrence. For example, an old lady was sitting on a ribbed radiator, then becoming thinner and thinner, and finally vanishing through the slots of the radiator.

Later, on her left side a cowboy riding on a horse came from the distance. As he approached her, he tried to shoot her, making her feel defenceless because she could not move or shout for help. In another scene, two male doctors, one fair and one dark haired, and a woman, all with strange metal glasses and unnatural brownish-red faces, were tanning in front of a sunbed, then having sexual intercourse and afterwards trying to draw blood from her.

These formed hallucinations, partially with delusional character, were in the whole visual field and constantly present for approximately 20 h. At the time of appearance, the patient was not sure whether they were real or unreal, but did not report them for fear that she might be considered insane.

Link to PubMed entry for case study.

One Comment

  1. tomnpeg
    Posted May 24, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff. Thirty years ago my mother, a medical records technician, attended a lecture on the effects of lightning strikes on patients. There was no mention of hallucinations but patients generally experienced a marked change in personality, becoming more irritable and aggressive.
    When my brother-in-law was struck some years later, the only noticeable symptom (after he came out of his trance) was an increased ability to read her mind, my sister claims.


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