Lightning-induced robotic speech

Photo by Flickr user swamysk. Click for sourceI just found a curious case study of a man who developed ‘robotic speech’ after being hit by lightning. Rather than the “I am a Dalek!” style mechanical sound it seems to be more like the very. deliberate. and. exact. speech synthesis style, somewhat like Data from Star Trek the Next Generation

Lightning-induced robotic speech

Neurology. 1994 May;44(5):991-2.

To the Editor

Because of a recently observed case, I was intrigued by the communication of Cherington et al[1] concerning lightning encephalopathy. The authors referred to evidence by Critchley[2] that the cerebellum can be selectively injured in lightning-struck patients, Two of their there patients had signs of cerebellar dysfunction. MRI in one of their patients evidenced superior cerebellar atrophy.

The force of a lightning strike threw a 20-year-old roofer to the ground from the truck in which he was standing. Panicked, he immediately began to run. A numbness and weakness of his arms and back cleared after several days, but the more striking abnormality was a profound alteration of his speech, which he described as having become robotic. Each syllable was clearly enunciated with a slight pause between syllables, so that while the flow of his speech was slowed, he was able to communicate well. His speech was actually easier to comprehend than that of some normal persons. His brother had indeed complained that the patient’s premorbid speech had been too rapid and word-jumbled; that speech was transformed to robotic speech, with fine diction and super-clear enunciation. Each morning, his speech was “normal” until shortly after he began to talk, when it reverted to the robotic pattern for the remainder of the day. The neurologic examination was normal except for right upper extremity hypalgesia. Brain MRI was normal.

I considered his robotic-speech problem to be most like the “scanning speech” of cerebellar disease. I have found no references to similar cases, but the reports of selective cerebellar injury by lightning strike[1-3] lead-me to suspect that robotic speech maybe a more common sequel than has been recognized.

Gordan J. Gilbeft, MD
St. Petersbutg, FL

1. Cherington M, Yarnell P, Hallmark D. MRI in lightning encephalopathy. Neurology 1993; 43(7):1437-8
2. Critchley M. Neurological effects of lightning and electricity. Lancet 1934;1:68–72
3. Morocutti C, Spadaro M, Amabile G. TRH treatment in cerebellar ataxia following a lighting stroke. Ital J Neurol Sci 1989;10:531.

The original authors reply and seemed somewhat baffled, saying that it could equally arise from the shock of the experience rather than damage to the brain.

Link to PubMed entry for case study.

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