A 23-year-old mountain climber was hit by a lightning bolt and awoke in hospital to find herself experiencing bizarre hallucinations.
The case, reported in BMJ Case Reports, describes how the healthy young woman was mountaineering with her climbing partner when they heard heard cracking thunder and were thrown to the ground by a massive shockwave.
The air rescue team took her to hospital and she was put in a drug induced coma for three days as she was disoriented and extremely agitated.
When she awoke, her world was somewhat different.
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, as if in 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, who then became thinner and thinner, 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. However, as she was still frightened after cessation of the hallucinations, she insisted on being transferred to her hometown hospital. Over the next few days, she had increasingly better insight and later forgot about this episode.
Her brain scan showed damage to the occipital lobes, the areas at the back of the brain that are largely taken up with the visual cortex that deal with the early stages of visual perception.
Luckily, the patient survived without sustaining any serious brain damage although the article mentions that because the occipital lobe has so many blood vessels “it could be particularly vulnerable to lightning damage”.
Link to case report on lightning-strike hallucinations.
5 thoughts on “Hallucinations caused by lightning”
The report said the victim had burns. I thought those were rare since the strike is so brief. I know many non-direct strike victims aren’t believed by their doctors because there’s often no visible injuries. Anyway, glad to hear she survived and recoverd from a direct hit.
“The sky was clear and sunny” note to hikers: dark fluffy clouds plus sun = a destabilized atmosphere. I’ve seen (on video) 2 people killed by lightning and both times the sun was out.
And don’t carry your cell phone in your pocket unless you enjoy being splashed by battery acid.
Interesting how her recollections were so vivid and the experts should learn something from her experience when it comes to brain injury.
As a psychiatrist I ca tell you that lightning strokes could stimulate people’s brains and cause them to hallucinate bright blobs of light the same way a medical procedure that applies magnetic fields to the brain does, two physicists propose.
Lightning strokes could stimulate people’s brains and cause them to hallucinate bright blobs of light the same way a medical procedure that applies magnetic fields to the brain does, two physicists propose.
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