#TBT – Lightning Strikes!

Rory Young – I guess for the last year my “go-to story” has sort of followed me around as everyone heard about it and wanted to hear it first hand, maybe see if I was psychic or glowing..

Central Africa has the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the world  and I have spent most of my life outdoors in Central and Southern Africa, often caught in storms. If you look at the World Lightning Strikes Map below, I live in the nastiest patch in the middle..africalightning


Mount Chimanimani

I have had many close or unpleasant experiences. I remember vividly being caught in a lightning storm on top “Turret Towers” , the highest point on Mount Chimanimani  on the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border. The storm came in just as we reached the top. We stripped off our packs, watches and any other metal and squeezed ourselves into crevices. The lightning repeatedly hammered the rocks above us. It was deafening, terrifying and magnificent.

Many times I have run for cover in the bush and joked with others that they would be number 300 not me (a reference to the daily newspaper lightning death toll).

I have always been careful and not taken any chances.

So imagine my surprise when, in the middle of the night, I got out of bed to close a lounge window and was struck by bloody lightning..

It was raining heavily and I was snug as a bug when I suddenly remembered that the lounge window was open. So I went to close it.

The floor and the wall were drenched. I had to open the gauze window inwards whilst leaning against the wet wall and standing in the puddle. Holding it with one hand I reached out and grasped the handle of the other window. The windows and frame, it turned out, were not earthed and neither was the roof. As I held them I was effectively standing holding up a lightning conductor.

There was a flash and it felt like every cell in my body had exploded individually. I flew back across the room.


My wife heard it happen and came running from the bedroom and found me standing shaking with my mouth open and staring fixedly at my arms. I had them stretched out in front of me. I remember the reason for this well. I was amazed that they were still there. Just before I lifted them I had been certain they were gone.

I had a stiff scotch and a painkiller and started to feel a bit better. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. After a while I felt incredibly tired so went to bed.

In the morning I felt a bit odd but otherwise fine, so I went for a run. I had planned to do an 18km run with my little club that morning and didn’t want to let the side down. So, against my dear wife’s objections I went and ran.

The run started out okay but by the end it felt as though my eyes and ears were deceiving me. It was as if what I heard and saw and thought were out of sync. Afterwards I was tired again and went to bed. I slept 14 hours.

I woke up with an excruciating migraine and painful eyes. I was up for a few hours and then went to bed again and slept deeply for another 16 hours. When I woke up my head and eyes were so painful I could hardly move. A Russian doctor friend who had heard about it told me to listen to my lovely wife and get me to a hospital as often the symptoms came later.

At the hospital they did an EKG on my heart and told me it was all over the place. My potassium level was through the roof. There was a scare for a while until I was eventually given the all clear by an excellent cardiologist who told me I was extremely lucky to be alive (don’t need to be a cardiologist to figure that bit out). I had a bunch of further tests and continued to suffer a permanent migraine and photosensitivity for months. Eventually the pain subsided and after about nine months my eyes were back to normal.

Other side effects were an inability to talk to people, I battled to handle conversation, it was as though I couldn’t differentiate between the different voices and other sounds around me; they all came at once. I slept for 16 hours a day easily. A really strange side-effect was that my blood-sugar went from borderline diabetic to normal and has stayed that way ever since.

It is now just over a year and I am back to normal and getting properly fit again.

I am shit-scared of lightning.