Bolt from the Blue

Lightning, by Sam Javanrouh

(The photograph above is entitled simply lightning and is by Sam Javanrouh of the web site Daily Dose of Imagery. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.)

My wife was struck by lightning yesterday.

We had just been celebrating Nora’s first birthday. After the guests left, Erin gave Nora a bath to, among other things, wash the cake out of the little girl’s hair. At around this time, a major thunder storm blew up. The sky got very dark and green. Later I would learn that this same storm likely blew down a number of farmhouses south of Guelph. Seeing the clouds as they moved in, I would not be surprised by this.

Anyway, we’d gotten Nora out of the tub a few minutes beforehand, and Erin was getting out of the tub herself when the water flashed blue, and there was a loud clap. Erin felt what she described as a punch in her chest as though from a hammer, which knocked her back into the tub. Vivian witnessed this and was quite alarmed. I came in and hauled Erin out of the tub. Her heart was racing and she had a headache, but other than that, she seemed unharmed. She complained that her feet were hurting, but nothing appeared to be burnt.

We consulted with various online sources about symptoms from the longer-term effects of electrical injury, and decided that we could just count ourselves lucky and go to bed, which we did. This morning, however, Erin was a little concerned at her fatigue and a headache that was still lingering, and we called Ontario Telehealth. It took about an hour for a nurse to call us back (guess why). The nurse confirmed that by and large, Erin appeared to be fine, but just to be on the safe side, we should go to emergency and get checked out. Which we did.

Six hours later, and we returned from St. Mary’s Hospital, having had an EKG and various tests to monitor the health of Erin’s heart. All proved that she was fine. We left the hospital bored out of our minds, and feeling vaguely like frauds… although the nurses and doctors were very supportive. An actual conversation with the admitting nurse went “so, you’ve come to emergency because of a headache?” / “Yes. The nurse at telehealth said I should.” / “Why?” / “Because of the lightning.” / “LIGHTNING?!”

I’d like to point out here that the quality of care we received was excellent, if slow, with the nurses and the doctors being universally sympathetic.

Anyway, we’re back, we’re fine. Erin’s feeling herself, and will be back at work tomorrow. Consider this a public service announcement to stay off the phones and out of the bathtub when a lightning storm comes near. That electricity can and will get everywhere if it can, including through the pipes, and give you a jolt that you’ll never forget.

I must say that it was a particularly interesting day to go to emergency. We arrived around 1:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, we were the only people in triage, although things were significantly busier in acute care — with far more people needing immediate attention, which was a large part of the reason why we waited for six hours before we were allowed to go home.

At the reception desk was a touch screen that we were supposed to touch in order to print out a pre-screening form. This gave us our number to be served as, and a set of questions asking about whether we were coughing and had recently spent some time in Mexico. The two televisions were tuned to news stations — CP24 on one, and CBC Newsworld on the other. Both were going on at length about the recent developments in the swine flu cases in Mexico. Then came the confirmation of the four swine flu cases in Nova Scotia (and two in BC), and it seemed like there was no other news happening in the world that day.

The waiting room began to fill up through the afternoon, and the swine flu cases were the topic of a number of the patients’ conversations that I’d overheard. “We’ve got swine flu cases in Canada,” said one woman. “It’s confirmed.” “Where?” asked her husband. “Toronto, I think. It’ll be just like SARS; this hospital is going to go into lockdown.”

I corrected them at that point, saying that the cases were in Nova Scotia, but the couple looked rather dubious, as though everybody knew that all bad things go to Toronto first.

By the time Erin and I left St. Mary’s, the waiting room at emergency that had been basically empty when we arrived, was now packed. With at least six individuals coughing behind their medicinal masks.

Oh, and I heard a public health official from the United States caution the public that you could not get swine flu from eating pork.

Not sure what that says about us. Nothing good, I think.

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