This Is What It Feels Like to Get Hit by Lightning

Renate K was caught in a lightning storm while hunting in the woods.

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08 June 2015, 12:34pm

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps

Thirty people were injured this weekend when lightning struck a music festival in the south of Germany. Thankfully everyone is alive and in "good health", but the unfortunate festival-goers had to spend their weekend in hospital instead of enjoying the Foo Fighters – which, depending on who you ask, might have actually been slightly less painful.

Seemingly, being hit by lightning isn't as uncommon as you'd think. In Austria, for example, two to three people are struck every year. Miraculously, not everyone dies; the mortality rate depends on a whole bunch of factors, like the strength of the flash, the current's path through the body or the length of time before receiving first aid treatment.

Renate K is one of the lucky ones to have survived being hit. Her entire life changed in that 100-millionth of a second when she was struck while out hunting on a summer's evening. The following is a retelling of Renate's experience.

I come from a long line of hunters. Sneaking around in the woods and looking for animals to shoot has been a tradition of my family's for generations.

One early July evening, we were out on an ordinary hunting trip. It had just stopped raining and the clouds were finally breaking and letting the sun actually shine through. My husband and I had climbed up into a tall hunting hut so we could do what us hunters do best: sit around and wait. We both had our heads stuck out of the small opening in the wooden hut's facade, staring out into the forest to see if anything was moving. I began to feel the rain drops trickling down again, so I pulled my hat down a little bit. That's the last thing I remember.

READ ON MOTHERBOARD: Why Weather Predictions Will Never Be Perfect

Next thing I knew, I felt as if I was on a rollercoaster. Everything felt as if it was upside down, and I had this excruciating pain in my face. When I opened my eyes, I realised I was laying on the floor and my husband was violently shaking me so I'd wake up. Nothing made sense, so I just started screaming. I had no idea what was happening.

"We've been hit by lightning," he shouted.

I couldn't feel anything other than my head. I was almost completely numb.

This isn't Renate or her hunting hut, but it's an example of what they look like to aid your imagination. (Photo via Flickr user)

My husband threw me over his shoulder and carried my limp body down the ladder. He managed to get me to the edge of the forest, where he laid me down on an embankment so he could run off and grab the car. I wasn't able to muster the strength to sit up, but I could sense the feeling slowly creeping back into my body. I couldn't help but worry about what was going through his head – his wife laying there like a burned piece of flesh in a field. I didn't want him to think I was dead, so I used every bit of strength I had just to sit up. Just to show him that I was still alive. At that exact same moment, my telephone started ringing. It was my son. Right there and then, I had no clue if I would even survive that day – I was terrified that the numbness would keep spreading and take over my head. It was a dreadful experience that I wanted to spare my son from. That said, I couldn't pick up the phone even if I wanted to.

My husband got me into the car and raced me back to our house, where his parents helped lift me up onto a chair. I sat there, lifeless. On the one hand, I was completely numb, but, at the same time, every single part of my body felt as if it was burning. It was strange, because I was equally as apathetic as I was scared about death. I was absolutely certain that I'd die that day.

For some reason my jacket wasn't even scratched – unlike the blouse I had on underneath, which was completely torn to shreds. I had this bloody, stinking burn starting on my right shoulder and running diagonally all the way down my body to my left foot.

Renate's burn marks and the lightning exit wound. (Photo courtesy of Renate K)

It didn't take long for the paramedics to arrive. All of a sudden there were blue lights everywhere. Five cars arrived to stabilise me and my husband. I guess our upper arms had been touching when the lightning hit, so he got the last of the charge. He admitted that he had no clue what was going on until he was half way down the hut's ladder. Until then, everything was just black.

Our blood pressure reacted quite differently to the incident. While his was extremely high, 220 over 200, mine stayed perfectly stable at 120 over 80. Which isn't all that different from that of a sleeping baby. We were rushed off to separate hospitals, where we spent two days in the ICU having our conditions monitored. We were OK, bar all the severe burning, of course.

The day after the incident, every single inch of my body hurt. It was as if I'd never exercised in my life and then decided to run an Ironman triathlon, or something. On top of that, I was smashed for about an entire week after. I couldn't do anything. I didn't want to go shopping, to cook, to do whatever, basically – I just lay there powerless with zero will to move a single muscle in my body.

One of the toughest parts of the whole thing came right after. The press basically attacked us, looking for interviews, but I declined all requests. I was just so incredibly happy to be alive that I didn't want to spend my time speaking to the media about how I'd nearly died. Especially after I heard about the four lightning victims that had been killed on the exact same day in Germany. Three had died on the spot, but the fourth passed away some days later in hospital. Purely out of coincidence, I actually managed to stumble across my doctor discussing what had happened to me, on television. He explained to the camera that I wasn't out of danger just yet and that I could actually still die from it a few days later. What a way to find that out.

People often ask me if the incident has changed my perspective on life. I don't think so. I guess that it just made me realise that I've always lived my life as I should. No lightning bolt will change that. The only big difference is that I cringe every time I see a burst of lightning, and I try to avoid storms as much as humanly possible.

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