As I mentioned in my previous post here, I have a lightning story. And I totally told the internets I would tell the story, and then promptly ignored it for weeks. Yeah, sorry about that. I’m sure the 4 people that read my blog will forgive me. So, here we go!
It was in my second summer digging in Belize with the Maya Research Program, where I was doing my master’s research. We were digging on these big-ass hills, which were the highest points for miles around. It was beautiful, I learned a ton, and had a blast that summer.
One day, a storm was coming and we had to make a decision. Did we climb our asses all the way down the hill (it’s a big fucking hill) or just wait out the rain under the tarp until it passes? The crew chief (Sarah) and I talked things over with our super excellent worker Eugenio and decided that it looked like it would pass, no big deal. Then, it got much much worse. The rain was kicking it up sideways and felt like it would blow us right over. Not the first time for that, but this particular time, lightning suddenly strikes the adjacent hill. I look at Sarah and our eyes go huge. She yells “everybody, get down the hill!” And we scamper our asses as quick as we can all the way down that steep-ass hill. However when we get to the bottom, there’s a barbed wire fence that blocks easy access to the field that held our truck. Now this fence is usually a bit tough to get under in the best of circumstances, so the first person to shimmy under always turns to hold it up for the rest to get through.
The first person in this instance was me. I crawl under as flat as I can and instinctively turn around to grab the bottom wire to lift up. As soon as I do, I recognize the mistake I made. And before I could finish the sentence “Don’t grab the fence” and pull away, the fence gets struck by lightning. Sparks are flying all around my hands and it bounces off me and through everyone on the crew, ending up with poor Eugenio. Next thing I know, I’m 5 feet away from the fence and we’re all on the ground, with one of the volunteers (Diana) wailing uncontrollably. I stare in horror at Sarah, silently saying “what the fuck just happened.”
Lightning keeps striking all around us, so Sarah starts pushing Diana (whose poncho melted to the fence) under the wire, and I pull her to my side. Everyone hurries the fuck up to get to the other side at this point and we half-carry Diana through the field. We have to stop every 10-15 feet and stay close to the ground, because lightning is striking all over the fucking place. We finally get to the truck and we hightail it back to camp. Diana, Eugenio and another volunteer (Robbie) were the only ones on the crew that had any lasting effects. I merely got an infected finger by getting jabbed repeatedly by the barbs on the fence when I couldn’t let go. Robbie felt like shit for a few days and Diana had a numb leg for at least a week. But everyone else was able to go right back to work the very next day. Including Eugenio, who had a terrible headache for weeks after (we were a bad-ass crew).
The next day on-site, a couple caballeros come up the hill to let us know the farmer that owns the site would be adding another fence around the top of the hill to extend the cow grazing. We were understandably peeved, seeing as this would force us to get under TWO fences in the event of a storm. They agreed to ground the fence and we went down that hill countless times for the rest of the summer during every storm that got remotely close.
They say once you’ve been struck by lightning, it follows you. And that people that get struck are more likely to get struck again at some point in their life. I have always assumed that if you get struck by lightning-odds are you are putting yourself into the position that already increases your chances. Therefore, yeah, you could get hit again. But I swear once that happened, every lightning storm had strikes really fucking close to me for YEARS. Once that same summer, it was a clear day in the lab in Belize, and that loud shotgun sound indicating it hit really close slammed all around us. The next summer, I kind of went nutso when the volunteers weren’t taking a sudden storm seriously and I screamed at them while chasing them out of the jungle until they did (not one of my prouder moments). When we were having dinner towards the end of that season, it seemed like lightning was all around us. And once I got back home, I was driving home when lightning struck a telephone pole 20 feet from my truck.
So yeah, storms freak me the fuck out now, and probably will for the rest of my days. I’m better now than when I was, but for the longest time after, my arm would get all tingly and weird during every storm, and I’d panic a bit. These days they just make me uncomfortable and I avoid windows, but I no longer panic (mostly).
Overall, it was terrifying, but it ended up being a great bonding experience for that crew (and for Sarah and I). I got a tattoo to commemorate the event, and a good campfire story to tell for the rest of my days. All’s well that ends well.