Ep02: Struck by Lightning

Series I: Science of Survival

Apr 12, 2016
Outside Magazine
Ep02: Struck by Lightning

“You become a bag of shattered glass, really.”    Photo: Unsplash

Most of the time, when lightning makes the news, you’re hearing about it because something really unlikely has happened. Like the park ranger who was struck by lightning seven times. Or the lightning strike survivor who also won the lottery (the chances of which are about one in 2.6 trillion). 

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In cartoons and comic books, being struck by lightning gives you super powers. In real life, people have attributed all sorts of amazing abilities to lightning, such as musical talent, mind reading, or the well-known tale of the guy who was struck and could soon after play the piano. He even composed a lightning sonata.

This is not one of those stories. This is about Phil Broscovak and what his life was really like after he was struck by lightening. 

In 2005, Phil was climbing with his family in Wyoming when he was struck. Like a lot of 90 percent of people who survive lightning strikes every year, he temporarily lost consciousness—and walked away with bizarre damage that no one really understands. Modern medicine isn’t very good at treating lightning victims for long-term effects. There aren’t any lightning specialists. Symptoms are so variable and unpredictable that victims often give off the impression that they’re faking it.   

Phil wasn’t faking it. “You become a bag of shattered glass, really,” he says.  

In this episode of “Science of Survival,” we investigate Phil’s remarkable journey of recovery—and the confounding science that gives us only hints at what he and other lightning survivors endure.

The “Science of Survival” is a joint project of Outside and PRX. Support for the series comes from the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation and its commitment to storytelling around STEM issues.