What it’s like to be struck by lightning

Sean O’Connor was blown out of his boots—literally
Sean O'Connor
Photograph by John-Robert Ward II

It was about nine o’clock in the morning, and I was in my backyard raking leaves. It was sprinkling a little bit. I remember hearing a cracking sound, like when somebody cuts down a tree. The next thing I know, I’m waking up on the opposite side of my driveway, probably a good 10 feet away.

When I came to, I had the taste of blood in my mouth, and I could smell burnt hair. The whole right side of my body felt like I had a really bad sunburn. I looked down and all of my leg hairs were singed off. The work boots I was wearing were left where I was hit. I didn’t have shoelaces on the boots; I kind of put them on like slippers. If I had tied them, my boots would have been just burning away at my feet.

I have no idea how long I was unconscious. The skies were very dark. It was thundering. I saw a lightning bolt, and that’s kind of when it all clicked: I didn’t get hit by a tree limb. I called my then wife and said, “You’re not going to believe this. I just got hit by lightning.” She thought it was a joke. I said, “Let me send you a video,” and I filmed my smoking boot. She called me back, freaking out, “You need to go to the hospital!”

When we got to the emergency room, the first thing they did was hook me up to an EKG. The heart rate monitor was going crazy; I kept setting the alarms off. Still, I felt normal. It wasn’t until coming home the next day that I started picking up on stuff.

I could stay up for three days. I’d take a five-minute nap and feel fine. Doctors said my nervous system is an electrical system, and the lightning shorted my body out. I’d lie awake at night, and my wife would have to go sleep on the couch because it was literally like lying in bed with somebody while they were at a karate match. The muscle spasms lasted for a good six months. A lot of my long-term memory was gone for a while, too. It slowly came back.

I still have the boot in a little trophy case that you’d put a football in. I’ve got three kids, so this is stuff I’ll hang on to. Maybe one of them will have to do a school project one day on lightning. —As told to Josh Green

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.