In July 1989, Chicago Tribune headlines brought readers the first chapter of the saga of a young woman who was struck by lightning:
- 3 INJURED BY BOLT OF LIGHTNING
- 2 HIT BY LIGHTNING SHOW IMPROVEMENT; MOM IS STILL IN CRITICAL CONDITION
- LIGHTNING VICTIM ON THE REBOUND
Today, my guest is author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel whose new Kindle story In a Flash recounts the lightning strike, the immediate aftermath and the twenty two years of pain and suffering that followed.
Malcolm: In the story, you say that you didn’t know you were struck by lightning until you woke up in the hospital. Did you believe them when they told you what happened or did it sound too farfetched?
Smoky: It was confusing at first, because I had no memory of the event, but I was in such a fog from the morphine I guess I would have believed anything they told me. I couldn’t speak, because I was on a respirator, so I was in no position to question them. I guess I realized how seriously injured I was when I saw that all my siblings—who lived as far away as Georgia to the east and Washington to the west—had gathered at my bedside.
Malcolm: Do you see the incident as random bad luck that could have happened to anyone or as something that was meant to be? That is, was it destiny?
Smoky: Both. I believe it was random luck—I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t believe God was out to get me, as one misguided person wrote me in a letter shortly afterward. However, I believe that random luck can force a person to confront their destiny if they’ve been on the wrong path, and that happened to me. I came to that realization when I met a Native American teacher at a lecture on native healing. Somehow, the story of my being touched by lightning came up. He urged me to explore and study shamanism. “With many indigenous peoples, their shamans are people who have been touched by the Thunder People,” he told me. You were struck by lightning—touched by the Thunder People. You are being called for something.” I take that charge seriously.
Malcolm: Since the story got into the newspapers, did you go for a while constantly being hounded by reporters for the latest update? If so, did you ever get tired of all the attention? Did people on the street recognize you from a picture in the paper and say, “hey, there goes that lady who do struck by lightning?”
Smoky: I did get hounded by the press, especially once they found out the following spring that I was pregnant. One exuberant reporter asked to be present at my first ultrasound so they could report that on the news! At that point, I had to ask the press to please back off and give me my privacy. I promised the reporter I’d call him before any other reporter after the baby was born, and I did that. News spread quickly; when I was discharged from the hospital there were reporters from every major news station in Chicago filming me leaving the hospital with Robin!
Even years afterward, I would get calls to make comments on stories about people being hit by lightning. Eventually, the bruhaha settled down, but it took years.
Fortunately, people on the street didn’t seem to notice me that much. You know how it is—when you see someone out of context you might think they look familiar, but not be able to place who they are. Medical personnel, however, all seemed to know my story.
Malcolm: When reporters and others asked “what was it like,” were they disappointed when you told them the lightning caused short-term memory loss and that you didn’t really know what it was like? That is, were they hoping for a dramatic story?
Smoky: I don’t think anyone was disappointed. Plenty of witnesses saw the event, so the press got the lurid details from then. And because I had so many serious issues that developed as a result of the event, they got fresh story material on a pretty regular basis. It did get tiring after a while.
Malcolm: Do you do anything every year on the anniversary of the lightning strike?
Smoky: When I still lived in the Chicago area, I would take donuts or cupcakes to the paramedics at the firehouse—the team that saved my life initially, and who continued to save me every time I had a health crisis and had to call them. But once I moved away, I stopped doing anything like that. Now, I just stop at 10:21 on July 11 for a moment and give thanks for my life and the blessings I’ve had since that day.
Malcolm: What was it about the lightning strike and its aftermath that made you decide to change you career plans from social work to writing?
Smoky: I was so seriously injured I could no longer attend graduate school. Nor could I hold any kind of full-time job. Who would hire a person who was in the hospital for a week every month? But as broken as my body was, my mind was just fine, blessed be. Writing gave me an outlet to do something worthwhile, something that mattered. I started out as a freelance feature writing for my community’s newspaper. I had a great editor, a guy who was familiar with my story. He gave me stories when I felt well enough to work, and let me be when I was not. It was perfect for me. I gradually expanded to working for other newspapers, and doing magazine stories. But my lifelong dream had been to write a book. Once my first book, Redeeming Grace, was published, I retired from feature writing an focused all my attention on creative writing.
Malcolm: And, the story continues. Your recent knee surgery ended up being more difficult than the doctors expected. What’s their latest prognosis on the long-term viability and functionality of the replacement knee?
Smoky: It’s finally doing better. I have to wear a splint for eight hours a day that is helping loosen the stiff muscles and tendons—a splint I have affectionately named Gizmo Sally. It’s working quite well, and I now have hopes the knee will be working almost normally in another few months.
Malcolm: During your recovery, you met an energy healer who, in the process of helping you deal with the pain, led you to discover Bear, your totem animal. Does Bear still appear to you in dreams and meditations or as an aspect of your intuition when you have important decisions to make?
Smoky: Absolutely! Bear still is a constant presence in my life. People who walk with Bear tend to be introspective, to have inner strength. I would not be alive today if Bear did not share her inner strength with me. I live in almost constant pain, and sometimes that pain reaches almost unbearable levels. But what is in the center of the word un-BEAR-able? Bear herself! Letting me know that even though I hurt, she is with me.
Bear also introduced me to Snake—Rattlesnake, to be more specific. Snake energy tends to awaken in women in the midlife, and appears as a burst of creative energy—awakening kundalini. Bear taught me I could not rid myself of my pain, but that I could use that pain to do wonderful things. When Bear awakened Snake, my creative, artistic side really blossomed. I branched out from writing and began expressing my creativity in a variety of ways. I now consider myself not only a writer, but a visual artist as well.
I have both Bear and Rattlesnake tattooed on my arm as a constant reminder that, no matter what life throws me, I walk side by side with powerful protection. Seeing them on my arm also reminds me to slow down, to focus (Bear energy) on channeling my pain into more useful, creative outcomes (Snake energy).
I believe, ultimately, this was my gift from the Thunder People—Bear and Rattlesnake as my companions in life, keeping me strong, keeping my creative energy, my kundalini energy, flowing. Sometimes, it is hard to live up to this gift. Sometimes, I just want to lie in bed and moan and groan and scream, “Why me?” But ultimately, Bear and Rattlesnake won’t let me do it, at least not for long. I’m a better person because of them, and that is something I will never take for granted.
Malcolm: Than you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table, Smoky. Readers will find my review of In a Flash here.
Excerpt from In a Flash
Forty thousand amps of raw electrical power tore through my body and into Bob, who was still holding my hand. The force of the lightning was so great that we were literally catapulted out of our shoes and tossed twenty feet through the air like rag dolls. Hit by the wall of intense heat created by the blast, Steven tumbled over backward. Bob’s plastic key ring melted into his hand. I ended up face-down in a pool of blood, my pierced earrings blasted out of my earlobes like miniature missiles, my gold and opal necklace vaporized into my chest skin. To all outward appearances, we were dead.
Smoky is also the author of “The Cabin” and “Observations of an Earth Mage.” Malcolm is the author of “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”