Unlucky Strike

Gary Rudd got zapped one day, and life has never been the same.

They weren't enough.

Garry had always considered himself an independent and resourceful man, someone who'd taken care of himself and provided well for others. But after the strike, he couldn't read a measuring tape, operate a welding torch or earn a paycheck.

"It was frustrating as hell," he says. "I thought this would be one of those things where they'd put you in the hospital, hook you up to an IV and you'd get better. I never realized that all they'd do is give you directions and that you'd have to relearn everything on your own. To make it worse, I'm a perfectionist. [Now] I can't do anything that requires math. I can't do anything that takes more than two hours. Then you add to that the seizures and the hearing loss and the dizziness, and what the hell can I do?"

John Johnston
Electric company: After being hit by lightning, Garry Rudd found it difficult to work.
John Johnston
Electric company: After being hit by lightning, Garry Rudd found it difficult to work.

Sometimes miracles occur.

Edwin Robinson of Falmouth, Maine, who'd been blinded in a car wreck, claimed he regained his sight after he was struck by lightning in 1980 at the age of 62. He was walking under a tree, trying to catch a chicken, when he heard what sounded like the crack of a whip. Then he passed out. When he woke up, he moved inside to his couch, began to munch on a sandwich and suddenly told his wife, "I can see that plaque on the wall. Not only that, I can read it!"

Greta Alexander of central Illinois, said she became psychic after being zapped in 1961. Pregnant with her youngest child, she was tossing in bed while a storm raged. Suddenly, lightning struck the house, blew out her bedroom windows and set her bed aflame. From the early '60s until her death in 1998, she aided police detectives, read palms and offered private consultations.

But the most amazing story may be that of the late Roy C. Sullivan, the "human lightning conductor" from Virginia. While working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park, Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times between 1942 to 1977. The flashes blew off his big toenail, burned off his eyebrows, seared his left shoulder, scorched his legs, hurt his ankle, burned his stomach and singed his chest. One strike flipped off his hat, set his hair ablaze, blew him out of his car, ripped through both legs and knocked off his left shoe; he doused his head with a bucket of water and walked away. Sullivan died in 1983 -- not from a lightning strike, but of a broken heart: He killed himself after being spurned by a lover.

About six months after he was struck by lightning, Garry Rudd sat on his porch, studying a photocopy of a clock's face. He'd been given the picture by doctors at a head-injury rehabilitation clinic in Denver, where he had been trying to recover lost abilities.

As he understood it, his injuries were similar to those of someone suffering from a head injury. The areas of his brain that had been damaged during the strike would never heal, but the healthy areas of his brain could compensate. He would still have seizures and memory problems, but he could learn things. He could teach himself to add and subtract. He could learn to build a chair. He could tell time.

Logically, he knew that the hands on a clock moved in a circle, from right to left, but he couldn't make himself see it. He studied the photocopy again and again. Then he had an idea: He sat up and began to walk around his house. He imagined that the back door was twelve o'clock, the east side was three o'clock, the front door was six o'clock and the west side was nine o'clock. He circled his house again, this time with the photocopy, trying to anticipate which number came next. "From that I figured out that the hands only go in one direction," he says. "I began to tell time. I still screw it up, but I'm right 99 percent of the time."

The doctors were thrilled; one physician said he wanted he put Garry's idea in a can and sell it. But to Garry, there was nothing miraculous about it. He'd simply approached a problem the way he always had.

"I'm the type of person who will sit there and look at something until I figure out how to do it," he says. "It's like the people who run across the country on a wooden leg. They do it through their own determination. They could sit at home and tell people how they got hurt, but that won't do them any good. They've got to get beyond their doubts, scars and surgeries. I told myself, 'What can I do? How can I get myself through this?' What I came up with, I came up with mostly on my own, using my own creativity and imagination."

He gradually began to organize his life with a series of rituals, systems and props. Pocket notebooks became a memory aid. A compact disc became a way to tell when an hour had passed. A light above his stove became a warning signal that food was cooking. Sticks and boards became measuring templates. A calculator became a pocket companion. A wristwatch became a valuable accessory.

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