Wednesday 21 October 2015

Lucky day

Lightning never strikes the same place twice.  This phrase is patently untrue, as anyone with access to Google can discover in about 0.298 seconds.  However, the general meaning usually holds true - uncommon things happen uncommonly, and for them to happen twice to the same person is highly improbable.  But it happens - just ask Roy Sullivan (if you're too lazy to click the link, Roy got struck by lightning a record 7 times).

Speaking of uncommon things with improbable odds, the lottery is stupid.  I've heard it said often that the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand statistics.  Before anyone complains and yells "Hey Doc you idiot, I won a few dollars/euros/rupees/rubles/whatevers in the lotto!"  Yes, I know people win.  A few people.  A very few.  Sure it's great if you win, but what are the odds?  Astronomically ridiculously low.  In many lotteries around the world, you are many times more likely to be hit by lightning than to win.  Literally.  Makes me wonder if Roy Sullivan ever played the lottery.  Maybe he should have.  Hm.

Moving on.

So yes, the lottery is stupid.  It's no wonder that I've never bought a lottery ticket.  In fact, a friend of mine has his own lottery - whenever he feels the urge to be stupid and buy a ticket, he puts the money in a jar, and at the end of the year, he empties the jar and BAM!  there are his lottery winnings.

As stupid as the lottery is, I still told Rufus (not his real name™) to buy a ticket.

"Wait, what?  GODDAMMIT Doc, you just told us the lottery is stupid, and you still told a patient to play?  And how the hell did that even come up in conversation?"

I'll explain.  Obviously.

Rufus came to me as a high-level trauma with a huge gauze bandage around his neck.  The medics explained that he had been walking to his car when someone came up behind him and randomly stabbed him in the neck.  You know, because that's what normal people do at noon on a Wednesday.

The wound wasn't actively bleeding, but stabs to the neck can be critical.  There are a lot of very important structures in that area that connects the head bone to the chest bone - spinal cord, carotid arteries, jugular veins, oesophagus, trachea, etc.  When a knife goes in, I never know which direction it went - up, down, left, right, backwards, forwards.  So I am forced to do a detailed physical exam (is the patient coughing or vomiting up blood?  Are all his pulses intact?  Can he move and feel his limbs?  Is there blood squirting up to the ceiling?) followed by various studies to confirm and/or rule out any serious injuries.

On my initial exam, there was a rather large and deep laceration to the posterior (back) portion of the right side of the neck with some mild blood oozing out.  But there was no blood on the ceiling and no other obvious signs of serious injury.  His vital signs were all stable, and he was able to move his arms and legs.

Good, no spinal injury.

His carotid pulses were normal (and besides, the carotid and jugular are towards the front of the neck anyway).  The knife wound seemed to go towards the back of the neck, so I was not immediately concerned about the major vascular structures.  What remained were the trachea and oesophagus, though it seemed equally unlikely they could be injured.  After packing the wound to prevent further bleeding, I got several studies (including both tracheoscopy and oesophagoscopy) which miraculously showed no major injury.

For folks like this who should have died but didn't, my usual joke before they leave the trauma bay is to buy a lottery ticket on their way home, since this was definitely their lucky day.  Unfortunately I forgot to tell this to Rufus.  He got a few stitches for his trouble, and the next morning he went home.

I saw him back in my office about a week later to check his wound.  Everything was going well and his wound had healed nicely.  As I was removing the stitches, he and I were marveling about how serious his injury could have been but wasn't.  It was then that I finally remembered to tell him to buy a lottery ticket, though I suspected his luck had run out.

Rufus: Oh I did buy one, Doc.
Me: You did?  What, this past week?
Rufus: Oh no no.  You see I was actually walking back to my car just after buying some tickets and hadn't gotten a chance to scratch them off yet.  That's when that guy stabbed me.  I thought he was going to rob me, but he didn't even steal them or anything.  He just stabbed me and ran away.
Me: Well that's . . . good, though utterly ridiculous.  So did you win?
Rufus: Well I scratched them off as soon as I got home from the hospital.  And you know what, I won enough to pay my rent this month.  That really was my lucky day!

See?  Lightning does strike the same place twice.  So to speak.


  1. Unless Roy was standing in the same place two of the seven times, it doesn't disprove the saying.

    1. I don't think Doc was saying that this disproved the saying, he was explaining that some things are incredibly unlikely to happen to the same person (such as being struck by lightning several times) but they still happen. The 'lightning in the same place' quote was used as the general meaning is still true, though the saying itself is untrue.

    2. In my limited experience with lightning - being very limited because we don't have severe thunderstorms in my area - lightning doesn't strike the same place twice, because where it struck commonly ceases to exist.
      however, I understand the principles of very long odds, and I understood what Doc was saying.

    3. The Empire State building has been struck by lightning what, 40+ times?

    4. Far far more than 40 times. It is often struck multiple times whenever there is a storm. Many tall buildings actually have a lightning rod to entice it to strike there instead of a random point on the building which may cause problems

    5. and each strike vaporizes the tips of some of the air terminals in the lightning rod system.

  2. On August 13 my son was struck by lightning while he was rolling up the windows in his truck during a storm. Forty four other people in the area were also struck by lightning while participating in swamp training in Ranger School. My son was told to be more vigilant about lighting because having been struck once makes it more like to happen again. I don't know the reasoning for that as I wasn't in the room when it was explained.

    1. I have a feeling that the answer to this is very simple: The people who typically get struck by lightening are the people who tend to be in places where lightening strikes and so tend to be in those same places again next time.

      I doubt it's a physical change - just that being struck marks you out as someone who is at higher than average risk of being struck!

      On the topic of lightening, anyone wanting to spend a geeky minute or two reading about lightening might want to look here:


  3. You have to love someone who sees the positive side of situations.

  4. If the wound was more perpendicular to the skin he'd be dead.

  5. Poor guy!! I'm glad the stabber didn't take his tickets! Then he really would have had a bad day!

    Was anon @ 03:28 the perp? Otherwise how would you know this?

  6. "If the wound was more perpendicular to the skin he'd be dead."

    This sentence makes no sense whatsoever

    1. which probably means it was posted by cornnnboy. everything he says either makes no sense or is copy/pasted out of google.

  7. You say lottery is stupid. But what about the anticipation thrill, about this "if only" or "maybe next time". Most of us understand it is highly improbable but still look for these emotions.


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