For Shana Turner, there was never a dull moment. As a dedicated teacher and a mom, there was always something that demanded her attention. Her life was often hectic – but Shana loved it. She liked being her family’s backbone.
“On the weekends, it was outside work. It was taking the kids places,” Shana says. “People would say I was kind of like the Energizer Bunny, I never stopped.”
From dawn ‘til dusk, Shana was on the move. She’d wake her kids up, take them to school, go to work, coach gymnastics, come home, cook dinner, and then do housework, too, after her kids went to bed. She prided herself on her ability to reliably juggle so many things. Her children and her students meant the world to her, so the work was rewarding.
Shana Turner smiling outside her home in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Shana’s busy life was going great – until one day, everything changed in an instant.
On September 30, 2015, Shana was standing on the school field, coaching the girls soccer team. It started to pour rain, suddenly, so she decided to get out of the downpour to stay dry. She hurried over to the ticket booth beside the field but realized there was already someone taking cover inside. So, she sheltered against the metal door outside the booth instead, so she could at least take partial cover under the building.
But then, suddenly it happened. Shana was struck by lightning.
“I didn't get to see it. I heard it, just this loud boom that I'll never forget,” Shana says. “Where I was leaning on the metal doorframe on my arm, it felt like boiling Jell-O.”
Shana says her feet started tingling, and her chest hurt so badly it felt like it might cave in.
“I mean, I knew at that point I had been struck by lightning, but I didn't even understand what that meant because I was alive,” Shana explains.
The bolt had landed within 20 feet of her and traveled from the metal door she had been leaning on through her body. She’d been thrown to the ground. Confused and disoriented, she was somehow able to get to her feet. When people came to her aid, Shana assured them she was alright – and shockingly, people believed her. No one got her help. She was left to drive herself and her son home.
Shana with her dog, Bolt.
Unable to drive, Shana’s boyfriend had to come get her. She was rushed to the hospital, but after getting a CAT scan there, she was told there was nothing they could treat and that she could go home. So, Shana went home, hopeful that she would make a quick recovery. What happened next was not what she was expecting.
In this episode, follow Shana on her journey of recovery as she learns how to cope with life after lightning.
Learn more about the host of Home. Made., award winning journalist Stephanie Foo on our host page.
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STEPHANIE FOO: Shana Turner remembers the day all too well. September 30, 2015.
SHANA TURNER: I didn't get to see it, I heard it, just this loud boom that I'll never forget.
STEPHANIE FOO: She was standing on the field coaching the girls soccer team when it started pouring. To get out of the rain, she ran over to the little ticket booth. But there was already a guy in there. So, she leaned up against the metal door. And that’s when it happened. Shana was struck by lightning.
SHANA TURNER: I don't remember much, but I remember being thrown to the ground.
STEPHANIE FOO: Can you describe to me what kind of sensation physically you felt?
SHANA TURNER: Oh, absolutely. Where I was leaning on the metal doorframe on my arm, it felt like boiling Jell-O.
STEPHANIE FOO: Soon, her feet started tingling. Then her chest hurt so much it felt like it was caving in.
STEPHANIE FOO: What was your immediate reaction to it?
SHANA TURNER: Confusion. I mean, I knew at that point I had been struck by lightning, but I didn’t even understand what that meant because I was alive. I was moving, but a lot of pain in my body, just the burning sensation was incredible.
STEPHANIE FOO: This is Home. Made. An original podcast by Rocket Mortgage® about the meaning of homes, and what we can learn about ourselves in them. I’m Stephanie Foo. In this episode, a woman’s life, her health and even her home all change in a flash – but she has to convince everyone else of that.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana is a teacher at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she teaches biology and special education. She is a great mom, single mother of four kids. To support them, Shana also worked as a gymnastics coach. So, her days were full. She woke up at 7:00 to get them to school, got home at 8:30 at night, cooked dinner and did housework after the kids went to sleep.
SHANA TURNER: On the weekends, it was outside work. It was taking the kids places. People would say I was kind of like the Energizer Bunny, I never stopped.
STEPHANIE FOO: That's sounds really hectic, chaotic.
SHANA TURNER: It was fun though.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana was on it 24/7. She was the backbone of her family, and deeply committed to her students. Super reliable and never messed up. Which was maybe why nobody called her an ambulance after she was struck. By. Lightning.
STEPHANIE FOO: The bolt had landed within 20 feet of her, traveled through power lines to the metal frame of the ticket booth she was leaning against. And traveled through her. But, in a daze, Shana picked herself up, and said she was OK. And for some crazy reason, everyone believed her.
SHANA TURNER: I was left just to drive home with my son.
STEPHANIE FOO: Oh my God.
SHANA TURNER: Yeah. Yeah. It wasn't very good, but yeah ...
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana was in no shape to drive. But her son who was with her was too young to take the wheel.
SHANA TURNER: My son was like, "Mom, you yelled fuck." I wasn't concerned that I had just been struck by lightning, but I was worried I was going to get in trouble because I said a curse word at school.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana’s son couldn’t really help her, so she called her boyfriend from the car.
SHANA TURNER: First off, he got upset when I called him because, I guess I woke him up, and so once I got home, it was kind of, were you really kind of questioning me, but I guess by the way I looked, he knew something had happened. So, he got in the car, and he took over driving. I went in the passenger seat, and he rushed me to the hospital.
SHANA TURNER: And I told them, I said, "Something is not right in my head. I don't feel right." They actually did a CAT scan at that point. And they said, "Oh, there's nothing. You're fine. There's nothing we can treat, go on.”
STEPHANIE FOO: So, did you believe them?
SHANA TURNER: I didn't know what to believe. I knew I didn't feel OK. But I thought, "OK, it's going to get better."
STEPHANIE FOO: Two days later, Shana thought, “OK, Energizer Bunny time.” The kids aren’t gonna feed themselves. So, she went back into work.
SHANA TURNER: The first thing my principal said to me is, "What in the hell are you doing here?" And I told them, I said, "They didn't tell me I couldn't come to work, so here I am." I mean, just every muscle in my body hurt, but I wanted to be there for my kids.
STEPHANIE FOO: In the coming weeks, though, Shana started to realize that something was very wrong. She wasn’t the same teacher she had been. If she put something down, she couldn’t remember where. She couldn’t remember conversations, or due dates. When she read questions out loud to her students, she would look back down at the list and have no idea what she’d just read. Even reading was difficult. One time, she was in class. The kids had been told what happened. And a boy raised his hand, but Shana could not remember his name.
SHANA TURNER: I turned around towards the board and started to tear up a little bit. Sorry. But he came up behind me and he touched my arm and told me that I could call him any name I wanted, and then he just stood there, and he hugged me. I mean, the kids were so neat because they all came up and it became a class hug.
STEPHANIE FOO: Aww. Kids can be so pure and beautiful sometimes. They can, like, understand things better than adults in some ways, huh?
SHANA TURNER: Oh yeah, absolutely.
STEPHANIE FOO: It got to the point where Shana had to have an assistant teacher to help her do all of the things she used to do herself. Things were bad, but then they got really weird at home. Shana first noticed it one day when she was carrying a basket of laundry upstairs and went to turn on the light.
SHANA TURNER: And when I hit the light switch, I mean, the light does come on, but it sounds like it's, you know, it's just, it's sizzling in there. It was quite frightening. I didn't know, you know, I immediately turned it off 'cause I didn't know if it was gonna catch the house on fire. Um, just out of fear of, of, you know, me touching it, what was it gonna do?
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana waited for the kids to get home and asked them to flip the switch.
SHANA TURNER: And I think they thought I was kind of crazy because, you know, they're like, "No, mom, it's not doing it."
STEPHANIE FOO: Every room Shana entered sizzled, sparked, popped. She caught static shocks from just about anything. Fans, metal surfaces, light switches, cords. Her home had become an electrical field. Especially in the winter, the static shocks were loud and painful. It got to the point where Shana says she was afraid to turn on the lights or use household appliances.
SHANA TURNER: The situation that happened in 2015 will always affect me in some small shape or another, some of them large, some of the small, but affects even just my movement around my home, doing things. I won't do anything with electricity because I know it's more dangerous for me to get around it.
STEPHANIE FOO: So, what was it like to have to grapple with the loss of the person that you were and the new body that you were living in now?
SHANA TURNER: That was probably the worst part, is that I knew I wasn't the same mother. I wasn't the same person. It was almost a death and watching a death of some of the things that I had. I couldn't cook a full meal because stirring the food hurt my arms so bad, I couldn't finish. It was frustrating not to be able to remember, oh you know your children have this on Sunday that they have to do. I couldn't remember any of that stuff. I got really, really depressed.
STEPHANIE FOO: You liked being the super functional Energizer Bunny?
SHANA TURNER: Absolutely. It got to the point, I wouldn't say I was suicidal, but I did pray that I wouldn't wake up.
STEPHANIE FOO: Yeah.
STEPHANIE FOO: Some of Shana’s fondest family memories are of rainy days spent at home with her kids.
SHANA TURNER: I loved lightning, I loved thunder. I didn't want my kids to ever be scared of it, so we would go in the garage, you know, with the door open and we would watch storms. We would run in the puddles; we would play in the rain. I mean, I wasn’t scared of it at all. Wasn't scared of the loud claps of thunder, none of it.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana and the kids would sit in the garage for hours with cameras out, trying to just capture a bolt of lightning as it came down.
SHANA TURNER: I got some amazing pictures of lightning. We always referred to it as God's creation because it was beautiful, and we enjoyed that … and you'd never catch me doing that again.
STEPHANIE FOO: It’s not like Shana didn’t try to work on her fear. Dealing with stormy weather was difficult for her, so her first goal was simple: Sit on the porch while it rained. That’s all.
STEPHANIE FOO: A friend came over to help her during a small storm. Rain fell lightly, and a bit of thunder could be heard well off in the distance. Every time she felt uneasy, Shana went inside. When she didn’t hear any more thunder, she’d come back out – until she heard it again. In and out she went, several times. At one point, everything seemed safe.
SHANA TURNER: And then all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, there was just a sound that was just unbearable. I actually ended up dropping to my knees on my front porch. And I didn't see the lightning, it actually hit the side of my house. It took out the TV modem and the cable box because it came in actually through the line of the TV. It was almost, you know, like the lightning is out to get me.
STEPHANIE FOO: Lightning strikes on houses aren’t unique. They can cause serious damage to the exterior, but they can also travel right inside through power lines, or cable lines, plumbing and anything else that can conduct electricity. In some cases, people have been struck inside their homes, like, through their windows. In fact, 32% of all lightning strikes happen indoors. And Shana learned, 400 – 500 people a year are struck by lightning and survive. And those who do are more likely to be struck again. Some have been struck up to 7 times. This, of course, was terrifying.
SHANA TURNER: I'm not as comfortable in my home as I was before. I know being anywhere, you can still be struck. And during any storm, you need to be careful … I check the weather constantly. If it's going to rain, I don't do anything.
STEPHANIE FOO: In the months and years after the lightning strike, Shana was not on the mend. The pain, the cognitive issues, the fear and anxiety weren’t getting better. And even worse, nobody around Shana believed what she was going through, not her family, her boyfriend or her doctors.
SHANA TURNER: I mean, I had had a psychologist even tell me that it was all stress and that maybe I had had a stroke sometime in my life that I didn't know about.
STEPHANIE FOO: At one point, her son Dillon stopped talking to Shana.
SHANA TURNER: Finally, I brought it up to my youngest daughter and I told her, I said, "You know, something's going on with Dillon. Can you please see if you can figure out what's going on?” She let me know that from their conversation, that he's tired of hearing about the lightning, he doesn't want to hear the stories. He doesn't want to be around it. I don't know, just …
STEPHANIE FOO: I’m sorry.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana’s boyfriend got frustrated when she didn’t want to go outside. He said she was ignoring him when she would do her own medical research. And then he just left. They’d been together for 7 years.
SHANA TURNER: That is when I was at my lowest point. I just felt like everybody I loved, all my friends, all my family, was, I was so far away from them. I was like in a different world. I couldn't remember to check up on people and my friends just started going away.
STEPHANIE FOO: It's a big change when after the lightning strike, you said you were putting everyone first except yourself.
SHANA TURNER: Oh yeah. I was the rock for everybody. If there was a problem, they all came to me. And then after that, it was like, I couldn't be that person.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana needed someone to take care of her for a change.
STEPHANIE FOO: During her research into lightning victims, Shana came across a Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors Support Group page on Facebook. It’s a private support group for people like Shana with over 400 members. They share experiences and offer therapies that have worked for them. Shana identified with their posts immediately.
SHANA TURNER: I just, I didn't feel like I was an alien anymore. No one understood me. So, then it makes you want to kind of hide some of it because people aren't believing it. But to hear somebody else still experiencing the symptoms, let me know that I wasn't making them up.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana started engaging with the community.. And one of the group moderators told her about an annual conference the group held and invited her to attend. So, she drove up to Lynchburg, Virginia.
SHANA TURNER: I went in, and, you know, I was scared. I didn't know what I was going to find. I didn't know how the people were going to be. I didn't know anything.
STEPHANIE FOO: There was a sign in the hotel lobby that said, "Welcome, lightning strike survivors." Attendees went around the table and talked about their lives after being struck by lightning.
SHANA TURNER: Then, you know, it finally got to me. I had a real hard time telling my story through tears and people would get up and they would come over to me and they would hold my hand, or they'd you know, bring me a tissue, give me a hug …
STEPHANIE FOO: It's kind of like that big group hug that you had with your students.
SHANA TURNER: Oh. Absolutely. Absolutely.
STEPHANIE FOO: So many friends had abandoned you and now you finally were sort of almost replacing that community that you'd lost.
SHANA TURNER: It was an immediate family. I mean, I felt so close to them that weekend.
STEPHANIE FOO: But then her new family gave Shana the good news-bad news spiel. The bad news was, things would continue to get worse for at least 3 years. And Shana remembers becoming really upset when they told her she would always have some symptoms. But the good news was, things would get better after 3 years. In the meantime, they were there to help her. They gave her a booklet called "Life After Lightning." And told her to keep track of everything: symptoms, doctors. They taught her to say out loud "phone, wallet, keys” so she would remember them as she walked out the door. And then one guy told her to write down the 10 most important things in her life.
STEPHANIE FOO: And what was the purpose of it?
SHANA TURNER: It was to make me start to think of positive things in my life that were still there that I could strive for, that the lightning hadn't taken away everything that was positive.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana can’t remember most of the things she listed but she does remember #1: That she was still alive.
STEPHANIE FOO: Back home, Shana worked on her short-term memory issues. She borrowed her son’s Game Boy and played memory games.
SHANA TURNER: I was driven by seeing that I was getting better at some of the games, and now some of them frustrated me so much I just wanted to, to scream and throw the thing, but eventually I started getting better even at those. So that's when I knew that my actual brain was starting to come around and let me remember some things.
STEPHANIE FOO: This led to other improvements. Like, remembering how to do everyday tasks and not having to say things to herself like, “The toothpaste goes on the toothbrush, not the soap.”
SHANA TURNER: Emotionally, I think I was starting to figure out who I was now, figure out the new person I was, what I still could do.
STEPHANIE FOO: And what were some of the things that you liked about the new you?
SHANA TURNER: I know it's going to sound really strange, but because of my processing issues now and because of some of the problems with word recall and stuff like that, I understand my students better. I get when they hear something, it doesn't mean that in their brain, it means anything. And it may come 5 minutes later. And that's hard to understand unless you've experienced it. And I think that was the most positive thing I got out of it was I did become a more effective teacher.
STEPHANIE FOO: Because you had new empathy.
SHANA TURNER: Absolutely.
STEPHANIE FOO: As her lightning group friends predicted, recovery was slow. But she attended the Lynchburg conference every year. And every time, she shared her experience.
SHANA TURNER: And in fact, at the very last conference I attended in person, I think it was Norm. And he looked over to me and he said, "Shana," he said, "It's been 3 years, and this is the first conference you've been able to talk without crying." So, they said, "We've seen the growth in you. We've seen how you've changed. We've seen how you're able to hold your life now."
STEPHANIE FOO: When he said that to you, how did you feel?
SHANA TURNER: It's almost just like your parents saying good job for something you've accomplished when you were young, it was like, OK, I'm getting through this. I'm doing well. Um, you know, other people can see it.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana has taken a few of her kids to conferences. And it helped them better understand and accept what their mother is dealing with. But a big moment for Shana happened back at home when one of her daughters was visiting, helping her clean up some tile on the front porch.
SHANA TURNER: She actually had moved away before the lightning strike, so she hadn't seen the immediate change. And so, as we were moving the tile, she stopped and she goes, "Mom, why are you doing it this way?" And I was like, "I don't know." And she said, "I definitely see your thought process is completely different after the strike because you never would've done it this way before." I guess I was doing it in a way that it took a lot longer. It took more steps to do it. It was still getting it done, but not as efficiently. And I think at that point, she realized that there really was something that had changed cognitively about me.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana is still working on Dillon, the son who stopped talking to her for a while. He was at home with her for all of those first several years and she says it was tough on him, but overall, things are improving in her family.
STEPHANIE FOO: Was there any moment of more acceptance or care from your kids?
SHANA TURNER: My oldest thinks I'm a cool person now because I do use cuss words, which I never did before. I seem to have lost my filter a little bit when I speak. And when mom used the F word around her the first time, she like, celebrated. She thought that was absolutely fantastic. And she and I, we talk probably once a week now. I can call her if I'm upset. She'll call me if she's upset. And she just says, "My mom's a real cool person now that she was struck by lightning."
STEPHANIE FOO: Yeah. You're the chiller mom.
SHANA TURNER: Exactly. My children and I now are on a different level of understanding, a more mature level, they kind of understand why what happened, happened in the past. And they're there for me now. They call and they check on me now. And I think that it's just being thankful for when you wake up in the morning that you've got another day to spend with loved ones.
STEPHANIE FOO: And, Shana, do you look out of the window often, up at the sky to see if it’s a clear day?
SHANA TURNER: I do now, yes.
STEPHANIE FOO: And how does that make you feel when, let’s say, thick clouds start forming in the sky?
SHANA TURNER: A lot of anxiety. A lot of um, fear. Not knowing exactly what’s gonna happen in the day. I also watch the Weather Channel quite a bit to confirm what’s going to happen in the area.
STEPHANIE FOO: Just so you know.
SHANA TURNER: Absolutely.
STEPHANIE FOO: Shana’s kids kept a close eye on her. They even talked about one of them moving back in with her. But then one of her daughters suggested Shana start dating again. Told her to post a profile on an app. But Shana insisted on one thing.
SHANA TURNER: I actually put on my dating profile that I'd been struck by lightning because I wanted someone to understand that there are issues that I suffer with and it's going to be part of my life.
STEPHANIE FOO: She matched with a guy. They texted a bunch over one weekend, then they decided to meet up.
SHANA TURNER: And the first thing he says is, "So, tell me about the lightning," and I was like, "Well, we didn't talk about it, you know, the whole weekend," and he's like, "Oh, I didn't wanna find anything out unless we were face to face," and he was very interested in it. He had never met anyone that had been struck by lightning. I was ready to be with him almost immediately because it was such a comfort.
STEPHANIE FOO: The new guy was great. He listened, was curious. And most of all, he believed her.
SHANA TURNER: He's always told me it doesn't matter whether I'm the old person, the new person, you know, the person that I am now is the one that he loves. And, and that's always nice to know.
STEPHANIE FOO: But how much he believed her was tested the first time it rained. They were sitting on the porch having a coffee when it started. The wind picked up. Shana could hear the neighbor’s chimes ringing. And then she heard the rolling thunder.
SHANA TURNER: I start to rock, um, a lot when a storm comes in, even if I'm not in a rocking chair, and he could tell I was starting to get nervous and he grabbed my hand and, you know, he is like, "You know, do you wanna stay out? Do you wanna go in?" I was like, "No, I just, I just wanna stay out and see what happens." And then of course, you know, lit, lit up one more time and I was like, "OK. No, I'm done." I didn't know if he was gonna get in his car and leave. And that's when he, he took me by the hand and he said, "Come on, let's go upstairs."
SHANA TURNER: So he helped me up the stairs, helped me get into the bed, shut all the blinds in the room, um, and turned the TV on loud so that I couldn't hear the thunder, um, got my weighted blanket and then just laid to me, next to me and, and just let me know he was there with me that, that I'm gonna be OK now that he's here, you know, that, that he'll protect me. He'll, he'll be there with me through the storms.
STEPHANIE FOO: You’ve been listening to Home. Made. by Rocket Mortgage. My name is Stephanie Foo. You can reach us at RocketMortgage.com/HomeMade. Thanks for listening.
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