Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Scary Electrical Experience

I'm beginning to wonder if I have some fatal attraction--literally--for electrical discharges.

Last night at 11, thanks to one of the dogs trying to become a second skin, I raised my head preparing to turn over on my side.  There was a sudden flash of light, a low-pitched "zzzt" sound, and I felt as if I'd had a nasty blow just below my left eye that really hurt.  I did my usual under stressful circumstances--yelled for Mary--and touched the area with my fingers--which came away wet with blood.

In the bathroom mirror I saw a long (about an inch and a half), jagged, wide but shallow cut that Mary describes as looking as if done with a blunt knife about a half inch under my eye.  I was also in a good deal of pain, and nauseous.  

The only plausible explanation that Mary and I can come up with is a very nasty, very strong discharge of static electricity from the headboard of the bed.

All of our beds, which we've had for three years, have sort of filigreed metal "headboards."  I read in bed every night unless I'm deathly ill (as happened last year), propping pillows against the headboard, removing them when I'm ready to go asleep (keeping one for me and one for Fred, who likes his comfort).  I've never had any discharge, no spark, nothing from the headboards in that time period.  Neither has Mary.  Our pillowcases are made of cotton or blends with synthetics.  To top it all off, humidity suppresses the buildup of static charges; the average humidity in our house is about 80% right now, which should prevent the a buildup.  The windows were closed; while it was raining, we weren't having an electrical storm.

And why so strong?  It isn't as if I hadn't touched the metal in months.  The last time I can remember clearly that I did so was the night before.

We have no explanation.  Which kept me "wired" for the night, finding it hard to go back to sleep when I had no idea why it had happened.

I spend very little time in the past; "What if" doesn't hold a lot of charm for me because, analytical, linear thinker that I am, practical, problem solver, "it" didn't happen, so why dwell on it?  Just learn and move on.  

But the three worst words in the English language for me are "I don't understand".  One of the most basic aspects of my personality is the drive to understand the world around me.  I don't mean mere collection of facts, which I regard as almost useless.  I mean the ability to connect those facts and makes sense out of them, see the pattern, understand what's happening.  It's part of the reason why I chose a career in science, why I wound up my career in industry, and it still dominates my everyday life.  What kept me awake was not that "it" happened, but that since I have no idea why, I also have no idea how to prevent a reoccurrence.

I finally fell back to sleep about 2 am.  This morning, I'm resigned to a black eye here sooner or later.  The cut has stopped hurting and the pain which felt localized in the bone just underneath the eye has dulled way down.  Mary is researching ways to insulate that metal headboard--we just can't remove it, since it stabilizes the frame--until we can replace it with something different.  But believe me, while I do have an adventurous spirit, this isn't the sort of experience I wish to repeat or have had in the first place.


sunshine said...

jeepers Joyce, that's scary. Thank goodness it didn't hit your eye.

Were you in darkness and half asleep at the time I wonder. If that was the case, then perhaps it was an errant claw laden paw from the hairy one.

If it was static, then that is frightening. An ex-colleague of mine used to get zapped by static regularly when he touched his or my car.

But surely static wouldn't cut you.

Snakes, scorpions, thieves and realtors....and now lightening. Paradise no sound so nice.

I think i am gonna need rubber boots when I go to the skinny country.

Heck, like Dustin Hoffman in that Outbreak movie, I think I'll get a full rubber enclosure suit and visor. Best to be safe than sorry in paradise. :-))

Best Irish wishes.

Joyce said...

Hi, Will--

Yes, cat was the first explanation I looked at. And Rickie was under the bed. I could even rationalize the flash of light as maybe some sort of indirect connection with the optic nerve--although where the blow landed was nowhere near the nerve. But I'm closing on 50 years worth of experiences with cats, and have had experiences with cats walloping me in the eye, usually at night and always with claws sheathed. They've all been kittens, fascinated by the brightness of the eye at night I think. Rickie is far beyond that stage. I can't explain the sound, either. The flash of light came from slightly above my head, not below or at eye level.

But most of all, if you could see the cut--it's not at all a typical cat claw cut. it's semicircular and ragged--the skin is sort of torn, actually, with little tears on one side and a "Y" at one end. Mary told me this morning that it looked as if someone had pulled the skin apart when she first examined it last night. Having had numerous cat claw lacerations, they're exactly that--like surgical cuts. This is nothing like it.

Mary has spent most of the morning researching this--she is a demon on the Internet!--and the only thing close that she has been able to come up with is lightning damage to skin. But it wasn't lightning.

We continue to have no explanation except some bizarre buildup and discharge of static electricity--which makes absolutely no sense under the conditions.

If it weren't for the very real presence of the cut, the puffiness of the eye, and the bone ache, I swear I'd think I dreamed it.


sunshine said...

If it is static build-up Joyce, then you've gotta find some way of earthing that bed/yourself better.

It couldn't be some ghostly thing could it.

Has Mary or anyone else in the house reported any static discharges since you've been there. have you felt previous discharges of static, there, or previously in your life. Are you prone to static discharges (some folks are).

Joyce said...

Also, I forgot to mention a couple of things. One was the strength of whatever it was. We've all had minor discharges like your friend's experiences. This was nothing like it. It was like a solid, narrowly focused blow to the bone just below my eye. In passing, I've never had a cat hit me that hard,and Rickie couldn' t possibly have done it from below the bed (he was not near my head before). Second, Mary has found examples of lightning damage to skin where the damage is relatively superficial, although they were burns. But this wasn't lightning.

I have no clue. Believe me, really, I would much rather this be a cat incident.


Joyce said...

We keep cross-posting, Will! :-)

Sensitivity has crossed my mind after the lightning incident about 10 days ago. Neither of us has ever experienced any discharges from the metal of the headboards before. I don't think they're steel, which is unusual here--galvanized iron is more like it.

You better believe we're looking into neutralizing them. We're going to buy anti-static agents, but we'll have to import them. Meantime, we're going to shield the headboards from any potential source of static buildup.

Only good thing I can say is that it looks like I'm not going to have a black eye. Every cloud and it's silver lining, I suppose.


sunshine said...

Hi Joyce.

Just back after a nice lie down with my cat here. She was snuggled upm between my arm and body, with quilt half over her, and using my arm as her pillow.

Yes, definitely put something over that metal headboard.....even in the meantime a quilt/blanket.

Do you get much sunshine these days, in the rainy season, or is is mainly overcast and rain? That was a very good picture you posted recently of the rain forming that river donw your land. Gave me a very good idea of the issues there.

Joyce said...

Hi, Will,

I'm going to answer your question about the rainy season in a post on the main blog.

See you there!


Linda & Clyde said...

Dear Joyce,
We're so very thankful nothing worse happened last night, especially after your encounter with lightning last week. Your rain blog was excellent and gave us a good picture of the rain you encounter, high and dry above the rivers and creeks is always a good place to live, even in generally dry south Texas. Take care of yourselves, and have a good evening.

Linda and Clyde

Joyce said...

Hi, Linda and Clyde--

Texas is such a huge state that I don't dare make any assumptions, but didn't I read about flooding somewhere in the south of the state last year?


Carol K. said...

Joyce -
I did a little Googling and kept coming up with "Static electricity plasticization" in connection with metal furniture manufacturers.

BTW, Your blog entry came up,too, on another Google.

I'm totally non-tech, but the first thought was to polyurethene that headboard. I'm not sure what the manufacturers use..didn't get that deep into it...but it must be a problem since they use the application of the coating in their sales pitches.

So glad it wasn't worse.

(We have floods all the time in Texas - I believe the Hill Country has the highest incidence in the states. My mother's home had 8ft of water in the house during the second flooding - only four the first time.)

Enjoy your comments - thanks for sharing them with us,

Joyce said...

Hi, Carol,

I thought I'd read about flooding in Texas! Where is the Hill country you're talking about? The only times I've been in Texas is passing through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I know next to nothing about Texas except, in general, the location of major cities.

The use of polyurethane paint or coating is an excellent idea. I wasn't sure if the coating was good enough, but it sounds like it is from what you say. Thanks for the suggestion, because I'll look into it even further now. We've had all kinds of ideas for rubber tubing, plastic tubing of various kinds, such as are used in construction--but the paint, if it works, would be so much less work, really--and look so much better. I know we can get the paint. I'm going to check into other types of coatings with polyurethane as a base. Thanks again for the suggestion!


Linda & Clyde said...

Good Evening, Joyce,
Yes, we have flooding in Texas, as Carol K. said. Last year, we had rain here, from June to August and it was so nice to have, as it rained regularly and we weren't flooded out here, but, we have had years where you can't get out of our home without driving way out of the way. We have a "dry" creek, that can get really ugly and impassable, about a 1/4 mile away. We're south of the Hill country about 45 miles, so that generally helps. We enjoyed your blog comparing Panama to the world, love your candid view. Have a good evening.
Linda and Clyde

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