This scenario was developed to educate emergency medicine residents on the various presentations and management of a patient struck by lightning.
Annually, there are approximately 1.4 billon lightning strikes around the world; of these, an estimated 24,000 strikes cause significant injury or death.1 In the United States, there are approximately 400 lightning-related injuries every year resulting in 40 average annual deaths.1 Although only one in approximately 14,000 people will ever be struck by lightning, this still represents a significant injury mechanism for which emergency department providers must be prepared.2 Lightning is formed by static electricity built up due to ice crystals in clouds which creates a differential charge between the cloud and another object, such as the ground. Approximately one in every five lightning strikes is a cloud-to-ground strike which can result in injury or death. Lightning current flows may be as high as 100,000 amperes; this is survived 90% of the time only because the strong current of the bolt is applied in a very small timeframe, limiting the amount of energy transferred.3 Even so, with such large amperages, substantial injuries or death are possible. Not limited to a single mechanism, lightning can harm people in a variety of ways, including a direct strike, side-splash, ground current or upward streamers from the ground, or cause blast-type injury.2 The large electric currents involved can generate non-perfusing cardiac rhythms resulting in death if the patient is not immediately resuscitated through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques with respiratory support.2
At the conclusion of the simulation session, learners will be able to: 1) Describe how to evaluate for scene safety in an outdoor space during a thunderstorm, 2) Obtain a relevant focused physical examination of the lightning strike patient, 3) Describe the various manifestations of thermo-electric injury, 4) Discuss the management of the lightning strike patient, including treatment and disposition, 5) Outline the principles of reverse triage for lightning strike patients, and 6) Describe long-term complications of lightning strike injuries.
This session was conducted using a simulation scenario with a mix of high-fidelity manikins and standardized patients followed by a debriefing session on the presentation, differential diagnosis, and management of lightning strike patients. Debriefing methods may be left to the discretion of participants, but the authors have utilized advocacy-inquiry techniques. This scenario may also be run as an oral board examination case.
The residents are provided a survey at the completion of the debriefing session to rate different aspects of the simulation, as well as to provide qualitative feedback on the scenario. This survey is specific to the local institution’s simulation center.
Feedback from the residents was overwhelmingly positive, although several learners struggled with identifying Lichtenberg figures and keraunoparalysis either due to the low-light setting, unfamiliarity of the pathology, or that the depictions were not as expected. The subsequent debriefings allowed for multiple areas of discussion. Debriefing topics included the comparing and contrasting low voltage/high voltage/lightning strike injuries, possible clinical presentations of the lightning strike patient, reverse triage principles, categorizing blast injuries, discussion of disposition, and the determination of prehospital scene safety.
The local institution’s simulation center feedback form is based on the Center of Medical Simulation’s Debriefing Assessment for Simulation in Healthcare (DASH) Student Version Short Form4 with the inclusion of required qualitative feedback if an element was scored less than a 6 or 7. Thirty-one learners completed a feedback form. This session received all 6 and 7 scores (consistently effective/very good and extremely effective/outstanding, respectively) other than one isolated 5 score. The statement, “Before the simulation, the instructor set the stage for an engaging learning experience,” received the lowest average score with 6.81, while “The instructor structured the debriefing in an organized way” received an average score of 6.94.
The form also includes an area for general feedback about the case at the end. Illustrative examples of feedback include: “Absolutely loved this sim. Tested multiple aspects of massCal care. Communication, critical care, scene safety, etc., nailed it,” and “Very engaging and fun with a lot (of) good debriefing.”
This is an easily reproducible method for reviewing management of the lightning strike patient. Faculty may choose to use a combination of high- or low-fidelity manikins, task trainers, standardized patients, or confederate actors/volunteers as patients. There are multiple potential presentations and complications of the lightning strike patient to further customize the experience for learners’ needs. For those who are looking to scale down the scenario, victims may be limited to one or two individuals, using whatever preferred mixture of manikins or standardized patients is needed or desired.
Medical simulation, lightning strike patient, thermo-electrical burn, wilderness first-aid, blast injuries, wilderness medicine, emergency medicine, austere medicine.