How A Lightning Strike Cured A Man Of His Blindness

Lightning strikes are rarely fatal — victims die about 10% of the time — but they do tend to have an debilitating effect on those who are struck. Per the Merck Manual, around 30 people die each year in the United States after being struck by lightning, while several hundred more sustain injuries. Some of those struck experience permanently debilitating effects. People struck by lightning have suffered from heart attacks, burns, brain damage, and seizures. They sometimes fall into a coma; sometimes, personality changes occur, which might become permanent. However, in 1980, one man experienced truly unusual side effects. 

As reported by The Washington Post, Edwin Robinson, 62, of Falmouth, Maine, was struck by lightning on June 4, 1980 while standing in his backyard clucking to call his pet chicken out of the rain. According to Robinson, "It was like somebody cracked a whip over my head. I fell right on the ground, face forward." When he came to, he made his way back into his house and took a short nap. Upon waking up, Robinson went and sat in his front room and chatted with his wife. It was at that point that Robinson, who had been blind for nine years as the result of a truck accident, realized his sight had returned. "I said to her, 'Do you know, I can see that plaque on the wall.' It was one our grandchildren had made," Robinson told the Post. "'And not only that,' I told her, 'I can read it.'" 

Did Robinson suffer from hysterical blindness?

The next day, Edwin Robinson went to see ophthalmologist Dr. Albert Moulton in Portland, Maine, per Weird Universe. Moulton told reporters, "There is no question but that his vision is back. He can't move his eyes, but his central vision is back ... I know some of my peers in Washington, maybe, will say it's hysterical blindness. I can't see it ... From the physical findings originally, he was definitely blind." Hysterical blindness, according to Psychology Today, is caused by extreme anxiety — a psychological rather than medical issue — and can triggered by a disturbing event — in this case, Robinson's driving accident. 

Weird Universe includes a clipping from the Los Angeles Times dated July 5, 1980 that notes Robinson eventually went blind and also lost a good amount of his hearing after his accident. The article also reports that in addition to the restoration of his sight and hearing, Robinson's hair, which had once been "thick and bushy" but had started thinning as he aged, started growing back after the lightning struck. Robinson told the Los Angeles Times he'd noticed a sensation while in New York to appear on television, noting his head "felt funny ... like I had whiskers on my head."

Dr. Moulton predicted that other doctors would treat Robinson's situation with skepticism and he was right. The Washington Post spoke with a neuroophthalmologist from the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital who said, "The odds are that this is probably hysterical ... and that this guy, for one reason or another, decided he wanted to see again."

From lightning strike to media frenzy

However it happened, Edwin Robinson did regain his sight, hearing, and even hair after being struck by lightning, and he immediately became a media sensation. He and his wife Doris appeared on the morning talk show "Good Morning America," and film crews from around the world came to their home to get a glimpse of the man who'd not only survived a rare and dangerous situation but actually regained lost senses (and hair). Per The Washington Post, his son Lee served as a sort of manager in the immediate aftermath, arranging his father's interview schedule and considering offers from television shows "That's Incredible!" and "To Tell The Truth" and tabloid The National Enquirer. 

A follow-up article four years later, published by UPI, found Robinson still seeing and hearing just fine and both he and Doris relieved that the original media frenzy had eventually died down. They had turned down an offer from a Canadian television station who wanted to broadcast their story and claimed they had made no money from the incident, save for around $100 and expenses for a few appearances. In 1990, as reported by Weird America, Robinson enjoyed one last bit of fame and, presumably, money when he appeared in a print advertisement for Timex watches, which read in part that the watch worn by Robinson "work[ed] in all kinds of weather."