Saturday, October 23, 2010

Deer in Headlights

Earlier this week during the recent thunder storms, we had an incident in which lightening struck right behind our house.  It was one of those instances where you hear a deafening crash, and at the same time the entire room is illuminated with a flash of white light that is nearly blinding in its brightness.  It was so sudden and ear-splitting that our chickens were dead the next morning, having died of what appeared to be a heart-attack. 

When the lightening struck, Clint was awake in the living room, and I was sound asleep in bed.  I don't remember anything except for I was dreaming, and suddenly in the dream something exploded in my ears.  Ripped from sleep, I shot up in bed.  At this point all was quiet again, but the explosion was still reverberating in my ears, and I didn't know what was going on.  I sat there at the edge of my bed, heart pounding hard and fast in my chest.  After a few minutes, Clint came in to check on me, and he found me there, frozen and shaking in the dark.  I'm not afraid of lightening, but because I was asleep, I didn't know it was lightening.  I think it was the mystery of the noise that had me the most paralyzed.  But it's weird, because I don't remember feeling scared, or anything at all, for that matter.  I just couldn't get myself to move. 

Clint brought up the incident last night.  He mentioned that when he heard the crash of lightening, his first reaction, however irrational, was to jump up and grab his gun, as is the case with any strange noise.  He mentioned somewhat jokingly that humans are supposed to have a "fight or flight" response to fear (his being "fight"), but when he walked into our bedroom, I was neither fighting nor fleeing.  Instead, I was just sitting there, paralyzed in the dark, like a deer caught in headlights.  "What kind of response is that?" he had teasingly inquired. 

I was thinking about this, and it's true.  I don't react when I awaken to potentially traumatic situations.  I still remember being at my best friend's slumber party in 6th grade when we had that big earthquake (I no longer remember the details of the quake, I just know it was the strongest and longest earthquake I have ever experienced).  I was curled up on a recliner, fast asleep, when the quake struck in the predawn morning.  I immediately woke up, and items were falling off the walls all around me, and girls were screaming.  I remember I could see their silhouettes running out of the house, one by one, as they shrieked in fear.  But I just sat there, holding onto the arms of the chair, feeling nothing; frozen in place the entire time.  The whole house could have collapsed on me, and I probably would have been found still clinging desperately to the arms of that stupid chair.

A few years ago, when we were living in Silver Lakes, it was about 1:30 in the morning when the window over my bed shattered all around me.  Luckily it was November and I was buried in my bedspread, because heavy shards of glass fell all over my stomach and legs.  I thought someone was trying to break into my what did I do?  I just sat there, frozen in place, covered in glass.  It took about five long minutes before I could "un-freeze," using sheer willpower to get myself to move and call the police.  As it turned out, some reckless teens had thrown a large liquor bottle through my window.  But this incident, along with others, just highlights the point that I don't react in potentially dangerous situations.  What is my problem?

But I don't think I'm completely useless in moments of trauma.  I think it's just some kind of fear of the unknown.  One common trait shared by all of these situations is I had been jolted from sleep, feeling confused and disoriented, unsure of what was happening.  I know that in situations in which I'm awake, alert, and aware of exactly what is taking place, I'm one of the first to react and can usually keep my cool.  I just wish I didn't become so paralyzed when it's something unknown.  Heaven forbid there is ever a real disaster in the middle of the night.  I'd probably be useless.


  1. Evolution at work. The human body, when sleeping, puts most of its systems into stand-by mode. There is of course the purposes of resting and healing, but natural selection causes those who remained as still as possible during sleep to avoid being eaten by animals hunting at night. The ability to lock up when danger hits is also a survival method. The power to become invisible to hunters, the elimination of noise to better gauge one's situation by hearing, all of it suited as a defense mechanism.
    Moving immediately when trouble strikes is all about the gambling that one's reactions will be the correct one. Easy enough, if the reations to having someone knock on your car window is to get the car moving quickly then thats a pretty safe gamble, live another day right. But if your reactions are so set in stone then its easy to fall prey to really smart predators. Military units will often fire a few shots to see if they get a large reaction from a enemy unit. because the bad guys just fired off a ton of rounds you don't need to hit them toe-to-toe, you just back off and have artillery or air power level the area with rapid expansions of gases.
    Its hard for natural disaster type things because often they strike without warning or have little humans can to deflect their damage when its happening.

  2. Oh wow! Lightning hitting next to the house is scary even if you are awake. I live in Florida and we get them crash next to the house quite a bit, and it still always makes me jump. It is funny that you seem to be sleeping when things happen. Mother nature is messing with you.

  3. Melinda, I think the fact that I'm always sleeping when things happen might be Mother Nature's way of making sure I stay put and don't get involved...LOL.

    Perry, I love your explanation. It makes me seem like less of a basket case and more of a "highly evolved" human being with a sensible defense mechanism. Let's go with your theory. ;-)

  4. I do have to cite sources on this one. This written comment was in part do to your local public radio station and National Public Radio.
    Its always cool when I heard stories or read something that traces back current human behavior or thought to early man trying to get with it.


Thanks for your comment!