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SUNDAY DOCTOR, Dr Sylvester Ikhisemojie
Many years ago in Nigeria, people were not known to be suffering from this kind of horrific death. It is not because they were wiser then but rather because electricity was not a common part of our daily lives. Of late however, there have been reports from various parts of the country which suggest that the phenomenon is at an increase or simply because people are more careless about their environment.
A few days ago, yours truly was a part of the conversation looking at why some of these unfortunate people die so suddenly. Another interlocutor called it a cheap way to pass away. Well, both of these positions are incorrect. The victims are not unfortunate and their death is not cheap by any means. When you consider the suddenness of it all, the broken promises left behind, you will appreciate such a death as truly an expensive one.
In one instance, a young mother of two had just taken a bath when she remembered that she was making some pop-corn before she stepped into the bathroom. Fearing that she may have ruined the snack, she set about to unplug the machine wearing only a towel over her wet body. The shock which resulted shook her a bit in the position she occupied until she fell and died. In another sad case, a young man with three children was excited to be moving from a tiny room and parlour apartment into a three bedroom flat when at the end of all the packing and unpacking of personal effects, he remembered that his television antenna had not been taken down for use in his new home. It was something he felt comfortable with doing all by himself. He took hold of the pole holding it in place and made to remove it.
As he did so, a part of the antenna made contact with a high tension cable bringing power into the building. He died instantly. Some years ago, a court case involving the family of a young girl and a power company revealed that a cable had fallen down across the street the previous night during rainfall. It was not removed and made safe. The following afternoon, there was further rainfall when this young girl returning from school stepped on the naked cable and was electrocuted.
Electrocution is an event which occurs when an electric current passes through the body. Sometimes, death results and at other times, people just suffer from burns and other injuries when the strength of the current flowing through them is sufficient to toss them some distance away. When a current is large enough, it prevents the person holding whatever object has caused the shock to occur to let go of it. The result is that they appear to be in a trance and may be gyrating violently around a narrow radius. Such a current would cause death if the passage is not interrupted or stopped. The presence of any kind of wetness reduces the natural ability of the human body to withstand the kind of current that is presented to it. The effects of such a current are thus magnified and the result is depressing.
Many times, people just do not do enough to avoid trouble and thus leave behind others who become wiser after the fact. As a general rule, it is unwise to approach any electrical appliance in your home or outside of it when your body is wet. It is worse if you do not even have on a pair of rubber slippers. These do not conduct electricity and could be helpful.
When an electric current is sufficiently large, it can cause a heart to fail by setting off a fibrillation, an event that is synonymous with the heart beating at more than 180 per minute. This rate is unsustainable because the heart’s muscles are then unable to rest at all and failure results. The heart, which is primarily a pump, is then unable to push out the blood and death soon results. In addition, the electric currents pass through the nerves and purn it out in patches along the way.
Such heating of the tissues can cause deep burns when faced with the natural resistance of the body. Such natural resistance is diminished by the presence of water around the body. So that when the voltage is in excess of 500 volts, internal organ burns can result and the brain for example can virtually be fried like an egg.
As the voltage goes higher and higher, the damage gets progressively worse. However, domestic current is usually 110 volts such as in the United States or 230 volts such as in Nigeria. If such a current is made to pass through the chest even for a fraction of a second, death can result from ventricular fibrillation, a terrible condition in which every muscle within the heart begins to contract independently of all others instead of contracting in a coordinated fashion that can propel the blood into the arteries. Unless this situation is reversed by the application of a defribrillator, death is inevitable. This application is what governed the putting to death through the electric chair of many American criminals who won capital punishment during the last century.
In other parts of the body, the effect it has on muscles can be so strong that the organ such as a limb or the heart is unable to move. Essentially, they are paralysed by their very strength.
Electric shocks are not all bad. In controlled situations, and with the administration of an anaesthetic, a small electric current can be passed through the body to induce certain kinds of convulsions believed to help treat a variety of mental illnesses. It is a practice which was introduced into psychiatric practice in 1934 and is still in use till this day. It is thus known as electroculvulsive therapy. In the operating theatres around the world, such an electric current is harnessed in various doses and at various frequencies for the creation of a bloodless operating field. It is employed in the cutting of tissues and for gluing blood vessels together to diminish the amount of blood loss. This is known as diathermy, or electrosurgical unit, and is similarly employed on the human body in a controlled environment and under anaesthesia.
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Source: Punch News