For my first thirty years working as a broadcast engineer, I managed to avoid serious injury by any of the many hazard associated with the business. That changed on February 4th of 2001, when I suffered a 25,000 volt electrical shock while working on a UHF television transmitter.
I was making some adjustments in a hot cabinet, as I had done before. As always, I was careful not to touch any exposed wiring. Unfortunately, for exposed voltages of 25,000 volts, there are no boundaries. I knew high voltages can jump through the air, but now I know that it will jump an inch for every 5,000 volts. In other words, if one gets within five inches of exposed 25,000 volts, one will draw a bolt of lightning. While withdrawing my arm from the transmitter, I was distracted and allowed my hand to come too close to the deadly potential. This was followed by a blinding flash, the smell of burning flesh and my arm hanging limp and paralyzed at my side. It was a moment that was burned into my memory for all time. There was no pain - only a horrible realization that my arm may be permanently useless.
I was extremely fortunate in that my upper arm was near the cabinet, allowing the energy to flow to ground there, rather than through the rest of my body and vital organs. I was driven to the emergency room, where the tests began. I found out that muscle damage from electrical shock can put enzymes in the blood stream that can overload and damage the kidneys. My muscle damage was relatively minor. Within hours I could move my fingers and within a week my blood tests were back to normal. After another week the burns had healed and I was thrilled to be going back to work.
It is now five months later and I am nearly back to my old self. One exception is my hand which still has nerve damage. It feels as if I am wearing a glove all the time, making some delicate work difficult. As the weeks pass the invisible glove feels thinner and thinner, and I expect that in another year I will no longer notice anything unusual.
(Note: After 2 years, mobility of my hand is normal. There is still a slight numbness in the fingers, more noticeable on some days than others.)
Another exception to my old self is that I have a far greater respect for the dangers of high voltage. I had heard of and known people who had received shocks similar to or much more severe than mine. I had always believed it wouldn't happen to me. Now that I have experienced the horror of that moment in time when it did, it is fresh on my mind anytime I come near a transmitter.
My shock was relatively minor, but let me assure you that you don't want to find out what it is like. Whether you are working on a transmitter or raising an ENG mast near power lines, your life depends on the decisions you make and the care you take.
More Information about high voltage risks and broadcasting.