Article — From the May 2010 issue

For Whom the Cell Tolls

Why your phone may (or may not) be killing you

On April 28, 1995, the day that changed his life forever, the day “God slapped me in the head with a two-by-four and said, ‘Would you pay attention here?’” Lloyd Morgan had lunch with a colleague at a strip-mall Indian restaurant in Milpitas, California. The two men were discussing office politics when Morgan suddenly tilted sideways in his banquette, the fake-leather seat rising to slap his cheek. In the moment before he lost consciousness, he saw his colleague standing over him in an awkward, bent position, saying, “Lloyd? Lloyd? Lloyd?” For the next forty-five minutes, Morgan convulsed like a man in an electric chair, the victim of a grand mal seizure. Every muscle in his body clenched and unclenched, his bowels emptied, and he cracked a tooth.

At the hospital, a doctor explained to Morgan that his seizure had been caused by a brain tumor the size of a large peach. The good news was that the tumor, a meningioma, was benign and could be removed. (Morgan loathes the term “benign.” “It’s sloppy language. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a benign brain tumor. Anything will kill you if it grows forever.”) The bad news was that the tumor was stuck “like epoxy” to his sagittal sinus vein, meaning that the slightest slip of the surgeon’s knife and Morgan would be dead. But over the course of the twelve-hour operation the surgeon did not falter, and less than two weeks later Morgan was home.

Yet throughout the four months of his convalescence, Morgan couldn’t stop thinking about a conversation he’d had with his neurosurgeon during his hospital stay. The doctor had remarked, offhandedly, that in recent years he had seen an unusually high number of brain tumors.

“So what’s going on?” asked Morgan. “Why did I get this?”

“If I knew that, I’d win the Nobel Prize.”

“But if you had to guess, what would you say?”

“Perhaps,” said the neurosurgeon, committing what must surely be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, “electromagnetic fields.”

Morgan had never heard anything like this before. As soon as he was well enough to read, he hunted down every paper he could find about the effect of electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, on human health. He came across one study in Risk Analysis that showed a partial correlation between electromagnetic radiation and the risk of leukemia. An article in a German journal, Radiation and Environmental Biophysics, indicated “a marginal association between all cancer diagnoses combined and EMF exposure.” And a meta-analysis in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that workers with high exposure to EMFs had a 10 to 20 percent increased risk?of brain tumors. Where other observers—including many of the authors of these studies—detected mathematically insignificant results, routine fluctuations in data, Morgan saw incontrovertible evidence that something cataclysmic was occurring. He believed that he had made a horrifying and monumental discovery.

“Looking back,” says Morgan today, “that tumor was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

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is the author of <em>The Mayor's Tongue.</em> He is at work on his second novel, which is about worst-case scenarios.

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October 2019