Brain fog is what Don Cumming calls it, a mental fuzziness, and about five or six years ago he identified what brought it on. It was fluorescent lighting.
If he turned off the fluorescent lights in the ceiling of his office, he was okay. If he went to a meeting in a room with fluorescent lights, he was in a brain fog after a couple of hours. In addition, his eyes would get extremely tired, fatigue would set in, and « in the worst cases,’’ he says, « I’d have trouble staying awake.’’
He’d never heard anyone else complaining about the lighting, so « I thought it must just be me.’’
Then, last March, he was hired as director of communications at Trent University in Peterborough, and learned that Magda Havas was teaching a course on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields. So he met with her.
« Am I crazy, or what?’’ he asked. Havas assured him that what he was experiencing was not at all unique. He probably had an electromagnetic sensitivity. « Certainly he shows the symptoms,’’ she says.
Although such a sensitivity is generally discounted by the medical and engineering professions, there is a sprinkling of scientific studies that identifies the symptoms as headaches, dizziness, tired eyes, fatigue, a prickling sensation on the skin, difficulty in concentrating, memory loss, heart rate fluctuations, and muscular or joint pain.
I’ve always been a little skeptical about making the link to electromagnetic fields — just as most people were skeptical about linking similar symptoms to chemical sensitivity, until we learned about sick building syndrome some 15 years ago.
My skepticism all but disappeared, however, when I went with Havas to visit Cumming a couple of weeks ago. He had recently moved to a new office, one that Havas had never been in. About ten minutes into our discussion, Havas, who was sitting beside a wall, suddenly interrupted. « I have to move,’’ she said.
She gets headaches from electromagnetic fields, and felt that she was in a field. She took a meter reading where she had been sitting and, sure enough, there was a strong field coming through the wall from a computer on the other side.
With my skepticism now transformed into concern, I borrowed the meter to take home.