What could force a child into such a state? Scrunchie in hand Stephanie pulled her long black hair into a ponytail as she pondered that thought. She watched the boy being wheeled through the hallway to her temporary office. The child looked shrivelled as if the world had enclosed him in a freezer bag and sucked out all the air. He travelled tucked up tight in the wheelchair, chin to chest, arms wrapped rigidly, helmet like, around his head. Protection or something else? Questions to be answered as part of the mystery the administration had called her in to solve. Doctor Stephanie Keel, MD, RCPSC, PhD, Psychiatrist, lecturer, the person to call when everyone else failed.
The transporter wheeled the child into the office. She thanked him, closed the door, chose a chair across from the boy, and waited. Silence settled, disturbed only by their breathing. The child relax somewhat. Although his head remained covered, the muscles in his arms and shoulders grew less tense. In her best caring voice she intruded on the quiet.
“Hello, John, my name is Stephanie. I am your new doctor.” The child did not respond, which was neither good, nor worrisome. He did not cringe or acknowledge her presence. She waited and observed. Nothing happened. While she waited, Stephanie reviewed what she had read in the case notes.
The police found the child with his mother’s body in a remote cabin. He did not respond to questions, appeared terrified of strangers, his name was unknown, and no record of birth existed. The mother frequented mental institutions on and off throughout her life, hallucinated, was aggressive, exhibited numerous neuroses, and anti-social behaviour, the whole ball of twine. One note suggested she would have remained institutionalized her whole life if funding practices hadn’t changed. The child, John Doe, appeared to be seven-years-old, if his physical development followed the chart. Mental development was not on the curve..
A suggestion of catatonia by a caseworker from Children’s Aid, lead to a hospital admission for psychiatric evaluation, but diagnosis was difficult. Stephanie understood why. John’s posture and lack of response suggested a psychosis. But as he was travelling the hallway, Stephanie had noticed twitches, sudden tightening of John’s balled up posture, as if he was shying away from something. What caused the reaction was a mystery.
Their second and third meetings were the same. The child relaxed ever so slightly when inside her office, but his arms still sheltered his head, and he still cringed, although maybe not as often. The fourth visit brought the revelation.
Stephanie had an article due out and she expected reviews, was looking forward to them, and instead of switching her phone off she changed it to silent mode. Their meeting progressed in the normal way, that is to say nothing happened, until her phone vibrated. The boy twitched. She was sure he had responded when the phone activated, but the vibration had stolen her attention. Another message came in, and this time she noted his behaviour without being distracted. He twitched at the exact moment the text message arrived.
She met with the Director of Psych Services a few days later. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you yesterday,” he apologized. “My meeting ran longer than expected. Is there something to report?”
“I have determined, as best I can with the evidence gathered, that the boy responds to wireless transmissions. I need to place him in a location where all transmissions are blocked to test the hypothesis. Do you know of such a place?”
“Myself no, but our IT Director should. He mentioned a device that blocks wireless and cell transmissions yesterday at the meeting we attended. Let me get him up here.”
He touched his telephone console, and a voice responded. “Betty, ask Mr. Rolla to come to my office, stat.” He didn’t wait for a reply.
“A meeting about blocking wireless and cell reception,” Stephanie prompted. “My curiosity is peaked. Are you planning on limiting your staff’s communications while at work?”
“The idea is being explored. We met with the Ministry and other healthcare staff yesterday to discuss the matter. Overall quality of care has been falling, and social media has been identified as the problem. People are unable to unplug. It is like a gambling addiction, or perhaps that analogy is not strong enough… a drug habit may be more accurate.” Stephanie’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She started to reach for it before she stopped herself.
“I understand,” she admitted, as a knock sounded at the door.
A quick glance at the young man who entered was all Stephanie intended, but she found herself unable to look away. His smile captured her. He wore a shirt open at the neck. Short sleeves showed muscular forearms. The open neck drew her attention. She hoped her dusky complexion hid her blush.
“Jim, let me introduce Doctor Keel. Stephanie, meet Jim Rolla our IT director. Doctor Keel wants to know if a place exists around the city where wireless and cell communications are blocked. I remembered that device you spoke of yesterday.”
“A single room would suffice for the experiment I want to run,” Stephanie added.
“We could set up a room here,” Jim answered, his exuberance obvious. “We have borrowed a device for evaluation. How big an area do you need blocked? Was there someplace you had in mind?”
“I assumed it would be necessary to take the patient out of the institution, but if we can set it up anywhere, then my office, or better still his room.”
“Then we should check out those locations, unless you want to inspect the device first.”
“No, that is unnecessary, we can head upstairs.” She found Jim’s prompt action refreshing in the cautious atmosphere of the institutions Stephanie found herself in most of the time. She thanked the Director and followed Jim out.
It turned out that neither her office nor the boy’s ward room were suitable locations. Jim directed her to an isolation room at the end of the hall. Stephanie agreed it appeared to be perfect, with an anteroom where the device could be located and a large observation window. Installing and calibrating the device took until days end. The boy moved in the next morning. Stephanie watched from the anteroom. A change occurred within a few hours.
The boy cringed when the nurse opened the door to bring in his lunch, but only slightly, less when Stephanie entered, and less when dinner arrived. By end of day, Stephanie thought his chin had lifted from his chest an ever so small amount. She arrived earlier than normal the next morning and was glad she made the effort.
The night nurse reported that he had slept well. She accompanied Stephanie to the anteroom.
“That is the most relaxed I have ever seen him,” the nurse commented. “His normal sleeping posture is curled up with his arms wrapped around his head. You can see how unwound he is. He looks normal.”
Stephanie agreed, and although his arms helmeted his head again when he awoke, he lowered them before dinner. They remained down the whole of the next day. When Stephanie entered his room that afternoon John greeted her with intelligent eyes shining out below his blond bangs. In a halting voice he thanked her for making the voices go away.
The next morning when Stephanie arrived, she was surprised to find Jim Rolla in the anteroom.
“I was just checking the device,” he told her. “Is it doing the job?”
“It appears to be. John is much better. He was talking yesterday. That in itself is a vast improvement.”
“So the child is sensitive to wireless transmissions?”
“He appears to be. The literature contains a few cases of oversensitivity, but nothing on John’s scale. A portable Ultrasound unit is being used this afternoon. I hope it will help identify a reason. An MRI would be better, but we have no way of transporting him through the halls without chancing a relapse.”
“I’ve never read about anything like this. We have wireless technology throughout the whole building and no one has complained. I suppose we should start planning for Wi-Li now.”
“Wi-Li?” she asked.
“Wireless communications over light,” Jim replied.
“Don’t rush into it. I believe John’s degree of sensitivity is unique. Would you like to meet him?”
“Sure,” Jim responded.
They entered John’s room and Stephanie made introductions. Jim and John were a natural fit. Jim beguiled John with his ability to juggle, and it turned out that Jim had a comic book collection he didn’t mind sharing. He visited John at lunch time and after work. They formed a friendship in little time, and Stephanie loved to hear the boy laugh at Jim’s antics. The boy’s and the man’s comradery, among other things, led to Stephanie accepting Jim’s offer for dinner a few days later. Another friendship developed when her curiosity about what lay beyond Jim’s V-neck was satisfied.
Stephanie’s report during rounds a few weeks later raised disbelief in some and enthusiasm in others.
“And you believe this cell cluster allows him to sense radio waves?” someone asked.
“I believe it is more than just sensitivity and is not limited to radio alone. He appears to sense the data being carried although I am not sure what he comprehends. The first time he spoke he thanked me for making the voices go away. He is receiving something other than static.”
“Doctor Keel, are you familiar with Kirkland’s research from John Hopkins,” someone asked.
“Yes, I am.” Stephanie answered. She turned and addressed the assembly. “Kirkland is studying the same cell cluster. He has concluded that it has increased in size in the general population compared to the results from studies performed a few years ago before wireless devices became ubiquitous. Our scans show the size of the cluster in John’s head is significantly larger than what Kirkland is seeing.”
“I’m afraid our time is almost up,” the moderator announced. “We have time for one final question.”
“Doctor Keel, I believe we are all aware of the dangers posed by the radiation emitted by wireless devices. Are you suggesting that the radiation is causing a cancerous growth in the cell cluster Kirkland is studying?”
“No, this is not a cancer; it is an increase in size and function. I believe there is sensitivity, similar to what we witness in the cells responsible for binocular vision in the visual cortex. Those cells fail to develop if an individual’s eyes are not capable of stimulating them. My conclusion is that Kirkland’s cells respond in the same way. They are genetically predisposed to develop when stimulated by wireless communications. We are witnessing a step in evolution.”
The ethics committee refused Stephanie’s request to verify her hypothesis by turning off the device for a few seconds. They approved the controlled reduction in the strength of the blocking field as an attempt to condition John gradually to normalcy. The manufacturer gifted the device to the hospital on condition their PR firm could use the story. Stephanie’s journal article prompted discussion by her peers and media even before she started her speaking tour. The news agencies picked up on the story. They concentrated on the device, its ability to block communications, and its proposed use.
The debate about using the devices to limit connection to social media in the workplace raged over the internet before turning to group protests. Some businesses who tried the experiment lost half their workforce within days while others reported success and improved work quality. A Reddit argument went viral. The ‘no devices in the workplace’ faction grew to two-million followers on Facebook—then the incident occurred.
Stephanie saw the story on the news. She stopped everything and called Jim. He answered on the fourth ring.
“Steph, I’m sorry,” he said. “The protester who broke in destroyed the device. I tried to get a new one installed, but John deteriorated too quickly.” His voice broke. “It was terrible. He was screaming, and then he wasn’t. The doctors had talked about the cell cluster in his brain that allowed the reception. I guess they pointed out its location to him. I think that was what he was aiming for when he smashed his head down onto the table and drove the pencil into his temple.” She could hear Jim was crying now. “Damn Steph, he was such a great kid, and he was ready to choose his own name.”
© Dave Skinner 2017