On the third morning in her St. Petersburg apartment, she woke with a harsh thumping in her chest: heart palpitations.
Within hours, it felt as if someone had tied a thick rubber band around her head. Then came nausea, fatigue, ringing in her left ear—an onslaught of maladies, all at once, and she had no idea why. “I was trying to come up with every excuse in the world for what was happening to me,” she says. “Moving is stressful, but the symptoms just kept piling on.”
In 2012, after a decade as the owner of a Connecticut catering company and an office worker in finance and construction, Grimes had gone to Florida to be a speaker for a public-policy group. A week or two into the job, whatever was afflicting her still wasn’t abating, and before long her speech became so jumbled that she couldn’t form a complete sentence in front of an audience.
She saw an internist, a neurologist, then a psychiatrist, and still had no explanation. “If we can’t test it,” one said, “it doesn’t exist.” Grimes started poking around online and soon remembered reading an article about the potentially deleterious health effects of the new “smart” electricity meters that were rolling out across the country. The devices send customers’ usage data back to the utility over wireless signals. Did her building have them?
She went outside to inspect the place and found no fewer than 17 of the meters strapped to the side of the building.
Grimes’s sleuthing didn’t end there. She went back online and found herself scrolling through tale after tale of people all over the world getting sick from the devices. And it wasn’t just smart meters. It turned out there was a whole community of people out there who called themselves “electrosensitives” and said they were suffering due to the electromagnetic frequencies that radiate wirelessly from cell phones, wi-fi networks, radio waves, and virtually every other modern technology that the rest of society now thinks of as indispensable.
The affliction has been dubbed “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” or EHS, and it involves a textbook’s worth of ailments: headaches, nausea, insomnia, chest pains, disorientation, digestive difficulties, and so on. Mainstream medicine doesn’t recognize the syndrome, but the symptoms described everything Grimes was experiencing.
She went back to her doctors with her newfound evidence of EHS, relieved to have sorted out the mystery. But she got no sympathy. As she puts it, “They look at you like you have three heads.”
Grimes moved to a new building, then another, and six more times, but at each turn a smart-meter rollout wasn’t far behind. “I sat down there in Florida,” she says, “and just prayed to God: ‘Where is my way out?’ ”
That’s when she heard about a little town called Green Bank, West Virginia.
In Green Bank, you can’t make a call on your cell phone, and you can’t text on it, either. Wireless internet is outlawed, as is Bluetooth. It’s a premodern place by design, devoid of the gadgets and technologies that define life today. And thanks to Uncle Sam, it will stay that way: The town is part of a federally mandated zone where a government high-tech facility’s needs come first. Wireless signals are verboten.
In electromagnetic terms, it’s the quietest place on Earth—blanketed by the kind of silence that’s golden to electrosensitives like Monique Grimes.
And as she discovered, it’s become a refuge for them.
Over the last few years, electrosensitives have flocked to the tech-free idyll in West Virginia, taking shelter beside cows and farms and fellow sufferers. Up here, no one would look at them as if they had three heads. Well, except for the locals, that is.