My sister has one of the best summer jobs around: all she has to do is go to happy hour every day. All her meals are made for her, her house is cleaned for her, her kids are taken care of, she gets to play golf and tennis and swim—she just has to be home for happy hour. Of course, I exaggerate a bit. She gets this summer of luxury only because her husband is working his butt off running a summer camp on Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in New York for Saint Lawrence University. Her duties as the director’s wife are rather loosely defined, but she does have a pretty light schedule.
When we visited her there the first time, I was intrigued by how close the “camp” was to Lake Placid and the remnants of the town’s Olympic glories. Sonja Henie won her third consecutive gold medal there in 1932, artificial snow was used for the first time at the 1980 Olympics, and the Miracle on Ice happened there in 1980. Maybe someday when we visit we’ll pull ourselves away from dockside long enough to visit some historical sites. On our way to buy more suntan lotion maybe.
But what really intrigued me was the training center for future Olympic athletes there. My 10-year-old niece was a budding athlete at the time, and I had dreams of her training to become a bobsledder or luger (sliding downhill on a bobsled track while lying on your back on a little sled, something I had always wanted to do—really!). I knew Jen liked these things, since I still have nightmares about a time years earlier when we babysat her, and she took off downhill in her Big Wheel—she was maybe two years old—and CF and I chased after her, convinced the neighbors were all calling the police.
Jen never became a luger but instead played field hockey and lacrosse, good enough to play varsity at a very competitive college level, but I never gave up my dream to ride the slide. My sister and I revisited the wicked steep hills of our youth, marveled at our daring, and I even managed a run down that childhood hill that would have won $10,000 on America’s Funniest Videos, if we’d brought a camera.
Then I got M.S.
No more luge for me. No more sledding. No more bicycling, no more roller coasters, no more grocery shopping, no more escalators, no more riding in glass-walled elevators. It all made me too dizzy, too nauseated, too wobbly. I either fell over, vomited, or passed out. Or all three.
Then I discovered the little-known world of M.S. patients: the M.R.I. tunnel. The doctors tell you it stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and that they slide you inside this tube so magnets can align themselves to take images of your brain (and make honking loud noises while they do so), but which I realize actually stands for Multiple Rocks and Ice.
If you watch a real luge race, you see that the racer has to sit up and rock back and forth a bit to get little bit of speed going before pushing off, and then lie down flat on her back, point her toes and hold perfectly still for the rest of the race (except to wiggle her toes a bit to steer). So that’s what you do in the M.R.I. You sit up and rock back and forth a bit until they tell you to lie down, then they back you into the tunnel, and you hold perfectly still. There you are in this world of white ice and snow, being bombarded with the sound of rocks being thrown at you.
It’s all slightly hallucinogenic anyway, four of your five senses deprived, easy to slip out of reality, since your head is strapped into place, you probably have a headset on, a heated blanket over part of your body, irregular loud loud loud clanking bonking noises coming from nowhere, your elbows smashed into your ribs, your nose oh please don’t let it start to itch, when you find yourself on the luge run at Lake Placid, yes, you can hear the crowd just outside the track, the horns bleating, drums banging, they are cheering for you as you round the omega curve, as you sweep through the backstretch, take the high curve easily, 55 miles per hour, you are sailing, you can feel the sled beneath you responding to the slight tips of your toes—
“Just a few more minutes and we’ll be done.” It’s the lab technician, tumbling you off the mountain and back into his dark little magnetized world.
Here you are stuck in a dark little tunnel with a cold blanket on top of you, earphones jammed on your head and uncomfortably loud noises crashing in your ears.
M.S. sucks. And my nose itches.