41 is a Prime Number
By Elys Bank
It has been one year since my life was turned upside down.
It was April, 2013 that it all started. I noticed this strange, persistent light flashing in the corner of my right eye. Of course, like anyone would, I Googled that symptom and spent a week sure I would be needing surgery for a torn retina. But when I went to the ophthalmologist, he referred me to the neuro- ophthalmologist, who sent me for my very first MRI. And when those results came back, I got referred to a neurologist.
That’s when I figured out that no surgery was going to fix my eye. The neurologist sat calmly in front of images of my brain, pointing out the 18 “holes” – areas that were lit up like holiday lights. My life was about to change dramatically because of the golf course being constructed in my head.
My good friend Sara did something then. She made me join her one Saturday for tryouts. Roller derby tryouts. She dragged me to the warehouse that contained the track. She strapped skates on my feet. Feet that have had no wheels on them for 30 years. She grabbed me by the hips and launched me forward into the pack of incredibly cool women that all harbored the dream that I had secretly had since I first learned about Derby. And I fell. And I fell again. I was fighting the side effects of a medication that I was taking that was making me shake. It was making me dizzy. And I tried to balance on 8 wheels.
My endurance was terrible. I couldn’t skate forward. I couldn’t stop. I was completely drained after a single lap. My legs burned from the exertion of muscles that had long since retired into a quiet existence.
Exhausted, shaky, and drained, I sat on the bench and watched these amazing women skate. And fall, and get up, and skate some more. I couldn’t hold the tears back. Trauma, the team medic, gracefully skated over and sat near me on the bench.
I’m not hurt,” I told her. “I’m just frustrated.”
“No you’re not.” Trauma looked at me and said, “You’re pissed off. Your pissed that your body has betrayed you.”
She told me to stand up, and try again. Then try again, then do better next time.
Biz, the Fresh Meat mama (that would be the veteran who is in charge of teaching the rookies how to skate), called me aside. She looked over my tryout sheet with notes about my woefully pitiful test scores. She asked, “Do you want to do this?”
I wanted to do this. Hell, yes I wanted to do this. If I had to go through the Fresh Meat class ten times, yes, I wanted to do this. I wanted to take my body back. I wanted to get strong in preparation for the days ahead when my physical abilities might be tested. I wanted to know that if I was in the emergency room, it was because I took an elbow in the nose while blocking the other team’s Jammer. Not because by brain was being rebellious.
That was a year ago. In some ways, my life is very much the same as it was a year ago. I work as a technical writer. I raise my amazing kid. I serve as a (somewhat) bad influence for my nieces and nephew. I eat too many Oreos.
But in other ways, everything has changed. I give myself a weekly shot of interferon-beta. My medicine cabinet no longer has much room for lip gloss or nail polish. I wrote up a health care directive and a will.
And I am skating my ass off. And loving every minute. I get exhausted and overheated. I have to rest more often than other skaters. I get shaky and weak. But I’ll be darned if I didn’t learn how to do a crossover.
I wish I had found derby earlier. But I am so glad I have it now.
Elys Bank was diagnosed with RRMS in 2013 at the age of 41. A technical writer for Fusion-io and the single mom of a 10-year-old boy, she lives in Salt Lake City and is well versed in nerd culture, preferring Wars over Trek. She started skating with the Wasatch Roller Derby in July of 2013 and is proud to say that she no longer falls at every practice. Only at every other practice. She skates under the name Velma Rinkley. Follow her adventures at becomingprime.blogspot.com. Or if you are a fan of sarcastic humor in 140 characters or less, her Twitter handle is: @VelmaRinkley