What happens when your body rejects your obsessions?

Robert Isenberg
12 min readJan 17


Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko:

The MRI is noisier than I expected. I lie here, perfectly still, and the machine hums, grumbles, creaks, and groans. I stare at the ceiling, hands clasped over my chest, trying not to move. One twitch or spasm, and I’ll ruin the picture I desperately need.

I’m not inside the MRI. There’s no blank white tunnel, and I don’t slide into it like a human-shaped pizza. Instead, my left foot is clamped into a small box. Weights press down on my leg. I lie on the MRI equivalent of a massage table, staring at the ceiling, as speakers play the greatest hits of the 1980s.

“You’re doing great, Robert,” says Tom, the technician. He’s standing in a little booth, and his voice comes through an intercom. “You know what, though? I’m gonna do that last one again. I didn’t like how it turned out. Just sit tight, okay?”

I give him a thumb’s up.

“These images are looking real nice, by the way,” adds Tom. “Take ’em over to CVS and print ’em out. You can tell people, ‘See, I’m beautiful on the outside and the inside.”

I appreciate his avuncular riffs. Tom is a massive guy, like a bouncer in scrubs, and his speech is pure Boston. I assume he’s made this same quip hundreds of times. Which is great; I need someone with a sense of humor right now, as we inch ever closer to a diagnosis.

The machine makes its cranky noises,and all I can do is lie here and think. What I’m thinking about is cycling, and whether I’ll ever be able to ride a bike again. I can imagine walking with a cane, as weird as that would be at age 42. I could live with a limp. I could stand to stop and rest more often. I’ve already given up running and long walks.

But living without cycling isn’t living. The bicycle means exercise, transport, therapy, balance. Riding down the street empowered me through childhood, a carless adulthood, and the COVID lockdown. On bicycles, I bond with my son; I socialize with friends; I go on vacation. I even write about cycling for national publications. Cycling is my bedrock.

All of this is at stake. And only this MRI can tell my future.

“I’m looking at these pictures,” Tom’s voice crackles, “and there’s definitely…



Robert Isenberg

Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer and multimedia producer based in Rhode Island. Feel free to visit him at