I shuffled into the dimly lit room in ungainly rubber slippers and shrouded in a voluminous white robe. The first thing I saw was a thick black rubber hose coiled on the far wall. Ominously, there was a drain in the floor beneath it. In the center of the room stood a bed rather like one you would see in an operating room. It was covered in plastic wrap with a small folded towel laid in the middle. Above the bed a strange device hung from the ceiling. It looked like one of those modern light fixtures for a kitchen island, but instead of light bulbs the eight dangling rods ended in metal nozzles of obscure but disquieting purpose. T. S. Eliot’s line “like a patient etherized upon a table” popped into my head. In moments I was disrobed and lying on the plastic wrap, the towel barely covering my torso. My minder placed a blindfold over my eyes and urged me to “just relax.”
I was no hospital patient or prisoner about to endure torture, rather a voluntary visitor to this mausoleum like place. It was the spa at a lovely resort hotel in the Maryland countryside where my husband was attending a conference. I sought relief from unbearable election anxiety, the highly contagious Seasonal Affective Disorder of the moment. I initially selected the Milk and Honey Wrap, which sounded soothing. Perhaps the biblical association with a promised land “flowing with milk and honey” augured well for the election. But the receptionist informed me that they were out of honey. She assured me that the Warm Olive Oil and Cane Sugar treatment would be just as therapeutic.
So now I lay blindfolded on a plastic bed as my therapist vigorously scrubbed my body with olive oil and sugar. It was a curious combination of sensations, one soothing and the other like being rubbed with sandpaper. I felt like an ancient Egyptian being prepared for embalming. The scrubbing finally over my therapist warned me not to be concerned when I heard a loud noise. Too bad she didn’t also warn me about the water, for with a mighty gushing sound and the groaning of distant pipes water suddenly sluiced down on me with the force of a monsoon level deluge. Now I understood the purpose of the contraption above the bed and the plastic sheeting. The treatment description included something called a Vichy shower. I had anticipated stepping into a shower stall to wash the various unguents off my body with a gentle rainfall shower of Vichy water. But no, Vichy referred to this system of hoses and nozzles which was giving me an experience I imagined akin to waterboarding, though thankfully I was now lying face down. The force of the water pinned me to the bed and was so loud I couldn’t communicate to ask for it to be turned down a bit. Then with new sensations I realized that each nozzle could be pulled down close to my body and each gushed water with a different massaging action. My therapist played them across my body in an intricate pattern of swirl and pummel. I shook my head from side to side in a vain attempt to keep water out of my ears. Surely my movements looked panicky but my therapist continued her water tortures regardless.
I am currently reading a book about seventeenth century France. It includes descriptions of the tortures inflicted on court witnesses to test their truthfulness. Many victims were able to withstand the torture without giving up any secrets. But once removed from the rack or other gruesome device and laid on a pallet to recover, the relieved victims were at their most vulnerable. Experienced torturers learned that this was the time victims would break and spill their secrets. Something similar happened to me, albeit to a much lesser degree. Suddenly the pounding water stopped and the last of it gurgled down the drain with a sickening sucking sound. My therapist gently dabbed my body dry with soft towels and massaged a soothing emollient of warm olive oil and cocoa butter into my skin. She helped me into my robe and led me to the Serenity Room where soft music, herbal teas, and cuddly blankets on elegant divans welcomed spa survivors. My pummeled, softened body sank into the enervating atmosphere. All was surely well with the world. Milk and Honey would flow once again. And, if the worst should come to pass, perhaps I could learn to love the Dear Leader after all.
Was it worth it? Did my visit to the spa cure my election stress? Perhaps momentarily, but within the hour I was back to obsessively clicking every few minutes on fivethirtyeight.com for polling updates. My husband says my skin feels really soft.