Three years ago during an electric guitar concert at the Psyche Delly in Bethesda, Kit Kamien's foot kept missing the switch that turns his amplifier on and off. A few days later he was seeing double. Something was happening to his body.
After visits to his family doctor, endless tests and consultations with specialists, he found out what it was: multiple sclerosis, a complex disease of the central nervous system that typically strikes young adults. It was a shattering discovery for the 26-year-old entertainer.
Today, despite blurred vision and a loss of feeling that prevents him from playing gigs, he is teaching guitar and electric bass, producing records and planning an album. He is determined to conquer his handicap.
"At first I wanted my friends to suffer as much as I was -- to have as much trouble doing laundry, shopping for groceries or just going up and down steps," recalled Kamien, who lives in Bethesda. "But my friends wouldn't take it. They kept me from withdrawing or taking myself too seriously."
Kamien decided to deal with the physical and emotional challenge from a realistic perspective. "It's more of a tragedy if you don't get up and do something," he said. His parents, Harry and Pat Kamien, both successful painters, urged him to "carry on and do it with style."
He is, indeed, carrying on in style. He teaches at a large music studio and last year he produced his first record -- a 45 rpm with the title No, No, No, Take Me For a Sister." His Lyrical style is reminiscent of Bob Dylan. His voice similarly spills over soft, repeated rhythms.
But since he has lost much of the critical feeling guitar players must have in their fingers, there will be no more nightly performances. His eyes, at their best, see objects appearing "colorfully dotted and blurred like an impressionistic, pointillistic painting," he said.
A cane rests half-hidden at the foot of his easy chair. Walking is a problem, but he crosses a room with the finesse of an aging actor who gracefully shifts his weight from prop to prop until he sits.
This summer he is working on original songs for an album to be released next year. He said the personal goals he set before the diagnosis of MS are "the same ones I have now."
Kamien is enrolled in a program in "Handicapped Assistance" at Montgomery College, which will lead to an associate of arts degree.He will continue home visits and other volunteer work with the MS Society, he said, "because it has been such a phenomenal help to me." The exercise bicycle in his living room will creak and spin at least half an hour each day to keep up his muscle tone, and life will go on.