What It Was Like


The Ketamine infusion left me tired, cold, and nauseous, with a metallic taste in my mouth. Hell, for me, would be an endless repetition of Ketamine. In fact, I think I would altogether lose my mind after several hours, which has surely been the fate of thousands of lab animals. Even after a mere two hours, the doctor himself wheeled me to the car so Peggy could drive me home.

The nurse who started my IV said, "You might feel like you're floating around the ceiling." It was a gross understatement, because every time I thought the drug had peaked, it laid further waste to my sense that I existed. I became like a compressed ball, a black hole of nothingness, yet I recognized the place Ketamine took me as though I had been there before. I looked in vain for something solid on which to anchor my identity but the more the Ketamine took hold, the harder this became. The room lights had been turned low, but I was seated, as I requested, away from the others in a corner near the door under a softly shining pole lamp. I had brought four books because I had no idea if I would be able to read or would be reduced to looking at photos. Of the four, one was the spiritual memoir of an agnostic, another discussed the spiritual life of dogs, and the final two were oversized books of cat photos. I settled on the cat books, reveling in the beauty of my favorite breed, the ancient and sensuously beautiful Turkish Angora, but when I switched from book to book, the one I was putting away seemed to float downwards while the one I was retrieving floated upwards, my hands following rather than moving. 

Time, space, and even existence came to be mere intellectual concepts, and I had no idea if the music and the whisperings I was hearing came from within or without. When I could no longer focus on cat photos, I tried sitting with my eyes closed, but the blackness pullulated like maggots on a carcass, so I returned to my books. Many things cause me to feel alienated from my species, none moreso than that it allowed the flat-faced deformities called Persians to so displace the ethereally beautiful Angora that the Angora barely escaped extinction. I smiled when I reflected that I have come to adore cats with the same intensity that I once adored women, and that it was the cat photos that were making the Ketamine bearable.

A bed (patients could choose whether to sit in a recliner or lie in a bed) separated me from the other five patients and I could only see the upper bodies of the two nurses, Linda and Vanessa. I would look at them, let what seemed like several minutes pass, and then look again, but they would be in the same place and in the same posture, leaving me to feel frozen in time. I sat opposite a sink, and the cabinet's drawer handles turned into melancholy faces. The nurses, the doctor, and the other patients moved in and out of the room in slow motion like shadowy, surrealist performance artists for whom movement was its own end. Reality became an Ingmar Bergman movie. I had been warned that the drug would make me diurese (which I assume is why the other patients kept leaving the room) so I stopped all liquids three hours prior to the infusion. I was glad for this because I could have neither said that I needed to go or have gotten to the bathroom unaided.

I would occasionally move an arm or leg because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I felt no connection with the seemingly distant flesh that was mysteriously obeying my commands. I kept going back to the same two Angora photos, and despite being enthralled by the textual description, I had trouble remembering the preceding sentence. I imagined that I was leaving visible fingerprints everywhere I touched a page, and this led me to fantasize that I was creating the book out of nothingness. I remembered that Ketamine causes brain damage, and I knew this was true because I was watching my mind disintegrate. If a bear had entered the room, I honestly don't know if I would have been able to flee. I was in awe of the fact that I had once walked, talked, and done the many things that normal people do, and I seriously wondered if I would ever do them again. 

Every time I thought I had reached a peak of disintegration, the Ketamine took me even higher. Like a stealthy shadow, Peggy entered the room, and I saw her with new eyes, a part of my high, a part of my movie, a knowing participant in the existential joke. She looked drawn and worried because her husband was wasted, and Peggy hates being around wasted people, and because, while I was receiving the Ketamine, she had taken Ollie to the vet for the same problem he had two months ago. Now as then, the vet didn't know what is causing the hair loss, but he charged another $175 to guess. He proposed a treatment that Peggy declined because it was toxic, and because she didn't trust him to know what he was talking about. He finally gave Ollie the same two shots that had temporarily helped before.

I think I might have succeeded in whispering a short sentence to Peggy, and I'm sure I nodded my head, but she soon drifted away, phantom-like, to sit in the car with Ollie. She returned when the treatment was nearly over, and this time I giggled and made gestures with my free hand, but I mostly tried to avoid disturbing my fellow patients. It worried me that I was among strangers and expected to maintain a decorum that had become impossible for me. Fortunately, when the Ketamine was withdrawn, I regained the ability to at least speak--however stupidly--and I was even able to stand, although I was too weak and dizzy to remain standing. 

But did it help? My pain level had been higher than usual lately, but it had dropped appreciably before the Ketamine, partly because I was done with the yardwork that had aggravated it, and partly because I was psyched to have a new direction for treatment. Doctors ask their patients to score their pain level on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst imaginable. I hate this because every number is a lie, but doctors demand it, so I gave mine a three going in and a one coming out. I think the anti-gravity recliner might have helped more than the Ketamine. My lowered pain score led the doctor to ask if I would like to come back in two weeks for a higher dose, and I said yes in order to keep my options open. Today, my pain level is higher than it was yesterday prior to the Ketamine, but what of Ketamine's promise of providing quick relief from depression? I don't know. Perhaps, I'm better, but I'm still so shaken by the Ketamine trip that I really can't tell.

Once home from two hours of constant Ketamine, I wanted to settle my mind by watching something happy, so I settled on a documentary about Roger Ebert. I knew he would die at some point in the film, but I assumed it would come at the end, so I was horrified when the film opened with him sitting in a hospital bed with his mouth hanging open and his bandaged neck visible through his mouth. I unsuccessfully tried to deny the reality of what I was seeing, but soon realized that his tongue and lower mouth had been removed, and that his chin contained no bone, which was why it was hanging open like a flap. I remembered Peggy's father's preacher's wife who so trusted in Christ's promise of healing that she refused to see a doctor for oral cancer, only going when it was too late to save her nose or her face from the roof of her mouth down. I don't know how any of us survive decades on this nightmarish planet, and Ketamine seemed like a new hell in a parallel universe.

I persevered with the documentary just as I had persevered with the Ketamine, stubbornness combined with my fear of looking afraid having, for good or ill, gotten me through a great many things. When I got into bed last night, Ollie ran, not walked, to join me. Every night he does this, and every night, he continues the ritual by rubbing his scent upon my book and bedside table. Then he stands upon my thighs and gazes into my eyes lovingly while kneading my abdomen. As our statue of Bastet looks down in divine approbation, I kiss Ollie tenderly, and tell him he's my handsome man. Last night, I asked him if he's worth all the money we spend on him, and he answered by slowly blinking both eyes in tenderness and trust. 

He's now on the chair beside me, taking his late-morning nap, and I am rapturous in the knowledge that it's money that enables me to provide him with what I lack, by which I mean a belief that the universe is safe and that our life together will go on forever.

11 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Reading this lyric piece I am convinced that Ketamine is NOT a drug I could use. Despite ongoing pain. I value control/self control more than I fear pain it seems.
I hope that Ollie recovers completely this time, and am very glad that he has you and Peggy to care for him.

angela said...

Sounds like a horrid ordeal. I don’t know how the drug will help long term I just hope it does
I’m sure you will know better after the second round. Your braver than I am. One go at that and I would
Be running a mile. If I could run
Our pets are our saviours. They sit with us and just love us unconditionally
Feel better soon xx

Tom said...

What a trip ... and not in a good way. I think I'll stick to Tylenol, with an occasional diversion to aspirin or Advil just for a chance of pace. But in all seriousness, I hope it gets better, whether with K or something else.

Andrew said...

I will await further post before I offer any kind of meaningful comment, but I am not sure I like your treatment.

Strayer said...

this seems like the stuff of a movie, where a loosely defined doctor sets up medical experiments in a back room or scams insurance by charging patients for useless treatments. This sounds like nothing more than a drug pusher with a doctor coat. So has Ollie had his thyroid tested? Thyroid problems will cause hair loss, so will stress, FIV positive status, and certain skin infections. In female cats, who are not spayed, hair loss is often the result of hormone fluctuations.

PhilipH said...

The K-treatment hasn't distorted your eloquent commentary on this first infusion. You show us your experience of this event with remarkable clarity and detail.
There is no way I would chance a second session, especially if the dosage is to be increased. But I don't have the pain levels that you are subject to.
I can see the strong bond twixt you and Ollie. Such a beautiful love. I can only wish you well, Snowy, and hope most fervently that you are able to get some decent sleep, and no bad dreams.

Snowbrush said...

This pain doctor offers two kinds of infusions--Ketamine and Lidocaine--and I've made an appointment to receive the Lidocaine, the passage of days having affirmed my belief that I would have to be a complete moron to subject myself to a second Ketamine experience.

I don't know, Strayer, if this doctor only prescribes Ketamine for the money, but I doubt it because it's presented by the psychiatric community as a break-through in the treatment of SSRI resistant depression, and whatever their failings, I think that most doctors are committed to helping their patients. It also strikes me as unlikely that this particular doctor would administer a drug that necessitates him running downstairs every few minutes to be sure that one or more of his patients weren't freaking-out. No one told me that the other patients were receiving Ketamine, but I suspect they were, and that they had received it on other occasions. Why, then, were at least some of them able to make it to the bathroom, and why was I, to my knowledge, the only one who had to be wheeled to his or her car following the treatment? After all, I have enough of a history with hallucinogenics that I expected to do better than average rather than worse. I don't know the answers. I just know that if the others had felt within themselves that the drug was causing lasting brain damage, they must have reached a greater level of desperation than I to be willing to take it. What, then, would I have done had I strongly believed that, despite its downsides, the Ketamine had significantly reduced my pain and/or depression? I suppose I would have gone back for more, but I would have inquired about having the drug administered as a pill or a nasal spray rather than an infusion (these really are accepted routes of administration); and I would have asked for a higher dose of downers; and I probably would have tried the Lidocaine infusion first (Lidocaine being the same stuff the dentist gives you, but in a much higher dose and with benefits that are said to continue even after the drug has worked its way out of your system). I mentioned in my preceding post that, decades ago, when I experimented with hallucinogenics, I came to avoid taking such drugs in places I wasn't familiar with, or at night, or when I was among strangers because the outcome was always bad, yet the Ketamine was administered in a darkened room that was new to me, and I didn't know any of the other people there. Even without having taken a trip-producing drug, I have gotten to where I become stressed in rooms that lack windows, and this room was below ground level.

Snowbrush said...

"I can see the strong bond twixt you and Ollie."

It is only when I'm in bed (at night or even for a nap) that we enjoy such intimacy. He also likes to lie on the chair beside me when I'm writing. At most other times, he doesn't like to be petted, and he's not as intimate with the other three cats as they are with another EXCEPT that he tries to nurse on Brewsky, who is our oldest and largest cat, and one of our two tabbies. Brewsky obviously enjoys this, and we long since gave up on trying to stop it except when we're nearby (we stop it then because Ollies slurps). He is the most easily upset of our cats, and since he vomits up everything he's eaten when he's upset, we do out best to make his mealtimes quiet and predictable, and also to make every day identical to every other day because if there's one thing that cats thrive on, it's sameness. I suspect Ollie's hair loss might have something to do with his fragile emotional condition. He was far too young to be without his mother when some degenerate piece of scum dumped him and his siblings on the side of a highway, and he was still sick and frail when we got him. The reason we chose him above other cats was that it was "my turn to choose," and something about him obviously spoke to me. I call him my GQ boy (after "Gentlemen's Quarterly)) because while his fur is an uninspiring medium gray (except for a few white spots), his build represents the very definition of perfection. Given all that I've said about Ollie, imagine my surprise when he started running (not walking rapidly but literally galloping) to be in bed with me. Once there, he's an absolute love. Something that has surprised me enormously where cats are concerned is that the love and trust that they feel for me continues to increase even after the passage of years. Every day sees us going deeper, and the bond that this has instilled in me is indescribable.

Starshine Twinkletoes said...

That was rough, a very rough ride indeed. I too would have another stab at it, most likely when my pain was particularly high to find out just how useful it was and weigh up the down side. Your love for Peggy and the cats is so beautiful, little Ollie at the end there. I wouldn't ever want to be without animals in my life. I hope the next round of K, if you do go there, is better for having had the first experience and being a higher dose.

(Just in case it isn't showing my name - Starshine Twinkletoes)

nick said...

That was a pretty wild experience by the sound of it. I hope regular sessions (if you can handle them) will provide the promised benefit.

The Padre said...

Unbelievable Post!! Your Words Captivated Me, So I Went Through A Number Of Your Previous Postings. You My Man, You Are Incredible. I Am Looking Forward To Future Updates.

Be Well & Stay Strong,
Cheers