Do what you want, what you want with my body – Gaga
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at my doctor’s office for my first treatment. I had read the literature she had given me, but it didn’t give too much information about what the patient experience is like during the infusion. My doctor (Dr. T) had told me that I would most likely feel relaxed, peaceful and hopefully, would simply sleep through the two-hour infusion. I’ve never had any bad experiences with anesthesia, in fact all of them had been quite good. So I wasn’t afraid. I also didn’t have huge hopes about the process being helpful to me. I’ve learned over the last few years that there is never one thing that is going to be the cure-all for a chronic condition. Some things can help, others can harm. Sometimes it feels like a crap shoot.
When I arrived they gave me an EKG which I was happy to have done in their office. I feared they would send me to some clinic to be groped by some disconnected technician with cold hands. There’s something distasteful about having your breasts moved around like chicken cutlets about to placed in the oven. The MA and I are quite familiar, she’s seen my ass before when giving me shots so I was comfortable with her. The EKG was normal.
Next, Dr T’s PA came in. I hadn’t met him before but as with most of the people Dr. T works with, I was instantly comfortable with his gentle manner. He placed an IV in my right arm after surveying my veins to find his favorite. It was placed on the inside of my elbow which I disliked and of course it came with the typical IV start pain that I’ve become quite familiar with. He hooked it up to a bag of saline and told me Dr. T would be in soon to start the infusion.
My partner J had come with me (a requirement of the procedure is that you have someone to sit with you and to drive you home afterwards). She pulled up a chair next to the massage table I was lying on. She had her iPad and headphones ready. My head was a few feet away from the door to the room, which slid smoothly open when Dr. T came in. She told us that it was best to try to decrease any outside stimulation during the infusion because sounds can become intensified and perceptions are altered. We had brought earplugs and Dr. T brought me an eye mask. A shadow of a migraine was brewing in the left side of my neck and even the small lamp in the room seemed extra bright.
Dr. T said she was going to start the infusion very slowly, a very low dose, and that if anything was uncomfortable for me she could stop it at anytime and the effects would diminish almost instantly. She told me she would be back in the room to check on us periodically while she saw other patients. She also told me that my perception of time would be severely altered. She injected the Ketamine into the IV and left.
Initially I felt similar to what I had felt with anesthesia before. I felt giddy, silly, relaxed and carefree. I joked with J and made her laugh. I told her I loved her on multiple occasions. This happy relaxed feeling continued for some time. I thought to myself, “This is nothing”.
As I began to go deeper my body became very heavy and I felt as if I was in a box stuffed with packing material. My lips were numb and my feet felt cold as ice. I was aware of my perceptions but not alarmed by them. I reminded myself that I was on drugs to soothe myself. I wanted J’s hand touching my arm constantly so that I knew she was there but I could not tolerate the sensation of her rubbing me or moving her fingers.
To reassure myself, or to remain connected I suppose, I kept reporting my experience to J. At one point I told her, “I think I’m blind, but I’m OK with it”. I felt every perception but was also detached from my experience at the same time. I read in the literate rue that some patients experience a feeling of dissociation (i.e. being disconnected from one’s body). This had frightened me a little but during the infusion, as I became dissociated, I was not alarmed by it. When I spoke I felt as if my voice was coming from somewhere else in the room. I was bit alarmed by my experience but the remnants of my conscious mind suggested that I should be. I remember my mind telling me that a drug should not produce this sort of effect and that I should be alarmed. And yet my body did not experience alarm. I recall saying on several occasions, “Is this safe?” As predicted by Dr. T, sounds became intensified. I felt as if I could hear conversations through walls in other rooms. When the door to our room slid open it sounded like the opening of a metal safe in a bank like you would see in some kind of a bank heist movie.
Suddenly there was an unfamiliar voice above my head. The person was probably speaking in a normal tone but it sounded as if she was yelling.
“Who are you?” I asked from my bubble wrap enclosed body across the room.
She yelled something about being a doctor that worked with Dr. T and she was just here because I was receiving anesthesia. I was instantly suspicious. “This is it.” I thought to myself. This is where it’s going to go wrong. Dr. T would never invite someone to this party without telling me first or introducing me to her. I was more angry than alarmed. Because of the eye mask I was immersed in darkness, so I moved it slightly so that I could see her huge head hovering above me. The light was blinding so I immediately replaced the mask. I thought I might be hallucinating and that her visit was part of it.
“I don’t know you, I don’t trust you.” I informed her angrily. “Do you work for Kaiser?” ( I’ve been harmed by Kaiser and trust no one associated with their system).
She laughed. “Oh, God no”. I work for Memorial. I hate Kaiser. I worked there right out of medical school because I needed the experience and it was dreadful, I don’t like to use the word hate, and I don’t generally hate things. But I hate Kaiser.”
“I love you,” I said. Her admission had garnered my trust. She began apologizing for alarming me and for not arriving prior to the infusion, but I had already moved forward. “It’s OK, I said. I love you now”. She and my partner chuckled.
“I’m hallucinating intensely,” I informed her.
I was surrounded by big city buildings with dim lights glowing from the windows. Picture Gotham city or the inside of an elevator shaft. Everything, including my body felt like it was made from blue-grey shiny metal. The best thing I can think to compare it to is the Transformer 3D movie at Universal Studios. If I moved slightly, I felt as though I heard the same sounds that the Transformers make when they are moving. That strange note of cacophony that is not music nor machine but emulates smooth and powerful grinding gears. The hallucinations were intensifying. My body felt thick and at times as if I was encased in shards of glass. Shards of glass that I was not perceiving as painful. It was just an awareness. I was aware that the experience of hallucinating was familiar to me, that I had experienced it before when I had taken LSD so long ago. My mind kept attempting to tell me that I should be afraid. I asked several times aloud, “Is this safe, is it safe to relax?” The Kaiser-hating doctor replied in a reassuring tone, “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” and I replied, “That’s my trauma”.
My newest favorite song is Lady Gaga’s “Do What You Want” and it was swirling through my hallucinations in a circular pattern. The song and its hypnotic beat began swirling up through my spinal cord as if it was rewriting my DNA. Everything became dark, as if I was in a decompression chamber. Everything went completely dark. I saw the tunnel people describe in near-death experiences and was looking for the light. Still reporting on my experience from my detached voice across the room, I said to J, “I’m dying”. I made her go out to the hallway and get the anesthesia doctor. I heard her say, “She says she’s dying”.
“I need Dr. T., I said.
Soon Dr. T was in the room and rustling around with my IV. Someone probably told me I wasn’t dying. I can’t recall. Dr. T leaned down and whispered into my ear, “What you are experiencing in your mind has nothing at all to do with your healing. There are things going on with your nerve endings and receptors and that is what’s important.” I took comfort in her words. She told me we were getting very close to being done. J kept telling me the same thing each time I told her I was dying again. I didn’t believe her because the hallucinations were so intense. I was detached from my fear but aware that I had it. I suspected, as my sedation increased and my dissociation deepened, that I was being extinguished.
Apparently they had been telling me the truth, because slowly, I began to come to. An awareness of being slowly coming back into my body began to develop. I could sense that the glimmer of a migraine I had started with had turned into the real deal. I felt it sitting there waiting for me, although I was not yet fully experiencing the pain of it. Laying in the wrong position for even a few seconds can trigger a migraine and I had been compressing one of my trigger points during the entire infusion without being aware of it. As I became more conscious I was aware that I was becoming more under the control of my conscious mind with its inherent stories and unfriendly monkey business. I was groggy and irritable and desperately had to pee. They helped me to the bathroom and my feet felt encased in cement.
Dr. T had asked me to mentally commit to two sessions before we started the process. I hadn’t realized that the second one would be on the subsequent day. Apparently the results are increased the more saturated the nerve’s become. J and I agreed to come back the next day for a second infusion and so the IV port was left in my vein to wear home. I asked and was given permission to take Vicodin for my building migraine. On the 90 minute drive home I slept in the back of our van rolling around on the folded down seats on top of a blanket. I had pain that lessened slightly as the Vicodin took effect. My mind was screaming, “If this was supposed to help than why do you have a migraine???!!!”, and “How can a LSD trip in a doctor’s office ever turn out to be a good thing, you fool!!!”
My nerves felt raw and cut open. We picked up my son and went to get something to eat. We went to a old Hippie market in Berkeley where I internally massacred the woman making my tea for being slow and spaced out. I felt as if people were staring at me and probably for a good reason. I imagined I looked something like Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie The Shining when he says, “Showtime!”; mixed in with a little of Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day [Tea Lady]!” Luckily, we made it out of the Berkeley Bowl without incident.
I was concerned as I went to sleep that I might experience something frightening after the day’s experience. I had night terrors for years where I would sit up screaming in the middle of the night scaring the death out of who ever happened to be lying next to me. I felt afraid of being afraid. But I slept without issue, until I awoke the next morning with the migraine having set up house and starting a smoldering fire right under my left ear.
To be continued…