Getting to Know Myself

Getting to Know Myself, Part I

Once I had adjusted to life without depression and learned how to manage the new-to-me world of feelings, I noticed yet another gift ketamine had given me; I began to discover myself and recognize my specific personality traits. It was as if I was meeting myself for the first time. The particularly interesting thing about this phenomenon was that these personality traits that I became familiar with were all personality traits that had always been ascribed to me by others.

I have always been described as someone who is funny, quick witted with a keen sense of humor. Although I knew I had the ability to easily make others laugh, I always found this ironic because I never actually appreciated my humor, nor that of others. I was incapable of feeling happiness or the pleasure of a joke. Yet, my quick wit kept asserting itself, like a knee-jerk reaction that I neither controlled nor planned.

However, now I understand why my sense of humor continued to manifest itself, even in the darkest moments of my depression; it is an intrinsic part of my personality and while depression killed my feelings and my ability to appreciate myself, it could not eliminate my core self, all the individual traits that make Xoaquima uniquely Xoaquima. And now that I can actually appreciate humor, I am coming to understand the role it plays in my life. It brings me joy when things are going well, and it helps me cope when things are not going well.

Several weeks ago, after a week of excruciating and physically incapacitating pain in my lower back (all of my cervical and lumbar discs were injured in a plane crash nine years ago), my doctor sent me to get a new MRI. I stripped down to my underwear, put on a hospital gown, and lay down on the tray that the technician slid into the MRI machine. After white knuckling it through the first portion of the MRI (placing a plane crash survivor in an extremely narrow tube that bombards her with really loud, unfamiliar noises does not make for a pleasant emotional experience), the technician removed me from the tube, injected me with a contrast dye, and rolled me back in.

Within two minutes, my face was burning so badly I felt like I was on fire. I squeezed the panic button and told the technician I thought something was terribly wrong. He pulled me out of the tube, and as soon as I saw his face, I knew something was terribly wrong. He looked at me with pure panic in his eyes, while at the same time trying to maintain a calm demeanor and assuring me everything would be okay, so I didn’t freak out.

He helped me up off the table and admitted my face was bright red, but assured me I would be fine once I took some Benadryl. But I wasn’t fine. Despite the Benadryl, my whole body started to itch, I began to hyperventilate, and my body started shaking so hard my teeth were chattering. The technician could no longer conceal his panic, and confessed he was going to have to call the paramedics. “But I don’t have health insurance, you can’t call the paramedics,” I sputtered through my chattering teeth. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew how ridiculous they sounded. The technician looked at me like I was crazy, a look I am very familiar with, and asserted that this was a nonnegotiable point – I needed emergency medical assistance

Once the paramedics were on the line, they told him to make me sit down before I collapsed and cracked my head.  But I couldn’t sit. The excruciating pain in my lower back made sitting impossible. Then the call dropped and the technician couldn’t get a cell signal because of the interference from the MRI machine. He was running around the room in a panic, telling me to sit down and frantically trying to get the paramedics on the line. My inner comic began taking notes and reminded me that although I could not appreciate the comedy in this now, I would definitely appreciate it later. I lay down on the dirty linoleum floor and ordered the technician to go to the front room, away from me and the machine, and call the paramedics back.

Even in my state of extreme physical and emotional distress, the comic in me watched the scene play out and took frantic mental notes. I mean really, the whole thing was so crazy and ridiculous, you couldn’t make it up. In the moment, I was too scared to laugh, but I knew when I told the story later, I would laugh and my audience would laugh. Sometimes shit gets so crazy that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And I’d always much rather laugh.

The tragicomedy continued once the paramedics arrived. They lifted me on a gurney, and all I could think was, “Really? They’re going to wheel me out into a busy street in my underwear? Please don’t let me see anyone I know.” Fortunately, the technician had calmed down once the paramedics arrived and had the foresight to retrieve my clothes and wallet for me, which he placed in a plastic grocery bag and set down on the gurney next to me.

The paramedics secured me in the ambulance and rushed me to the hospital. I was still shaking like I’d swallowed a hundred vibrators, and as soon as they wheeled me into the ER, everybody stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at me. A doctor ran over and shouted, “Oh my God! What is wrong with her?” This was not good. This was an ER in Miami, where they see gunshots, machete massacres and all other manner of horrors on a daily basis. But the comic in my head quipped, “I guess the ER is about the only place it’s not politically incorrect to walk up to someone and ask that question.”

A group of doctors and nurses swarmed around me, taking my vitals and asking me questions, which were hard to answer because my teeth were chattering so hard. Then someone shouted, “She’s tachycardic.” Suddenly I regretted being an avid fan of ER and Grey’s Anatomy because in those shows, that phrase is always followed by someone rushing to get the crash cart, the patient’s heart being shocked, and either a round of high fives when the patient is stabilized, or a grim-faced doctor eventually calling time of death. But in my case, none of those things happened. Everyone just wandered away and left me lying there next to the nurse’s station, so I figured tonight was not going to be the night I died.

Unfortunately, people who were there to visit sick family and friends were not so sure. They kept walking past me, pointing, and asking why nobody was doing anything for me. One guy was so freaked out by me, he kept shouting, “Why aren’t you helping her? She’s really sick!” The nurses kept assuring him that I was being looked after, so finally, exasperated, he took it upon himself to begin praying over me and tell me God would take care of me. I really just wanted to scream at the guy, “Leave me the fuck alone! Can’t you see I have enough to worry about without some total stranger praying over me! I don’t even believe in God, and if I did, I’d be convinced he hated me after everything I’ve been through in my life. And if there is a God, he has more important things to worry about than someone in a first world ER.” But I was too busy hyperventilating and shivering to deal with him, so my inner comic giggled and reminded me what a great character this guy was going to make for our story.

Apparently, he was driving everybody else crazy too because they discharged his girlfriend and gave me her room. After attaching leads all over my body and a pulse monitor on my finger, they connected them to the machine where all my vitals were displayed. Then they inserted an IV into my hand and started to prepare the drugs I needed. One of the nurses stared at the order the doctor had written. “Does this say 3 ccs? Isn’t it supposed to be 5 ccs?” Another nurse rolled her eyes and responded, “It’s 3 ccs.”

As the idiot nurse inserted the syringe into the vial and began to draw out the mystery drug, I sent out a silent plea that she not be the one to give me that injection. “I can’t tell,” she said, squinting at the syringe and the vial, “is this 2 ccs or 3 ccs?” The eye-rolling nurse walked over to her and practically snatched it out of her hands. “It’s 3. I’ll take it from here.” My inner comic was ecstatic that these people kept giving me more material to work with. This whole exchange took place right in front of me, as if I didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Law suit anyone?

The idiot nurse left the room and the eye-rolling nurse came back and informed me she was about to give me an intramuscular injection of epinephrine into my arm, which she followed with an injection of prednisone through my IV. Within half an hour, I was no longer trembling, me teeth weren’t chattering, and I began to feel human again. Nobody had come back to check on my yet, but the evil woman in charge of making sure I paid my bill must have had a sixth sense because she swooped in, plastered a fake smile on her face, and asked me for my name, address and phone number. Then she asked me for my driver’s license. I pointed to the plastic bag sitting next to me, tied in a nice neat knot, and told her it was in my wallet, which was in the bag. “Well, can you get it for me please,” she asked like I was an idiot.

I returned her fake smile and condescending tone as I pointed to the leads on my hands and the pulse monitor on my finger and stated the obvious. “I’m not really capable of using my hands at the moment.” I smirked and continued, “I’m going to need you to get it for me.” Her fake smile disappeared, and she gingerly reached out to the bag as if it was infected with tragedy cooties and if she actually touched it, her perfect life would instantly dissolve and suddenly she’d be the one lying in a hospital bed being treated like a subhuman. Once she had retrieved my wallet, she heaved a huge sigh of relief that she had survived such a traumatic ordeal, reattached the fake smile on her face, and practically sprinted out of the room. I couldn’t believe it; these people couldn’t have handed me a better script if I had asked for it.

Two hours later, the doctor informed me that I had had a severe allergic reaction to the active ingredient in the contrast dye, gadolinium, and discharged me. I was so relieved to be out of there, to be alive and to be stable, I decided to walk back to the MRI place, where my car was parked. I was covered in bloody bandages from all the various IVs that had been inserted and once I reached the busy main street, guys openly stared at me with a what-the-fuck-happened-to her look in their eyes. Women nervously averted their gaze, afraid to make eye contact, and gave me a wide berth. Some even crossed the street to get away from me. I felt like the first wave of the zombie apocalypse, and I smiled as my inner comic stated, what a great ending to one of the funniest, most fucked up stories of our already-extensive collection.

When I got home, I looked up gadolinium. Only .01% of people injected with it have such a severe reaction. “Of course,” I muttered, “I would be one of the .01%. If it’s rare, random and crazy, it happens to me. Refractory depression, plane crash, gadolinium reaction, what’s next?!” I don’t know what else the universe has in store for me, but I do know this. Thanks to ketamine, I’ll get through whatever comes my way. Although this was actually a very traumatic experience and stirred up a lot of difficult memories from my trip to the hospital after the plane crash, the ketamine has put me in a place where I can cope with these difficult moments and actually feel, process, and work through the feelings that are a natural result of emotional trauma. And now that I can actually appreciate my inner comic, her laughter helps balance out the tears.

12 Comments

Filed under x's ketamine journey

12 responses to “Getting to Know Myself

  1. Ryane

    Great inspirational afternoon read. “Tragicomedy” (your awesome word) at it’s best. Glad to know you finally believe you are funny and yay for the curative power of laugh therapy. The inner comic is undoubtedly an angel in disquise.

  2. Brenda

    And who said you couldn’t write humour?

  3. bellafiamma

    I have sat reading your story shaking my head with both empathy, understanding and the similarity of my own continuing experience with an IM administered ketamine protocol for refractory depression. I live and work in Davie at joint use public/ university library. How I wish we could talk sometime. I thought I was the only one. And now I find someone almost close by who is walking this same path. I wish you all the best.

  4. Thank you for writing this valuable and well-written story about your treatment of refractory MDD with ketamine. I am so very happy for you. I loved reading your story–I was so excited for you. (Also, I had a similar neurological allergic reaction to compazine some years ago. Didn’t stop shaking uncontrollably for hours. It was horrid! But it does make for good story telling!)

    I, too, have refractory depression. It runs in my family. My meds work to a certain extent and then… nothing. I’m sure you know the score. :) I have been looking around like crazy (no pun intended) for an internist, pdoc or anesthesiologist, who would administer ketamine to me, IV or intranasally. They are as rare as blue diamonds, apparently. There is already a wealth of information on ketamine use in RMDD (they only have to search PubMed), and yet so few doctors know anything about it. I live in Chicago and we do have compounding pharmacies; one is right near where I live. But I cannot find a doctor who will prescribe ketamine. I asked my own pdoc, but she is very conservative and won’t do it. I’d come down to Miami and be assessed by your pdoc, complete with all medical records, if it meant she’d prescribe it for me. I’m that desperate. It sickens me because so many people are that desperate and there is something that works soooo much better than anything out there right now, and it’s already FDA-approved and 70 years old… but they won’t do it.

    Well, that’s my rant! :) But I am so happy for you and excited for your future. You really deserve your happiness and I hope to read a lot more about your adventures in the “real” world!

  5. Aaron

    Hi

    Is the ketamine still working out? any updates about the side effect and drug efficacy?

    • Hi Aaron. I apologize for the long lapse in my blog update. I actually hit a wall with the ketamine about one month ago. Every time I would take my dose, it sent me into a very deep depression for 24 hours, after which I would return to my depression-free state. So, for the past month I have not taken any ketamine, yet am still depression free. I have not found any studies of long-term ketamine treatment and I do not know if this is something others have experienced. I do know that after a few months of treatment, the frequency of dosing is spaced out over longer and longer periods of time. For now, I am living life one depression-free day at a time, and if I do begin to slip back into a depression, I will take one dose of my ketamine and see what happens. I guess this is what it means to be a guinea pig, but I hope the documentation of my experiences can help others decide if this is something they want to try. I can say that even though I hit this bump in my ketamine journey, I have no regrets. The depression-free state it has gifted me so far has enabled me to see life from a whole new, positive, perspective and has enabled me to make important cognitive-behavioral changes that were not possible before ketamine. I hope this information helps!

      • Aaron

        Hi,

        I really appreciate you responding… for people who don’t experience chronic depression cannot understand the quest for a solution.

        I too have been on meds for about 9 years. In that time I’ve been on Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Lexapro, etc. etc.

        The meds keep me from that edge where I am in a dangerous place and for that I’m extremely thankful, but as for being depression free not even close. Short term memory is extremely muddled outlook on life sucks and all I want to do is be old and know that I made it through life and I’m now naturally near the end! (I’m 30 and supposedly life is supposed to be more joyful)

        I read in your post that you actually went off your meds before starting the Ketamine! I know from past experience that going off my med only leads to a crazy downward spiral of suicidal thoughts and crying fits… how have you coped being off your meds?

        Now, here is a question that you might find a bit difficult to answer but here it goes. What does it feel like when you say Depression free? Is it high? is it drunk… inhibitions more free? I ask because I’m scheduled to have a Ketamine treatment tomorrow and I’m very scared about what it might do…. My wife says I’m looking for a magic pill and my parents think I’m crazy to mess with such a dangerous procedure.. They don’t understand.

        Lastly I was very interested in what you wrote about finding a doctor who prescribed it as a nasal spray. This infusion I’m supposed to do is costing $250 which I cannot afford on an ongoing basis. I live in NYC and was wondering if you could point me in the right direction.

        Thank you.

        Aaron

  6. Wondering how things are going. Saw your reply to Aaron and await further news. What about you Aaron if you are there – how did it work?

    • Hey Shawn,

      I apologize that it has been so long since I updated my blog. There have been quite a few ups and downs lately, but I am just about to post a new blog that will let you know where I’m at with the ketamine. Thanks for your continued interest!

      Xoaquima

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s