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.