“I think Stella is a bad influence” is a phrase I remember hearing Dr. G say during my latest ketamine infusion. Stella is my willful, independent dog who sometimes flat-out refuses to listen to me. In trying to piece together the events of my day, that phrase bounced around in my head without context. What had happened?
Apparently, I had refused to close my eyes. Dr. G repeatedly told me to shut them but dang it if that little glass dragonfly suspended from the ceiling wasn’t absolutely mesmerizing. I remember it glittering and moving gently while I stared. I closed my eyes eventually.
This infusion was different in a few ways. For one thing, it was a higher dose of ketamine paired with a sedative to make it less intense. I also am completely off of one of my mood-stabilizing medications, Lamictal, which can interfere with ketamine. Like last time, I took some Tagamet before my infusion to slow the metabolism of the ketamine and make it last longer. The sedative kept this infusion from being bizarre, or at least from me remembering any bizarre images I might have seen.
At first, I didn’t feel as deeply removed from the world around me as usual. This was deceptive, though, as I soon began to feel – as trippy as this sounds – like my being was shrinking into my body. Or perhaps like my body was expanding to create a shell around my consciousness. Things were happening in the room – sounds of typing and clicking, machines beeping, Dr. G telling me to take a deep breath (which I also did not listen to, apparently) – but they all seemed so far away as to be completely beyond my caring.
I opened my eyes periodically to see what was going on and usually got sucked into the computer monitor, which displayed a series of calming images of winter mountains. This is the danger of not wearing a sleep mask; when you’re hooked up to a ketamine infusion, EVERYTHING looks interesting and it’s incredibly tempting to let all of your automatic functions, like blinking and breathing, to be abandoned in favor of absorbing whatever magical thing you’re looking at. Nothing matters more than watching a snowy peak meld into a pine forest. Nothing.
It’s a strange experience to realize that you haven’t breathed in a while but not find that alarming at all. In fact, the longer I went without breathing, the harder it seemed to do. It’s sort of a heavy slowness that keeps me from breathing deeply. It has to be quite deliberate. I’ve had to be reminded to breathe during previous infusions, but a simple “hey, take a deep breath” always seems to break through my trance easily. This time, Dr. G repeatedly telling me to take a deep breath reminded me that breathing was a thing that people did, but I found myself reluctant to put in the effort. There wasn’t much that I cared about doing, and I remember thinking that I felt oddly cushioned against the ketamine.
Afterward, I tottered down the steps to the car and marveled at my mom’s apparent lightning reflexes as she drove us home. We stopped at the pharmacy and grocery store (a whole day of essential outings!) and I simply put my seat back and waited in the car while my mom went in. Unable to get comfortable, I flopped around until the car got too warm. I cracked the door open and leaned out a little to get some fresh air, resting my head against the door frame. I wonder what people in the parking lot thought. I was clearly not very with it and kept doing that embarrassing head-jerk that happens when you fall asleep sitting up.
When we got home, I crashed for several hours, then got up and walked the dog around the block. I didn’t think much about how I was acting until I passed a house and then noticed someone sitting on their porch. I had been walking a few steps, stopping for Stella to smell something, zoning out, then repeating all the way around the neighborhood. I have no idea how long I stood in front of that person’s porch with a blank look on my face, but it might have been much too long to look normal. Who knows- maybe they thought it was quarantine brain.