I felt it quickly this time, the room beginning to sway and bend even before I fully settled in and closed my eyes. Still, I only saw darkness for what felt like a long time but was probably only a minute or two. Then, subtle lines took shape, and my mental lens zoomed in on an owl’s face. The eye was my focus – although the steely beak caught my attention as well. The image rotated slowly before fading away, the owl’s eye staring back at me.
IV ketamine infusions are one of multiple treatments I use for my treatment-resistant depression. We’re still adjusting it and trying new doses as things change, which makes for interesting little self-experiments. Last time, we went without propofol and discovered that it was fine for me; in fact, I preferred it. This time, I forgot to check for refills on my scopolamine prescription, so I didn’t use any prior to my appointment. With no propofol, no scopolamine, and a slightly higher dose, this ketamine infusion felt remarkably vivid. It was much like the first few infusions I had, which were dominated by immersive scenes and imagery that constantly changed.
After the rotating owl, the sounds of the room made an appearance in my mind. The gentle chug chugging of the infusion pump reminded me of a train, and I soon saw one on the horizon of my internal view. It belched smoke – an early, coal-powered one – and rumbled closer and closer. The black smoke filled the air, blocking my vision until all that remained was a small view of the front of the train as it trundled by. Black smoke, liquid, or goop filling my vision was something of a theme in this infusion. On other occasions, it expanded from small blobs until they met and pressed against one another, filling whatever volume my mental space contained while I tried to see through a narrowing hole.
If I’m correctly piecing this together from my garbled and typo-riddled notes, which I took in the car on my way home, the sensation of being smothered by the black smoke brought my awareness to my mask. This, in turn, created an image of cloth above my face, an illegible tag sewn into the seam (a common theme in my infusions is not being able to decipher letters or numbers). My mind then conjured up a lovely memory of building a couch fort with my brother as kids. The memory itself was jumbled and consisted of snapshots – balancing the cushions just right, sliding head-first over the arm of the couch and down into the fort, and sitting with my knees pulled up in the dark confines of our shared space. The most convincing parts of the memory were the sensations. I could feel the texture of the couch upholstery and the give of the stuffing in the cushions. I noted the darkness with cracks of light where the cushions didn’t meet, and the feeling of the seat cushion grazing the top of my head. I don’t think I’ve ever re-experienced a memory during a ketamine infusion before. It was a comforting feeling to be returned to the experience of being a kid, entranced in the moment by the fantasy of a simple couch fort.
As usual, water made an appearance in my ketamine dreams. This time, it began with a slowly spinning whirlpool of green/yellow water, lit from within to make the water glow. Soon, I was in the whirlpool and it turned into the ocean. The water swelled around me and wave after wave overtook me until I was underwater. It was not frightening, although in describing it, I realize it sounds a lot like I was drowning. Once underwater, I saw an apparently incredible scene which I do not remember but my notes describe as, “Turtle? Fish on lines like balloons. Underwater city of fantastical things.”
If only I could remember. What treasures have been lost in the depths of my brain? (Water puns fully intended.)
I returned to the room several times during this infusion, convinced that it must be over soon, only to find that the people had swapped or left or reappeared. My mother had gone to run an errand and had dropped me off, but returned partway through my infusion. I saw her sitting in the corner maybe four feet from me, yet it seemed that she was very, very far away. It was a little like looking through the wrong end of binoculars. I tried to read her expression – was she even looking at me? The more I tried to settle my gaze on her, the more my eyes refused to cooperate. They jumped around and made double images, and eventually, I admitted defeat and closed them once again.
The scenes and images I was seeing were so numerous that they seemed to be packed into time in an unbelievable manner. It’s strange to think that I could experience so much in such a short amount of time, but even after all of that, there was more. I remember walking over a mountain range with an enormously tall man – I was also enormous – while he proudly described in great detail how he made the mountains. In another scene, a golden dog (I think it was a statue?) was hidden in a room packed with items. My notes reference my teeth feeling soft, something about lizard scales, and robotic cats. “What if they found my head underneath San Francisco?” must have been in response to an extremely bizarre episode of Star Trek that I recently watched in which Data’s head is found during an archaeological dig underneath – you guessed it – San Francisco.
I’m so glad that I took notes on my phone immediately after the infusion, because I find that the memory of it fades over time unless I can remind myself of what I saw. I was functioning pretty well after my appointment, and was able to get myself to take notes rather than close my eyes on the way home. The rest of the day was fairly pleasant. I greatly prefer infusions without propofol both because of its effects during the infusion as well as because of how it alters the rest of the day. Of course, I wasn’t entirely myself until several hours afterward. I took my shoes off somewhere in the house upon getting home and promptly lost them. I could not figure out where I put them until I found them the next day in a closet. Why would I put them away?! In a closet?? Absurd.