As time went by, there were more of these shadowy figures, and they would come closer the longer we were living there.
Special K. Ket. Kit Kat. K.
All slang for the synthetically produced drug known as Ketamine. Discovered in the early 1960s, its intended use is to knock out a patient before surgery. It’s also widely used as a horse tranquilizer, which is another slang term for the drug.
Since its creation, people have abused it for its hallucinogenic properties. Feelings of being disassociated from one’s body give a sense of freedom and inhibition. A strong dose can put one into the K-Hole, a state of mind created by the drug.
Being in a K-Hole feels like you have tunnel vision. Your world becomes very small yet very colorful. In your peripheral vision, beautiful scenes play out like movies. If you close your eyes you may see swirling waves of pink sand turn to blue as water cascades. Or at least that’s what I wrote down during my first time in the K-Hole.
I was Ms. Goody Two Shoes growing up. I didn’t have my first cigarette until I was 26. The first time I had a hangover was at 27. I must have been close to 30 when I tried pot for the first time.
So turning to Ketamine last year was a bit of a stretch for me. Yet I was desperate for pain relief. I had developed chronic migraines and was never without some level of head pain 24/7 for the past three years. All the pharma drugs, meditation techniques, yoga, acupuncture and opioids helped me manage the migraines, but I was still in severe daily pain.
I didn’t score Ketamine on the street. Hell, I didn’t even know what it was until my doctor recommended it. He explained that Ketamine is an NMDA antagonist. It blocks a glutamate chemical in the brain and helps cells to form new connections. Ketamine therapy is used on patients with phantom limb pain, severe burns, depression and other chronic pain issues.
This headache clinic, one of the top in the country, had been using it on intractable migraine patients for years with success.
The long term effects of using it are not fully understood. It may decrease cognition, and can cause serious bladder issues and liver damage. I’d be in a controlled hospital setting, so I trusted that they would take care of me if I experienced any harmful side effects. It kind of sounded a little fun.
I was being given permission to use an illegal substance. I felt like I’d be getting away with something. "Let’s give it a try," I told my doctor.
When I was admitted to the hospital for my five-day Ketamine infusion, I asked the nurse what is was going to feel like. She said I’d feel drunk without the hangover. Score!
When it kicked in, it was like I’d had a martini on an empty stomach. Every hour the dose would increase and I got drunker and drunker. I wanted all my friends to come party in my room.
The next day, I understood the concept of the K-Hole. Everything was so vibrant and yet the entire world felt like it existed in the tiny space of my hospital bed. My journaling during that time shows how crazy reality can change while on heavy doses of Ketamine.
I wrote that things were soft like fuzzy crackers. I felt like a pirate because I had to close one eye in order to overcome the double vision I had. I believed I met Adam Levine. I realized that any great movie was written by someone who was on a crazy amount of drugs because it sparked my own creativity. I even emailed a few people that if they called me I would read their palm…because you can clearly do that over the phone.
I remembered things from my childhood that I hadn’t thought about in years. Like the lunch lady in elementary school who had a huge mole on her forehead. Or the sound and smell of ropes being pulled to raise the curtain on opening night of a community theatre play I was in.
I also looked inward and wrote down some "profound" statements about life. “There is art and peace in the everyday and we miss so much by being too busy.” “Do more for me, so I can do more for others.” “Life can be bigger, go get it.” My favorite self-affirmation was “I WAS NOT MEANT TO LEAD AN ORDINARY LIFE.”
This place created by my new friend Special K was not all puppies and roses. There were downsides. Hallucinations also came in the form of imaginary people. My beloved dog made a brief appearance and I had to tell the little person sitting on the end of my bed that he wasn’t supposed to be in here. One morning I awoke and saw a man at the end of the bed. I pretended to be asleep. There was a glow that followed him until he left the room. I wrote that “maybe he was the one who knocks. Or maybe I need to stop watching Breaking Bad.” I had prepared myself for the potential hallucinations, so it really didn’t phase me.
Then one day, I completely lost my marbles for about two hours. My boyfriend had come to stay with me for the remaining few days of the hospitalization, giving my mom a much-needed break.
When he got there, I was like a drunk sorority girl, beyond excited to see him. Later I took a nap and my whole world changed. No longer was I cheery and fun, I was scared and paranoid. I had been dreaming that I had been chased by some men who were trying to kill me. When I woke up, I didn’t adjust to reality. In my mind, my boyfriend was there to kill me.
A part of me knew that I wasn’t being rational. But I couldn’t stop crying uncontrollably. I was struggling to grasp onto something familiar to ground me. My boyfriend remained calm. He turned on my favorite music. That didn’t work. He asked if the nurse could help. No, she would think I was crazy and ship me off to the insane asylum!
My sweet boyfriend was my enemy and my sanctuary all at the same time. I was a mess of irrational thoughts and hysteria.
He decided that calling friends might help bring me back to reality. I loved the idea, as I was still sobbing. Of course, we called three different people and no one answered. Eventually, a dear friend picked up.
My boyfriend slyly clued her in on the fact that I was not mentally well and she instinctively tried to comfort me. We reminisced about her recent wedding and made plans when I came home. It was helping.
A few minutes later another friend called back and I finally released all my tension as she talked about her weekend.
After about two hours, the nurse did her routine check-in. She saw that I had been crying and she assured me that all these absurd emotions were common while on Ketamine and she could give me something to calm me down. Once I got that third-party validation that I wasn’t completely nuts and that my boyfriend wasn’t the enemy, I found my happy place.
The emotions, the images, the hallucinations and even the slight hiccup of paranoia was all worth it in the end.
It took about a month at home to recover and integrate back into regular life. Slowly, I recognized the change in my Migraines. For six months after the K-Hole, the average severity of the headaches decreased from a 8 on the pain scale down to a 5 or 6. They never completely went away, but I was able to manage and enjoy life more easily. I was responding to medications that had stopped working before. I also had a small nasal spray of Ketamine to use at home if the pain got too intense.
I’m not saying the Ketamine is for everyone with severe pain issues. I exhausted almost every avenue before turning to this drug. It goes without saying that it should be used under a doctor’s care. When mixed with other goodies like alcohol or cocaine, it can be an instant death sentence.
I’m very careful about using it at home. I’ve gone through the Ketamine infusion twice now. It seems that it may be a yearly trip that will help recalibrate the madness in my head. For me, it is the best thing that has helped me manage my pain. Cheers!