My Story: A Ketamine Diary with a Forrest Gump Twist

My Story: A Ketamine Diary with a Forrest Gump Twist

Katelyn OLeary dress

Katelyn O’Leary

By Katelyn O’Leary

Every day I have the same routine: I wake up around 8am, shower, brush my teeth and make a strong pot of coffee. I peruse the daily news on my ipad as I eat a bowl of cheerios and text family and friends. At 11:45 am I call Keck Hospital of USC’s infusion center and tell them I’m on my way. This is so they can have my medications ready by 12:30pm.

I pack a tote bag with the following essentials: ipad, charger, a book, medications, a folder containing my medication lists and infusion schedule, and my wallet. Because I can’t drive, I use ACCESS services (a transport service for Los Angeles residents with disabilities) to take me to the hospital’s front doors. As I walk inside, doctors, nurses, and patients filter pass me and I make a beeline for the table in the main entrance containing fruit infused water. This is a luxury you will not find in most hospitals – but Keck hospital isn’t your typical hospital.

I sip my orange and lemon infused water while waiting for the elevator. Standing next to me is a middle-aged woman wearing a back brace and clutching her IV stand. She looks at the plastic cup in my hand and asks, “Does that taste as good as it looks?” I give her a small smile and say, “It does actually. Would you like me to get you one?” She shakes her head and smiles and we resume our wait for the elevator.

When I get to the third floor, I check in with the infusion center nurse at the front desk. She directs me to my room and my bed – where there is a heart monitor and IV stand ready for me. I take off my shoes and try to get comfortable in my bed. I typically have the same nurse every day. She will attach electrodes and leads to my chest and abdomen to measure my heart rate and respiratory levels. She also attaches a blood pressure cuff to my left arm and a finger monitor to my index finger.

Next she confirms my date of birth and name and checks that it matches my ketamine medication. Before setting up my infusion, the nurse gives me Valium, Benadryl, and 4mg of versed. The combination of these meds makes me drowsy, and it is to prevent hallucinations from occurring. Then the nurse hooks me up to the ketamine.

Now I have been in many hospitals. I have had two surgeries. I’ve been injected with fentanyl, morphine, diluadid, and given oxycontin. With those medications I may be dizzy and high, but with ketamine? I cannot even walk let alone move on my own. The room takes on a hazy quality. My eyes feel like they are swimming in their sockets and my head feels like one of those bobble head toys they sell at baseball stadiums.

You would think that with these intense symptoms and all the meds in my body, that I would fall asleep for the entirety of the 4-hour infusion. But I rarely do. I get very drowsy but I am usually staring at the walls (which sometimes seem to be melting due to my drugged up state). So I watch a lot of Netflix or movies on my ipad.

Lately, my movie of choice has been FORREST GUMP. As a child, I was never particularly drawn to this movie. I always dismissed it as a kooky story that was over-hyped and played too often on TNT. But since I started my infusion three weeks ago, I have watched it at least 5 times.

I think I’m drawn to this movie now, because it grapples with issues so close to my heart. Forrest’s inability to run (and later Lt. Dan’s amputation of his legs) is a plot point that rests heavy on my heart. And when young Forrest heeds the now famous line of “RUN FORREST! RUN!” and his leg braces fall off and the look of triumph on his face – is exactly what I want for myself.

At the moment, I relate more closely with Lt. Dan’s character: I’m angry and frustrated with my physical limitations. For a long time my temper would be close to the surface, and I would lash out at people. These ketamine infusions have given me hope, but I find it scary to admit it out loud sometimes. What if I jinx it? What if the reprieve I feel goes away and the agonizing pain returns?

FORREST GUMP shows pain and redemption from all angles: war, disabilities, abuse, and disease. But Forrest never gives up hope, he lives an extraordinary life despite his pain. And that is all I wish for myself, to be able to run again, to fall in love and to carve out an existence that is more than just pain and coping. But for now, I do my best to cope with my condition and with my treatments. I watch movies, I read books, and I color (a rising trend among adults I’ve noticed).

There is a quote from the film that resonates deeply with me: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.” I don’t know what my destiny is, I don’t know if my ketamine treatments will work, but I will never stop searching. I will never stop trying to live the life I have dreamed about – and I won’t settle for less.

Katelyn O’Leary works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, California. She suffers from CRPS and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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Authored by: Katelyn O’Leary

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Donna at 1:58 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for your supportive response to my comment. Your words offer me strength and courage. I will pay your kindness forward.

  2. Tim Mason at 7:29 am

    Donna, you are in for a lot of relief from your suffering. It would not hurt to ask about a compounded cream containing Ketamine for use at home. You can rub a little on the sides of your neck and it works like Valium without any drowsy effects.
    I am so happy for you.

  3. Donna Rubinetti at 1:09 pm

    I am beginning my first ketamine infusion on August 29, 2016. I will have a total of eight four hour in fusions (it would have been 10 days except for Labor Day holiday).
    I am terrified but I feel fortunate to have a shot at some pain relief. This level of pain is indescribable to most.
    As you know, most people move on because they just don’t understand it. Good luck
    to you, Katelyn. God bless us all.

  4. Tim Mason at 8:22 pm

    “In 2004 , Carlos A Zarate Jr., Chief of the Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch of the National Institute on Mental Health, led a study in which his team used ketamine to teat 17 patients who had already been thru an average of six antidepressants. They observed 12 patients (71%) improve within 24 hours.
    The speedy response time contrasts with conventional antidepressants such as sertraline and fluoxetine, which target serotonin pathways in the brain and typically take weeks to work.
    Ketamine binds to the same glutamate receptors as ibogaine. Its half-life in the body is two or three hours. But Ketamine’s relief of depression lasts on an average of around seven to 18 days, with some patients improving for as long as five months. For more information on current research on Ketamine, marijuana, Psilocybin, MDMA and Iboganine see my source below. I was prescribed ketamine about 2 years ago for a brief period. For me it was a wonder drug. The doctor that compounded it for me was put out of business about a year ago.
    source: C&EN | CEN.ACS.ORG | March 28, 2016

  5. Jean Price at 12:35 pm

    Katelyn…praying this treatment works for you and others who may try it! We all search for something to just take an edge off, to just give us some breathing time with less pain. Life with pain takes courage, the willingness to risk, the ability to affirm ourselves, and the belief that this isn’t what life is supposed to be! Many are struggling with humiliation and denied treatments and financial burdens and loss of support systems and a host of other problems not brought on by themselves…but brought on by pain and its devastating effects. Hope for an effective treatment is always first and foremost in our minds. Right now that hope is at an all time low, because of the arbitrary changes coming to pain treatment. Because of people who either don’t understand the situation or don’t care! When someone like you gives others a glimmer of hope with your story, that’s huge and it’s something to be proud of. It can’t be easy, it’s a risk, yet you are determined to find a better way through the pain…and others may be encouraged by this alone, even regardless of the outcome. We often confuse our decision making ability with outcome, and this can be detrimental. We make the best decision at the time based on the information we have….the outcome is always uncontrollable, and not proof we made a poor decision when it doesn’t turn out like we wanted it to. Knowing this will allow us to try again when something else seems like it might help. And your shared story is important to all of us in this respect. Thanks!

  6. Sandy Conte at 12:18 pm

    Ketamine for CRPS can be a total game changer, I started my infusions 6 years ago and I’ve been back to work FT since then. To date I’ve had over 150 treatments.

    My nurse administers my versed periodically throughout my infusion (which takes about 3-4 hours), it helps me sleep through most of the infusion. I also receive Zofran for nausea and Toradol at the end to prevent headaches. My doc has prescribed lorazepam to take in the morning and evening in case of anxiety.

    I also use LDN – 9 mg daily, (which is conta-indicated if you are taking any opioids) it has made a pretty big difference.

    All the best to you, I truly hope the ketamine is successful for you. Have you checked out RSDSA’s website? They have some great info about ketamine and other current treatments. I especially recommend the videos from their meetings – look for Pradeep Chopra’s lectures.

  7. Steve at 9:22 am

    Katelyn, some of us ARE out here with similar problems and rooting for you to feel better. Let us know how it works out and thanks for posting. GLTA.

  8. Mr. Leslie E. Pater at 9:02 am

    Katelyn,.
    Thank you for sharing your personal story. Even though I just began subscribing to this site, I’ve already noticed that we all share so many similarities in the way we think. Being in chronic pain, regardless of where or what is causing it, is just debilitating. I have been in chronic pain for over a decade for my low back. Initially I was fine but the pain returned and my options were very limited as I tried many different treatments. But, much like you, I am hopeful my next procedure will be the one to help me move forward with my life. This coming Tuesday I have “all my eggs in one basket,” so to speak, when I have a spinal cord stimulator implanted. My temporary implant about a month ago gave me a lot of hope and I can hardly wait for Tuesday to come. Stay positive and believe that your treatment will help in some way, because as you know a positive attitude is where we need to stay as sometimes the only thing we are hanging onto is hope….hope that someday, somewhere a new treatment will become available to us. Best of luck that your ketamine treatments give you relief.
    Les

  9. Joe W. Cline at 8:34 am

    I also have tried ketamine both S.Q.and I.v. Without any help as an R.S.D. Patient since 1992 I have tried nearly every. Mediocre out there including but not limited to fentnyl sublingual an antique they helped a little bit but the sublingual is very expensive and very unpleasantly (nasty). Meds are very hard to get with the new laws passed in the last few
    Years. The patients who are in major pain every day, but due to major addiction use it is very
    Hard to obtain despite
    The persons pain level.
    Just locating a M.D. who will write the script
    For the narcotic meds.
    A true nightmare, from
    Doctors losing there
    License for cookbook
    Medicine and other
    Stupid excuses they wasn’t to save these
    Meds for cancer patients and a few other diagnoses. A very Sad
    Day for all chronic pain
    Patients, If they could
    Spend one hour in our
    Shoes LAWS WOULD
    CHANGE VERY QUICKLY. DUE TO HOW
    HOW THEY WOULD FEEL!!! Sincerely Yours
    Truly A chronic RAD pt.
    who lives life as everyday is the last Blessest is my wife she has lived with me and the disease. May God truly
    Bless her now and from now on dealing with federa
    OWCP which is another nightmare entirely.