August 3, 2019
It is a warm day in Seattle; I am sitting in only my shorts in my nephew’s apartment above his house in the Mount Baker neighborhood south of downtown. Jan is reviewing a scientific paper on the couch while the Blue Angels fly over the lake. It is Sea Fair weekend and the boats are tied to the log boom where her parents used to tie their old runabout where she and her sisters used to swim and horse around while the adults drank beer and watched the hydroplanes race. Now it seems to be mostly fancy yachts out there and the hydros blast around the course on turbo engines battering the water at what seem to me to be unimaginable speed. We are some half-mile from the lake but the sound of the jets and the boats are piercing, yet we keep the doors and windows open to keep a breeze coming through.
My nephew bought this house because he grew up in the old house across the street. He played with his toy trucks for hours on end under a cedar tree that still stands on the corner. I remember when my brother and his wife bought that house for thirty thousand dollars. Now of course the houses in this neighborhood could not be had for much under a million bucks. One sister still lives in a house five blocks away and another about nine blocks away in another direction. They have talked about selling out particularly during Sea Fair, with the noise and all, but it is lovely here and with the mass transit getting around is easier.
The summer gardens are amazing, so many kinds of chrysanthemums, and roses, I stopped the other day on my walk and rubbed my fingers through the sparklers of lavender which were growing up on a sidewalk strip. Lilacs droop over wooden fences under streetlights, and even magnolias give off a warm scent in the evening. Walking back from a sisters house can seem like a stroll in a southern city.
My brother’s wife, Linda Straley, (I will write more about her in days to come) is sick, has stopped taking nourishment and recently stopped taking fluids. She doesn’t want to prolong her life. She has an inoperable bowel obstruction as a result of her cancer that she has been fighting for many years. We visit her when she and my brother feel up to it. She is gracious and kind to us as she has always been. My brother fusses over her and she is a bit annoyed with him but then they both calm down and enjoy each others company. They are a loving couple and have been a huge part of our big rowdy, loving and intelligent family. It is hard this saying goodbye.
I have had two of the ketamine infusion treatments so far and have signed on for the full treatment of seven. The doctor and the staff are very professional and very organized. I sit in a reclining chair I wear ekg monitors on my chest with my shirt on, I have an IV put in with a small gage needle so it is not very painful at all, I wear a blood pressure cuff set to an automatic monitor that takes my bp every 15 min. and I have an pulse and oxygen reading on my finger. The doctor talks with me and tells me about the dosage and what to expect, then turns the lights low and starts the IV pump. First they give me a little anti nausea medication and some anti anxiety medication in case I become anxious. I receive the ketamine for an hour. The first fifteen minutes I don’t feel much at all then after the first blood pressure test I start feeling the effects, and by the end I feel a full floating, out of body experience, compressed time, the kind of false profundity you get when you are stoned. Though my memory stays good. The nurse introduced herself to me and when she came in to check on me, more than half way through, I said, “Jennifer, the doctor said the effects would be unexpected but did you know Jennifer that the unexpected, is REALLY unexpected,” which I thought was very profound at the time… but looking back on it now I think that feeling of profundity was a side effect of the drug. Right toward the end I had the sensation that beautiful bugs were souring the inside of my skull and it felt really great and when they escaped through my ears and nose and eyes, I had a flying sensation, a real whoop di doo feeling of going off the top in a roller coaster sensation and the bugs took all of my anxiety out and away out into the universe into all time and space kind of thing. A kind of a spinney Grateful Dead feeling. But it lasted only a second. Then the doctor was there asking me how I was. Was I nauseated? Had I been frightened? No. No. “It was just…. Interesting. Very interesting.”
Now… is it effective for depression? I’m sure it is too soon to tell. All I can say for sure is that for years when I lay down at night I thought of suicide. It’s just a bad habit I have. I think about killing myself to got to sleep. Telling myself not to think about it doesn’t work. But since the treatments, I don’t. Why? I don’t know. Also… as a depressed person I would use any other sad situation, like the death of my sister in law to trigger my own depression. Maybe it’s the narcissism of the depressed person I have talked about before, I also don’t know. But now, I feel stronger, more able to love my brother and my sister in law. Not to go into my own useless agony but to try and help them in a meaningful way. At least to think of them in a more… what?... richer more sensitive way than what I was able to before. Is that possible just because of the treatment? Probably not… but maybe; because I know I am better than I was before, and better is better for those who need help, and if I’ve learned anything it is that my suffering does not help those who are suffering tonight. So we will pick some flowers from her son’s garden to take in the morning, to sit and talk, and savor another sweet moment together as a family while we can, because that is so much better that useless despair.
Lilacs in summer
sitting in a clear glass bowl
beside your bedside.