Ketamine Infusions: They Didn’t Help Me But They Could Help You
Ketamine infusions are one of the latest treatments available for treatment resistant depression. There are many hospitals and research centers offering free or fee for service treatments in order to gather data to support FDA approval as well as insurance approval.
My personal experience involves having ketamine infusions at one of the best psychiatric and research-based hospitals in the country. They are collecting every bit of data involving what happens to the patient prior to each treatment, during the infusion as well as post-treatment. I always felt in good hands and felt grateful to be receiving the treatment at a teaching hospital.
My first infusion was an interesting experience. After a few minutes passed once the infusion began I felt as if my body was not actually present but I was aware of my surroundings. I then became more talkative than I had been for months due to my severe depression. I commented to one of the doctors about that and he told me that it happens to some patients. That first infusion felt weird but positive. I came out of the treatment room and went to my husband in the waiting room and just said, “now that was an interesting experience!”
Unfortunately, the next six treatments were not comfortable or “interesting.” During each infusion, I cried, I sobbed as all of my negative thoughts and feelings were magnified dramatically. It felt uncomfortable and upsetting as I was aware that I was there to feel better. The staff was stellar though from the ones collecting data to the doctors and nurses. They would check on me, provide more tissues and ask if I was okay. There was one time when my nurse came over and asked if I was okay and I turned the question around and asked her, “am I okay?” She instantly held my arm and said “you are okay and I am right here with you.” I will never forget that.
The one positive that resulted from the infusions was that I felt a bit more focused in my thinking. Unfortunately, they did not help improve my mood or my inner pain.
While I had to pay for the first four treatments, the price differential as compared to the smaller private ketamine clinics was worth it. My research into the cost of ketamine infusions at these private clinics revealed costs ranging from $475 to $550 per infusion. I paid approximately 60% more than that per treatment (I paid for four infusions) and then received 3 infusions for “free” which was a huge help as my husband and I did not have the funds for the four infusions I received but we were quite desperate as I was extremely ill. Again, as I am partial to receiving my health care services at large teaching and research-based institutions I always felt safe and was fully aware of the numerous staff present during each infusion. There were usually 3-4 medical doctors, 3-4 nurses and then 2 research staff who went through questionnaires before and after each infusion and also conducted cognitive testing before the first infusion and in the middle of my treatments. I was worried about staffing at the smaller private clinics even though the cost was much lower but I do not have any regrets.
I do not feel angry that these infusions did not help me and I know from talking with the doctors that they are seeing a dramatic number of patients with treatment resistant depression helped by the ketamine infusions and that is very positive. For those of us with treatment resistant depression, we are desperate for more options. I have had positive effects from ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) and mixed results from TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). I have tried many medications from many classes of drugs. I am thankful to research centers at hospitals such as The Depression Research Program at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center as well as The Depression Clinical and Research Program at Mass General Hospital all of whom have current studies in progress in order to gain the necessary FDA approval which will help launch insurance approval.
While I am in recovery from this major depressive episode due to beginning an anti-depressant in a class I have never tried, I am thankful that ketamine is out there for patients like me. Having depression is difficult enough but when medications and other approved treatments do not help to alleviate one’s symptoms, there must be alternatives. My hope is that with the data being gathered on a daily basis by these research institutions that the FDA will approve ketamine use for the treatment of depression. Since it is not yet approved there is a huge cost involved for the patient unless one can become part of a particular study where the fee is waived. This is not a cheap treatment. As I stated earlier, my husband and I were desperate and decided we would figure out how to pay for the infusions as I was so severely ill. We did not have the funds readily available. I would not wish that financial burden on anyone, especially someone who is already dealing with such an unforgiving illness.