It was the end of March and the central pathway to one of the main hospital entrances was getting dusted with snow. I recall taking an extra moment to capture this image in my head as I had never witnessed snow at the hospital before.
Also, I guess snow is still somehow a magical thing having grown up in LA. Though common in places I live now, and have lived since, it truly never ceases to create wonder in me. Even whilst feeling like shit.
The path to the entrance from the street, the lobby, the gift shop and small cafeteria I passed en route to the elevators were all familiar and it felt like seeing old friends. At my station (major depression), I went to the nurses’ desk to check in. Straight away I recognized the nurses and they, me. Frau Crakow (Krah-kove)! Ja…<sigh>. “Und meine Deutsch ist nicht viel besser als vorher : / “ (And my German is not much better than before…). Though I spoke with my doctors in English, in fact, my German was much better than before. I could understand much more even if words escaped me for expressing myself well. A small win in the language department I’ll take, however small.
The Oberarzt (head/chief doctor) and the person who would be my day-to-day psychiatrist were not in the day I arrived so I met with a ‘stand-in doctor’ who happened to be the Head of Affective Neurosciences in the Department of Psychiatry at Charité, among other roles. The exact person who’s work I had read about regarding ketamine studies before my previous hospital experience. I don’t believe I had ever met him the first time around. Maybe, but I can’t recall at this time.
In any case, this particular doctor I’d not only read about before meeting him during the current awful circumstances, but found his demeanor very comforting. I can’t say that about many people, doctors, professionals or other random people I’ve met, but this one… tops. Just one of those rare things you experience. Comforting and trustworthy, without a doubt. Super-grateful, then and now.
I explained my history, what I had been experiencing, emotionally, and my suicidal urges, etc. The doctor understood the context immediately and, unsurprisingly, suggested ketamine treatment straight away. After all, I learned, it’s not just used now for severe depressive episodes but is being found useful in emergency rooms for suicidal patients. So, here we are! Let’s start again. A series of infusions Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
I can’t remember a lot about my stay, roommates and friends and details during this second hospital stay now. This is because I’ve been undergoing electroshock treatment (ECT) and it impacts my memory. Thus any descriptors of people here are only for me, personally, as reminders. They don’t clinch the whole thing but are enough for me to recall who I’m talking about. Probably not a bad thing for anonymity anyway.
I moved into my room and met my first roommate. A kind, smart, middle-aged Russian woman. We lived together maybe 6 weeks. We got a long just fine. I was deep into novels every night, one after another, so all I did was read at the time. My roommate wasn’t too dissimilar, having borrowed some fiction from the hospital library. Though she was fluent in German, her books were in Russian. It only then occurred to me that, of course, the hospital library would have Russian books to lend. Much like the second language of many (former East) Germans is Russian.
I was too busy wrapped up in symptoms to be self-conscious about being in the hospital a second time. Any thoughts that would have presented themselves along these lines were quickly extinguished when I met and became friends with another patient who was there for a 3rd time. And so it goes, this fucking disease is relentless.
I made some friends but mostly kept to myself, drawing or reading, outside of any scheduled activities. Thankfully, I was able to lose myself in reading at this time. Not always the case. The concentration can sometimes be very challenging.
I carried on with my ketamine infusions and I could feel things loosen up a bit. Certainly there was movement in my head where there wasn’t in recent weeks. Though, this time around, the positive effects I could feel didn’t break through the cloud, for lack of a better term, in a longer-term way. It didn’t ‘stay’ or ‘stick’ like it had in 2015.
As my scheduled ketamine treatments progressed it became clear it wasn’t happening this time. Partially feeling better is not the same as feeling or actually being better when it comes to suicidal inclinations. In not- so-direct-terms, this was acknowledged by my Oberarzt visit.
It was time to try something else now. The remaining solution to try: Electroshock Therapy (ECT) or in German (EKT). Certainly some of my co-patients had been undergoing such therapy, during this hospital stay and my previous. I knew it was not out of the ordinary, hardly. Though I’d read up on ECT during my first hospital stay, out of curiosity as my roommate was undergoing it and some friends, I didn’t think about it _that_ much as I was busy with my own situation.
A little surprised and scared, I wanted to talk with someone about my questions before agreeing to this treatment. Thus, I was offered the opportunity to speak one on one with the Head Doctor of Affective Neurosciences — who oversees the ECT department — to ask away. Well, it turned out to the same doctor who substituted on my intake this time, so he knew me well.
I asked the basic technical questions of ECT – unilateral or bilateral? Brief or ultra-brief width pulse? And on and on. We had a great dialogue about the treatment and while I was semi-confident beforehand, after I was fully committed.