Sophie Henry

Until Monday, March 13, it had never occurred to me how dreadful the consequences would be — both mentally and physically — if I were to experience a serious health problem and my only option was Yale’s healthcare system. From my initial visit to Yale Student Health at 11 a.m. to the emergency room surgery later in the evening and onwards, what bothered me the most in my unnecessarily long hospital odyssey was misinformation — or, actually, deceit.

I first decided to visit Yale Health due to back pain beginning from the morning of the previous day. I didn’t take it seriously whatsoever — I thought that this was just another problem that could be solved with an abundance of painkillers and antibiotics. As the hours passed by, however, the pain increased along with my impatience, and after a sleepless night, I paid a visit to Yale Health on Monday morning. Since I did not have an appointment, I joined two patients that were in the emergency room line. The fictitious “26 minute estimated visit time” sign annoyingly kept prolonging the lengthy waiting time even more in my consciousness, and after a solid two hours or so, I was finally admitted to the room. After the physical examination, the doctor informed me that she was going to prescribe me what I predicted — thylmon and antibiotics. I nodded as she left the room. When she came back, however, I shortly found out that the cards were turned around: she told me that after a consultation with her colleague, they decided to send me to the Yale Hospital emergency room for a surgery to remove the cyst I apparently had. What do you do? I of course agreed.

By the time I arrived at the Yale Hospital, the adults section was full, but because I’ve just turned 21, they sent me to the pediatrics ER. That did not mean there was no wait time there. I waited for 3 hours in an ER. The ultrasound, physical examination and me painfully explaining what the problem was to every person who happened to walk into the room — the number accumulated to almost 15 or so in total — took even longer than the surgery itself. Yet, despite falling short in actual medicare, Yale Hospital made no compromises in its hospitality: after asking whether I was dating someone or not, a nurse gave me his number, encouraging me to “reach out whenever [I] feel like talking to someone.” Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that he was missing from the equation: 1. the capability, or almost obligation, of people to be “light-hearted” in “difficult” situations for themselves, which does not indicate anything about the tone of their interactions with or thoughts on others, given the fact that we were in the emergency room of a hospital during the event — implicating the situation rather than the actors had a more significant role in the conversation, and 2. that I was literally a patient who was unable to move and the conversation took place while he was carrying me in a bed to the ultrasound room. 

At 8 p.m., the surgery decision was made along with the type of anesthesia to be used. After asking various questions, the doctors grasped my ignorance of biology and asked me what my major was. I answered psychology and humanities. “No science?” they asked. “No science,” I answered. 

Then they asked me if I have ever used, received or even just heard of ketamine.

I answered no.

Ketamine was introduced to me as a drug “that will put me into a peaceful sleep,” that I was going to see “sweet dreams,” that it will distort my memory, but it “won’t be important” since I will not remember, and I should think of a happy place or a holiday or someone I like, since that’s what the drug makes people dream of anyways. I was told that I could play music if I wanted to, which got me even more excited, given that I basically fall asleep to music every night. After the drug, however, it would be normal for me to feel nauseous, so they insisted that I find someone to take me back home. I told them that it was the midterm exams era and I did not want to bother anyone for a 15 minute Uber ride or I could even walk myself, but they kept pushing me even more. I guess I should’ve known from the oddity of their intense insistence. 

Yet, the scientific age already blurred my vision and they had my complete trust, so I said “ok.” How little I knew that I was about to go to a minefield all naked, my vision clouded with a veil of ignorance.

As they were injecting the drug, the doctor asked me, “what was your favorite holiday?”

I described to her the beautiful Mediterranean sea, how I go there every summer with my mom and there is nothing like sipping wine by the sea after a long day of swimming. There was something off in the air. I was trying so hard to picture the blue-gray waves and sounds in my mind, but the sea never came to me.

Then someone turned off the lights and the effortful illusion was completely gone. All of a sudden, I saw myself tripping from one tunnel to another in a feast of visual and sensual distortions, I heard roaring noises screaming at the top of my head. There were faces doubling, merging with one another and forming creatures, a strange taste and smell, one person cynically whispering to me “You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Well, now here we are” —in other words, unusual thoughts and voices, apparently one of the most notorious effects of ketamine that I did not know of at the time. Instead of mere local anesthesia, America, the drug empire, of course, had to show off. Funny enough, I regardless held on, trying to resist the allure of amnesia, and tried to picture myself as a journalist — yet another dissociative thought I suppose — repeating to myself — “I’ll remember this, I’ll remember this, I’ll remember this.” I remember focusing on one specific thought to make the moment more memorable — how absurd it was that, when he was around my age, my dad also had to go through surgery on his own. Whether we like it or not, we end up repeating the patterns of our parents one way or another. Other than self-schemas, is there a concept in psychology that encapsulates something like family schemas? Maybe I’m just rambling now, and it was merely my Freudian sublimation reaching its peak at the moment in order to distract myself from the swamp of hallucinations. 

Then, I thought, what if all of this actually makes sense?

By the time I woke up, I could not stop crying. I remember the nurse’s doubled head removing my mask for me to breathe and wiping away the tears from my face. 

What caught me most off guard was surprise and fascination. I asked her to tell me if they lied about the promised sweet dreams do not happen at all or if the dreams just decided not to come to me.

“Do people usually cry a lot after this drug?”

She nodded yes. At this point, I’m not sure if that was true or not either.

The lying saga continued when I asked them if I were going to be able to go to work and class tomorrow. They slowly nodded and said “hmmm-hmmm.”

As I’m writing these lines, it is the fifth day since I had the surgery. The first three days I could not move at all, let alone go to classes. I live on the eighth floor and the elevator has been broken for three weeks, so leaving the suite for a brief walk wasn’t even an option. When my friends saw me almost fainting at the dining hall in my attempt to grab food, one of them informed the dean and that’s how he learned about the elevator. The services, however, said that they were lacking a piece to fix it, so I was moved to another room on the first floor. Yale, being the second richest school in America, is unable to order a piece to fix an elevator. By the time I got back home from the hospital, I climbed the stairs still somewhat under the influence of the drug. I remember trying to focus on counting the stair numbers to prevent myself from throwing up.

Did they also lie about the painkillers? I’m not sure if that was the intention. I called at 8:30 the following morning to ask for one more because the thylmon they gave me wasn’t doing anything, and I was informed that someone was going to call me back. After 5 hours at 1:30 p.m. I called again, and the secretary was so shook to hear my voice once more, inquiring if they still did not call me back. She soon remembered her role though and added that they will call me back of course. They need to wait until they’re between pateients. I guess the latest patient was very ready to leave right after we hung up because only 10 minutes later, I finally received a call from my doctor. 

Perhaps withholding detail on the proceedings was a way of convincing me that they were both on urgent business and if I knew a little bit about all of this, I would give up. So perhaps the intention was good under the disguise of so many lies. I don’t know, but I still think healthcare professionals owe the truth to patients. If that were the case, for me at least, I would have prepared myself mentally rather than becoming more and more disappointed after each unprecedented incident. I’ve later found out that Yale is actually big in ketamine research. After a few questions about domestic abuse and whether I was feeling suicidal or not, that may explain why they immediately rushed to go for ketamine, pretty much overlooking the fact that there is a large spectrum of mental health states in between being suicidal or not and not every patient may react the same way to the same medicine. And I may not be one of Yale’s brilliant activists who, if — God forbid — had what I experienced, were probably to start a campaign or organize a talk about Yale’s health resources, but I regardless felt the obligation to write this piece, that someone should know what was waiting for them. Because unlike me, I don’t want anyone to find themselves off guard — suddenly lying down on the operation table all alone, mind miles away in the ketamine hell. 

Gamze covers music news for the Arts desk and writes for the WKND. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray majoring in psychology and humanities.