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My Love Letter to Propel Therapeutics (patient's journey with ketamine)

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Ketamine changed my life. Period.

Drs. Fischer (Board Certified Psychiatrist) and Peeva (Board Certified Anesthesiologist) changed my Life. Not only did they have a positive impact on my experience with their uniquely beautiful environment, and introspective therapy, but they both made a personal impact on me. And I am forever grateful to both of them and their staff for helping me along this journey. Drs. Fischer and Peeva are amazing human beings, and excel at what they do. Good hearted people. Kind. Compassionate. Genuine people. Who want to help others, especially those struggling with chronic pain or depression (or both). Sadly, I have both.

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I live with a neuroinflammatory chronic pain disease called CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome aka/fka RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)) which causes 24/7/365 unrelenting pain around the clock every day of my life since it was triggered almost 7 years ago. There is no cure. There is only “active” state or “remission” state for CRPS. Sadly, I am still in an “active” state and haven’t seen remission yet. I’m striving for it, fighting for it, and my pain doctors recommended ketamine as a possible treatment and management tool. So I was referred to Propel Therapeutics and I’m so grateful!

Having spoken with a number of other people and fellow CRPS Warriors who’ve experienced ketamine, I found out that my experience with Propel was actually quite different from what you might find elsewhere. In most situations, apparently, you’re stuck in a cold , white walls medical setting and left to your own devices to put together what you experienced, which is fine, but not very comforting or appealing. I’m sure it’s possible that some people can journey on themselves, make sense of it all and worthwhile, but it is more likely they are missing a big piece of what this experience Should include, which is reflection and guided therapy.

Let me paint you a picture of my experience with Propel.

The clinic space is welcoming and beautiful like a spa. It’s nestled inside a courtyard jungle-like setting with beautiful flora. In the reception area, this theme continues and as you come through the door it looks like you’ve stepped into the jungle. My appointment was at 7:00pm (they are open later than most Facilities) so I had the place to myself, along with my Dad and partner Brandon, who came as support. Drs. Fischer and Peeva greeted me in the reception area where we all had a preliminary meet and greet about why I was there and goals and expectations. They answered all of my questions and addressed all concerns or questions raised by my Dad and partner, as well. I instantly felt very comfortable and in good hands.

Behind the reception door into the hallway reveals plant adorned garden walls and beautifully painted/wallpapered rooms, each with their own individual flare or theme. They let me see all the rooms and I chose the picturesque ocean room. My favorite. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and it’s full of my favorite colors. Blues, purples, pinks and greens with hints of gold and silver, like ocean waves crashing. Just gorgeous and immediately calming. There was also a forest room, a flowers sanctuary! Something for everyone!

Dr. Peeva and her staff all were very skilled. I will admit I am rather uneasy with needles, but I handle it well nonetheless. There was no issue here. All my unease went right out the window as they were hooking me up to the drips. They were pros and very kind and efficient. They made sure I was comfortable. I use a Motorized chair so I could recline and stay in my chair without having to move too much (which I appreciated) but they do have very comfy looking lounge chairs in the rooms to maximize comfort and ease.

They allowed me one guest, but we were encouraged not to have any interaction with anyone during the infusion. And I think that’s good policy because interaction could potentially have an effect on your journey. But it’s nice to know that your loved one could be in there with you, if you wish, observing and supporting. And if you are by yourself, they are always checking on you anyway. But doing it in a discrete way, so as to not interrupt your journey.

Before the session, Dr. Fischer came in to discuss setting an intention or goals for the session (which he does every time and I love that because I think it focuses and creates a target goal). What did I want to get out of the experience? What answers am I seeking? What are my goals? What is the purpose for being here? And after each session then you discuss and analyze together what you experienced and how it ties in your journey with your chronic pain or depression (or both). And he takes the time to answer questions and what I love is I assigned each session a word or phrase. And based on each session thereafter, the word or phrase would change because it would stem from something in my journey or a change in perspective. Let it go. Gratitude. Healing Sleep. Heal. Healing. The Phoenix.

And after each session, Dr. Fischer encouraged me to write about my experiences in a journal they provided. I was injured on my dominant arm so I couldn’t write so instead I created a “ketamine guidebook” for myself and Propel to read on with pictures depicting and describing what I had seen and writing down what I learned and takeaways and I brought in printouts to Dr. Fischer each time and he’d go over with me what I wrote and how I was feeling and we’d set a new intention for each session.

The first session was super intense. As the ketamine was kicking in, I was so grateful they allowed my Dad in. He’s a neuroscientist and is fascinated by the ketamine studies and flew out from AZ to be with me. They said the first would likely be the most intense and they weren’t kidding. What I think makes this experience so much more beautiful, is in addition to their stunning artwork and wallpaper on the walls, after they got me hooked up, they turned on a star projector that was situated behind me and pointed toward the ceiling and walls. It projected the aurora borealis and stars in different colors and it made each journey all the more inviting and impactful. Every session was different, but the projector made such an impact on me that after my last session I bought one for my bedroom!

It was nothing short of a magical, awe-inspiring, transformative experience. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Beautiful. Breathtaking. And Biological. It intensified everything I was going through and made me confront my reality in a big way with genuine perspective and altering mind shift. I was already a positive person, but after no remission and 7 years of dealing with CRPS, and the constant unyielding, unrelenting pain and stuck inside a health system that’s broken and corrupt, honestly I was starting to lose hope. And once you lose hope, there’s not a whole lot left.

Ketamine either unlocked something in me that was buried, or it created something I desperately needed - more than just resilience. A true will to live. Even while in a constant state of pain. Which I never thought I could figure out. It was like everything I was feeling, I was experiencing everything, all at once. Like multiple timelines In a multiverse. And I could see various outcomes and perspectives of my dreams to recover. I went through this black hole at one point and came out the other side to a mirror image of myself holding out her hand for me to take it but fully upright, walking and very tall, and backlit full of light, while music that seemed to be writing my own theme song to what was unfolding in front of me played in my ears.

That’s another positive aspect. Music. Dr. Fischer is your ketamine DJ if you will. I actually have hyperacusis (hyper reactive to sound and vibration, particularly low frequency, due to CRPS). One of my many complications. I’m extremely sensitive and can’t really listen to music the way someone else could. It has to be low volume and higher frequency for me to handle it. No bass. And I love music (and bass) so I felt rather discouraged feeling like I wouldn’t be able to complete my sessions to the fullest because music might be an obstacle. Dr. Fischer was wonderfully compassionate and understanding about my situation and sensitivity and chose very carefully the music for me according to my personal preferences and conditions. He made sure I wasn’t adding to my pain and had the settings just right so I was able to enjoy music once again, which made me cry with joy. And I loved how Dr. Fischer paid attention to my music preferences throughout my time with Propel, which only added to the experience. And my journey developed and continued on with each session like I was writing my own new story. It was wild. That’s the best way to describe it because each journey is almost indescribable. And unique. Not one was similar. I could tell he was reading my “ketamine guidebook” (journal) because the music I imagined in my journeys that I would talk about ended up making appearances in my future sessions.

In my 3rd session, I was talking about my desperate need for sleep and my relationship with sleep and my love for J.R.R. Tolkien/Lord of the Rings and how I view Enya’s “May It Be” as my anthem, my mantra because it’s about finding light in the darkness and being committed to the promise to yourself of moving forward come what may. And that’s very much how you have to live your life with CRPS. Every bit of it makes you want to give up, and each day you rise again and do the same Groundhog Day over, hoping it’s different in some way, which it never is. So it’s a song to me about resilience, transformation and being committed to finding the light, the silver linings, in life, no matter what is happening or how much pain I’m in. Adapt and overcome.

So in my 4th session, amid the chaos of my mind and experience, “May It Be” comes over the headphones. And it made me cry and it instantly set my session in motion and put everything on a new track. And he followed that with some LOTR soundtrack pieces as well. And I was just so overjoyed and I felt heard and seen. All these years dealing with doctors and people who just think you’re crazy or incapable of help with chronic pain, Dr. Fischer made me feel seen and heard. And I didn’t even think it was real. I asked him if it was real or if it was just in my imagination during my journey. And he confirmed he had played those songs for me. And I was just so touched that he would do that for me. And in doing so, it set my session on a really discovery based path. And a lot of the chaos feelings were settled and coming to a conclusion more and more. Just the fact that he would customize my experience with music I told him I found comforting and relaxing is nothing short of amazing.

Dr. Peeva is just as amazing. She’s a very sweet, kind person who clearly cares about helping others and she was always happy to engage me in conversation for distraction as they were hooking me up, getting ready for the journey and she’d stay with me until the ketamine started to kick in and help me to slip into the journey. She and I had a lovely connection also and discussed a lot of different subjects and topics over our time. She also happens to be the genius behind the designs and decorative themes in the clinic. Very clever, soothing and creative immersive experience.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. In 6 sessions I went from a very dark mindset of “How am I going to live like this every day? Why be here at all?” to “If I’m going to have to live like this every day, then I better get the most out of this life that’s in front of me! And I’m grateful to be here!” That is an enormous perspective mind shift. Even for someone as positive as I am, and continued to be with each passing year, who uses Dory and the Phoenix as totems for strength and resilience. “Just keep swimming!” I strive for positivity and even I was beginning to lose the light. Lose all hope. This restored me.

For me, it was solely a restorative mental health healing, but it’s not that I don’t think it wouldn’t work on pain. I didn’t have the opportunity to do more sessions. Studies have shown and my doctors have told me that if I had more sessions over a longer period of time, I could likely address some pain management. But in addition to my severity, I’m also unfortunately stuck in a Federal workers comp nightmare loop and they don’t make anything easy for claimants. Denials and delays of medically necessary treatment are the name of the game. “Delay, deny, hope you die.”

So while I may not have enjoyed any desired pain relief, I did the work and my mental health improved immensely with these sessions. And I’m STILL living this mindset, feeling that shift to this day, post 6 months. That’s saying something! And I don’t think I’ll ever go back to that mindset because once your mind and heart reframe your perspective, it’s impossible to see it differently.

Love, laughter and gratitude are the cheat code to life. It was something my partner said to me. He said “you can play the game over and over, or win with gratitude!” And I added love and laughter to that. Because to me, life won’t exist unless all three are in balance. And once my sessions concluded, I can’t see my life approach in any other way, despite all the terrible things still happening, including perpetual relentless 24/7/365 pain.

I’m forever grateful to Drs. Fischer and Peeva for providing me with these life changing experiences. They just want to help. And I know they will go on to help so many people. And I am eternally grateful.

This is not just an experience, it’s a journey. That’s why each session is referred to as a journey. They will help guide you through it. However, if you do not do the work after each session and reflect and internalize and analyze the how and why you ended up in their clinic in the first place, and only view it as the ketamine trip, that’s all it will be for you.

Do the hard work. Do it for you. It will only help to bolster your experience. Some of these things we’re dealing with are truly traumatizing, but that’s why the added benefit of analysis makes such an enormous difference. Therapy is just one tool in our toolbox, but it is a special one. Use it. Work towards your inner peace. Quiet the chaos.

I wish you all just as incredible an experience and journey as I had. Thank you, Propel Therapeutics! Thank you, Dr. Fischer, Dr. Peeva and staff!! Tons of love and gratitude.

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