Five Days High: Drug-free musician experiences Ketamine for the first time – will DC Cardwell’s next album be a psychedelic trip-out?

I’ve never talked publicly about my problems with a peculiar kind of back pain. I didn’t want to be known as “the guy with the back trouble”, as I’m actually pretty normal and if you see me I’m really pretty agile and not at all weak or dottery or ill-looking! I don’t usually walk around with a stoop or a limp and I can still lift a guitar amp if I need to. (Although I’m happy if I can get someone else to do it for me as it just might “put my back out.”) And I’m not depressed or even unhappy – not in the slightest.

But I do suffer a lot of pain, and when I stand up for a while it really gets out of control. It’s restricts my day-to-day life quite badly and there are a lot of things I can’t do because of it. I don’t, for example, do

three-hour Bruce Springsteen-style marathon sets, leaping around off monitor speakers and stuff like that. Not usually anyway.

And just so you know, I’m going into hospital tomorrow (18th Sept, 2013) for a major drug trip. It’s a Five-Day Ketamine Infusion and, well, it should be interesting, to say the least. Ketamine (AKA “Special-K”) is becoming increasingly well-known as a recreational drug, but it has been used as for medical purposes since the 1960s, as treatment for very strong pain and as a general anaesthetic on the battlefield. My pain specialist was telling me that they used it in Vietnam as one anaesthetist could look after up to a dozen patients at one time while they were undergoing surgery.

It’s my first time as an in-patient since I had kidney cancer (Wilms’ Tumour) as a small child and that freaks me out a little as I don’t generally like to be restricted or confined. Even at home I rarely sit down and watch TV for hours or anything like that. I have to be up and about and doing something. And I can’t lie down for long periods without a lot of pain. I almost never sleep through the night – I wake up many times and have to get up and walk around a bit.

My back pain is a complicated thing but it’s almost certainly a result of my childhood surgery and treatment. My pain specialist thinks I might have “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome” brought on by the trauma of the surgery (“They would have cut through a lot of nerves!”, was what he said) and the radiation therapy afterwards, which was pretty coarse back in those days.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (or CRPS) is usually accompanied by weird skin changes and I don’t have that. But it’s now believed that it can happen inside the body as well as on the surface, so maybe that’s what I’ve got. Who knows what I look like in there! (Actually, I have a bit of an idea.)

This “ketamine infusion” lark is supposed to bring significant relief to up to 80% of chronic pain sufferers, so there’s a fairly good chance it will help a bit. And the risk is supposedly quite low. It’s not like ketamine coma therapy which is a bit more controversial and only carried out, as far as I know, in Mexico and Germany.

My doctor tells me I may experience hallucinations for most of the time, but that they’re usually not bad, scary hallucinations, but “good hallucinations” (Sunlit meadows covered in wildflowers? Beautiful women? The latest iPhone? Fancy pre-amps? Doughnuts?) I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get, at the very least, one Sgt Pepper out of it.

I’m also hoping that the ketamine will make me not care about the restrictions of hospitalization. If I can lie down for five days without discomfort it will be doing its job in the short term at least. I might beg them not to send me home!

Watch this space for news about how it goes. If you pray, my main request is that the treatment does indeed help me. And of course, I’d like there to be no bad side-effects. But I’m really not worried about it. It’s not like I have a life threatening illness or I’m going for some major surgery.

I don’t think I’ll be online during the procedure but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure exactly how spaced out I will be. And I’m told that my vision will be seriously impaired after the first 24 hours or so. I probably won’t be allowed, or able, to go online at all. Or who knows, I might be fairly alert and normal and able to use my phone or laptop to communicate with the outside world, like Marjorie did after her brain surgery last year. If it’s somewhere in between, you might see some very strange posts on Facebook and Twitter over the next five days, so just disregard them. The doctor said that a patient once escaped and was found walking down the road with no clothes on. If you see me, please take me back to the hospital.

~ DC Cardwell, 17th September, 2013


About DC Cardwell
Singer-Songwriter. Please go to

14 Responses to Five Days High: Drug-free musician experiences Ketamine for the first time – will DC Cardwell’s next album be a psychedelic trip-out?

  1. Mary A Brown says:

    Hope I’m part of your hallucinations! Seriously, DC, as a fellow chronic pain sufferer, I sincerely hope this gives you some relief. I remember ketamine as a serious animal tranquilizer back in the days when I was a medical lab tech. The rats seemed pretty blissful. I wish the same for you.


  2. DC Cardwell says:

    Haha – you never know. Last night I dreamt at great length about someone I only know on the internet in passing, far less well than I know you. But she seemed incredibly real in the dream and now I seriously feel like I know her in real life! She’d lost her young child and she and I were frantically trying to find it while everyone else just partied. And that’s WITHOUT the influence of ketamine! I think some people call ketamine “animal tranquilizer” as a nickname, and I did read that it is widely used by vets. On their animals. Mostly.


  3. Loraine says:

    Praying for a ‘good trip’ and a positive outcome!


  4. Adrian Austin says:

    Thanks for the good post David. I`ll be thinking of you and yep saying some prayer too. Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies … 😉


  5. Theresa Abbott (Tess) says:

    Hi DC, when you share, I feel that you are being ‘real’… not everyone can be like that.. I feel that you are honest, humble and a beautiful soul. I too, know what it is like to live with physical pain.. sometimes I feel like I must rattle inside because of the amount of medications I’m on. Anyhow, this isn’t about me, this is about YOU! You are in my thoughts, and I hope you have a successful outcome – a thoroughly successful outcome! May every person treating you be considerate and caring, and I pray that your whole experience during this time will be positive… may your mind be peaceful and serene, and your body totally free from pain.. like Adrian’s Beatles quote – tangerine trees and marmalade skies


  6. Theresa Abbott (Tess) says:

    hope that little crabby thing next to my name doesn’t scare you! (just got too complicated to change it.. sorry) xx


  7. DC Cardwell says:

    Things are going OK so far and I’m only a little woozy so I can talk and type OK. I’ve been on the ketamine for over 10 hours now and I’m very comfortable. They started me on a relatively high 8 ml/hr and then increased it to 10 and they’ll keep cranking it up over the next five days. I don’t sense any effect at all on my brain or thinking at this point. My vision is a bit blurry and I feel dizzy when I stand up. I have a feeling my hearing is a little affected. But the main problem is nausea, although even that might be a blessing in disguise as it stopped me eating the horrible hospital food at dinner time! I could stand to lose a little weight anyway but I don’t think five days will be enough to give me that “ketamine chic” look!

    The best part was a visit from Marjorie which was fun! We always make such a racket laughing and talking about things that probably seem strange and incomprehensible to the poor patients around us. But every time I laughed I would start to feel woozy and nauseous again. I might have to have her barred.


  8. Hoping this does the trick for your pain. Chronic pain that interferes with our quality of life is just a bummer. May the hospital food be edible and may you leave your pain behind and go on to doing what you love best, making great music. Hugs.


  9. Manfred says:

    I’m glad you’re doing well, at least so far. I was planning to write you a longer email about my very good year, including especially the 50 days I spent in Europe this summer, but I’ll wait for a couple of weeks until you are in a better position to digest it. I do though, hope and pray you will receive improvement from this “therapy”.


    • DC Cardwell says:

      Hi Manfred – great to hear from you! I’m sorry I’m only getting back to my messages now, two months later! It appears that the treatment hasn’t been a complete fix by any means but I think it has reduced one particular “layer” of pain, if that makes any sense. I’ve still had a lot of trouble with pain though, coming in waves as usual. Thanks for your prayers and concern and I look forward to getting that email!


  10. Zem says:

    I hope the treatment works wonders for you, D.C. I am sending you the best thoughts and wishes for your betterment! Get well soon! Love to you and your family as you endure this. xx


  11. Fingers crossed for a positive outcome, and all good thoughts heading your way from California!


  12. Betty De sousa says:

    DC, I’ve been anxiously waiting to hear about ur results! I had ketamine a couple of years ago. Not the 5 day therapy, but a one-time injection so that I could have steroid injections in my spine. I had a very lovely, colorful trip, riding on a gondola, down a slow-moving river. My doctor was the one steering as we chatted. The only scary part (just a little bit) was when I realized I was inside my own brain. LOL


  13. dccardwell says:

    Thanks again, everyone, and sorry I’ve just seen your comment now, Betty. The only (very occasional, very gentle) things I had that were anywhere close to hallucinations also involved gliding slowly and pleasantly along different scenes, and one of them was definitely a river! Maybe the same one!

    That’s a brilliant story of yours about your doctor. And it doesn’t surprise me at all – not at all.

    I got out of hospital yesterday. I have a book’s worth that I want to write, and the songs are coming, but it will take time and I’ll have to decide what to reveal and to whom. Watch this space!


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