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Ray Rivas, MD

As the founder and owner of Innerbloom Ketamine Therapy, I am often asked WHY I entered the mental health field and started my business. Why did I make a radical career change and leave behind the life of a surgeon to pursue an entirely different profession? Today I am going to discuss my first exposure to ketamine during my surgical training, then discuss my experience with this medicine as an acute care trauma surgeon. Lastly, I will share aspects of my life including my personal struggles with anxiety and previous hardships that drove me to make a drastic life change.

An artist's abstract painting with lots of pink, red, maroon, purple, and violet colors

My Exposure With Ketamine During Surgical Training

I vividly recall my first experience using ketamine on a pediatric burn patient during my time as a first-year surgical resident in Temple, Texas. A young boy, around six or seven, came into the emergency department after suffering a serious burn to his forearm. While his mother was cooking, he reached for the stove and spilled boiling water onto his arm, which resulted in a third-degree burn. After a severe burn like this, it is vital to remove dead tissue to decrease the risk of infection and jumpstart  healing. This process, called debridement , involves scraping off dead skin and tissue. As one could imagine, this is an extremely painful, and potentially traumatic experience for anyone, let alone a young child. We used ketamine to consciously sedate the child and quickly perform the debridement procedure. The advantage of using ketamine rather than another anesthetic is that the patient does not need a breathing tube, and there is limited concern with regards to affecting respiratory drive or blood pressure. I was astonished that we were able to perform this procedure while the boy was wide awake, and completely unbothered that we were physically removing flesh from his arm. I was amazed to see how well ketamine prevented pain, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

My Use Of Ketamine As A Trauma Surgeon

Fast forward a few years to while I was working as an acute care and trauma surgeon. As a surgeon, I often saw patients who suffered from extreme distress and anxiety which, in addition to compounding pain, can delay life-saving diagnosis and treatment. In the hospital setting, ketamine is used to help calm patients which, in turn, allows for further workup and treatment. Ketamine is different from other medications which are typically used for pain and anxiety such as morphine (an opioid) or alprazolam (a benzodiazepine). While these are highly effective medications, they affect blood pressure and breathing and have been shown to be addictive. Conversely, ketamine can be administered without resulting in similar harmful side effects. And even further, ketamine acts within minutes. It is a remarkable medicine that I have found immensely useful to relieve acute anxiety and achieve a calm state of mind. After years of gaining experience with the use of ketamine, it became my medicine of choice in emergency situations given its safety and efficacy. It became clear to me that the patients who received ketamine rather than other pain medication such as opioids were having better anxiety and pain control. It became clear to me that I was preventing PTSD with this remarkable medicine.

My Personal Experience With Ketamine For My Anxiety And Following My Divorce

From a very young age I aspired to be a physician. I learned very quickly that the path towards a career in medicine required discipline, sacrifice, and high achievement. I set the bar high for myself and settled for nothing less than perfection. Enter anxiety. My conviction to become a great physician combined with my unforgiveness towards myself to make mistakes or be sidetracked brought on an extreme sense of anxiety and apprehension for failure.  Medical school and residency demanded relentless testing, both of knowledge and willpower. For most of my training, I believed I needed to “fake it until you make it” and I didn’t believe in my own skills. I felt that it was only a matter of time until everyone realized I didn’t belong there. I now know that this is called ‘imposter syndrome’. Nevertheless, I lived in a constant state of anxiety, even while scoring high grades and remaining at the top of my class.

Fast forward a few years further to when I underwent heartache and the unexpected loss of what I thought would be my lifelong partner. I was devastated when my wife asked for a divorce, which spiraled me into a dark depression.  I was unsure what exactly to do, but it was quite clear that I needed help. Having seen firsthand the potential toxic effects of antidepressants (and always being very cautious with what I put in my body), I decided to seek another solution. As a trauma surgeon, I knew how well ketamine worked for PTSD, and I soon learned it was a helpful option for depression as well. I mustered the courage to undergo a series of infusions for my post-divorce depression. I vividly recall feeling remarkably better after just the first infusion.  I was astonished to feel the heavy weight of depression lift and my feelings of dread be replaced with joy, motivation, and purpose. I began to make healthier choices and take better care of myself again. As cliché as it sounds, ketamine saved my life. I knew I had to help others find this relief. It was then that I discovered my true calling in life, which set me on a quest to learn everything about ketamine therapy. The rest is history.

Final Thoughts

That is my path that led me to the present moment and why I chose to start Innerbloom Ketamine Therapy. Hopefully this helps you understand who I am and why I am so passionate about this life-saving form of therapy. You can book a consultation to personally speak with me, to learn more about ketamine therapy, and to see if ketamine is right for you.

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