Shock Treatments

Should We Try Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

After several hospitalizations, multiple prescription changes, and psychiatry & therapy visits for a long time this was the suggestion. I’d been sick for several years with severe depression and anxiety and the doctors wanted to try ECT to see if it would help at least a little, or maybe even a lot.

The official definition and description of ECT by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota includes the following:

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses."

I wondered about the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" starring Jack Nicholson. Though I hadn’t seen the film, it was my understanding that his character, Randle McMurphy, is given ECT treatments during the movie in an attempt to control his "bad" behavior. For a moment I thought, "the doctors want to do ECT for me, does this mean I’m behaving badly?" I agreed to try ECT treatments.

The Long Walk

In a nearby hospital, a was awakened a little after 6:00am. Time to go. There was a small group of us receiving treatments that day. I was the new kid on the block. Afraid but determined to look calm. We walked, and walked, and walked some more – it seemed like a mile inside the hospital’s lower level.

The Long Wait

We arrived at a small waiting area. One by one, each patient was called out of the waiting area for their turn. As the new kid, I was the last to go. 30 minutes. One hour. Two hours went by. Finally, my name was called, "Leslie, are you ready?" I got up and followed the nurse.

Preparation

I walked in my socks and hospital gown into a small room with several medical people in it, all waiting for me. I climbed up on what seemed to be a pedestal bed and lay down as instructed. Doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, aides, and sometimes medical students, smiled at me in an attempt to calm me down with their kindness.

A flurry of activity ensued as I was prepared for my ECT treatment. Cords, lines, leads, a blood pressure cuff, and what I was most nervous about, an IV. Sometimes starting an IV is easy, when veins cooperate. Sometimes starting an IV is hard, when veins are angry. (The worst IV experience I ever had was when, after my angry veins refused to work in all the usual places, they started an IV between my toes. Wow, did that hurt!) This first time, my veins were cooperative.

Going Under

One of the doctors from the psychiatric floor I was staying on was present as the lead physician for the procedure and talked to me before the anesthesia took over. She said something like, "you’ll be ok, Leslie. You’ll be just fine." I said thank you and goodbye to everyone in the room and then there was black.

The Long Haul

According to an article in the journal, "Brain and Behavior," about 1 million people around the world undergo ECT treatment each year. I had 99 ECT treatments over a period of 3 years. Short term and long term memory loss were a big problem for me.

A short term example: I forgot how to get to my psychiatrist’s office which I had been visiting for 7 years. For a couple of weeks, I just could not remember how to drive there.

A long term example: I forgot about 80% of a vacation trip to France. My family members will talk about parts of the trip and I will have almost no recollection of being there with them. These memories never returned.