Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Shock therapy, aka electro convulsive therapy (ECT) is much more humane now then it was in the 1950-1960s and very different from how they portray it on TV. Although the objective of causing a generalized tonic-clonic seizure remains,  a combination of general anaesthesia and a muscle paralytic agent makes the procedure painless and reduces fractures to basically zero. So here is my “one flys over the cuckoos nest”

It’s a day off from my crappy minimum wage job and I am being driven to the hospital by my parents, as you are not supposed to drive after general anaesthesia. I wait in line outside the “therapy room” with others like me, lots of them much older or on the surface much more disabled. Finally, the wait is over and it is my turn.  I am led to the therapy room by an older nurse, one who still wears the old nursing hat with the matching folded cap. The ECT machine is imposing in the room, large, antique looking, steely gray with a bunch of dials and gauges. I lay down on the cold OR table still wearing my street clothes and look up at the sterile white ceiling. I feel the fear and apprehension building even though I have done this many times before, but I try to ignore it. I try to concentrate on the patterns on the ceiling and ignore the screaming anxiety in my head. The IV is started, my head is strapped with an old leather belt-like device (bipolar ECT), my body strapped down by much thicker leather straps, and the drugs are pushed.

“Count back from 100…”, the anesthesiologist says. I start to feel drowsy but then right before I nod off the paralytic agent takes effect.  I feel my legs go numb then limp, then the worst happens. I feel my diaphragm start to slowly give up and this causes me intense panic. It feels like the worst asthma attack I have ever had, I can’t move enough air, my eyes become wide with fear. I begin a losing fight against the medication’s effect, using every ounce of strength and determination I have to keep my diaphragm moving up and down… And then…. I black out.

I wake up with three large leather straps across my body. I have no idea what is going on, where I am, or who I am. I feel intense fear, an overwhelming urge to escape to a safe place to figure things out. I start fighting against the straps, trying to tear myself out, but I am secured tightly.  A nurse I have never seen before comes over and asks “Whats your name? Where are you? What just happened?” I am unable to answer any of these questions and I become very angry. She tells me my name, and when she does all I feel is a twinge of deja-vu, like “I swear I’ve heard that name before”. This process, asking me the 3 questions then telling me the answers occurs every set period of time until I am able to answer all three without her prompting me. I have no idea how long this takes as my sense of time is destroyed.

They lead me to the cafeteria and offer me juice and crackers. The anaesthesia has made me very nauseous, or maybe it was the grand-mal seizure? Either way I have no urge to eat. I feel…flat…nothing..a blank slate and my face reflects the same emptiness. I have no negative thoughts or positive thoughts, I am just..level. My parents meet me and start talking about random life topics. I am unable to keep up with the pace of the conversation, my brain feels like its going thru a thick fog.. On the drive home the feeling of deja-vu occurs over and over again.. “oh I think I’ve seen that car before” “Oh I think I’ve seen that house before..”

I underwent over 100 of these procedures, and only stopped because I had a heart arrhythmia under anaesthesia. They did not make me happy, nor did they make me “normal”. They do not end a behavior because of “pain” (as there is none) or negative reinforcement (again, as there is none) but it did help reduce my intense urge to kill myself. If one was suicidal, and 10 was perfectly happy, it made me a 5 with the inability to go to a 4 or even a 6. Others around me say I became very forgetful, that during this period I was not as sharp or as quick as I normally was. One person told me I was a “zombie version” of my former self. Also, the 1.5 year period I was receiving these is completely wiped from my mind still.. My memories from this time are purely people telling me later what I did or what happened. Yet, despite these side effects I feel that ECT helped save my life. It helped me get thru one of my roughest depression phases and hence able to go on with life and for that I am thankful.