Sunday, May 4, 2014

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Did you know electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), what used to be referred to as "shock treatment," is still used today?

I think many people imagine it as a thing of the past.  It's much more humanely-done today than it was in the past.  Patients are fully sedated for the procedure, they aren't awake, they don't experience any pain, and they are given muscle relaxers so they don't actually convulse.  In the past, patients sometimes suffered broken bones or bit through their tongues, stuff like that, from convulsing so hard.

But it is still used today.

You can read about it here: Electroconvulsive Therapy

I underwent ECT in the spring of 2010.  It's one of the things I don't talk about much.  I'm not embarrassed or ashamed of it, but the idea seems to scare a lot of people.  And maybe I'm worried it makes me look really crazy.  I mean, it seems so extreme.  Only the really crazy people would have to have shock therapy, right?

Also, though, there's a lot I don't remember about that experience.  One of the side effects of ECT is memory loss.  I remember having it done, I remember the hospital, I remember the anesthesiologist and a couple of the nurses, I vaguely remember the doctor.  I had it done on an outpatient basis.  Mike drove me, we were there for a few hours, then he drove me home.  I wasn't allowed to eat anything in the morning before the procedure and we would stop for lunch on the way home.  I vaguely remember that.  I do remember being given crackers and diet soda in the recovery room when I woke up after the procedure.

I remember this woman that was always in the waiting room.  She drove a friend there for ECT and she would wait in the waiting room and she brought this big container of markers and a sketch pad and did these elaborate doodles while she waited.  Mike and I called her "the coloring lady."

I know I went three times a week for five or six weeks, although I didn't actually remember how many treatments I had altogether.  I had to ask Mike.  I also didn't remember whether I'd had unilateral or bilateral ECT, so I asked Mike about that, too.  He told me they started out with unilateral, which is what they usually do because it tends to cause less memory loss, but at some point switched to bilateral, because it wasn't working as well as we'd hoped it would.

I did have a lot of memory loss.  More than I'd been led to expect, more than I've been told is "normal."

I had ECT shortly after Cayenne was first diagnosed with, and treated for, cancer.  And I completely forgot that she'd even had cancer.  Many  months later, my sister said something to me about Cayenne's cancer.  And I was like, what?  And as she talked about it, I started to remember.  But I had totally forgotten it.

I read a lot of books during the time I was having ECT.  I would take a book to the hospital and read while I waited for my turn to have the procedure done.  Afterwards, though, I couldn't remember anything I'd read.  I had a whole shelf of books that I reread a few months later, after I'd finished the ECT, because although I knew I'd read them, I didn't remember the stories at all.

I forgot how to get to places that I'd been going for years.  For instance, I'd been seeing the same psychiatrist, in the same office, for six years.  I could not remember how to get to his office or what street it was on or anything.  I could not remember how to get to the grocery store.  I could not remember where things were in the grocery store, either.  It was very frustrating for me.

ECT did not have the drastic effect on my depression that I'd hoped for.  I think it helped a little, but certainly not a lot.  For a long time afterward, I felt it hadn't helped and maybe actually made things worse because of how debilitating the memory loss was for me. 

Now, though, looking back, I think in some ways it did help a little.  I was severely, severely depressed when I chose to have ECT.  I was suicidal.  It was a last resort for me.  And I had at least a little hope that it would help and that gave me something to hang on to.  I didn't kill myself because I thought maybe this treatment that I'd never tried before would help.  It gave me a reason not to kill myself yet.  And while it didn't get rid of the depression, certainly not entirely, I wasn't suicidal when I was done with it.

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