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ECT - Will #77 do the trick?
It was decided: Wednesday would be the day. I’ve kept count; it will be #77 this time, one more nightmare procedure producing nil results and I’m once again pessimistic. I have to keep going, plodding along at a snail's pace – ever so slowly to somehow reach the top of the mountain. I’ve lost my trust in ECT (electro convulsive therapy), including most of my long-term memory, but what else is there; what else to do? I should be rebellious, but frankly at times feel "what's the point to it all". I’ve been in the hospital this time for one week, and told of more ECT’s.
I take a seat in the TV room alone, starting to drift into a point of peace. Strangely, I look forward to “going under” (IV) for these ECT’s, it’s almost indescribable; virtually letting go of your whole being and existing in serene, tranquil waters. That’s where I desire to stay – please let me stay – I don’t want to return – I hate coming back. But, they always wake me up. I begin to sob. I’ve lost so much…my memory…my life. Why am I undertaking this, why am I going for #77? The doctors, could they have endured this many on themselves? I think not.
Tuesday: 10:00 p.m., I am once again reminded nothing to eat or drink after midnight before ECT tomorrow. This helps to prevent vomiting during the procedure. Also, I am to pee prior to the procedure as to prevent ‘accidents’.
Wednesday: 8:00 a.m., A fitful sleep last night, awake at different intervals praying that I will not wake up from the anesthetic tomorrow.
Nurse Anne pops her head in my room, stating I will be patient #2 going for ECT on the ward, which means an additional one hour delay. I lay back on my unmade bed. I am a tad edgy even though I can recite this procedure in my sleep. Ironic how life is: I am worried of the procedure, yet hope for my life to terminate. Confusing and painful thoughts.
The time has come.
The gurney is waiting outside of my room and I hoist myself as gracefully as I am able to onto it. A pleasant porter arrives, introduces himself as Allan and ensures the top sheet is tucked in around me, also equipped with my med chart. My hands firmly grasp the metal rails of the gurney, and eyes take in the bright florescent hallway lights as we make our ride swiftly down the long corridor. I become confused and wonder if the lights are moving or am I? Into the elevator, floor number two is pressed, four floors to go down, a few people in the elevator, glancing down at me.
Floor number two, a long gurney ride to the procedure room; my dpoc is there, some technicians and nurses are also waiting for me. I feel at this point, yelling, "this is enough, I've had it", but I don't. An IV is started. Not an easy process, due to veins that do not cooperate and only the left arm seems to bring any sort of results. Ouch! This nurse is not gentle and insists on trying twice now on the backside of my hand. Finally, an IV is started – phew!
Next comes the sensors for recording brain activity; they are positioned on my forehead; other sensors are placed on my chest for heart monitoring with the regular BP cuff around my arm. I’m all wrapped up in wires.
The general anesthesia is given and I am asked to count backwards from 100. This is the part where I fall gently backwards off a cliff in my mind, into a world where life is no longer filled with melancholy and despair. I would give anything to remain in this place; but aware knowing it’s not reality. Asking, is a life filled with the affects of bipolar disorder and depression reality?
An electrical current is passed through the brain to cause a controlled seizure, which typically lasts for 20 to 90 seconds. I’m told I awoke in 5 to 10 minutes. The most common side effect is short-term memory loss, which resolves quickly or so they say. My long-term memory was deeply affected also. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It often works when other treatments are unsuccessful.
Eyes open. I am still alive. Mixed feelings of relief/sadness. This time I am spared a headache, but at times this has occurred about later in the day. I am wheeled back to my room and sleep until almost lunchtime. We’ll see if this ECT does the trick.
Hubby visits me and is taken aback, stating he is looking into black, vacant eyes. Discouraged, yet not surprised, #77 had no positive effect on my depression.
Much of the stigma attached to ECT is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones and other serious side effects.
The ECT procedure itself is painless.
People have often asked why I would have granted so many ECT’s. A logical question, and pretty much none of their business, however, unless you were existing in my shoes and continually being reassured by pdocs, that this is the only treatment left for my medication resistant depression, then what option did I have?
An example I use is: If I were a cancer patient, who had experienced many chemo treatments, wasn’t showing any improvement but still encouraged by doctors to continue – would I carry on? In all probability, yes.
In retrospect, I should have fought more, stood up for myself – but I was just too ill. Depression claimed my thought processes, self-confidence and self-esteem to stand up to doctors and ask questions. Family members should have probed also, however, in defense of them; they thought the doctors knew what was best.
My last ECT was in 2002.
ECT has been beneficial to many people. Don’t be dissuaded by my experiences. Most people only undergo 6 to 10 treatments.
Debbie named her blog Living in Stigma because she faces stigma with her own mental illness (depression). She works in a large office, and feels unable to breathe a word, for how she will be treated. The goal of her blog is to educate and hopefully make people aware of mental illness stigma and help put an end to it.
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