Monday, July 2, 2012

The Frightening E.C.T. Response to Mental Illness

This is an excerpt from our book Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It    (2005) Copyright All Rights Reserved Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI

The Frightening E.C.T. Response to Mental Illness, pp. 126
Robyn: “Please Anything but E.C.T.”!  {ECT stands for Electro Convulsive Therapy).

When Steve’s antidepressant medications stop working, or as mental health people say, “poop out”, the question arises: “ Now what?”  For a while we believed that, since we once had been so violently overpowered by this monster, it could never really get to us again. Unfortunately, knowing the characteristics of an enemy does not necessarily grant the power to elude it. We confronted this in 1991 when Steve’s medication was “pooping out” and he was becoming deeply depressed.  We were living in West Palm Beach when Steve started to be a little absent minded.  He was having trouble concentrating.  Then  he seemed overly sentimental, especially toward the children.  He developed separation anxiety, when away from me.

Finally, his moods crashed to hand-wringing, pacing, deep, dark weeping depression.  For weeks, doctors worked on his medication levels.  It was a ride nowhere. Then we found ourselves in the office of a very caring general practitioner who had an unusually strong interest in clinical depression.  After a few weeks of experimentation with the new drugs, the doctor asked, “Do you want to try E.C.T., Steve?”    He sat on the floor next to Steve, telling him how it would help him.  The thought scared me to death.  No. of course he would not that try that barbaric treatment. To my surprise, Steve answered with a hearty, “Yes!”
Losing His Mind?
Electroconvulsive therapy—shock treatments.  I envisioned those black-and-white- pictures of mental hospitals and my husband eternally shuffling around in pajamas.  I asked about memory loss. The doctor reminded me that depression itself damages memory.  Once again, a church in Kansas wanted him as pastor.  Our house was on the market to be sold so we could move.  Boxes were packed in the living room, now four children were looking for stability, and I had another deacon board to call.  It was happening all over again.

Steve was admitted to the hospital as an E.C.T. candidate. Staff checked his physical condition. After tests, we met the anesthesiologist, Steve’s room was assigned, and I was summarily dismissed.  I had to leave him alone there nervous, depressed, anxious, crying, and pacing endlessly around the halls. He had to call me from a pay phone.  He was back in “groups” again, part of the drill to reap E.C.T benefit.

Steve somehow survived the week end.  He was to have his first treatment on Monday. I could go up to see him afterward.  Monday morning.  Our families had been praying for him. We were all apprehensive.

After the treatment, I rushed up.  When I walked into the recovery area, he was reclining in a chair with an I.V. running, listening to the radio. He turned and asked, without changing his expression, “Do I know you?”   Blood drained from my face.  Then he grinned.  I really felt like beating him up.  He proceeded to tell me what was wrong with the theology of the preacher he was listening to on the radio. Not bad.

Everyone had assured me that memory loss would be insignificant, and it was.  Mainly he lost track of current events, the details of the Gulf War that was then in progress. Every day over thirty-two days of his hospitalization, he lost a little more memory abut world news.  He had other lapses, but once he was reminded, he could recall it.

The doctor told me that the memory is like a row of tabs, each connected to the next.  When Steve didn’t remember something,  I should go back until I found an associated event in time or a subject that he did recall.  Then his brain would link events automatically.  Soon the events and circumstances of our lives were safely tucked in his mind again, right where they belonged.  He eventually remembered just about everything.   His long term memory was never affected.

I could not argue that the E.C.T. was doing its intended job.  He was still depressed but noticeably improving.  The swap of minor memories for suicidal thoughts was well worth it.

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