After My Electric Shock Therapy and a History of ECT Treatment

A Shock Doc and ECT treatment saved me and started my recovery from Depression


This is the follow up to the story of my visit to the Shock Doc and receiving ECT treatment for Depression in an effort to speed up my recovery from Depression, Addiction and Alcoholism. My previous post at Inside the Electric Shock Chamber hopefully gives you an inside look at this often controversial treatment.

And so began my recovery from Depression, Addiction and Alcoholism and the suicidal hell of chronic despair and hopelessness. My Shock Doc knew how to deal with Depression and Anxiety that had crippled me for months. The "Shock" was so powerful that I awoke about 45 minutes later to find myself standing at the reception desk, with my escort nurse at my side and in the middle of a conversation. I felt no pain and only a kind of dreamlike reality surrounded me. I managed to walk slowly back to my ward and thus began my experience of the ‘last resort treatment" of ECT for Depression.

The trip to the Annexe was to be repeated four more times, every morning at about 6.45am. Once back in my bed I would be given breakfast and I would spend the rest of the day watching T.V. and reading. I could sense that something had happened to me but I could just not put my finger on my feelings. After the months of torment, tears and despair I was sure that somehow or other the lifespirit was returning to my broken soul. I was calm and yet at the same time not quite sure what my feelings were before this latest chapter on my journey. The nurses were continually in and out of my room with my meals, snacks and pills and I slowly started to realise that I was alive and well. I wasn’t perfect but all things considered the glimmer of hope was returning.

At night I slept like a baby and every meal was a treat for me. My Psychiatrist regularly came to visit me and said that everything was going well.After the first "Shock" the whole mission of getting down to the Annexe and walking into the "Shock Chamber" did not seem as horrific and I even found myself admiring the lovely Durban morning. It had became a time to savour the rest and peace. To savour the thrill of the splashing water under the shower and the clean bedding. To recognise my favourite T.V. show and to hold a conversation with one of the nurses without tears and raised voices. To stand on the balcony and marvel at the sight of the Port of Durban. To come to terms with the fact that I was maybe going to make it after all the drama that I had put myself and my loved ones through. By day five I was almost feeling human again. Physically I still felt as though I was not back to 100% and generally I seemed to exist in a slight blur but with no pain.

My Doctor came in to say goodbye and give me the drugs that I would need in the weeks ahead. I liked him. He was a quiet and compassionate man and wished me well. He also asked to come and see him in a couple of months time. I dressed and waited for Mary and my parents to arrive. I had my back to the door when they walked in. I turned and almost ran into Mary’s arms. She held me tightly and I murmured quietly in her ear. "I’m back."And so ended my personal experience with Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). That it had been life-saving in my case was beyond doubt. I walked out of hospital with most of my reason and personality returned to me. I had walked in a babbling and confused man, probably close to taking my own life. Chronic and long-term depression had reduced me to a shell of my former self. Self-hate had brought me to the brink of self-anihilation, the last desperate act of depression. The late American President, Abraham Lincoln, himself a sufferer had described it perfectly, "To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or be better."

After months of counselling and numerable drugs my home Doctor confided in me that it was time to try ECT. He later told me that I was one of the worst cases of mania and depression that he had encountered. Even in my confusion and mental pain this advice took me by surprise. As with most laymen my visions of ‘Shock Treatment’ were not inspiring. Movies such as ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ had not helped. I had images in my mind of been dragged into an institution, strapped down on a bed and forced to endure a form of legalised torture which would result in a scene of spine-twisting, tongue-shrieking and bone-breaking torment. However I found myself in such a cold and isolated place, with no immediate hope for a recovery that I was ready to try anything that would relieve me of my misery. Anxiety Depression Symptoms and Addiction of the Mind and Body had left me with no choice.I made the right choice.Fortunately for me the advances in modern Psychiatry have resulted in a well-used but controversial form of treatment. The controversy appears to be based mainly on an emotional level rather than medical science.

In 1934 Ladislas Meduna, a Hungarian neuropsychiatrist noticed that sufferers of Schizophrenia who developed epilepsy showed a remarkable improvement. He went on to intentionally induce seizures by injecting chemicals. By 1938 Italian psychiatrists took this one step on and induced the seizures by means of electrical shocks to the brain. The idea of ECT for Depression had been born and until 1954 and the introduction of alternative drugs, such as Thorazine to replace electrical induced seizures, ECT was an important tool in the fight against Schizophrenia, mania and chronic depression. The term Shock Doc became common as various Psychiatrists started to use the proceedure. Recovery from Depression and Anxiety had found a new ally. Electric Shock Therapy was now a possible solution for a Psychiatrist struggling with a medication resistant patient. ECT treatment for Depression and Anxiety and how to deal with Depression that was becoming life threatning was slowly gaining acceptance.However by 1970 the new drugs were proving to be not entirely effective and the modern treatment of ECT evolved.

It was in this period up to the 1970’s that ‘ShockTreatment’ achieved it’s dubious reputation. Without the help of anesthetics and muscle relaxants stories were rife of the ‘legalised torture’ inflicted on the mentally ill. There were also claims that the procedure was used to calm many forms of uncontrolable behaviour. The fact is that nearly 100,000 shocks are administrated every year in the U.S. South African figures are harder to come by as the central Department of Health does keep those records but it is widely used in both the public and private sector and unoffical numbers run at around 12,000 annually.The modern procedure is remarkable safe and according to numerous studies carries no more risk than any minor operation carried out under anesthesia. I returned to my Doctor and asked him to fill in the blanks for me. My initial impression of going to the ‘execution chamber’ is the impression of a very confused and sick man. In reality you are met by a well-oiled and drilled team of professionals well aware of the fear and trepidation that you are feeling at that moment. Ideally they would like you to walk in on your own steam but as is the case with many people you can be sedated beforehand. Once you are on the ‘shockbed’ it is only a matter of minutes until you are under the anesthetic. A rubber bite bloc is inserted in your mouth and straps are positioned on your legs, chest and waist. After getting the go ahead from the Anesthetist and Nurse that your vital signs are O.K. the Psychiatrist administers the electrical shock. This is delivered to your brain via the two electrodes attached to your temples and lasts between 30 and 180 seconds. According to my Doctor there is contortion in your face and legs but nothing like is imagined. After about 30 minutes you are awoken in the recovery room and ready to walk to your ward. In fact in many instances the procedure can be undertaken as an out-patient. In effect the machine-induced brain seizure sends impulses which directly affect the various hormones and master glands which in turn control our moods.

It is estimated that 95% of the medical knowledge concerning the human mind has been discovered in the last 10 years so it is comforting to know that people such as Dr. Harold Sackeim of Columbia University U.S.A. considered to be the modern pioneer of ECT, continue their work to improve this very useful tool in the psychiatric fight against mental illness. There are of course opponents against the continued use of ECT. Their opposition usually stems from some of the side-effects arising from the procedure. Headaches, nausea and memory loss are the most common. In my case I had to completely relearn how to use my computer and on occasions I could not help Mary with her crossword but on the plus side I rediscovered my long lost sex drive! Looking back now it is clear that for about two months I was not the full sixpence! My brother Neil and his wife Irene from Cape Town, whom I had not seen for 5 years came up to see me and Mary and myself went out for lunch with them. To this day I have no recollection of that event. The World Health Organisation estimate that by the year 2005 depression will be the most serious disease on earth. We live in a fast moving world and stress appears to be part and parcel of modern life.

In the April edition of ‘Psychiatric Services’ which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, Curtis E. Hartmann an attorney and writer records his lifelong fight against depression in the most moving way. He has received over 100 shocks over a period of 30 years and it is the only treatment that offers him a chance to live a normal life. His analogy of depression is both accurate and moving at the same time. He akins it to watching your own execution and then been forced to look at the corpse. Like him I use the description of the monster calling on you at any time, without warning. It strips you of your self-worth. It leaves you questioning your very existence. Most importantly over a period of time it strips you of your resolve to fight back. Depression is a fatal disease. It must be treated as soon as possible and this is where family and loved ones come into the picture. The very people whose life you no doubt made a hell during the worst of your illness are the very ones that can be there when you need it most. As Hartmann says, it is life by strangulation. The great author, Ernest Hemingway booked into the renowned Mayo Clinic for a series of ECT and on coming out wrote, "It was a brilliant cure but the patient is dead." He committed suicide one month later. He had lost his hope.

For me ECT was an astounding success. It has been a year or so since my experience and it has not been an easy road. On occasions I have yearned for peace of mind. The monster comes and goes without warning. This time however I am aware of the great uncharted oceans of the human mind. ECT for Depression is now considered to be a ‘continuing’ treatment and for many sufferers regular trips to the ‘chamber’ remain a necessity in an effort to counter the unwelcome visitor that chronic depression can become. Electro Convulsive Therapy (Electric Shock Therapy) gave me back my hope and for that I am eternally grateful. One year ago I had reached the end of the road and through the miracle of ECT treatment I regained the lifespirit within me.

A so called Shock Doc had saved my life and my recovery from Depression and Anxiety had began.Hopefully you have got some insight into my struggle with Alcoholism and Depression. I recovered sufficiently enough to start this Recovery, Addiction, Alcoholism and Depression Blog. Remember there is always hope. Anxiety Depression Symptoms and Addiction of the Mind can reduce you to a shell of your former shelf. ECT for Alcoholism and Addiction alone is not recommended but it can be vital when tackling the curses of Depression and Anxiety that invariably accompany Addictions. I always like to quote that senior British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill. As the Nazi menace threathened to engulf his little island he declared:

"If you are going through hell, keep going."