Angela is a seven!
A few minutes ago, I asked her, "On a scale of 1 to ten, if one is suicidal and 10 is normal, where would you say you are?"
"Hmmmmm," she said and within a second. "Seven ... but I just want it to be faster."
She's done a ton of reading and I think she was hoping she would snap out of her suicidal depression after one ECT treatment. There are apocryphal early accounts floating around that report dramatic, seemingly instantaneous response to one or two ECT treatments. They make for a good story.
THE ITALIAN PIONEERS OF ECT
I'm reading about the Italian psychiatrist Dr. Ugo Cerletti and his team in Rome who pioneered modern electroconvulsive therapy in 1938 in Shock Therapy – A History of Electroconvulsive Therapy in Mental Illness by University of Toronto medical historian Edward Shorter and Cardiff University psychiatry professor David Healy.
Their sources include a lab notebook describing the April 11, 1938 first-ever treatment performed on a human being – earlier testing was done on pigs who survived these experiments – by Cerletti and his team.
Doctors had already observed that patients with epilepsy and clinical depression, following a grand mal seizure, found that their depression lifted quite dramatically.
Hence the connection between inducing grand mal seizures in patients with depression to alleviate their symptoms. Electricity seemed much faster and less invasive than insulin or other drugs that were being tried with moderate success at that time.
Cerletti administered ECT to man called Enrico X, who was homeless, delusional and speaking gibberish. After three weeks of observation, Cerletti and his team had diagnosed him with schizophrenia and without anaesthesia, he was given his first dose of 80 volts of electricity. He didn't lose consciousness, but it did not induce a grand mal seizure and his condition didn't change. After several attempts that day, with almost no effect, Enrico X walked back to his room and Cerletti deemed this first attempt at ECT a failure.
However, on April 20, less than two weeks later, Enrico X was given another slightly higher, 92 volt dose of electricity, and this time, he did have a grand mal seizure and after several minutes, he was able to respond lucidly to questions.
After six or seven more treatments, eleven in all, Enrico X was not only able to speak, "he was able to write to the physicians of the Clinic a well-composed letter, in which he gave information about his previous illnesses and the attempted treatments and thanked the physicians," Shorter and Healy wrote.
ECT TAKES TIMES
So, even the first, most primitive ECT experiment took time.
After Angela's 7 a.m. treatment yesterday – her fourth – which again went smoothly, she had what she typically calls "a bit of confusion." She came out of the anaesthesia quickly with only a mild headache that was relieved with two Tylenols, and no muscle pain at all. That happened only once, after her first treatment.
Last evening, she said she felt "regular" and "not suicidal" – bordering on "glum."
She reflected on all the other "life" issues she's facing right now, complexities that have nothing to do with her psychiatric condition, but influence how she feels emotionally. We are all "package-deals," mind-body-spirit. These are problems of everyday life that anyone would find perplexing. But strictly speaking, she admitted she was beginning to feel a little better. And she sounded more upbeat. She joked with me and laughed. Not typical of a severely depressed personality.
This morning, she said, "I'm feeling better today than yesterday. Yesterday was a little tough, with the confusion. I was putting away my socks and pyjamas and I forgot wear they go. I thought for a minute, and I remembered," she said. "And I'm not as tired as I've been, but there are a lot of other things on my mind. My mother is coming today."
She was about to leave to see her psychiatrist. I asked her if they had discussed the frequency issue and whether she could have three treatments a week instead of two.
"No yet, but I'm going to ask her. I suspect it's determined by the study I'm on," she said, signing off by saying. "I don't feel bad."
MY SIDE EFFECTS FROM ALL THIS "ECT"
This morning I slept in.
I couldn't get out of bed until 8:40 a.m. Very late for me. Usually, I'm up no later than 6 a.m. and working here at my iMac by 7 a.m.
Last night, I couldn't fall asleep. I couldn't turn my thoughts off. I couldn't stop thinking about ECT. About what I've been learning and researching. About how much I don't yet know and comprehend. About all your different fervent comments and reactions to this series. About how emotional this issue is. About how some of you have reported suffering from ECT and others have been miraculously helped by it. About how angry some of you are. About how others have made peace with the cost of some memory loss for a far greater gift, a vastly improved quality of life.
Last night, I had to take a small 0.5 mg dose of Clonazepam in order to be able to fall asleep.
So this morning, I made a decision. I'm going to take a brief respite from this series, slow it down a bit.
I'll continue to give you regular updates on Angela's progress. She'll be having her treatments until March 18 at the earliest and possibly for four more weeks after that.
I'll continue reading medical journals and studies, plus the books I have already started, including the Shorter/Healy history and a fascinating book by Kitty Dukakis and medical journalist Larry Tye called Shock, The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy – combining a contemporary personal story and a journalistic commentary on ECT.
There are, however, lots of other interesting and newsworthy stories unfolding around mental health and wellness that I want to explore and that, I am sure, interest you, too.
So, I hope you'll understand.
And I have another life. I teach at a Toronto community college. I'm not even going to go into the possibility of a Ontario province-wide faculty strike that is looming. I'm not even in the union. I'm not going there right now. All I can say is this is a stress that's weighing hard and heavy on my students and on me.
On a lighter note. My gorgeous four-year-old female Dandie Dinmont Terrier Lucy has just gone "into season" and there's a good chance that we'll be breeding her within the next few weeks. So, perhaps, if all goes well, we'll have new life in this house come spring.
There is absolutely, positive nothing more delicious and delightful than the prospect of Dandie Dinmont Terrier puppies in the house.
Have a great weekend.