Promoting ECT for Veterans with depression


Um…. Electric convulsive therapy. No, never heard of it, no. I haven’t even heard
that term in years. My experience on convulsive therapy
with electrodes is limited. ECT has been around for a very long time
and it’s gotten a very bad rep. They say it makes you
kind of crazy like. Uh…something to do with
your frontal lobotomy. The general public is maybe frightened
or have misperceptions about electroconvulsive therapy. They think of it as rather invasive. It’s not invasive. It’s not related to like, a lobotomy. ECT stands for
electroconvulsive therapy. Typically ECT requires 6-12 treatments,
done three times a week, so it’s usually three to four
weeks of treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy can
be effective for patients with major depressive disorder,
bipolar disorder. It can be lifesaving in situations where patients are suffering from
acute suicidality or catatonia. The procedure is fairly straight forward. It involves preparation of the patient, which involves placing electrodes on their head to monitor if they’re having a seizure. We put on EKG leads on their chest
to monitor their heart rate, their blood pressure, their oxygen, so they’re carefully monitored
during the procedure. The patient is asleep for only about
10 minutes, the procedure itself, but from start to finish, in terms of preparation to patient recovery, it takes about an hour. Well, I did see the movie
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and its portrayal of electric convulsive therapy was at best, difficult. It makes me feel a bit queasy. It looks a bit terrifying
and it definitely looks painful. Would ECT be something
I’m willing to do? No. No, because I saw what happened
to the guy in the movie, so I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. No. I think the movie
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has done more to
make this treatment controversial than any other treatment in medicine. ECT is not how it is portrayed and
it has scared veterans and patients from considering this
very effective treatment, and it is in fact
a very safe procedure. ECT is the most effective treatment
we have for depression. Well, it was presented to me
by my doctor after a trial of various drug therapies, and was having a lot
of problems with side effects. They felt that I was
a good candidate for ECT. And I thought about it
and I thought okay, we can try it, because I like the idea
of less drugs. I was in the Navy from 1982-1988
as a CTM crypto-logic technician. I suffered depression for many years
and I tried every, it seemed like every type
of medication I could think of. There had to be
something else out there, so I started doing research. I had heard of ECT before. I asked if that was a viable option. I was in the service in the late ’60s, early ’70s. Spent time in South East Asia
and I developed Parkinson’s. One of the side effects that comes
along with Parkinson’s is depression. And one of the procedures I’m doing
is ECT and the reason I’m doing that is, my psychiatrist and I were trying
to decide on how to deal with this. Electroconvulsive therapy
can be effective within days, within a few treatments. In terms of the efficacy of
electroconvulsive therapy, it’s the most effective treatment
we have for depression. We see success rates
or efficacy of 80-90%, which is unheard of in psychiatry. Veterans and patients who have
undergone this procedure will tell you that this is a lifesaving procedure, and how this procedure
has greatly improved their lives. What I’m doing now with the ECT
that I wasn’t doing before is, I’m working, which makes me feel like
I’m contributing again, which is a really good way to feel because before that,
I wasn’t capable of working, I wasn’t capable of
taking care of myself, but now I don’t have any
more hiccups about that, you know. I just go and I do it. I started doing photography
about three years ago as therapy. A couple of guys at the VA
that I go to in Newington, started taking pictures, so we started out
the photography club. We would go out places,
take pictures. If I hadn’t had ECT, I probably
wouldn’t be doing photography. I probably wouldn’t be doing
a lot of things because I just feel better. Working as an architect, it became almost impossible
to keep going, only because of the meds
and the tremors, which then complicated the depressions. So I have been fortunate that
the VA has been very supportive and has an excellent regimen for
dealing with these types of scenarios. One of the drawbacks that
ECT has is memory loss and it’s a very short-term
memory loss, it’s not long-term. Mine happened to
affect my math skills, but I’m working on a project now
as an architect and it has all come back and I don’t have any problems
at all with it now. In general, ECT is among
the safest procedures administered under general anesthesia, and it’s generally
well-tolerated by patients. Most side effects are mild and can be treated with
over-the-counter therapies or other treatments
the doctor will give at the same time as the procedure. The side effect that people
most worry about is memory loss. Fortunately, over the last
20-30 years, advancements in the field
have greatly reduced the probability and severity
of memory problems. It’s also fortunate that most
memory problems resolve shortly after the acute treatment period. Well, with ECT, I don’t really have
any side effects after I go through the procedure. ECT has made a big difference
in my life. It brought a lot of things back and I find participating in life
is very important. I don’t mind being
in the wheelchair. It’s okay, as long as
I can participate. The ECT has brought that back now, to where I am starting to go back
and do all these other road races and play golf and do all the things
that I want to do. I just feel so much freer because
I just feel alright with the world. It’s a good feeling. I feel like I’m being
taken care of by good people. After I have ECT, I’ve got a
little bit more pep in my step, I’m smiling more, my friends notice,
my family notice. And they can tell when
I haven’t had it for a while because after the ECT,
there’s a big difference. Thanks to the caregivers
at the VA. They’re very concerned. They want to help you and they
actually have a tool that works, that will help you. It’s better to be open to something new
rather than to live with a disorder. If something can help you,
you shouldn’t have fear. I know personally some people
who have made some real gains with the help of ECT. ECT has changed my life. It’s given me back a lot that I was concerned I would not
be able to get back. I’m just a new person
because of it and I just think you should
give it a try.

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