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What It Was Like Getting ECT as a Minor

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

After trying over 20 medications and numerous types of therapy and treatments, the idea of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was proposed. ECT is often thought of as a last resort, and I was on my fifth inpatient stay in the last three years, my third in 2018 alone. Little did I know, this stay would be my longest yet at 55 days.

Formerly known as electric-shock therapy, ECT has a grim and disturbing stigma attached to it. People often envision it being a painful and barbaric process. From my experience, you are put to sleep under general anesthesia and never even know what occurred, except for the occasional lingering headache. I started receiving electroconvulsive therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

Editor’s note: To learn more about the risks and benefits associated with ECT, head here.

Going to Court

Sarah*, my social worker, and Dr. O*, my psychiatrist, had been trying to brainstorm and come up with new treatment options in order to help relieve the pain and darkness depression had put over me. After a couple of weeks, electroconvulsive therapy was brought to the table. In most cases, ECT is not approved for minors (those under the age of 18) but if my dad and I gave them the approval, as well as insurance and the hospital, they could go ahead with their plan. Sarah*, Dr. O*, Dr. I* (the psychiatrist who does ECT) and my dad all met to discuss the course of treatment, the benefits and the effects.

The timeline for treatment and court kept getting pushed back, but eventually on May 6th I met with Joe*, the attorney on my cased. Then on the following Monday, we went to court. Sarah* and I went together and sat outside the telecourt room, looking at pictures from her birthday weekend to help calm me down. After about 30 minutes of waiting, it was time to go in. Sarah* and John* (med student) sat to the right of me and Dr. I*, Joe* and Dr. B* sat to the left of me. A large TV screen hung on the wall in front of us with the judge on the other end. Once the case was discussed, the judge decided to approve 16 treatments over the course of 12 weeks.

The following week was spent fighting with insurance. At one point they refused to cover any of the treatment and the hospital stepped up and offered to eat the cost, but later in the week after another insurance review, they agreed to cover the cost of the ECT treatments.

My First Treatment

The next week I had treatment on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Monday, Sarah* and Hannah* (one of the techs) took me to treatment and my dad met us over there.

Sarah* and I did some guided meditations on her phone while we waited and they put an IV in. After about two hours, it was time to go downstairs to the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit).

We went into a small room, only big enough for the anesthesiologist, a nurse and Dr. I*. He placed the pads on both sides of my head and put the EKG stickers on me. After being told to take a few deep breaths while they pushed the medicine into the IV, I was out. I woke up to Sarah* and Hannah* standing over me talking. Almost immediately after I woke up, I got sick from the anesthesia.

ECT wasn’t exactly the magic wand I hoped it would be. The depression and suicidal thoughts lightened in their severity for a couple of weeks and then everything came crashing down again. However, this doesn’t mean it didn’t do anything nor will it not help someone else who is struggling. I’ve heard so many success stories with ECT and how it helped people out of the dark hole they were trapped in.

*Names have all been changed

If you’ve tried electroconvulsive therapy, let us know about your experience in the comments below.

Images provided by contributor

Originally published: August 2, 2019
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