Tuesday, August 15, 2006

TO READ: ECT Side Effects
Last week I described the ECT procedure as I've experienced it, and discussed a bit of the stigma that sometimes surrounds the treatment. But what happens after ECT? It varies tremendously from person to person, and sometimes from treatment to treatment in the same person. I'll share what I've been through, since I'm frequently asked about this topic by those considering it, and the just-curious.

Upon waking from a treatment, I was typically groggy, wobbly on my feet and, whether my mood felt better -- usually after a couple of treatments in the series -- or not, I was hungry. After a nurse slowly walked me to the waiting room, the main ECT side effect became apparent: memory difficulties. I had to scan the room for someone I knew who would drive me home, but I didn't know who had brought me in that morning... my husband, my mom (a huge support who came all the way from New Mexico), a friend? My mother- and father-in-law laughed when each morning I was surprised to see them and said, evidently in the exact same voice, "You mean you came all the way here from Wisconsin to help us out?"

After a requisit donut in the cafeteria, the drive home (You can't drive for days or weeks after ECT.), and a long nap, I'd awaken to talk with my caretaker for the day, and larger memory issues came up. I generally didn't recall much at all of the past few weeks, including the details of exactly why I went into treatment.I had no idea what books I had been reading, whether I had seen a movie someone was discussing, what the news was with family and friends. I knew, however, that if I still felt extremely depressed, I needed to continue.

Sadly, as the weeks -- and now, even years -- passed, I found gaping holes in my memory that I don't think will be filled. People still frequently tell me of things I've done that I have no inkling about. Most frustrating are the major life events, such as a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and another across Canada, that I didn't even know I'd been on until I was told. On the other hand, some things are still crystal clear, and I treasure those and use them to tie together my picture of my life.

Please bear in mind that while some memory loss is the most common side effect of ECT, it varies tremendously. Some people I know experienced nearly none. I suspect that mine was made worse by having a lot of treatments over the course of several years. And, yes, even considering those frustrating gaps, I'd get ECT again if I needed to.

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