What it’s actually like

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions.

Mayo Clinic

The night before, I need to refrain from taking a few key meds that can interfere with the seizure aspect. That includes one med to be stopped before 6pm the evening prior to the procedure, and another one to be stopped at 9am or earlier the day prior. Also, I need to fast from midnight onward. So it’s complicated enough that if I get confused, I need to keep track of everything on paper. I can take the rest of my meds right after I get back from the procedure, though.

Side effects can include headaches, jaw ache, muscle soreness and aching. Also, memory issues and concentration. So far it’s been temporary. Through the period in which I am having the procedures, I’m not allowed to drive , and working is not recommended. So arranging for rides to and from the hospital is a fairly large component.

When I get there, I check in with the staff. My blood pressure and oxygen levels are recorded. We go over my meds and indicate when each one was taken last. Finally, there is a discussion about how I’m doing, how my depression is doing, and a discussion about any suicidality I may have.

Once I’m checked in it’s down to waiting. They time it well enough that it’s not a long wait, but sometimes it draws on. And then I’m called into the procedure room.

Funny: I wear a hoodie and a t-shirt, usually a concert shirt. So now when I choose my outfit for the next appointment, a concert tee is usually involved.

When I enter the procedure room, there’s a quick chat with the doctor to talk about what we’re doing, how I’m doing, and other random things. Meanwhile, I’m hooked up to a blood pressure cuff, oxygen sensor, electrodes are stuck to my temples, and an IV is hooked up. I’m also offered a nice warm blanket.

When the IV is finally in, I get a metallic taste in my mouth (presumably from the saline) and they tell me I’m about to go under. A mask is offered over my mouth and they tell me to breathe deep. The room slides away and I’m out.

After it’s all over, I wake up and they get me into a wheelchair. I’m taken back out to the pre-lobby with a new warm blanket placed on me. I’m required to wait in this area for a certain amount of time before being released. I’m offered juice and a muffin (blueberry or bran – I always go blueberry) and it’s nice to finally get to eat something.

When my time is up and I’m allowed to leave, I get wheeled out to the elevator and then down to the hospital entrance. Just like in the movies/television. Happily, we live close enough to the hospital that I’m home within 15 minutes, and then it’s usually right off to bed to catch up on a previous night’s sleep if it was rough, but also to sleep off the whole experience. I’ll often get those daily meds and a bunch of water for myself at that time, too.

After my nap I usually have a pretty big lunch to make up for the fasting, and spend the rest of the afternoon lounging. Some days it’s hard to pay attention to things, other days it’s nice just to unwind.

I do this three times a week, Monday Wednesday and Friday.