Donahue is working with those patients and doctors to carve out a compromise, one that reforms the treatment rather than sees the status quo as immutable or seeks to ban it. "I was being told from all the research that my experience of loss doesn't exist. Yet I know without question what happened to me," she explains. "I also was discovering this opposite view that said, 'This deliberate and knowing fraud on innocent psychiatric patients who are having their brains destroyed by the evil kingdom.' I am not the kind of person who can believe that, either. I don't believe in massive conspiracies."
It is not an exaggeration to say that electroconvulsive therapy has opened a new reality for me. I used to deny when a depressive episode was coming on. knew how much it would hurt, how long the darkness would last. Now I know there is something that will work and work quickly. It takes away the anticipation and the fear. I also used to be unable to shake the dread even when I was feeling good, because I knew the bad feelings would return. ECT has wiped away that foreboding. It has given me a sense of control, of hope.
That does not mean I look forward to the treatments. Who would? But when I lie down, I know that within seconds I'll be asleep - and that this process going to make me better. I also know that like many patients today, I can go home after each treatment rather than stay overnight in the hospital.
I have had seven more sets of ECT since the first in 2001. All my treatments have been unilateral, which means the electrodes go on just one side of my head in positions aimed at minimizing memory loss. The same concern led them to gradually lower the intensity of the stimulus they give me, to a level the doctors say one-10th of what Stelian Dukakis probably got in the 1950s. I generally need treatment every seven or eight months, my timeline for depression returning.
A nun who contacted me after a story on my ECT appeared in the newspaper described how afraid she had been to have ECT. She said, "This is the way would feel going in for a root canal." As for me, I hate fillings, and don't like to go to the dentist, period. I happened to have had a root canal not long before my first electroconvulsive therapy. In some ways ECT is less traumatic for me than going to the dentist, and certainly less frightening than the root canal. Lots of doctors say I am crazy for thinking something like that, but I don't think negatively about the treatment.
Excerpted from Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, published this month by Penguin. Copyright 2006 by Kitty Dukakis and Larry Tye.