Electroshock Sans Anesthesia: Inside an Iraqi Hospital

Like Osama Hamid. He hasn't been the same since 2004, his family says. He lies on a gurney immediately after receiving electroshock treatment, unable to communicate but seemingly aware of his surroundings.

"He's furious all the time and never stays in the house," says his mother, Buthena Hussein, standing over him protectively. "Sometimes we buy him new clothes, and he exchanges them with old, bad clothes."

She didn't know what to do, so she brought him to the hospital. "Everything," she says, "is in the hands of God."

His doctors say the treatment they've prescribed — as many as three electroshock therapy sessions per week — has helped him.

That is the saving grace of this place. Despite the shortage of money, despite the shortage of drugs, despite the lack of doctors — this hospital, most of its doctors and patients say, helps people live.

"It's a magic treatment," Rashid says of ECT. "If you give it in a scientific way, for the scientific patients, for scientific purposes, it's very nice. It's free of complications because it's not medication. It's available most of the time, so no shortage, no drain of treatment."

When two women blew themselves up at pet markets in central Baghdad in February, American officials suggested the two had been mentally ill. Soldiers came to the hospital and showed pictures of the women they thought had killed more than 90 people.

A few weeks later the woman in one of the photographs walked into the hospital, intact and unaware people considered her a mass-murderer.

Since then, the Health Ministry has ruled patients must display a current photo and identification card before being seen.

Most of them don't need shock therapy. They suffer from milder depression, or any number of neuroses or addictions.

"I couldn't sleep. I was worried all the time," one patient told ABC News, refusing to give his name. "I didn't know if you take one of the roads, if you will even return back home. And I was anxious all the time. Anxiety was taking over my head."

He is now taking triptizol to fight depression and lexotan to help him sleep. "I feel the improvement," he said. "The people here are good. The doctor here is good."

If the hospital received more assistance from the government, its doctors say, it would be able to do more for its patients. "We're at the bottom of the list of priorities," Rashid says.

Still, it tries to create a stable environment. Patients will often relapse if they quickly return to their neighborhoods, where they may worry about militias, no electricity, and huge unemployment.

And so people like 42-year-old Majid Salim, whose mother begged Rashid to admit him, are allowed to stay for a few weeks.

He was injured four months ago during fighting in Sadr City between the U.S. military and the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr. To ease his pain, he began taking valium. He quickly increased his own doses and began taking as much as 100mg a day, more than double a traditional prescription.

"I agreed to admit him just to get him relief from this atmosphere," Rashid says.

Salim is one of the few to agree to an on-camera interview with a western reporter, perhaps because he is confident he can get better.

"I have eight kids. Who will win their bread if I am an addict?" he asks. He was admitted one week ago, and "Now, I feel I am good," he says.

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