A Step By Step Account of Having Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Day usually means an early start. I have had my appointments as early as 6am. You arrive at the hospital 15mins prior to your appointment. I should note here that you are nil by mouth from midnight the night before – including food and drinks and that you are requested not to smoke (if you’re a smoker like me) on the morning of, either.

When you arrive at the hospital you go to the preparation room where they take your blood pressure and pulse and other vitals and ensure that you are well enough to undergo the ECT. They also confirm with you that you have been nil by mouth and haven’t smoked. You also sign a consent form to undergo the ECT and once you have done that you are sent to the waiting room.

In the waiting room there may be two or three people ahead of you in the cue. Each persons treatment only takes 15-20mins maximum, so you don’t have too long to wait. I must admit though that I am always nervous beforehand and that that waiting time can feel like forever as my anxiety builds as each person before me is called in. Finally, it is your turn and you are called in to the surgery.

Once in the surgery you take off your shoes (I suggest wearing slip-ons for this reason) and your glasses (if you have glasses like me) and you lay down on the bed. There are usually at least three people in the room with you, the psychiatrist overseeing it all (which in my case is my actual psychiatrist which is comforting), the anaesthetist and a nurse. Having had so much ECT over the years now I know the staff quite well and it is comforting to have familiar faces caring for you. The nurse will start by cleaning your forehead and behind your ears and applying the electrodes. The anaesthetist will begin by inserting a cannula (I think that’s how you spell it) into your arm or hand, ready to administer the anaesthetic, muscle relaxant and so forth. The psychiatrist will be prepping the machine getting it ready to administer the electrical pulses into the electrodes on your head.

Then it is time to start, the anaesthetist will tell you they are about to begin and will usually ask you to count out-loud back from ten, you rarely get to ten before you are out for the count (pun intended). They then administer the electrical pulses and within 10mins you are finished and they move you, on your bed into the first recovery room. It is here that you will wake up, in a short amount of time (I believe the anaesthetist actually gives you something through your cannula to wake you up but I’m not certain of this). Once you wake up a transfer nurse will help you put your shoes back on and your glasses if applicable and will help you into a wheelchair. They then transport you in that wheelchair back to the preparation room, which is now acting as the secondary recovery room. Often I find that I do not remember any of this section of the treatment, I only truly ‘wake up’ when I am back in the secondary recovery room.

In this room, you have your blood pressure and pulse taken again and they administer any post ECT medications that your psychiatrist has written up for you, these vary person to person but using me as an example, I have 3 aspirins, 1 anti-nausea and 2 panadeine fortes. They also offer you breakfast (a variety of cereals to choose from) and juice or water, which you don’t have to have but they prefer it if you do. Then, an hour after you came out of surgery you are allowed to go home. I should note here that you cannot drive yourself home so you need someone to drive you there and back if you are an outpatient.

Once I get home I have an endone to reduce my migraine (because I am very susceptible to migraines) and then I go to bed basically for the rest of the day. Only getting up to have a cigarette, take pain killers or drink water.

So that’s it, that’s the basic rundown of what happens when you have ECT. It is nerve wracking especially the first few times you have it but overall it’s not that bad and the benefits certainly outweigh any side effects you have – eg migraine, memory loss etc etc. I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for ECT.

Please feel free to message me if you have any questions.

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