The hardest part of today was getting in the elevator. ECT is administered in the same building where I was hospitalized during my first manic episode. As I pressed the down button, I could faintly see a group gathering in the cafeteria down the hall, getting ready to eat their breakfast.
I remembered the first time I took that same elevator down to that same cafeteria, instead of having my meals brought up to me in the common area outside our rooms. I was finally lucid enough to not be plotting an escape route, so I was allowed to join the downstairs crew. It felt lavish and forbidden to be on a different floor, with so many options at my fingertips.
They even had dessert. I hesitantly picked out the same key lime pie that Matt and I had raved over in the first hospital, after Bailey was born. We’d vowed to get the most possible enjoyment out of room service: our own little vacation away from COVID quarantine. It was hard to believe the pie could taste exactly the same when everything else had changed.
I couldn’t believe it when they opened the doors after lunch to let us outside to a small courtyard, and I breathed in fresh air for the first time since I’d arrived. In reality, it had only been a few days; I’d probably spent longer stretches of time inside at home during quarantine. But time meant nothing in the ward, and it felt like it had been an eternity.
Some people socialized, but I made a beeline for a small patch of grass and laid down flat on my back. I had forgotten that it was spring, that it would be this warm, that grass would be green. It was just damp enough to leave a small wet patch on my scrubs, but I didn’t care. For a brief moment, in that warm sun, I thought I could wish away everything that had happened, and live in that bliss. But it was a few degrees too cold to be perfectly content, and as I headed back inside, my reality stayed the same.
They’re giving me cognitive tests as a baseline to make sure they don’t see any negative effects as the treatment progresses. The nurse and Matt are watching me, and I feel self conscious as I draw a clock, and a cube, and do mental math.
We head back to the waiting room, and eventually my name is called. I enter a room with three or four other patients on beds separated by curtains. It’s noisier than I was expecting.
The worst part of the procedure is getting the IV. I hate needles, and knowing that one is perpetually sticking out of my arm always sends my anxiety levels skyrocketing. As I wait, I can’t decide between fidgeting restlessly and doing everything in my power not to jostle the IV.
I eagerly check the whiteboard where each of our names are written with our appointment times, and they cross us off as we go. It’s just like my doctors had told me: this feels like a big deal to me, but it’s so routine to the people doing it. The procedure itself takes 1-2 minutes. They do over a hundred each week.
I finally get to meet the doctor I’d spoken with via telehealth, and she is just as calming in person as she’d been online. Within a few minutes of our conversation she is rolling me off to the side of the room, where only a thick curtain and machinery separate those getting the procedure from the people waiting and recovering.
She rattles off the names of each of the doctors and nurses that are assisting me today. They goop up my head and stick electrodes on it. I am asked a few more questions before trading my KN95 for a different mask, and I feel my consciousness slipping away.
When I wake up my immediate thought is “I feel totally fine, I should sit up and get out of here!” Which is partially true. I do feel much better than I was expecting, but it isn’t quite time to leave my bed. They ask me how I feel, and I’m surprised when my words slur as I tell them, “I’m fine! …Maybe a little groggy.” My jaw is sore, which I’ve heard was possible, but it isn’t extreme pain.
My doctor tells me that I seized easily, without much provocation, which is a good thing. This means that they have a longer runway if they need to increase the strength of the seizures later as the treatment progresses.
By the time I get home, I really am feeling pretty fine, and as I type this six hours later, I really am still feeling pretty fine.
I’m not looking forward to getting more IVs, but otherwise I feel very fortunate that my body seems to respond well to this treatment.
But of course, the real test will be whether my mind responds- and I’m eager to find out.