One of the major side effects of ECT is short term memory loss. And, boy, did it affect me.
I underwent ECT thrice weekly for ten sessions in the locked ward. Which, incidentally, reminds me. Recently I was considering my time in hospital and found it remarkable that when you are first involuntarily frog marched to a locked ward it is a major crush to the soul. You’re all “let me out of here! I’m being held against my will!” you pound your fists on the air lock doors and almost inevitably get told that you are going to be given something to “calm down”, which actually sounds quite pleasant until you are stabbed with a hypodermic needle. Then a few weeks later, after you have settled in, you’re all “Welcome to my crib. Bitch.” Institutionalization at its finest. Clearly a topic for another time.
Anyway, back to my terrible memory.
While I was in treatment people often tried to make me feel better about my increasing forgetfulness by relating comical instances of their own forgetfulness or stating that they have a terrible memory too. While I appreciated their kindness, they really didn’t understand the extent of my memory problems.
I forgot where I was, why I was there. Which room was mine. What foods I wasn’t supposed to eat (a major problem as the nurses wouldn’t always be informed of my diet, and I would cheerfully tuck into the cheese toasty they brought me after treatment…) how old my son was, the fact that my grandmother had died, major family events, what my PhD was on.
Even worse, I started to forget the names of objects, words for things and feelings. On my homecoming found that I sent my doctoral supervisor, like ten million emails, all basically saying the same thing. I had to restart the book I was reading every few days as I would forget. Perhaps, most weirdly of all, I started to like foods that I used to dislike. Like honey (or bee vomit, as I used to call it.) Thats right. I had forgotten my food preferences.
I knew things were bad, but i don’t think i realized how bad until one day (over a month after the completion of my ECT) when there was a knock on the door. My registrar (who, incidentally was the splitting image of Gok from “How to look good Naked”. A resemblance so uncanny I had to wonder what the hell was going on when I first met him.) and a middle aged woman. They said hello and sat down and then there was this awkward silence, while I waited for the woman to introduce herself.
Eventually I cleared my throat, and since she looked too professional to be a student, said “So…are you a doctor?”
She and Gok looked vaguely surprised and then she asked if I remembered her.
It turned out that she had been my treating psychiatrist for some time. I had absolutely no recollection of her. Of course then I had to complete a number of ridiculous memory tests which I miserably failed, because, sheesh, who does know who the current prime minister is?!
I was then informed that, while most people’s memory improves fairly rapidly after ECT, I most likely had a rare side effect of severe memory loss due to taking Lithium during ECT…WHICH YOU ARE TOTALLY NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. Thank you, State Psychiatric Facility.
Luckily for me, with some rehabilitation (aka crossword puzzles and my Book of Things to Remember) my memory eventually returned to normal. There are still a few things that I don’t remember about my hospitalization….
But I think some things are best forgotten.