ECT Lessons-I’ve-Learned #9: What happens during ECT

a part of the ECT Lessons-I’ve-Learned series…..


I’ve certainly learned how the whole process goes, from walking into the hospital to being wheeled out to the car that’s picking you up. But I think Dr. John Hauser from psychcentral.com already did a great job of explaining that process.

He recently wrote a very concise description of “What to Expect from Electroconvulsive Therapy” Here’s an excerpt, with added random comments from me:

(My side note—this part varies depending on how your treatment room is set up, but…you’ll go to the prep area where you’ll be asked to use the bathroom to avoid any accidents during the procedure. You’ll then put on a gown over your clothes, and then the nurse/CNA will check your vitals. Then you wait til someone takes you to the treatment room. You might want to pick up a magazine from the side table to skim while you wait, but then you realize they are several years old….Some people are wheeled into the treatment area, but I just walk to my bed/stretcher in their treatment room.)

Before ECT is administered, you’ll be given an IV (intravenous catheter), which is inserted in your arm or hand through which medications and fluids can be given. Sometimes you will be provided with a mouth guard to help ensure you don’t accidentally bite your tongue and help protect your teeth during the seizure. Some doctors also may administer oxygen through an oxygen mask. (My side note:You might also be made to wait in your bed/stretcher until your doctor comes. The nurses might turn on the ocean/birds sound machine so you can attempt to keep calm.)

(My side note: Your doctor shows up and starts talking to you for a minute or so. I never know exactly what to say. S/he will tell you when you might see him/her next time, as if you’ll remember after the little spark.) Short-acting, general anesthesia is injected in the IV to bring about unconsciousness, as well as a muscle relaxant to help prevent your body from convulsing during the seizure. (The anesthesiologist  always tells me “You’re going to take a little nap” before he injects me…) A blood pressure cuff is placed around your forearm or ankle area, preventing the muscle relaxant from paralyzing those particular muscles…..

Electrode pads will be placed on your head, which will be the pads that actually administer the small electrical impulse that will trigger a seizure in your brain. (my side note: they don’t place the pads on me until after I’m out) ECT can either be administered unilateral, in which only one side of the brain is subject to electricity, or bilateral, in which both sides of the brain receive electrical currents. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is also connected, which measures your brain activity. The EEG lets the doctor knows when a seizure is occurring, which can be confirmed by watching for movement in your hand or foot.

I think the rest of the page is well worth reading if you want a short, clear-cut answer about what happens in the treatment room.

One Comment to “ECT Lessons-I’ve-Learned #9: What happens during ECT”

  1. I found this entry really interesting. Your narration woven into this excerpt seems somehow, graceful (and ameliorative). But it’s an interesting article in itself.

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