That's what ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) reminds me of. Strictly speaking, taking antidepressants better fits that description, since there are chemicals involved in that and none in ECT (except the ones they use to put you to sleep, and powerful chemicals they are), but somehow the image of chemotherapy seems better suited to a procedure in which it is a mighty close call which is worse, the cure or the illness. I don't wish to scare anybody away from ECT--it's clear to me that it can be a lifesaving procedure in certain circumstances--but let us be clear here: whatever it is that causes ECT to lift depression also comes perilously close to messing around with the essence of what makes us human.
I knew going in that ECT was apt to have an effect on some of my short-term memories. I wasn't prepared for the fact that last weekend I took my daughter to see "The Bridge to Terebithia" and that I do not recall a single frame of the picture. I even went to the website, hoping that some stills from the movie would jog my memory--but no. It's as if it never happened.
That's a disappointment I can live with; after all, I can always go see a movie again. But it did raise the issue of what other memories I might lose if I kept this up. And I have to admit to some serious disappointment with is the way the psychiatric profession has handled this whole issue. On one hand, there's my doctor, who hasn't kept up with the news on what is a valuable therapeutic procedure, and who dismissively refers to doctors who use ECT as "shock jocks." My doctor is a good guy, and I expected more open-mindedness from him; it's disappointing to see bias creep into his professional judgment. But that, in the end, paled in comparison with the disappointment I felt at the hard sell I got from Sheppard Pratt. When you think about it, it's clear that ECT is an extremely cheap therapy--a few cents worth of electricity, a few minutes of an anesthesiologist's time, somebody who can interpret an EKG and monitor vital signs. This is the medical equivalent of restaurant iced tea--something you can create for pennies and sell for dollars, and did they ever sell it. I heard stories about people who kept coming back for 20, 30, 40 treatments, about people who loved it so much they had to be turned away. I heard about the benefits of "maintenance ECT." I heard marvelous stories about the wondrous curative effects of ECT. What I didn't hear was any serious discussion about a) its specific applicability to me and b) the particular concerns about memory loss posed when you make your living from observing and recording what you see. There's no doubt in my mind that I could have signed up for twice-a-week treatments for the indefinite future and the only thing that might have thrown a monkey wrench into things would be if Blue Cross began to raise some objection, thus interrupting the money flow.
In the end, I walked away with two lessons here. One is that yes, ECT can be helpful in some circumstances. It is by no means the blunt instrument of mind control that its opponents have made it out to be. If anything, its peril lies in the fact that it is so cheap and easy to administer--and, oftentimes, so fast and effective. Why? Because it's not something anybody should undertake casually. The potential for misuse calls to mind the old United Negro College Fund motto: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Or another, from Roman times: "Caveat emptor"--buyer beware. And that's sad: you'd think that if ever there was an endeavor that should be insulated from the brute forces of the marketplace, it should be the so-called healing professions. Yet if anything, here is where they seem to be magnified.