I have mentioned several times how I attempted suicide on my 30th birthday and was hospitalized and then had my first ECT just a couple weeks later.
This is the story of how that happened:
The day of the event, my wife came home from work to find me laying on the bed and a belt still dangling from the bathroom door. She freaked out, especially because she saw the belt first and didn’t know where I was. She got in the bed with me and laid there as long as she could (we did have a 15 month old daughter), asking me repeatedly if I needed to call anyone, if I needed to go to the hospital, what she could do to help. I convinced her that I was alright for now, and in the morning I would make an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist.
My therapist is always available for me to call and both myself and my wife have done that. My sister has rushed to help and my father is usually the person that gets called first. But the situation had passed and everything seemed safe, so we went this direction.
In the morning I called into work, telling my boss (my father-in-law) what had happened and that I would be out of work until further notice. I got an appointment with my doctor for that afternoon and I just sort of waited around. At my appointment my doctor was very quick to move on ECT. We had discussed it in the past. We were aware I was on a downslide, and we talked about this being the next step. So here it was! And I have never been more nervous for anything in my entire life.
He was worried about my insurance, something about it meant that he could not perform the ECT, and he would have refer me and hopefully that all went through. I met with Dr. Kezlarian in his Troy office the very next Monday in the late morning. We talked about a couple of hours, very unlike anything I had ever done before. He informed me that he had been performing ECT for decades and almost never saw it not work. But, he also warned me that it was not a treatment meant for bipolars, especially bipolars that rapid cycle. He told me it would relieve the pain I was in then, but he could not guarantee the length of the therapy, or the length of the results.
He also mentioned that he required 7 days in the psych ward at Royal Oak Beaumont to ‘build me up’ to the treatment. After the first treatment I would be evaluated and released in a normal sort of way, but I had to have 7 days in the hospital.
This was the first time the hospital was even mentioned to me. It came way out of left field and struck me right between the eyes. I had never done an over-night, inpatient stay in a hospital before. I had a young daughter at home. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I was terrified of those hospital beds. I was also terrified to become ‘one of those’ types of mentally ill patients that required 24-hour supervision in a hospital.
I pleaded with the doctor to let me do the program all out-patient, but it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t do it. I had to go to the hospital. And better yet, I had to go that day. He originally wanted to start my ECT the following Monday, a full 7 days later. But he did concede that I could start ECT on Friday, as long as I checked into the hospital that day. And this might allow me to go home on Sunday, a day or two early. I agreed and he called the hospital to reserve my room and off I went to pack my stuff and prepare for the next week away from my family and my home.
I couldn’t pack laces or drawstrings, I couldn’t bring jewelry, I couldn’t bring my own pillow.
When I got to the hospital, I had to go into a changing room and take off all of my street clothes, and turn them in, along with my shoes and valuables and ID. They would hold them until my discharge. I was shown my room, which I was sharing with a 93 year old man who was pretty much catatonic, completely deaf, and I never saw awake until my last day there. I got the window bed, next to the bathroom, which was basically my personal bathroom since my roommate never once used it, although he did spill a bedpan full of urine on an overnight nurse.
My group was in occupational therapy when I arrived, occupational therapy sounds fancy but it is just arts and crafts. It is easily the most well-liked group session of the day. I laid down on my bed and tried to calm down. I was mortified at the prospect of what I had to do, stay here for a week, and the only way out was to go through a procedure where they give you controlled seizures in the hopes that your brain switches back to ‘happy mode’.
I first met my group when it was dinner time. Like all hospitals, all food is ordered the day before or that morning. I wasn’t there for that so one of the people at the front desk ordered me a burger and a ton of food to go along with it. He told me that I ‘looked like I wanted a burger’.
I’ve talked about the dynamics of psych-wards before. Everyone wanted to know why I was there, what was my diagnosis, etc. Bipolars usually claim the room, suicide attempts do too, so being both, I knew I was off to a good start.
After dinner was free time, but I stayed in the dining room. The eating disorder girls were all still being supervised as they ate their required calories. I was getting water from the dispenser when a little Polish girl came over and started talking to me. Her story was just awful. Utterly poor, parents nowhere to be found, her brother checked her in and would come visit her every night. Her face would light up like a child seeing the Disney Castle for the first time in person everytime he would walk through the door. She hated food, everything about it. She hadn’t eaten for weeks before she went into a coma and woke up in the hospital. She had already been there for months. When I asked her when she was supposed to leave, she replied with “I hope I never leave, I’ll die on my own”. Not only was she amazingly thing, which was masked by the fact that she always wore huge clothes. But her teeth were decaying, her hair was falling out, she couldn’t even open some of the doors around the unit. She had a hard time remembering things, and told me that she could feel herself growing dumber. Despite all that, she was really beautiful. Her eyes were gigantic and ocean blue and so bright. She was funny and smart, despite what she said, and I really enjoyed the two or three conversations I had with her. She was 18 years old.
That night I went into the TV room and watched whatever was on. My father-in-law showed up around 7:30. I was very surprised to see anyone, but very happy he was there. We chatted about work and stuff in general for awhile and then he left and I went to bed.
The rest of the week consisted of normal things. Breakfast, group therapy, occupational therapy, individual therapy, lunch, dinner, TV, visitors. No need to really dive in. The longer I was there the more comfortable I became with being there. I skipped a lot of my groups because I just didn’t want to be there and no one seemed to care. I kept strong focus on the ECT and how nervous I was about it.
Finally, Friday morning arrived, time for ECT. They woke me up around 5:30am and I got on another bed and I was wheeled down to the outpatient surgery center. I got hooked up to the IV, monitors, etc. In my four sessions of ECT I had two different nurses, but the same MA, Sally. She was really nice, and you could tell she had been doing it for a long time. Both of my nurses were young, younger than me at least. And I remember being really self-conscious around them. I kept thinking about how embarrassing it was to have these people know that I was there due to depression, that I attempted suicide. I have never been embarrassed of my condition, except for every morning of my ECT.
After the ECT, I went back to bed and attempted to sleep off the worst headache of my life. It didn’t work, but I did stay in bed all day long, right up until dinner. And after I ate I had a visitor and then went right back to bed.
I awoke on Saturday hoping that I would be sent home that day, but no one mentioned anything to me. I asked a few people, like at breakfast when I was filling out my dinner menu. I turned to the nurse and asked, “should I fill this out? Will I even be here?” and she told me fill out it either way, no help there.
Eventually around lunch time they told me I would be going home that afternoon and that they had contacted my family about it. Going back into the changing room ad putting back on my street clothes and shoes for the first time in almost a week felt great!
Leaving a psych ward is odd, because you have been through an emotional journey with people, you have been around them and so deeply open and vulnerable, but you know that they only way you will see each other again is if things go badly for both of you again. So you don’t really want to see them again. Some people want to hug everyone, or shake hands, or just wave from a distance. My wife showed up during dinner so I just said goodbye and showed my daughter off a little bit and left.
My ECT continued outpatient for another week. My dad took me to my appointments and home to take care of me each day. The two people that were getting ECT when I started were both inpatient with me. However, both of them completed their ECT on my first day, so come my second session I was with all new people.
I have made a few friends from my hospital experiences over the years. None of them remain very close today, but all of them were very close for awhile. This time was different. I didn’t get any phone numbers or emails or anything. No one wanted to remain in touch, and I didn’t want that either.
I am not a big advocate of inpatient hospitalization for mental illness. It is very expensive, and I don’t think it is very effective compared to the cost. That being said, I did really enjoy my time at Royal Oak Beaumont. If you want to know how to get placed into an inpatient program, just convince your doctor you need ECT and the rest will work itself out.