Anesthesia will be delivered through this catheter. You will fall asleep in less than one minute and will remain anesthetized for 5 to 10 minutes. After you are asleep, you will be given a medication that relaxes your muscles. This reduces body movement when you have the seizure produced by ECT.
You will be in the treatment room for approximately 10 to15 minutes. You will not feel any pain or discomfort during treatment.
While you are asleep under anesthesia, the ECT clinician will begin by placing two small stimulating electrodes on your forehead, which will record your brain waves during treatment. While the ECT clinician is delivering mild electrical current to your brain, the anesthesiologist will help you breathe by giving you oxygen through a ventilation mask. During this time you will be under continuous monitoring.
After the treatment is over, you will be moved into the recovery room. Most patients will wake up a few minutes after they’ve arrived in the recovery room.
Your nurse will stay with you throughout your recovery and will continue to check your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and oxygen level. A plastic oxygen mask will be placed over your nose and mouth to give you additional oxygen until you are wide-awake. When you first wake up, you might be slightly confused. This is a normal reaction to treatment. After about 30 minutes, you will be ready for something to drink. Soon afterward, if you are staying in the hospital, staff from your unit will pick you up and bring you back to the unit in a wheelchair. This is just a safety precaution.
After spending 45 minutes in the recovery room, outpatients will need to spend the next hour and 15 minutes in the recovery lounge. (Most patients are ready to leave two hours after treatment.) Just before it is time for you to leave, a nurse will check your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. A clinician will also evaluate you at this time. Finally, you will be given discharge instructions and an appointment for your next treatment.
Soon after treatment, most people are ready for something to eat. Inpatients can have a meal when they return to their units, and outpatients can have a light meal in the recovery lounge.
Some patients feel sleepy after treatment and will want to take a nap, and others are wide awake and ready to resume their usual activities. Whatever you choose to do, it’s important that a responsible adult be with you for the rest of the day.
“Dr. Stephen Seiner, along with the entire ECT staff (from the secretary to every nurse), have been available to answer any questions and have done everything they can to put both my husband and me at ease.”
– A McLean ECT patient
You should not exercise vigorously, drive a car, operate machinery, or drink alcohol for the rest of the day. You should take your daily medications, and if you have muscle soreness or a headache, over-the-counter pain relief medication should help.
Most patients will notice a positive change in their mood after they have had five or six treatments. Certain behavioral changes, however, may occur before you start feeling better mentally. If you were not able to sleep or eat, you may begin to sleep better and have an increase in appetite. If you were sleeping too much and had no interest in activities, you might start getting out of bed more and wanting to get involved with friends and family. Family members and/or staff usually notice improvement in a patient’s mood before the patient does. Very soon afterward, the patients themselves report that they’re feeling better.
Patient & Family Support
Individuals who are taking part in ECT have many questions and concerns. Our goal is to provide the resources and support necessary to make a comfortable and informed choice to proceed with ECT. Because of the many fears and misconceptions surrounding the treatment, comprehensive support is essential. Psychiatrists, nurses, and organized support groups at McLean and other institutions often work together to answer questions, alleviate concerns, and help keep treatment and recovery on track.
What many people don’t know, however, is that support is also available to help families and caregivers of ECT patients. This support is equally important, because family members and caregivers play a crucial role in helping their loved ones consider the treatment, engage with the therapy team, and move toward recovery.
Because of the many concerns patients and families have about ECT, we’ve created patient and family support groups. Right now, McLean offers a monthly support group for outpatients, education groups on our inpatient units, and a group focused on improving memory and cognition after ECT is completed. Family involvement is central to the success of patient recovery, and it is an important aspect in each one of our groups.
Our ECT support groups offer a safe place where all aspects of the treatment can be discussed openly. Patients and their family members can draw on the experiences of other patients who attend the group. Often, former patients will attend groups to share their experience and tell attendees how much ECT has helped them get back to their life.
The groups provide an opportunity to assure patients and families that modern ECT techniques use anesthesia and muscle relaxants to maximize safety and minimize side effects. Patients and caregivers can also hear firsthand accounts of how memory impairment is experienced by other patients having ECT. The support groups give us the opportunity to separate myth from fact and work toward dispelling stigma.
Another important aspect of ECT family support is that it encourages people to take care of themselves while they are taking care of their loved ones. Helping a family member with severe depression is an important, but stressful, full-time job.
In talking to families at McLean, we often hear about “caregiver fatigue.” Through our groups, we help caregivers optimize all of the support systems available to them inside and outside the hospital. We let them know that there’s a whole team of people who are here to help and support them through the ECT process.
McLean is here to help. Call us today at 617.855.2355 to talk to our team about whether ECT is the right option for you, a loved one, or a patient.