Category Archives: electroconvulsive therapy

The electric breakfast

Patients’ slang — noted by Dalrymple in a memoir — for electroconvulsive therapy. He explains that it is so described because patients are not allowed to eat or drink before the procedure, which was discovered in an Italian slaughterhouse in the time of Mussolini. In the early days ECT was given without anaesthetic and without muscle relaxants to reduce the vigour of the epileptic convulsions induced by the electric current. Not infrequently patients broke their legs or backs as they thrashed about.

Placebo effect on the doctor

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 08.39.32Dalrymple relates that in Augy Hayter’s Fit to Be Tied,

a patient who has escaped from an asylum returns to his former office, where he was the boss, and advertises for an employee. A young man applies, but in the middle of his interview a doctor (described as having ‘the arrogance of insecurity’) and a nurse arrive to haul him back to the asylum.

The nurse returns

to the office to reassure the applicant, who asks, ‘Is it true he is being given shock treatment?’ The nurse replies that it is and it isn’t; he goes through the motions of having it, but the apparatus has been disabled so that no electricity goes through his brain. The doctor does not know this but is satisfied with the result.

The play, says Dalrymple,

seems to have been inspired by the commonly repeated story of the electroconvulsive therapy clinic in which the machine had broken down but nobody noticed: to which one can only say they cannot have been very observant.

Restoring lunatics to sanity

Pitiless tyrant in a pygmy field

Pitiless tyrant in a pygmy field

The method: insulin coma, electroshock and/or lobotomy

It is an old principle of therapeutics, writes Dalrymple,

that if you can make treatment more unpleasant than the disease, people stop complaining of the disease, even if they don’t get better from it.

William Sargant was

evangelical in his fervour for such treatments. He bore with fortitude the deaths of his patients under his experimental treatments.

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