ECT vs Ketamine: How Many ECT Treatments To Feel Better vs Ketamine Treatments | Actify Neurotherapies

ECT vs Ketamine – How Many ECT Treatments To Feel Better vs Ketamine Treatments

In 2015, I lay in a hospital bed awaiting an electroconvulsive therapy treatment. Two years earlier, ECT treatments had lifted me out of suicidal depression.  This time, I was 12 or so treatments in and not feeling much better.  Moreover, I was experiencing memory loss that was quite upsetting.  I asked the attending psychiatrist about alternatives.  He replied that some patients were having good outcomes with Ketamine, but it was not available for depression treatment at the large teaching hospital where I was getting electroconvulsive therapy.  I did a little research, and Ketamine looked promising, but I continued with electroconvulsive therapy because it was considered the “gold standard” treatment and because it was covered by my insurance.  

Three days a week, I checked myself into the hospital, went upstairs to the ECT “suite,” donned a hospital gown, and waited.  Eventually, I would be wheeled into a small windowless room and asked to verify my name.  Over my shoulder, someone would call out something about “sux.”  This always bothered me because I knew it meant succinylcholine, the medication that would paralyze my body while the doctor shocked my brain.  I didn’t have much time to worry because I was quickly knocked out by propofol.  Shortly thereafter, I would wake up feeling disoriented, groggy, and achy.  The nurses would monitor my vital signs before wheeling me down to the hospital entrance.  I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day, often with a throbbing headache.

The burden of ECT seemed worth it when the treatment was working.  Unfortunately, this second round offered little relief.  Depression took over everything.  I wanted my life back, but I couldn’t fight off the despair.  Months passed, and I could think of little other than suicide and how to commit it.  I agonized over leaving my children without a mother, but I couldn’t carry the weight of the pain much longer.  I had to do something.

That is when I sought out Ketamine.  Staying alive was more important than FDA approval.  I was concerned about the expense, but my husband pointed out he was still arguing with the insurance company about the cost of my ECT treatments, which were supposedly covered.  The amount the insurance company claimed we owed for ECT far exceeded the cost of Ketamine therapy.

I found a provider through the Ketamine Advocacy Network.  A cousin who is a pediatric anesthesiologist accompanied me to the first appointment.  He assured me that while he knew little about treating depression with Ketamine, the drug itself is completely safe.  He explained that Ketamine is an ideal medication to set a child’s a broken arm or stitch up a cut face because it gives a strong sense of well-being with no danger of respiratory suppression.

When the IV went in for the infusion, I was reminded of the three dozen plus times I had IVs placed prior to ECT.  After that, the similarities quickly ended.  The doctor suggested I listen to some music and relax.  Within 15 minutes, I felt tremendous relief.  I felt like I could finally inhale after slowly suffocating for the past year.  I could visualize the life I wanted and it felt possible to live it again.  An hour later, the treatment was over, and I walked out of the doctor’s office.

I had five more Ketamine infusions over the next two weeks.  Each treatment left me feeling euphoric.  More importantly, my mood stayed elevated even after the Ketamine was out of my system.  I started socializing, exercising, and being productive again.  Eventually, I was able to minimize my psychiatric medications which freed me of the sleepiness, weight gain, dry mouth, and other side effects they caused.  The dream of “getting my life back” started becoming a reality.

When I compare my experiences with electroconvulsive therapy and Ketamine infusions, I am dumbfounded that anyone would undergo electroconvulsive therapy without trying Ketamine first.  ECT requires checking into a hospital, undergoing general anesthesia, being paralyzed by succinylcholine, having electricity shot through your brain, and leaves you wiped out for the rest of the day.  For a Ketamine treatment, you go to an outpatient clinic and get an hour long infusion of medication that quickly leaves your system, and then you go on with your day — and your life.

This Blog entry is written by one of Actify Neurotherapies own patients, Joey H.