Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shock Therapy At The Columbus State Hospital

In the years prior to the late 1970's, many children suffered the indiscriminate pain of incarceration. Status offenders, the ungovernable, mentally ill, and felonious delinquent youngsters were forced to coexist in state and private run institutions. It was not uncommon for a child to be accused of a crime, denied due process of law, and then sent off to be warehoused with adults in jails and other institutions.

In 1960, at age nine, I was one of the those many children also denied due process of law and housed in the same wards with adults patients in the old Kirkbride designed Columbus State Hospital, formerly known as the Lunatic Asylum of Ohio. It was tragic that I along with many other children had to endure such a social travesty. I won't dwell on that now but will say that I saw and heard many interesting things during my stay in bedlam. One thing that greatly interested me was the use of electrical shock treatment also known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.

Although I never experienced electroshock therapy first hand, I met several patients who had. Thousands of patients of all ages, from the 1930's to the late 1960's, received electroshock treatments for many maladies including depression, mania, schizophrenia, and more.

While at the hospital, I became acquainted with a patient we will call Jake. Jake enjoyed telling stories about all the other crazies he had met at the hospital. He told of Ward Sixteen where the shock treatments were administered. I once visited it with an orderly who thought I might enjoy getting out for a walk. When we entered Ward Sixteen I was shocked to see the zombie- like faces staring from their cell windows as I walked down the corridor with the orderly.

When back in my ward, I asked Jake to tell me about what they did to him when he was on Ward Sixteen. He told of getting insulin coma therapy and shock therapy for his depression. He told me how they placed two metal plates on each side of his head and tightened it down. They had home bite down on something and then started the shock treatment. He said he saw lights flashing and heard sounds in his ears. His muscles clamped so tight he feared he would break.

Many years have passed since this nine-year-old boy experienced the horrors of the Columbus State Hospital. The old asylum was torn down in 1991. I don't know what happened to Jake. Maybe he was cured or maybe he suffered memory loss and killed himself as did the writer, Earnest Hemingway and some others after receiving electric shock therapy.

I don't think the final verdict is in on electroconvulsive therapy or ECT. I believe it was misused in the past and caused much damage and ruined lives. But, it is still in use today although administered in much safer ways. It has shown to be useful along with medications and is considered to be efficient in helping manic-depressive patients. Time will tell.

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