University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Electroshock Therapy (EST)

I spent my last month of Wesley internship on the neuropsychiatry service, serving as chief executioner without comprehension of the instrument of torture in my hands — electroshock. Before breakfast daily it was my job to shock 10 to 20 patients, throwing their bodies into desperate convulsions, necks extended, teeth crunching from the power of masseters in spasm, and purple facies exploding with sweat. Each grand mal seizure was followed by grunting, senseless twitchings and blank staring facies, after which my pre-sedated victims passed, at last, into a stunned and stertorous sleep.

All recipients of this supposed blessing of modern psychiatry were reduced by a prolonged series of such convulsive electroshocks to the lowest common denominator: kind old ladies, wealthy merchants and lawyers, Grand Ol’ Opry spouses and young mothers alike, all became vague, soul-less animals, mewling and puking, soiling themselves and crawling into bed with one another. The fad theory of the day was to shock them into oblivion and hope that they emerged on the other side calm, sweet, and rational. It was Bedlam, and I hated it!

The personalities and behaviors of our staff psychiatrists, all Central European, Freudian psychoanalysts, were as varied as those of their patients and fully as difficult. There was, for example, the dapper and famed professor who rose from Chicago street urchin to full professor, but who was nearing disgrace with opiate addiction, in which he drafted all of us on staff at one time or another to inject him, closeted in the linen room. There was the scar-faced Russian, cold, sadistic, and grasping, who ordered the most indiscriminate and brutal and lengthy courses of EST. And there was the grotesquely obese little German who, making frantic, frog-like attempts to escape from his deep lounge chair, would be seized with a showering cough and thrown back into his seat by his very mass.

It seemed to me that these psychoanalytic experts had no shred of humanity left, and, worse, that they knew not what they did. Under orders, I electrocuted the patients while silently cursing their doctors: “A pox on thee!”

July 3

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