Part 3 of 5
Stunned. Again. My hands fell away from my face, and now it was me staring at her. And I started shaking my head. "What's that? That's not like brain shock, is it?"
Mel nodded. "Yeah. He's taking me off everything, then try a few ECTs, then reintroduce meds, and do a few more ECTs."
"Dr. B is an asshole," I said. "Don't do it. Oh, Mel. Please, don't."
"Dr. B is a genius," she said.
"He's still an asshole." I'd met him a couple of times over the years, and the man had absolutely no bedside manner. One of those doctors who clearly thinks he's God. I didn't like him at all. And I didn't trust him. "That's like…" words failed for a moment, but then I found the right one. "It's barbaric. I mean, I can't believe they even do that these days."
Melanie was laughing at me. "Oh, Jessie. It's not like the old movies, honestly, it's not. They won't strap me down. And it all happens under anesthesia. It's not at all what you're thinking."
"I'm thinking they're going to zap your brain with electricity. It's awful. Are you in your right mind? Because I don't know how you can even consider this."
There were tears on her face. "I knew you guys would react like this. It's not like it's an easy decision, but I don't know what else to do. I can't do weeks of med changes. I can't. I can't do it without mom."
"Why? What did mom do that we can't? There's a whole truck-load of us. We'll help you through it."
Her tears kept coming, and because she was lying on her side, I watched their slow progress, a pool in the corner of her eye until it welled over, slid across the bridge of her nose and along the bottom of her other eye, and then zipped past her temple to get soaked up by her hair. My poor, damaged sister.
She whispered, the girl who tried to leave her voice behind, and she said, "When I was frustrated, I screamed at her. When I was hopeless, I'd lay with my head in her lap and sob like I was a little girl again. When I was scared I'd call her and say, 'Mommy, mommy, mommy,' over and over again, and she'd say, 'I'm here, I'm here, I'm here,' over and over again.
"I was old enough to know what happened to little girls who were taken," she said, and I cringed.
I'd been old enough to know that, too.
"I wasn't the first girl he took. But I was the only one found alive."
I knew that. Or had known it at one time, because though the fact was buried deep in my brain, the words gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu.
"I was tied up and gagged, and I was so desperate I chewed through the cloth – the ugly, gray dirty thing he had stuffed in my mouth and tied around my head. I gnashed my teeth, gagged, and ground my teeth together some more. I broke two of my teeth, remember?
"Everyone thought he hit me in some struggle to rape me, but it wasn't true. I just let him do that. But when he was gone, I broke my teeth chewing through that rag. And then I screamed for my mother. And I screamed and screamed until my voice was gone. And someone heard me. Someone heard a desperate child screaming for her mommy, and that someone saved my life.
"I remember the sunlight so bright that it hurt my eyes, and hands picking me up, and then I went away inside my head again, the way I did when he raped me, not realizing I'd just been rescued. And then mom was there, and her arms were holding me, and her smell was all around me, and I thought, She came. When I was so scared I thought I would die, I yelled for her and she found me. It took me a long time to believe that a stranger saved my life, not mom. I asked her about it several times, and she told me the truth, but even now, what I remember is that I screamed for her, and she was there, and we were completely connected. And now when I scream for my mommy, no one answers."
My heart broke right then, and I was crying with her.
Josie nudged me and I found myself returned to the dining room table, surrounded by siblings. "Hey dreamer, what should I Google?"
"Bi-polar treatments," I said, and then, without thinking it through, "ECT." The letters had been flashing on and off in my head since visiting Melanie yesterday. Three neon letters were just begging for Google results.
All eyes turned to me.
I shrugged. "Let's just do a little research, okay?"
"Electroconvulsive Therapy, ECT, formerly known as electroshock," Josie read from Wikipedia. We crowded around her, pulling our chairs closer, leaning over the table to see the screen. No one asked me any questions. We just read along.
After a few minutes, Silas got up and went outside. He came back with his briefcase, and pulled out his own iPad.
"So basically," Josie said, "they zap people's heads with electricity, which makes them have a seizure. And this is supposed to improve depression, but nobody seems to know why."
Silas was reading something different. "Side effects are headache, nausea, and memory loss. And some of these links talk about brain damage."
"We can't let her consent to this," Liz said. "I mean, if she's that sick, she's not capable of giving consent, right?"
"Yeah, you would think," I said. "But honestly? She seems pretty clear in her head. Way more clear than a lot of people there."
"Yeah, but this is so extreme." Liz's voice held a tremor. "My beautiful little sister getting shock treatment? That's just… God. I don't even know."
"Here's a video," Silas said, so we turned our attention to his screen.
We watched people talk about the hopelessness pain of depression, of choosing ECT over suicide.
We found a list of people who'd had ECT, including Sylvia Plath, Kitty Dukakis, Princess Leia actress and comedienne Carrie Fisher.
And we read people's testimonies from people who said it saved their lives, and also from people who said it ruined their lives.
There was way too much information, and so conflicting that it was difficult to know whether to support Melanie's decision or to decry it.
I said, "I'm not sure that we have a say."
Liz wondered, "Could we get a court order to stop her from doing this? Have her declared incompetent?"
"She said Dr. B would commit her if she tried to leave the hospital. So maybe she is incompetent. But then she should do what Dr. B wants, right? And we should support that."
"But ECT?" Liz again. "No. It's a terrible idea. Let's clean up this mess, and then me and Jessie will go talk Melanie out of this."
Jeremy had finished picking at the remnants of the BBQ, and was sitting apart from us, watching and listening. And then he said, "My grandma had ECT at Mayo."
Every one of our heads snapped up to look at him.
"Your grandma?" Liz asked. "Really?"
He nodded. "Yeah. And it helped her a lot. They do a series, you know, eight or ten treatments in two or three weeks. She said it saved her life. She'd stopped eating, like the woman in that video talked about. Some kind of psychotic depression."
"How old was she?" Josie asked.
Jeremy shrugged. "I don't know. In her seventies, I think. I remember my grandfather had died and my grandma never got over being sad. But that wasn't all of it. She started thinking crazy stuff, and then she tried to overdose on her cardiac medication. ECT was safe enough, I guess, and like I said, it helped. My mom and dad were freaked out, but it worked."
"Did she lose her memory?" Silas asked.
Jeremy shrugged. "Maybe some. She was confused for a lot of the time she was in the hospital. I was pretty young, but I remember feeling scared when we visited because she talked about grandpa like he was alive, and called me by my dad's name. And she said her brother had come to see her, but he was dead, too, so that was just crazy talk. My mom said she probably remembered my dad visiting, and got him, her son, confused with her brother. It got better, though, by the time she went home. And I don't remember her being weird or particularly forgetful after that."
Dang, just when I stopped being surprised by Jeremy, he came out with weird knowledge of something like this.