Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Minnesota man fights against involuntary electroshock

From the intro to an in-depth report on Minnesota Public Radio. MindFreedom has been advocating on Ray Sandford's behalf for several months. He goes goes before a judge in St. Paul on Dec. 16 to try to stop the court-ordered procedure. He says he's losing his memory after having more than 30 electroshock treatments.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ray Sandford (pictured) has been getting electro-convulsive treatment, also known as electroshock and ECT, since the end of May. For Ray, the process works like this. Every week or two he is taken to a hospital, where a medical technician attaches electrodes to his head and delivers electrical current into his brain. The current causes a seizure.

For reasons that doctors still don't quite understand, some patients with severe depression or mania get better after having ECT.

But the potential benefits don't matter to Ray. He says he dreads the shocks and wants them to stop.

"It's scary as hell," he said.

Ray is 54 years old, with a receding hairline and a salt-and-pepper beard. He walks with a cane and his hands shake slightly, a side effect from some of the medication he's taking, he says.

We've met up in the basement of the small group home where he lives, so we can talk without disturbing his roommates. I'm warned by his legal guardians who are present for the interview that Ray gets tired easily, so this conversation may not last long.

I ask him what bothers him about getting ECT. Besides being scary, he says the electroshock makes his head hurt for at least a day, and it's wrecking his memory.

"One of the things I have problems with is certain people," Sandford said. "I can't remember their names anymore. And I should be able to remember their names, since I've known some of them a long time. I can't quite remember their names. And don't ask me to tell you their names 'cause I won't remember."

Sandford's doctors aren't allowed to discuss his case with Minnesota Public Radio News. The courts have determined that Ray isn't competent to make decisions regarding his own welfare, according to his guardian, Lutheran Social Services. As a result, he can't give his doctors permission to discuss his private medical record.

But in public court documents, his psychiatrists state they sought ECT only after all other treatments, including psychotropic drugs, failed. They wanted to pull Ray out of a particularly lengthy psychotic episode that began a year ago.