Come back story an award winner

By Geoff MacQueen
Miner and News
April 28, 2001

Wayne Lax doesn't remember his wedding day. He doesn't remember his suicide attempts. He doesn't even remember much about his son.

That's because over a 25-year period he was in hospital 108 times, medicated with up to 17 pills a day, and subject to 80 electroconvulsive shocks.

"I had more pills pumped into me than Elvis Presley."

He says 70 per cent of his long-term memory was erased by the shocks, and his lower back was ruined when he wasn't given enough muscle relaxant before one round.

At no time did he stop being an alcoholic.

He was also a cab driver.

"I was impaired on drugs, and they used to send me out to work."

One day in 1992, everything changed. He was in a car accident, and lost his license. Without his livelihood, and realizing the danger he was posing to himself and to others, he was forced to re-evaluate his life. Lax chose to give up the prescription drugs and electric shocks that had controlled him for 25 years.

"When I left the pills alone, the urge to drink left," he says.

What remained was a fierce will to help others who were going through the medical system he had survived. Since then, he has been speaking out about the psychiatric system, and especially about the dangers of electroconvulsive therapy.

"I just want to help other people, because I lived in hell for 25 years, and it put 30 people around me through hell."

In order to help others, the man doctors said would never be able to live on his own is on the board for Changes Recovery Homes Kenora, is a regional representative for the Northwest Ontario Patient Council, and is a member of Sunset Country Psychiatric Survivors, The Association for Community Living, People Advocating for Change and Empowerment, and more other associations than even he can remember offhand. His legal battles for justice for his family and for himself still continue. He has been interviewed by newspapers and magazines across North America and Great Britain, and is one of the subjects of a recent book, The Last Taboo, by award winning journalist Scott Simmie.

His most recent accomplish-ment is the "Courage to Come Back" award he received, signed by rower Silken Laumann, honourary chairman. The award is presented by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

"I was quite honoured. My sister nominated me Joyce Roller in Thunder Bay."

As part of the nomination process, she sent Lax's story to the center. The award is "in recognition of his courage to come back."

Lax not only came back, but came back with a story to tell.

He says he isn't against all doctors or all psychiatrists, but some of them become dangerous because they have too much power. .

Lax said one doctor "was like God to me, he was like a father."

This doctor, although not a psychiatric professional, was able to prescribe mind altering drugs to Lax, in spite of one psychiatrist's insistence this was counterproductive.

While Lax acknowledges medication helps many people he thinks it makes no sense to prescribe to alcoholics.

"They're giving you another addiction."

He is against electroconvulsive therapy under all circumstances.

"It's a barbaric treatment, and I'd like to see electroconvulsive therapy banned," he says. "If shock is the answer, why are people in the system for 40 years?"

The answer for Lax was a combination of addiction counseling, self help groups and a great support system, starting with his family.

"They probably felt like giving up on me, but they didn't."

Although his life is together, Lax thinks society's problem is getting worse, with funding cuts causing pressure on doctors to empty beds, even if only with a quick fix like electroconvulsive therapy. He says patients who can't take care of themselves are being left homeless on the street, with no support. '

"It's easy for people to say 'People have to help themselves'," he says. "When I could focus, then I could do something with my life, but you can't under 17 pills a day."

This is why he says he has to try to help other people caught in the system. He has support from people across Canada, the U.S. and England, and in turn he gives support to people who can't help themselves.

"Sometimes I lie there at night with pain in my back, and I think 'How can they do this to a human being?' But I get up in the morning, and I think about how I'm going to help someone. You can't dwell in the past."