CALLOUS SHOCK DOCS ZAP HOLES IN
New York Post
By DOUGLAS MONTERO
May 20, 2001 -- LINDA Andre has a five-year hole in her life. Chilling things happen to her, like the time she met a man in the street - a man she had once had an intimate relationship with - and did not recognize him. She treated him like a stranger.
There's the time she sat down to read a book only to be told she'd already read it.
There are happy times forever lost in that five-year hole.
Her graduation from NYU, acceptance into its graduate school, vacationing in California, or the day her roommate called the fire department when their room flooded - all were erased from her mind.
Last week, Andre, 41, attended a hearing of the Mental Health Committee of the state Legislature. There she told the state suits about the electroshock treatment that blasted the five-year hole in her brain.
"It was horrifying, not just to me, but for the people who knew me," the Manhattan woman said about the 1984 electroshock treatment she received when hospitalized for severe depression.
The hearing was designed to find out why shock treatment has increased by about 70 percent over the past 18 months at state-run mental hospitals and whether it is being monitored properly.
The increase comes mostly from mental patients or their relatives who agree to the procedure and get a judge's order.
But there's mounting evidence state doctors are getting too aggressive in their ordering of the procedure.
For example: Paul Henri Thomas, a well-read, mentally ill Haitian immigrant, agreed to get zapped at Pilgrim State Hospital in June 1999.
After three sessions he said "stop," and the doctors at Pilgrim suddenly said Thomas was incompetent and went to court. He got zapped 57 more times.
John Javis, an advocate for the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, told the committee Thomas' symptoms still persist and the Pilgrim docs are literally cooking his brain.
There's also Adam Szyszko, a 25-year-old Pilgrim patient who also objected but got zapped anyway before lawyers could get a court injunction.
His parents can't even get him out of Pilgrim for their treatment of choice - psychotherapy. Szyszko is allergic to medication and docs want to zap him some more.
But it appears these doctors also suffer from memory loss.
Committee Chairman Martin A. Luster (D-Ithaca), an assemblyman, and State Sen. Daniel R. Hevesi (D-Queens) both asked the state for statistics on electroshock.
And the response from the state Office of Mental Health? There aren't any!
Instead, OMH sent the state's well-respected electroshock czar, Dr. Harold Sackheim of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, to the hearing.
Sackheim, who has been zapping people since the late '70s, said electroshock is used as a last resort when medication does not work. He said electroshock is being "stereotyped" even though he said his experiments show it more effective than drugs to treat depression.
But Sackheim babbled like an electroshock patient when Luster asked him why doctors are quick to zap willing mental patients and are even quicker to declare them incompetent when they say "stop."
Sackheim told the committee that short-term memory loss is brief and later recouped. But Andre's problem is permanent - life altering.
She can't hold a steady job because she can't concentrate. Andre, an advocate for the Committee for Truth in Psychiatry, said she knows one electroshock survivor who lost 25 years of her life.
Some electroshock patients lose the memory of their children's childhood. They don't remember why they love their spouses.
"You lose the whole context of the relationship," she said.
There is clear-cut evidence that electroshock works, as Sackheim and the established medical community say - which is fine.
There is also clear-cut evidence that it bulldozes people's brains, and that's a risk that should prod state legislators to act.