Monday, 14 May 2018

Shockingly Low Turn-Out for the Anti Shock Therapy Demo

            On Saturday morning I went to the food bank but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get any food because I had to leave Parkdale by 11:00 for a gig at Queen’s Park. I was there on the odd chance that when Martina came around with the box that I’d draw a number between 1 and 5. Anything higher or news that they would be opening late and I would have to just go home and give up on the food bank for this week. I started reading my book. Angie and Lana came out for their just opening cigarette but I didn’t see Martina with them. I walked west a ways to avoid the fumes. I didn’t see Martina anywhere. I turned east and suddenly saw that everyone had started surging towards and massing around the door. I walked over and saw that a volunteer had decided to just come to the door and hand out numbers to whomever happened to be nearby. By the time I got there he’d already given out the number 21 and so I unlocked my bike and rode away.
After taking my bicycle home I walked out to Fullworth to buy batteries for my clip-on guitar tuner and on the way back I stopped at the liquor store to get a couple of cans of Creemore, one for that night and the other for Sunday.
When I got home I finished the now cold coffee that I’d made before my wasted trip to the food bank and then I selected four pages of my poetry to attach to an application for a Creative Writing course at U of T next year.
After that I had time to pack up my guitar and leave to meet my friend Tom Smarda in front of Queen’s Park. I arrived a bit before 11:30 and there was no one there. At first I experienced the same doubts that habitually early people like me often feel. Did I get the information right? Was this the correct location? Was it the right time? Tom was about five minutes late.
Before we rehearsed I changed the battery on my tuner but found that even at its brightest the LED screen on my clip-on doesn’t show up very well in the glare of even the hazy sunlight that was coming through. I had to go over to some bushes where it was a little shadier just to get my guitar relatively in tune.
Tom and I were less than a minute into rehearsing the song when some of the people involved with the anti-shock therapy demonstration arrived and came over to say hi to Tom. After we’d all exchanged greetings, Tom politely let them know that we wanted to rehearse and so they went over to the area near the power outlet where the protest was scheduled to take place. Tom and I went through my song once and then he went to join the others. I retuned my guitar and then one of the organizers of the event came over to inform me that the legislature cops wanted me to move my bike. I’d put it on the west side of the stairs against the left side the stone railing that extends from one of the three arches at the top of the steps. I had planned on moving it anyway once I moved down to where the protest was being held but I wondered why they cared that my bicycle was there. Maybe it was for aesthetic reasons or that it was deemed disrespectful to prop something against the building. I suppose it could have been a precaution against the possibility that I could have planted a bomb on my bike to blow up the Ontario Legislature. I had parked it on top of what looked like a little trap door that was about the size of an extra large pizza box, so maybe they didn’t want the door covered. My guess was that what was below were the electronics for the floodlights that shine on the building at night. I moved my stuff against a lamppost on the north edge of the lawn area and on the east side of the central path.
I didn’t check the time but things seemed to get underway around noon as scheduled. This is an event that is put on by the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault the day before Mothers Day every year, called “Stop Shocking Our Mothers and Grandmothers” to protest the disproportionate amount of electro convulsive therapy that is administered to women. Apparently two to three times more women are given shock therapy than men. Currently 70% of shock treatments are given to women, usually for various instances of depression, such as postpartum depression. I was surprised that speakers were talking about people being given ECT against their will, because I thought that was a thing of the past. Bonnie Burstow, reading from her novel “The Other Mrs Smith” describes the main character constantly refusing consent and yet being given electroshock anyway.
In most countries what is required is informed consent but for a patient that is considered unresponsive, someone else can give consent on their behalf. Consent tends to involve signing a document but about a third of those that have done so say they do not feel that they were in the right state of mind at the time of signing to have made an informed decision. Even after giving consent, in many legal systems one still has the right of refusal, but the two extreme ends of Canada are apparently the worst places to be a psychiatric patient in our country because in British Columbia and Newfoundland there is no right of refusal after informed consent. It turns out that the best place to be a psychiatric patient in Canada is Ontario, since the right of refusal is always there. Of course though, if you are taking psychiatric drugs that are putting you in a catatonic state or in any condition in which your judgement is impaired, your will to refuse may also be compromised.
            Connie Neil read from “Aftershock”, her autobiographical account of her experiences with electroshock treatment. A few others stood up and gave testimonies or read the testimonies of others that had appeared at this event on previous years.
The stories of memory loss were often horrific, such as a mother losing the memory of the birth of her two children; losing 27 IQ points; losing 20 years of memory, including how to do simple things like brushing one’s teeth. This last one seems to be fairly common. I shared an apartment with a man in Montreal back in the mid-70s who also lost the first twenty years of his life after his parents gave consent for him to receive shock treatment. All he came to know about his own childhood afterwards were what his parents told him happened. Imagine the power that a mother and father would have if they could re-write their own child’s history. Frederick Serafim said that one of the results of his memory loss was the destruction of the smoothness that he’d acquired throughout his life in communicating with others. He’d lost all the social skills he’d learned, which compromised him in both friendships and professional settings.
While one of the biggest neuroscience discoveries in the last twenty years has been that parts of the brain do produce new neurons, a 2017 study found that the hippocampus, one of the brain’s key memory centres does not create new neurons after the first year of life. If it is true that some parts of the brain to not acquire new neurons, then since electroshock does destroy neurons, which are parts of the body, then the treatment is effectively a type of permanent amputation. It seems to me then that because of this the process of arriving at informed consent for ECT should be as rigorous as it is for those that are making the decision to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
Speaking of transgender people, though I haven’t been able to find any statistics relating to the percentage of transgender women and men that have undergone shock treatment, it seems to me that since a much larger percentage of that population experience depression than do cisgender people, transgender people would be more in danger of being set up as candidates for ECT than the general population.
Certainly an overwhelming number of studies have shown that ECT is effective in the treatment of depression but is it worth the loss of memory? I think a great part of the blame for what would compel people to consent to having their memories destroyed is our society’s obsession with the pursuit of happiness. Depression is seen as an illness and not part of the process of living. When someone asks, “How are you?” we are expected to answer “fantastic”; “great”; “awesome” or at least “fine”.  This compulsion to act happy at all costs and to be made to feel that something is wrong if we’re not happy may be one of the most dangerous aspects of modern life. It may cause us to make desperate decisions in order to kill depression when we have it. Personally I would rather be depressed every day of my future than lose any memory of my past.
Some of the people involved with this event officially announced that next year, in solidarity with the main organizer, 87 year old Don Weitz, they plan to join him in a hunger strike on the day before Mothers Day next year.
After the testimonials, we came to the musical portion of the event. Diem Lafortune, also known as “Mama D”. The problem was that there was only one microphone and no microphone stand and so one of the organizers of the event had to stand and hold the microphone up so Diem could be heard. She did a song I’d heard her do before that asks, “What are you gonna do with the pain inside of you?” Her second song was new and very slow but I didn’t pick up on what it was about.
Then Tom and I were invited to the microphone. I introduced my song by explaining that back in the late 80s I had worked moving furniture for the Ministry of Government Services and on one occasion we took the furniture from some offices of the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. I was working alone and was about to flip a desk on its end, slip a hand truck underneath and then wheel it out to the truck when I checked the drawer to see if it had been emptied and found a manual entitled “Instructions for Electroshock Therapy”. I took the little book home and turned the instructions into a song of the same name. I sang it while Tom tossed in some guitar and a few shouted repeats of the lyrics. Naomi was kind enough to hold the mic to my face while I sang, though during instrumental bits she put the microphone near the guitar, which caused me to hit it with my hand when it jumped higher up the neck.

Plug the female end of the cord into the place where it’s meant to go,
plug the male end into any, any, any old electric hole.
Now hit the switch,
the light is green,
Why don’t we wait now to warm up the machine?
We’re wearing white and we’re feeling clean
for shock therapy!

We strap their legs and their arms
for shock therapy!
They can’t do any harm
without their memory!
Shock therapy!
And if you think someone’s insane
why don’t you drive some lightning through their brain?
They won’t remember who to blame
for shock therapy!

Undress the patient and then lay them down just like a sacrifice.
To avoid any bruises let no metal touch the skin,
that’s my advice.
Now take a razor and shave the hair
around the temples, then rub electrode-jelly there,
put some on the electrodes and we’re soon prepared
for shock therapy!
Under fluorescent glow!
Shock therapy!
You know their flesh looks so cold under that canopy
for Shock therapy!
We dance some sparks through twisted wires
and randomly black out the stars.
Best of all it doesn’t leave any scars.
Shock therapy!

(Chaotic guitar break)

Insert and fasten the mouthpiece so the patient won’t bite their tongue,
slip a pillow underneath the back to reduce the spinal motion,
now turn the shock-power-switch on
and rotate the dial to choose the voltage you want,
to serve another cold meal in the restaurant
of Shock therapy!
Let’s fry some frontal lobes with shock therapy!
add some gelled electrodes to the recipe
of shock therapy!
But if you want to make it work
use a tight rubber belt to hold those spastic jerks.
Let’s burn up the temples and raise the church
of shock therapy!

Keep in mind that every patient has a different convulsive threshold,
so start at three-tenths of a second at ten or twenty volts.
But the voltage on the screen
is not the voltage in the human being,
so let’s meditate upon the golden mean
of shock therapy

(Spacey meditative instrumental)

Multiply the patient’s current by the machine’s resistance,
then subtract from the meter voltage.
Is all of this making sense?
Now push the start-shock button on,
and keep your finger there until the shock is done,
secure the jaw and force the shoulders down
for shock therapy!
We’re looking for the threshold
in shock therapy,
but if convulsive codes have not been breached
in shock therapy,
either the threshold has not been found,
or a delayed attack is coming around
in ten to twenty seconds on the killing ground
of shock therapy!

If unconsciousness follows the charge a delayed attack will come,
but if you’re looking for a grande mal seizure, just raise the voltage some.
Two hundred and fifty volts
at point-one seconds makes them shake like Jell-O,
though for the rest of their lives they may be walking slow
from shock therapy!
To get a grande mal seizure,
from shock therapy,
you know it couldn’t be easier, get one right away.
Shock therapy!
Just two hundred volts
at point-fifteen seconds could deliver some jolt,
so it helps us to remember it’s the patient’s fault
in shock therapy!

For details on injections of amytal and other drugs,
just in case you want to reduce the violence of these convulsions,
refer to current literature,
so now we’ll open our books to page thirty-four
as we all join together now to sing a prayer
to shock therapy!

After we were done Tom said that into the mic he agrees with Don Weitz that there is no such thing as mental illness. That seems like an absurd statement to me. One would have to be able to deny that physical illness exists or that somehow the brain is miraculously the only part of the body that does not get sick. A more legitimate statement would be that everyone has some degree of mental illness.
Tom finished things off with a much gentler choice of one of his own songs in which he had the nice rhyme of “fragrant” and “pavement”.
Afterwards, almost everyone at the demonstration told me that my song was great. Don Weitz told me about three times that I’d done the best anti-shock therapy song he’d ever heard. He added that he’d thought from the sincerity that I’d put into my performance of the song that I must have had shock treatment myself. I assured him, “I’ve been shocked, but I’ve never had shock.”
Considering that a third of those that give consent to receive electroshock treatment don’t feel they were fully informed, it was surprising that there were only about fifteen people at this protest. It didn’t seem very well organized, which was evidenced in the fact that they didn’t even have a microphone stand. Their slogan for this year was inspired by the Burstow novel, as on their banner was written, “I am the other Mrs. Smith” and people were asked to chant the same thing. I can’t see how anyone passing would know what the hell “I am the other Mrs. Smith” even meant. I think they should make their slogan more to the point so that the tourists taking pictures of the old building with their selfie sticks could hear something like, “Stop electroshock therapy now!”
Tom said that they told him that next year they should have us play at the beginning rather than the end. If we get invited to perform next year I think I’ll bring my mic stand.
            I walked with Tom to the subway, we did another hug and then I rode home. The Spring Into Parkdale festival was going on throughout my neighbourhood but I didn’t go out again that day.
            That night I watched a fairly predictable Alfred Hitchcock Hour teleplay about a stock market con artist who preys upon women of inherited wealth that do not know much about investing money. We see his modus operandi at the beginning as he swindles a young woman out of her life savings after having charmed his way into her affections and then investing her money in a stock that failed. He claims each time that he has lost everything as well and that he is in the same financial boat as his loved one, but then he disappears with a suitcase full of her money and changes his name.
            We next see him as James Jarvis Smith on a plane pouring on the charm to an elderly woman named Mary and her companion Agatha. He finds out the hotel where they live and claims that by coincidence that is where he is booked. Of course he isn’t but he manages to charm his way into getting a room anyway. Mary is quite taken with Jarvis and thinks he would be a good match for her companion. Agatha though is standoffish with Jarvis at first and it seems that she does not trust him, but eventually she comes around and they begin a romance. He tells Mary of the stock in which he wants to invest but she says that she always shows all potential investments to her attorney first. That night her lawyer mysteriously dies after a visit from James Jarvis. Mary ends up giving power of attorney to Jarvis, which means that he has access to Mary’s money and the freedom to invest it wherever he wants. Once again he took everything she had and pretended to invest it in stock, for a company that no longer exists. He then told Mary that he’d lost hers and his life savings. Mary is devastated that she can no longer provide for her niece and that she’s lost everything that her father and his father had worked for. When Agatha comes home from the market she finds that Mary has shot herself dead. Mary’s niece comes to see Mary but Agatha tells her she’s resting. Aileen informs her that her and Mary have been swindled because the Arlo Trust Company no longer exists. Agatha gets in touch with James Jarvis and tells him the lie that their problems are over because Mary has just inherited her brother’s estate but she’d like Jarvis to come down and explain the documents to her. Of course he comes. Meanwhile Agatha takes Mary’s gun, wipes the prints from it and puts it in a drawer. When Jarvis arrives she tells him that she needs to show him something that has her worried. She says that Mary has bought a gun and Agatha asks him to take it and get rid of it because it frightens her. So now his prints are on the gun and the gun is in his pocket. She lets him into Mary’s room and locks the door behind him. He discovers that Mary is dead and tries to get out. Agatha calls the police to tell them that Jarvis has just shot Mary. He uses the gun to shoot the lock off Mary’s door so he can get out but emerges from her room holding the gun just as the police arrive in the apartment. They shoot and kill him.

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