Lucky Psychiatric Patients

Hospital Shocked by Finding No Sock in Its Shock Machineby Raymond R. CoffeyChicago Daily News , September 20, 1974London.  

For two years, patients in a mental hospital in the north of England were given electric shock treatments that — unknown to anyone — did not work.This bizarre story is recounted in an article in the current issue of World Medicine, a magazine for doctors published here every two weeks. And its author, a doctor involved in the treatment with the nonworking machine, suggests the experience raises a further question whether electric shock treatment — “electrical convulsive therapy,” and a controversial treatment anyhow — really does patients any good. For, he says, the patients seemed to benefit as much from being put to sleep in preparation for the shock treatment — with anesthetics — as other patients do from the shock treatment itself. 

The trouble began, he writes, when an old shock treatment machine quit working and was replaced with a new model that was “obviously a great improvement on the previous edition.” This new machine, he says, “had dials and lights — and switches for different wave forms.” But, although the red light went on and needles moved as they were supposed to, he noticed the patients were not twitching as they had under the old machine. He asked if the machine might not be working but was assured by the head nurse that “Yes, it is. This sort doesn’t give any reaction (in the patients)… It’s in the instructions.” The doctor checked in the instructions, the nurse seemed to be right, and the doctor says, “We used the apparatus for two years with no complaints from the patients.”    

Then a new head nurse arrived on the scene and after assisting in only three treatments declared that the machine was “not working.” She was told that it was, as patients were not supposed to “twitch” while under treatment from this type of machine. “Look,” she said, “I’ve just come from a hospital with a machine just like this and they twitch all right.” The machine was examined — and the new nurse was right.”All the patients had been getting for two years,” the doctor concludes, “was thiopentone and a shot of scoline (anesthetic to put them to sleep) — and no one had noticed.”

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