Marie Nørby Madsen was admitted to Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen
when she was 23. Her hospitalisation lasted almost a year.
Electroshock was brought up when she didn't seem to be getting
significantly better from the medication she was on.
"I had heard of it, but I didn't realise it was still in use. I had
an idea of what it was like in the old days, maybe from a film."
I ask what actually happened in practice.
"You have to fast from 10pm in the evening. Then you wake up in the
morning and wait for a porter to take you down for treatment by
transporting your hospital bed. I always thought that was a bit
weird, so I insisted on sitting up in my bed."
"The treatments take place in the basement. You're wheeled down a
corridor into the basement. There are pipes for heating and water on
the ceiling. You go into a room without any windows and the bed is
secured in position. On the walls there are pictures of outdoor
scenery and there's some music playing, which I think is supposed to
"It seems like the smallest room in the world, full of people. There
are maybe eight people around you. One takes your blood pressure,
one measures your heart rate, one attaches electrodes to your
temple. There are maybe six or eight electrodes in total, and you
also have them on your chest and ankles. They apply them with this
gel that makes you all sticky afterwards."
"The doctors ask you lots of questions, like your name and your
social security number. Then the anaesthetist comes and gives you
anaesthetic in a syringe and says, 'think of something nice.' Then
you fall asleep."
Marie Nørby Madsen takes a deep breath.
"You wake up in a completely different place. The first time, I had
to throw up. Your jaws are completely tense. You're a bit confused,
and red from the electrodes. They aren't burns, but they feel a bit
Marie Nørby Madsen received 15 electroshock treatments during her
"I started my treatment at the same time as another patient who only
had three or four treatments. She felt that she was getting much
better quickly. But it wasn't like that for me. After 15 treatments,
they decided to stop because it wasn't having any effect."
One of the last times, Marie Nørby Madsen received the electroshock
treatment, something went wrong with the anaesthetic.
"I was given the anaesthetic and I felt my body relax, but my head
wasn't asleep. I could feel them putting the bite block in my mouth.
They usually wait until you're sedated to do that. One of them said,
'we're ready.' It was only then that I lost consciousness."
"It was like one of those dreams where something is happening that
you don't want to happen, but you can't shout. I couldn't shout,
'wait, wait, wait!'"
The electroshock treatments were stopped, partly because Marie Nørby
Madsen developed anxiety about sedation. She finds it difficult to
judge whether any good came of it. Then she went back on some
medication that hadn't had any effect before the electroshocks. This
time it started to work.
"In a few weeks, maybe a month, I became a completely different
person and suddenly I felt some hope."
At the same time, she was undergoing a good course of cognitive
therapy with a psychologist. She was discharged, but later the
depression hit her again.
"I guess I was pretty stuck with the idea of myself as a patient,
and I had a hard time seeing any point in my life if I wasn't going
to be that anymore."
Marie's story also includes a suicide attempt. One night while
half-asleep, she went to the bathroom, emptied all her pill jars,
and got out a suicide note she had kept in a drawer. It was her
mother who found her after trying to phone countless times.
"I was told that the police collected all the jars, and that some of
them were about half empty. I had to have my stomach pumped, and I
had a short stay on a cardiac ward afterwards. My heart was not