by Kimberly Suiters
“A little dab’ll do ya,” Jack Nicholson’s character jokes moments before one of the more haunting scenes in American cinema. The seizure that follows a portrayal of electroshock therapy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest helped form a devastating public opinion of the procedure, including Morry Efrach’s.
“Like Frankenstein, I figured, they attach electricity to your head and they start buzzing your brain. No way,” says Efrach, sitting outside an Arlington cafe on a sunny March morning. “I thought they were crazy. I thought they were trying to kill me.”
Rewind to 2010, the year Efrach, a married father of three and real estate agent, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, Burkitt’s lymphoma, typically found in children.
“The moment the doctor saw me she said, ‘Young man, get upstairs to oncology immediately.'” It was his first appointment to find out what was causing his night sweats, his physical pain, his bizarre sleeping habits. His cancer had already progressed to stage IV.
A year of chemotherapy followed. Every three weeks, Efrach would check in to the hospital, endure a full week of chemotherapy, and then go home to rest. Looking back, he can see the way depression began to darken his mind.
“It was like a dark cloud beginning to slowly descend upon you. So you’re not really controlling the thought, it’s coming on you. It engulfs your thinking, your perspective, your life.”
Depression morphed into paranoia. Efrach says something in his brain simply snapped, and from that point forward, every day was misery. He holed himself up in his bedroom, grew a beard, lost 60 pounds, and lost all hope.
But his devoted wife, Adriana, did not.
She checked her husband into two different psychiatric wards, first at Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, then at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. Doctors at both facilities recommended electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.
“I knew what they were up to. I completely thought they were trying to kill me,” Efrach admits. “In my paranoia and mistrust, I refused to have anything to do with it.”
The doctors, Adriana, and friends from their synogogue begged Efrach to reconsider. One year ago, he relented.