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Archive for the ‘snake pits’ Category

This morning one of my emails was titled “We will NEVER see ads like this again.”  A truer statement was never spoken with the viewer’s emotions running from a hardy laugh to severe annoyance: weight loss using sanitized tape worms; the ever-sought-after freckle cream – probably from the 1920s — a very young Ronald Reagan, Lucy and Desi Arnez, plus a couple of babies, and a few doctors endorsing some of the popular brands of cigarettes. Others ads from the 1950s demonstrated the arrogance of Madison Avenue in its view of “the little woman,” and the ultimate of ads approving male chauvinism during the peak years.  But the one that really grabbed me was a poster featuring a thin, angry old man waving his cane as a possible weapon.  Printing was simple and to the point “for prompt control of Senile Agitation – THORAZINE.”

“SENILE AGITATION!”  That was a new term for me, and I thought I had heard them all.  Yet there it was in all of its stylized advertising glory; another reference to Alzheimer’s disease easily dismissed as nothing more than a confused grumpy old man. One more reminder of 50-plus years wasted when early attention to this devastating illness might have brought a cure closer.

Frustration dismissed, I wondered about Thorazine, the wonder drug to calm the irritable elder.  Was it a flash in the pan of long ago, just hype for the public, or did it have merit?   I looked it up on the Internet, and found, that indeed, it did have merit and was the first drug breakthrough for help with mental illnesses.

Developed in 1950 Chlorpromazine (CPZ) was a banner achievement for both the medical field and for patients alike.  Marketed in the U.S. as Thorazine (and Largactil in other parts of the world) it was the first synthesized drug with specific antipsychotic action.

That statement made me go “knock, knock” on the door of my memory bank recalling a time when state mental hospitals were commonplace; a last resort where desperate families unable to cope placed their “crazy” loved ones.  The state facilities, under-funded, over-crowded and under-staffed were unable to cope as well, and the hospitals became ugly and shocking “snake pits.”  Early in our marriage Ken and I saw a movie with that title: “The Snake Pit” starring Olivia de Havilland.  An over simplification of her character’s illness was, no doubt, depression which led to horrifying delusions where she saw herself surrounded by countless, slithering snakes.  I suppose it was our first awareness of ordinary people suffering from psychotic problems.  Yet, even in our youthful innocence the movie and the growing social crisis were tucked away in the back of our mental filing cabinet.    

A few years later Ken’s cousin, who was a fabulous school teacher, but suffered from episodes of severe depression tried to commit suicide — several times.  Her husband, at a loss for any solution had her confined for a short time in a state mental institution where she received electric shock treatments, better known as electroconvulsive therapy. At the time I thought how barbaric and wondered if there was no other kind of treatment.  There wasn’t – yet.

Reading about CPZ I found it was considered the single greatest advance in psychiatric hospitals worldwide and became the prototype for phenothiazine, which would later be developed into a class of drugs comprising several other agents, all for the treatment of mental illness.  Furthermore, the availability of this kind of medication began to curtail the indiscriminate use of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery.   Fortified with Thorazine as an alternative treatment, the new phenomenon also became the driving force behind the movement to deinstitutionalize the nation’s mental hospitals.  No doubt those state hospitals, those snake pits, had their share of dementia-related diseases.  In hindsight we know that Dr. Alzheimer’s first case study was found in an insane asylum in 1906 where treatment and conditions were probably even more deplorable.

After reading about Thorazine and how thrilled everyone must have been at that breakthrough, I will now consider that I have been too critical of the medical community. (Although I still believe Alzheimer’s and related diseases would be sitting motionless in a dusty back room had it not been for persons of note: namely former President Ronald Reagan, Sargent Shriver, Michael J. Fox, and others, who brought The Dementia Umbrella diseases to their full prominence finally receiving the medical attention they deserve.)  I have been critical of precious time vanished while waiting for results from research, impatient for concrete solutions.  However, I also believe it’s easy and understandable for me to be restless while Ken continues to slip away and all I want is something to make him better, to bring him back to where he was, to where we were. I just want my husband back.  So we, the loved ones, can’t help but be anxious for researchers to find a cure, or at least a way to effectively manage Alzheimer’s and all of the other Dementia-related diseases.

Through technology, we hold unending information in the palm of our hand in an electronic device no bigger than a deck of cards.  Doesn’t it seem logical; somehow, that knowledge, information, technology and treatment for the ill should be as available as well?  The answer ought to be, “Of course,” but that’s just not true especially for those with mental problems and diseases.  I suppose the mind is like space: so much of it is yet uncharted, so we need a big breakthrough – like Thorazine — and while we are waiting for one, we tend to be impatient.

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