Unexpected cancellation on a catatonic patient's electroconvulsive therapy due to the coronavirus pandemic

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General Psychiatry


We report a case of a 39-year-old woman with a psychiatric history of schizoaffective disorder with catatonia, dependent personality disorder and substance use disorder whose symptoms have been very difficult to control. During her most recent inpatient admission, she was treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for catatonia. Our treatment team was hopeful that ECT was making a difference for this patient. However, she was only able to receive two sessions of treatment due to new hospital protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic. Although the patient was not suspected to have the coronavirus, she could no longer undergo ventilation with a bag and mask during the procedure. Bag-mask ventilation is known to aerosolise the coronavirus and other diseases and potentially put healthcare workers at risk. Although orotracheal intubation also aerosolises the coronavirus, this was the only means of airway management still allowed by anaesthesia providers at this time. Our psychiatry team estimated that the risks of intubation outweighed the benefits of treatment, and ECT was cancelled. Without additional ECT treatments, the patient again decompensated for several weeks before being stabilised on clozapine, haloperidol and lorazepam. Although she eventually had a positive treatment outcome, her hospital course was likely prolonged due to unforeseen events related to the novel coronavirus. We feel that the current medical climate is unprecedented and is interfering with necessary psychiatric treatment in an unanticipated way. Anaesthesiologists will need to be flexible while working with psychiatrists and identify safe ways to provide this necessary psychiatric treatment for patients.

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