Kitty, Michael Dukakis speak at La Jolla Country Day School

By Pat Sherman

Former Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, visited La Jolla Country Day School Jan. 20, speaking with parents and students as they toured the campus. Their day began as Kitty met with a group of parents to discuss her book, “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy.”

In 2001, Mrs. Dukakis began undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock, a 

psychiatric

treatment in which 

seizures

are electrically induced in patients. The treatments are used to manage the symptoms of catatonia and chronic depression, which Mrs. Dukakis formerly treated with a heavy regimen of antidepressants.

The controversial treatment received further attention via actress and author Carrie Fisher's recent memoir "Shockaholic," in which Fisher discusses her success using ECT to treat bi-polar disorder. “She brought it to the public in a way that, frankly, left me horrified,” Mrs. Dukakis said. 

Seated in the room with his wife, Michael Dukakis told how ECT treatments have mellowed during the decades. He said the practice has come a long way since its depiction in the 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in which Jack Nicholson’s character receives vicious jolts of current in a “shock shop.”

“It’s a very different treatment today,” he said, noting that the patient is anesthetized and less electricity is used.

Mrs. Dukakis said she received her first ECT treatment on her wedding anniversary. With ECT treatments, she was able to stop taking antidepressants.

“Look at her, folks,” Dukakis said. “Here she is, 75 year of age. I keep introducing her as the best-looking social security recipient in the country.” However, he noted, his wife’s depression is chronic and must be constantly managed. She receives ECT treatments once per month at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dukakis said the procedures have caused some memory loss in his wife. After undergoing one of her first ECT treatments, Kitty Dukakis had no recollection of a trip to Paris. When the couple returned, it was as if she were experiencing the city for the first time. “That’s kind of become a model for us,” Mrs. Dukakis said. “You just forget.”

Following the discussion,  Dukakis visited several classrooms to speak with students and field questions about his two terms as governor of Massachusetts, as well as his stint as the 1998 Democratic presidential nominee. Addressing students in Robert Grasso’s eighth-grade American History class, Dukakis said his positive impetus to seek public office was John F. Kennedy, and his negative impetus, former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

He recalled his time in the early 1950s as a student at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College, where he helped organize a boycott of the town’s barbershops (in response to their policy of refusing service to black customers).  Dukakis wound up starting an integrated barber service on campus, he recalled.

“All of this progress that we’ve made (in this country) was because good people got involved,” he said, urging students to become “actively engaged” in their community and perhaps consider a future in politics. “It’s not only important,” he said. “It’s fun. It makes life a lot more interesting.”

Fielding questions about the current crop of GOP presidential contenders from students and parents, Dukakis did not hold back, reserving harsh criticism for frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. “We are experts on Mitt Romney,” he said of his successor to the Massachusetts governorship. “Before you ever think of voting for that guy, talk to us. … He was a lousy governor.”

Of the GOP contenders, Dukakis said he preferred Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race following the New Hampshire primary. Huntsman was “head and shoulders” over the other Republican candidates and “has a very responsible worldview,” but “he’s not a Tea Party guy,” he said.

During a mid-day assembly, Dukakis received the school’s inaugural “Friend of Country Day Award.” This is the third year Dukakis has visited with students at the school, in concert with the City Club of San Diego. On Jan. 21 he delivered his annual “State of American Politics” address to City Club members in the school’s community room.

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