Brain surgery to cure obsession

51-year-old Australian, who has been suffering from OCD for nearly four decades, underwent a psychiatric surgery at Jaslok Hospital

It’s tough not to notice the patchy skin on Rodney King’s hands as he extends a greeting at his Jaslok Hospital room.

They are his battle scars  the result of years of panic-washing his hands with methylated spirits to make sure they are clean. That’s a chemical that technicians usually use to scrub the stubborn grime off glass and marble.

The 51-year-old Australian citizen, diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), recently underwent a psychiatric surgery at the Peddar Road hospital to cure him of the disorder.

An uphill battle

Psychiatrist Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla says OCD, an anxiety disorder characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions such as cleaning, checking on things repeatedly, counting or hoarding, is a potentially disabling condition.

“The patient is trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviours that are senseless and distressing, but extremely difficult to overcome.”

Between two to five per cent of the world’s population suffers from it, and only a handful of these cases worsen into treatment resistant ones.

For King, it did, and that meant that he’d constantly worry about contamination from germs.

“I’d spend hours every day washing my hands, wiping door handles, and even the insides of my wallet, often having to dry currency later,” he remembers, as his 80-year-old mother Evis, who accompanied him from Gosford, looks on.

“When I’d step out of the house to get to work, my eyes would be fixed on the rear view mirror. Even on an empty road, I’d turn the car to see if I’d hit someone.”

Psychiatrists say most OCD cases are triggered by traumatic events. Evis recalls first citing symptoms when King was 13. “It was soon after a car crash in which his elder brother died.

He, who was also in the car, blamed himself for his brother’s death. He began obsessing about death, would want to stop at cemeteries and often imagined gravestones around him,” Evis says.

Over the years, King’s compulsive behaviour intensified, affecting not only his professional but personal life, too. King, whose last job was as an apprentice at a telecom firm, stopped going to work 10 years ago after being consistently yelled at for missing deadlines.

“His marriage ended after two years in 2008; his wife could no longer cope with his compulsive behaviour,” Evis adds.

“It’s not that I didn’t try medication or traditional therapy,” King says. In the last 33 years, he has undergone 40 sessions of electro convulsive therapies (ECT), and 20 sessions of cognitive and behavioural therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

But it only offered him temporary relief. Three months