Oh, so I haven’t blogged about this yet, but I went up to Seattle with my family about a week ago and participated in the National Institute of Mental Health-funded research project regarding schizophrenia. I had a really great time and the research team was totally fabulous and wonderful!
So, we arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. They took blood samples from my parents and brother and they tried to take it from me, but they couldn’t find a good vein, so I had to get the blood draw the next day in the lab. That first day they only talked to my parents for a short while, then they sent them back to the hotel. My brother and I stayed on and did some interviewing. They asked us some questions about family and my situation with having schizophrenia and stuff. General background info. We also did a couple of tests, like remembering some words and counting backwards from 100 by sevens and that kind of thing.
My brother and I took a cab ride back to the hotel and the cab driver drove like a maniac! I was clenching the seat the whole ride back, convinced that we would end up in a wreck on the way! hehe. We had dinner with my parents and I even got a wonderful piece of oh-so-chocolate cake with raspberry and caramel sauce! Delicious! After dinner I went up to my room. The study paid for my parents to share a room and my brother and I to have our own separate rooms. I wanted to relax, so I took a shower. Unfortunately, when I got out of the shower I slipped and fell all over the bathroom floor. Luckily I didn’t get hurt much. I mainly just bruised my shoulder. I was very lucky the bathroom door wasn’t closed, or I probably would have broken the door or my head!
Anyway, the next day we got up to get to the hospital around 1pm. Of course, we got there very early, because my parents always insist on being extremely early for places. Well, I tend to run late, so that always drives them crazy! heh. Because we were early I was able to get a nice iced espresso drink. Ahh! Just what I need when I wake up! Yes!
We went upstairs and the first thing they had me do was go back downstairs to get the blood draw done. The blood guy was super-smooth and I hardly felt a thing. What a relief! We went back upstairs and got right to work. A lot of the testing involved stuff on a computer. They tested facial recognition, word recognition, emotion recognition, number recall and recognition, shape recognition…basically all sorts of stuff along those lines. It was weird, because these tests weren’t like the SAT tests or anything. There was this one test where my brain just couldn’t work right! It was like seriously fatigued by the test and there wasn’t anything I could do about it! I couldn’t try harder or fake my way through or anything. It was really strange!
After a while of testing, we took a break and got lunch. Then my brother came back and did the tests that I had done and I did the tests that he had done. So, the second part of the day for me involved doing some eye-tracking exercises, and sitting in a lounge chair hooked up to electrode things that were attached to my face and head. In one test they measured our startle response. That test was completely annoying, because I kept getting scared by the startle thing! Just when I would relax, it would come back and scare me! The final exercise was a measurement of my brain activity when they played this thing in some headphones. To me, the noise sounded like someone tapping on a pane of glass right in the middle of my head. It was quite odd. That test was far more relaxing, but it seemed to take FOREVER! I didn’t much care for the tests hooked up to the electrodes, because they were a lot more boring and irritating.
After one last break, they did one more bit of testing where I had to relate back to the researcher a story that she read to me. It was kind of difficult to remember everything exactly the way she said it, even though she had only said it like 5 seconds beforehand! Well, after that we finished up and went back to the hotel and had some dinner with my parents. Then a friend of ours who just happened to be down in Seattle from Alaska and just happened to be staying at the same hotel stopped by! It was kind of terrific to see her, because I had never met her in person until that night, but I had known of her for years.
In a nutshell, when I was much younger, we were a host family for some kids who played baseball in some tournaments down here in Vancouver. Well, one of the kids who we hosted, Eric, has always stayed in touch and so has his mom! They live in the small fishing village called Ketchikan, Alaska. Well, Eric’s mom still lives there, but Eric has since moved to Seattle. So, my parents have met Eric’s mom, Diana, before on trips they took to Alaska, but I had never met her until this trip up to Seattle. And us meeting was pure coincidence! It was strange to meet her after all these years, because it is like she is practically one of the family already!
So, we met with Diana until she returned to her room. Then my brother and I left to go to our rooms. I stayed up all night entertaining myself on the computer and watching TV until morning. Then I went downstairs and greeted my parents and we had breakfast together before they left to do their part of the research! They were at the hospital all day. My brother slept in, then wandered around the city a bit. I just slept and slept until about 15 minutes before we had to leave. I didn’t even get dressed, I just stumbled down to the car in my pajamas and off we went! I was so tired I even took a nap in the car on the way home!
So, yeah, that was the trip! So, what was it all about? Great question. I guess I should have gotten to that sooner. Ooops! Oh well. Basically, they took our blood so they could see if they could tease out genetic markers as they relate to cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia and in people who are first degree relatives of people with schizophrenia who may show similar ways of functioning cognitively as compared with the schizophrenic person, but the first degree relatives will most likely not be as impaired to the same degree as the schizophrenic person. Gah! That is a mouthful and I don’t know if it makes sense. Basically, the hypothesis is that schizophrenic people perform with some deficits in certain areas compared to “normal” non-schizophrenic people. The researchers guess that first degree relatives who do NOT have schizophrenia may perform with more deficits than “normal” non-schizophrenic people on these same cognitive tests. So, these first degree relatives perform somewhere in between normal and schizophrenic on these cognitive tests, despite the fact that they do not have full blown schizophrenia. In the end what the researchers would like to do would be to link up these cognitive deficits with actual DNA and specific genes, so that they might better understand the mechanisms for why schizophrenia happens and how to treat it more effectively. The research is really quite fantastic and hopefully it will really open some new doorways in schizophrenia research.
Well, I guess that is about it. I am a bit tired of writing at the moment. If you or anyone you know is interested in participating in this or any kind of schizophrenia-related research, just send me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction. This study even paid for everything, so we didn’t have to dig out of our own pockets! So yah, I highly recommend research participation if you qualify. It is pretty fun and quite interesting! :) And, it really helps out future generations of people. Oh, let’s hope so they will suffer not at all or at least less!