Not long after my last blog, I could start the pilot of my very first study! For several weeks, Lena, the master student helping me, and I went to the university clinic to meet one or two Parkinson patients on three consecutive days.
We have a screening session and two test sessions, in which the patients are tested during several treatment (medication and deep brain stimulation) states. With only one or two patients a week, it is a quite intense and time consuming experiment. It feels good to organize and run the experiment, though my mood oscillated with the results over the last weeks (it is really hard not to overanalyze your first results!). Several patients were not suitable for the experiment, others had specific assumptions about the aim of the experiment, with useless data as a result. So now, some crashes of the script, misunderstandings, alignments of schedules, accidental presses of shortcut keys, attention problems and adaptations later I can say we are ready to start the actual experiment! Yay!
Though I helped running some 'human' experiments before, I had never worked with patients. Testing patients is definitely not comparable to testing students and requires a completely different approach. Lena and I have experienced quite some awkward moments in the clinic. Without medication or their deep brain stimulator switched on these patients can be quite immobile, and beside helping with putting on socks and shoes and getting them on and off chairs, once we had to rescue an extremely rigid and heavy patient from gliding off a chair. Fortunately there were some nurses around… Before this experiment I had only seen the miraculous effects of deep brain stimulation in Parkinson patients on videos, but it is even more impressive to see it with my own eyes. It is only sad that there is no real cure (yet), only a relieve of symptoms, and the knowledge that it will only get worse... That's quite depressing.
Next to this experiment I have the feeling there's more to do than ever and I rely heavily on my planning skills. While during the bachelor and master I had no more than one or two courses to focus on for several weeks, I now have several projects running in parallel, including teaching work, with different deadlines and priorities. It's a real challenge to work as efficient as possible and not spend too much time on less relevant issues (like a fancy layout of the computer task, or reading a very interesting but less relevant paper I stumbled upon). At the moment I spend a lot of time reading (relevant) papers and writing (grant/ethics/review) and it's good to have the Parkinson experiment as a variation to sitting behind my desk the whole day.
Fortunately there is still a lot of fun and social activity in the lab, which does wonders to stressful thoughts about deadlines, but can also be dangerously distracting. We'll have a lab trip to Amsterdam soon, which also doesn't hurt. :) All in all there is some good progress, and even though there is still so much ahead, it means I’m a tiny step closer to that title…