Week 7:
Unexpected, Messy, Perfect

Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research

Children's Hospital Colorado | Aurora, Colorado

July 28, 2019

The theme of this week for me was: embrace the unexpected. No matter how much you prepare for things in life, sometimes, they do not pan out how you wanted them to or how you imagined. I have learned that although life might present challenges, this can be a blessing in disguise and teach you a lot about yourself. This week, I learned again and again that there are a lot of situations and events that are outside of my control, but it is how I respond to them that counts. I also learned that the more I put into what I can control, the more prepared I will be for when things change. Opportunities present themselves when you might not expect it.

Stopping to catch my breath on the Blue Lakes Trail in Telluride, Colorado.
Alex and I made it to the top! You can see the two blue lakes below us that are still frozen, even in late July. This was right before we had to go down the mountain very fast from lightening.

My first unexpected challenge came after summitting 13,000 ft in the mountains in Telluride, Colorado this weekend. Alex and I got a later start hiking than we had planned, and by the time we were at the top, there were thunderstorms rolling in from all directions. After taking a few pictures, we started our descent quickly. I was terrified of falling off the steep edge and my shoes kept slipping in the gravel. A crack of thunder sent goosebumps down my spine as it echoed through all the mountains. We tried to go faster. I felt a deep pain shooting through my knee and I tried to keep going down the slope but ended up scooting down on my butt, gripping the rocks. The knee pain only got worse, but we needed to get down fast. Colorado has a high fatality rate for lightening strikes and I knew that I had to keep going. I saw Alex in front of me and focused on him walking and looking back to check on me. I started breathing hard and tears started to roll down my cheeks as my knee pain got more and more excruciating. We had to cross a few snow fields which put a lot of strain on my leg and I cried out a few times in pain. The rain started pouring, but we made it safely to tree-line after rushing down the mountain as fast as I could go. We got in the car and as we drove down the mountain with the rain hitting the windshield, I thought about how my experience reflects what is is like to be in medicine; you have to keep going even when you are exhausted, when you are scared, when you are in pain. You have to be there for your patients and give them everything that you can, even when it is hard.

The highest blue lake on the trail, the water was so perfect and blue. You can see some of the storm clouds in the distance.

On Monday, I drove to work excited to shadow a posterior fossa decompression and C1 laminectomy. When I got to the hospital and checked the status board, I saw that the surgery had been cancelled and I admit, I was disappointed. I sent an email to thank the doctor for the opportunity to observe and asked if we could set up another time to watch. It turned out to be a blessing because I needed to work more on my journal club presentation and get through more charts. It also gave Penny and I time to go to lunch to meet up with Mark Kendall (director of the Dimensions program at Cornell) and Patrick Carry (Cornell alum, RA here at Children’s, and the guy behind all the stats for my project). Penny and I had a great time sharing our stories and talking about everything we have experienced at the hospital so far this summer. Patrick and Mark also had Penny and I reflect on what we wanted to get out of our internship going forward into the few weeks that are left. I enjoyed answering questions and really thinking about how much I have accomplished this summer.

Another view of the mountains.

After preparing and reading my article thoroughly, I gave my journal club presentation on Tuesday on Salter-Harris II Fractures of the Distal Tibia. The article evaluates if surgical management reduces the risk of premature physeal closure. I had a lot of fun making my presentation and it was a good chance to practice for our upcoming final presentations. I spent most of the morning practicing by myself and with Kaley to make sure that I had not missed anything important and I could explain everything on my slides.

Confident and ready to present my article for journal club!

On Wednesday, I was all set to shadow Dr. Wilson, a sports medicine physician, at her North campus clinic. I was excited for the field trip off the main Children’s Hospital campus. As I was driving, I noticed my car was not working very well and my tire pressure light was on. I stopped by the house where I am living this summer and when I got out, saw that my tire was completely flat. I had to remind myself that things happen and they are sometimes out of your control. After learning that the roadside assistance would not be there for another hour or two, I called my RA and asked if she could send Dr. Wilson an email to let her know that I would not make it to shadow. What I felt was a setback initially, I realized was an opportunity for me to slow down and relax. Sometimes we work so hard and wear ourselves out and I think it was a way that life was telling me to take a moment for myself. I took a nap and put on a facemask and felt so much better and refreshed for the rest of the week.

Data collection wise, I am making great progress and had a meeting with Kaley and Patrick to talk about what I can do for my final project. Patrick did a preliminary review of the data and said it looked great. We discussed some additional variables that I want to address/highlight in the data so that we can make some graphs and charts for comparisons. I came to the meeting with a long list of ideas and left with a solid concept of what I will be presenting on and crafting my project around. It is reassuring and helpful to know what to be working on for the last few weeks.  Even though most of my data will be collected and ready to present soon, I will also keep working through charts to help the clinical team get through the more than 8,000 that are still left in the database for this project.

Going with my theme of being prepared for the unexpected, I took a CPR and First Aid course on campus. It is important to be able to help in emergency situations.

I also got to talk to Kaley about writing and contributing to the manuscript for the research. She said that the more I write, the higher the possibility that I could be one of the authors on the published paper! I have to contribute to a few components of the project to be considered for authorship and I have already been doing data collection. If I write a significant amount of the methods, introduction, and strengths and limitations in the paper, the team will be more likely to reach out for me to help with revisions. With data collection, writing the manuscript, and helping with revisions, I might contribute enough to be a published author!

Life is unexpected and messy, but there are always great lessons and great opportunities in the chaos. Maybe you get turned down from a job, maybe you get a flat tire, or maybe something goes wrong on a big project you are working on. That is when you work hard to assess what you can improve on so that you can have a better application for your next job opportunity, when you learn how to relax in stressful situations, when you employ your creativity to find a new way to complete your project. I think that the unexpected has a way of putting life in a different perspective.

This weekend, I am taking Penny up to Breckenridge with me, and I am so excited to share more of my state with her. I am sad that this summer is going by so fast, but I have a lot of work left ahead of me in the next few weeks before heading back to Cornell. Ready for more of this unexpected, messy, perfect life!

Ouray, Colorado

Alicia Phillips '20

Alicia is a biochemistry and molecular biology major and a psychology minor from Colorado Springs, Colorado.