Astonished by the Subtleties
By Penny (Yin) Peng '21
Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research
Children's Hospital Colorado | Aurora, Colorado
July 8, 2019
I had my first shadowing this week.
The “first” does not only mean it was the first time I shadowed in this hospital, but also my first time ever shadowing in the US.
Last week I had a lecture on gait and movement clinical analysis and developed a basic understanding of what is measured. This week I was excited to see how the gait analysis is performed and how the data is collected. The Center for Gait and Movement Analysis (CGMA) at Children’s Hospital Colorado is the first in Colorado that provides a comprehensive analysis of gait and movement. Specialists at the CGMA use state-of-the-art instruments, such as 3D motion capture and advanced video recording techniques to analyze a patient’s body movement and muscle activity while walking. The analysis is used to study related musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders when each week orthopedics surgeons, physiatrists, physical therapists, and engineers review the data together and come up with a treatment plan for the patients.
More background of the GCMA is linked below:
I was lucky enough to see a gait analysis with a physical therapist Dr. Amy Bodkin while Alex, one of our RAs, was assisting and explaining things to me. We also had an engineer Lukus to set up the technologies and perform data analysis.
The patient was referred from Seattle and traveled here to do the analysis. After the patient finished the questionnaire on daily body functionalities, Dr. Bodkin first marked the patellas and the knee joints by drawing two smiley faces using the color picked by the young patient. She also told the kid that he would be dressed and walk like a superhero and the movement would be recorded. At the lab, Dr. Bodkin and Alex helped put on the EMG devices and the shiny grey balls that give computer images. I was surprised that they also have a great number of colorful bands for the patient to choose, which are used to prevent the devices from falling while walking. After the cameras were set up, the patient was ready to walk and run!
When we were waiting for Lukus to quickly analyze the first set of data and set up the second round, they asked the child to come to “backstage” and play with the camera so he wouldn’t feel bored. While the dad was making funny faces and movements for the son, the mom was asking a few questions related to the son’s conditions.
After the gait analysis, Alex opened the closets of the gait lab with a subtle smile on his face. The family and I WOWED with astonishment: there were piles of stuffed animals and toys hidden in this serious high-tech lab! Alex explained that sometimes during a long analysis, the kids will become impatient and tired due to children’s nature and muscle weakness. They prepared toys for negotiating with the little patients to follow instructions on the physical exam later on. I figure this is a very smart way not only to care for the patient’s disposition but also ensure the analysis goes smoothly. During the physical exam, the patient was very compliant so Dr. Bodkin was able to measure the range of motion without any problem. The data collected will be analyzed by Lukus and the other health providers will review the data together next week. I have already signed up for it and feel very excited about the meeting!
After the analysis, I conducted an informal interview with Dr. Amy Bodkin. She had been into this career long enough that she experienced the history and development of physical therapy. I think it was very interesting to see how this career has been developed so fast since the past few decades and how people’s perception has been changing toward rehabilitation. She told me that a big part of being a physical therapist is helping people and shared her experience of teaching a cerebral palsy patient on how to ride a bike. She was very proud after they succeeded because keeping balance is especially difficult for these types of patients. When she heard my question “what is your biggest challenge of working with pediatric patients”, she laughed and told me that working with a child is actually working with the whole family which is the hardest part. However, she said this is also the highlight of her job. She is very glad that she is not only able to help the little patients but the families as well. Even thought the work is tough, it is worth the effort.
I feel like this is very true. The parents today did remind me of my own parents a lot. When I was a kid, I had asthma and bronchitis so I always got sick and went to the hospital. My dad was the person that made funny faces or told jokes to make me laugh while we waited. Working as a nurse, my mom was able to ask a ton of questions related to my conditions. She was also always able to verbalize my symptoms very well since she knows what to observe and what to emphasize. She even woke up in the middle of the night to check if I had difficulty breathing. Health professionals must patiently explain everything in great details and sooth the patients’ anxiety. I can imagine for cerebral palsy, how much time and energy the family needed to put into the little patients and how anxious and exhausted they may become. This great parental love can put even more pressure on the health care providers but it is also their duty as parents.
My mother was one of those parents that shouldered this pressure. When I was a kid, my mom worked as a nurse in the pediatric department. Her technique was so good that she was able to insert the needle in the hair-thin blood vessel of newborn babies who are in extreme emergent conditions for the first try. She didn’t spend a lot of time with me until she went to a different department. I didn’t understand why she didn’t make me dinners during the weekdays and why she sent me to a boarding school when I was in kindergarten. She explained everything she did when I got older and told me that she was devoted to saving numbers of little lives. I completely admire the sacrifice and feel so proud of her. This also plays a very important role in my passion for health care and gives me the motivation to work hard for my goal.
At the end of the day, it was an honor to listen to this advanced physical therapist sitting in front of me telling her stories. I really appreciate that she was willing to spend time with me and offer such a valuable shadowing experience.
I was also amazed to observe the details that were followed by health providers here. Even though buying various colors of markers and bands as well as stuffed animals were not pricey efforts, the love and care for pediatric patients are deeply rooted in the organization, making it one of the best hospitals for children.
To achieve big, start small.
Penny (Yin) Peng '21
Penny is a biochemistry and molecular biology major with minors in chemistry and psychology from Guangzhou, China.