Week 5:
“Thanks For Putting Me Back Together”

Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research

Children's Hospital Colorado | Aurora, Colorado

July 14, 2019

I saw this sentence when I was reading the doctor notes:

“Thanks for putting me back together,” a firefighter said to the nurse after he got tibia and rib fracture surgery.

It is widely believed today that being a doctor means earning a good reputation and good money.

However, my grandfather was respected by people as being an orthopedic doctor but suffered from poverty. Even though I have never met him, I have heard stories of his life.

Unlike medical education in modern days, Chinese traditional medicine was taught by individual doctors instead of medical schools until a few decades ago. He was one of the people who got education from his own father, inherited the legacy and became an orthopedic doctor. At that time, they were not able to do open surgeries like the surgeons perform today, but he could always achieve closed reduction without any later complication. He had a huge pile of notebooks with all the medical knowledge and hand drawing pictures of human anatomy.

Everyone in the village went to him whenever they had a broken leg or simply caught a small cold. As the whole county was generally in poverty, the small village sitting in the middle of the mountains were even way below the average that they were not able to pay for anything else other than food. There was nothing else they could do except for wrapping a handful of rice or a bun in a red paper and saying “thank you”. He accepted anything people paid as medical fee and carried them back to his little broken cottage, worrying about feeding his own kids. Occasionally, he even traveled long distances to see patients in different villages. Throughout his life, my grandfather lived with a great reputation but extreme poverty. My mother, the youngest child in the family, was barely able to survive with little nutrition.

Even though living a destitute life with very limited resources, he never gave up sending his children to school and encouraging them to get educations. Every week my mom went back home, finished eating just rice and pickles, climbing through several mountains, and walking past a couple of graveyards in the midnight, she saw her father standing in the rain in front of the cottage waiting for her with a big hug. It was total nonsense to most people at that time in China when there was strong discrimination against girls, especially for this poor family. He could have sent her to the field or forced her to get married at a young age  so they could earn a little bit more money for the family.

My mother never disappointed him. She successfully got into one of the best nursing schools in the country after years of hard work. However, he was not able to see her work or his children and grandchildren’s cars parked in front of the little cottage every new year since he passed away in an accident. My mother always tells me: “he would definitely be proud of us if he was still alive.” 

Throughout his life, my grandfather has helped fix so many fractures and improve people’s well being in a difficult time like that. Even though he lived a poor life, he left us with the wealthiest lessons: empathy, perseverance, and diligence, which makes good health providers as well as good people.

What a coincidence that the project I am working on with Dr. Stoneback is about fractures. In the past couple of weeks, I have learned different types of fractures and relevant treatments. I got a chance to shadow open surgeries on fracture fixations with Dr. Stoneback this week.

The University of Colorado Hospital where I shadowed surgeries with Dr. Stoneback.

Dr. Stoneback is the director of the limb restoration program of the University of Colorado Hospital. I have seen so many doctors notes about patients referred to the program for complications such as nonunion and osteomyelitis. Dr. Stoneback has successfully fixed non-healing broken bones of various fractures and done research to better understand the risk factors and treatment outcomes.

On my way to the OR.

I shadowed three surgeries with Dr. Stoneback on Thursday. One of the surgeries I watched was the removal of an infected nail that penetrates through the mid tibia and femur. It was a great experience to see the smooth collaboration of health providers in the operation room including nurses, surgeons, residents, medical students in clinical rotations, anesthesiologists, radiologists, and circulators. They helped put on scrubs and gloves for each other while Dr. Stoneback passionately educated the residents and the nurses to perform the procedures. Dr. Stoneback and other practitioners were also willing to explain things to me which I really appreciate. 

The excitement was still palpable even hours after the surgeries. I was thrilled to see how this great work was done and watch the chart review come into life!

I was so excited to be in scrubs!

Penny (Yin) Peng '21

Penny is a biochemistry and molecular biology major with minors in chemistry and psychology from Guangzhou, China.