Polly Creveling was swooshing through two feet of deep, fresh powder at Alta Ski Resort when her right ski got stuck in the hard snow below. Her body twisted forward but her boot didn't pop out of the ski. She began to scream from the shocking pain in her knee.
As a third-year medical student at University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine, Creveling wasn't exactly sure what was wrong, but she knew she couldn't ski or walk. She knew she certainly wouldn't be running that marathon she'd been training for over the past few months.
Ski patrol careened her down the mountain and her boyfriend brought her to a University of Utah Health Urgent Care. The doctor told her to wait a few days for the swelling to decrease before going to the Orthopaedic Injury Clinic. Creveling couldn't wait. She was on her weekend break between six-week rotations.
"I needed to get things rolling," she recalled.
She hastily went to the clinic the next day. The fellow told her what she didn't want to hear: her ACL was torn.
"I felt crushed, simply, simply crushed," Creveling recalled. After 24 years of skiing, the 27-year-old had finally gotten hurt for the first time. The medical student knew surgery would be coming, but so were her new rotations. She worried she wouldn't be able to take time off to recover due to her school obligations.
Then, Joy English, MD, who taught Creveling during her second year of medical school, walked into the room. Creveling was relieved. She knew she was in good hands with Dr. English, who is the team physician for the Real Monarchs and multiple University of Utah sports teams.
"It was a lot of fun to go over some of the physical exam and things I had taught her in her course," said Dr. English. "It was like coming full circle."
From an MRI to the follow-up appointment, everything proceeded quickly, allowing Creveling to continue to her next rotation—even if she did have to use crutches.
What particularly impressed her was how willing Dr. English was to answer her many questions. The same was true of Travis Maak, MD, head orthopedic team physician for the Utah Jazz, who did Creveling's surgery.
"They took the time to explain everything in such detail, in language I'm used to, so I could make an informed decision," Creveling said.
Before her accident, the student had been thinking of reaching out to her former course director to discuss career choices. The ski accident and her time as an orthopedics patient only heightened her interest in Dr. English's field. Now she's considering sports medicine, if she goes the nonsurgical route, or orthopedic surgery.
Dr. English has been happy to be both doctor and mentor.
"Sometimes in medical school it's hard to understand what everyday life might look like in a specific field," Dr. English said. "It was nice to talk to her about my job as a sports medicine provider … what it looked like 10 years ago and then today."
After her final appointment before surgery, Creveling felt educated about her medical choices and what came next.
"That appointment was the best doctor's appointment we'd ever been to—ever," said Creveling, whose boyfriend accompanied her that day.
It wasn't only her ACL that was injured. With a meniscus tear, too, surgery had become more urgent. Her ACL could be reconstructed at any point, but a torn meniscus heals more successfully if the surgery is within several weeks of the injury.
By having surgery soon, Creveling would be better able to continue her athletic lifestyle in the future and stay on her feet as a doctor down the road. Another bonus? Though the injury made it more difficult to participate in some rotations, it will ultimately help her become a better provider, said Dr. Maak.
"I think she learned something that is far more important: being able to walk in her patients' shoes," he said. "And to be able to recognize the impact of what we do on patients' lives—not just what we do to them."
Creveling hopes everyone receives the same kind of in-depth care she got as a patient.
"This is how comprehensive care could be," she said.