I was in my early 30s and at work when I got “the call” from my dad. It was a heart-stopping call re-affirming a long-standing fear—Dad said my mother had fallen and broken her hip. I got the okay to leave work and rushed to the hospital.
Mom was already in surgery by the time I got there. As soon as it was over and I could wrangle the doctor away from all his other concerns, I asked him about my Mom’s prognosis. Not knowing who I was he inquired, “Your Mom is the gallbladder?” “No,” I replied. “My mom fell and broke her hip.” To which he then replied, “No… you’re mother’s hip broke and then she fell.”
It broke and then she fell? Yes. This I would learn is very common when people develop osteoporosis. My mom has osteoporosis.
Until then my familiarity with the term extended only to something that people got when they got old, pretty much like arthritis and age spots. I certainly did not understand that bones could fail due to a lack of density and literally let you down when you need them the most.
For women this story is even more significant with the hormone estrogen, critical to the cell activity that produces bone, beginning to decline in women around age 40.
Fortunately with the proper rehabilitation and treatment, my mom would recover from that fracture and yet again another when she was 82. Now 97, she needs to take a drug that she doesn’t particularly like because it requires her to stand or sit up straight for at least half an hour so she doesn’t get heartburn. And there are other side effects; some people experience constipation.
With this in mind, I started thinking maybe this is not the route I would like to go. Was there a more proactive way forward, so I would have less trouble later?
I started asking my OB/GYN years prior to menopause if she felt this was going to be an issue for me. That first inquiry was met with more of a ‘We can certainly look at that down the road’ type of response and a recommendation to increase my dairy intake to address my concerns. I went home disappointed in myself that I did not press her. At our next annual visit, I resolved to further plead my case. I told her about my mother’s curved back and her falls, and how my grandmother also had a hunching of the back.
Being made aware of the deeper family history and my persistence must have done the trick. I received my first DEXA scan for bone mineral density about a month later. The result: I am already experiencing some bone loss, a condition called osteopenia.
While this diagnosis scared me, I felt validated that my personal and proactive advocacy made the difference. As a result, I now know I am doing everything I possibly can at this stage of the game to avoid having to take drugs later. Enhancing my nutritional intake of calcium, and taking a daily supplement and vitamin D is hopefully doing its thing to preserve my bone density. My next DEXA scan should show how much progress I’ve made.
Oh, that reminds me—I think it’s time to ask my doctor about getting that follow-up scan!
Read our feature on how to proactively plan for a healthier menopause here.