Editor’s note: Third in a three-part series: On Growing Older.
You might be noticing a theme here the last couple weeks in this column: I am getting older. This is the last of my three-parter and I hope to move on to other topics! But since so many newspaper readers these days are also “older,” perhaps you can identify. And if you are a woman and you hope to get older (especially in light of the alternative), this might be worth reading.
When my post-exam card came back, it reported I had an abnormality. I called right away for an appointment.
A new stark reality hit me hard recently—not in my gut, but more like the middle of my spine. It slammed me emotionally harder than my husband’s retirement, or my getting a hearing aid, because it was and is so unexpected.
The story. Because the insurance people (oh, don’t get me started) decided my regular doctor, Dr. Roussel, was not specialized enough to administer my annual pap smear, I had to find a gynecologist for the first time in about 30 years. After I stopped having babies, I decided that Dr. Roussel, an internist, whom I have gone to 40 years, would do just fine performing the annual dreaded deed—and save me a doctor visit and one bill.
Dr. Roussel recommended Dr. Smith, a female gynecologist he thought I would like equally well in a practice nearby. I took his advice, and the first thing I discovered—just as when I first had a female pastor—was that I really liked how much more comfortable I felt with a woman discussing, well, women things.
The test. One of the things that Dr. Smith asked as she went over my records was how long it had been since I’d had a bone density test, also known as a DEXA scan (which stands for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and uses a low level of radiation). I couldn’t even remember, so she scheduled one for me as soon as possible.
When my post-exam card came back, it reported I had an abnormality. I called right away for an appointment, and they said the vertebrae in my spine were showing signs of losing bone density. That can lead to compression fractures of the spine. Frankly, I was stunned. I thought my back was fine!
The diagnosis. I quickly Googled how to combat it and found lists of things to try:
- Drink or eat milk—in cereal, yogurt, cheeses
- Exercise—focusing on weight-bearing activity like walking and push-ups
- Cut back on salt
- Watch soda intake
- Curb caffeine
- Don’t smoke
- Watch medications and interactions
- Limit alcohol
- Get your Vitamin D, including time outside
- Take calcium
Walking, check; take calcium, check.
Curb caffeine. Limit sodas. Get vitamin D from sunshine. Check, check, check.
I was doing everything on the list right and had been quite regular in exercise for the last 15 years. Yet my spine, according to the DEXA scan, was starting to look like a honeycomb. Call me astonished.
I also thought I was doing well because I had several falls in the last year—the fault of my dog—with no real damage. When I was in my 40s, I also fell quite a distance from scaffolding while painting. That earned me a trip to the hospital in an ambulance, but nothing was broken. So I always felt my bones were in good shape. (Dr. Smith said all of her broken bones over the years—perhaps thrice—were the fault of pets, either dogs or horses. Hmm.)
Genetics. Then my new doctor asked me about my mother. Has she lost height? Oh, has she ever. My mother was tall as a young woman. She’s likely lost four to six inches over the last 30 years. I used to think of myself as tall, but have also shrunk about two inches.
I’m not here to sell you on any particular drug, but Dr. Smith prescribed a generic version of the drug Raloxifene, which is supposed to be great at helping build bone mass—and as a side bonus, also seems to curb occurrences of breast cancer. The prescription costs me zero dollars at Costco. It may not be suitable for everyone, but the benefits and drawbacks should be considered by you and your doctor. I’ll try to revisit this, along with my doctor, in about a year.
So, meanwhile, I’m taking my new medicine, trying even harder to walk at least four times a week, keeping up my push-ups and sit-ups, soaking in some rays, and enjoying frequent servings of cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. I’m also watching my steps very carefully around the cat and dog, and thanking the good Lord—and Dr. Rousell for sending me to Dr. Smith.
If you missed part of this series, you can download a PDF (portable document format): On Growing Older PDF.2 to print or share. Or, I can send it by email or postal mail. Send your request to MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.