The Faces of Osteoporosis
Lena, Age 52
My Mom and I are a lot alike. People say that of my three siblings and me, I am the one who takes after Mom in looks and character. It’s a good thing; Mom was always full of energy, a caring person, compassionate and generous when she was in her prime. She was humble when people complimented her on how she never looked her age. Mom was strong. She and Dad ran a small mom-and pop grocery store together from 1948 until all of us kids were done with college and settled in our own lives. Mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to get things ready at the store, putting out the produce, filling the shelves. She would come back home at 7:30 a.m. to wake us kids up to get ready for school. The rest of the day would be filled with cooking our lunch and dinner and running us to school and back. In between she would be the checker at the register for the shoppers. She also babysat the three kids next-door while the parents went to work. We six kids spent lot of time together, playing while Mom and Dad kept an eye on us and on the store. They retired in 1976 only because the neighborhood where the store was situated had deteriorated and it was no longer a safe environment.
She is still strong. But now she is strong in spirit and weak physically. When I began my job as a pharmaceutical representative for With Laboratories, Mom was disappointed that I would not be sitting at a desk in an office; she just could not catch me during the day any time she wanted. It was the age before cell phones! It was a good job for me and I did well. I did it for twenty years and learned all about women’s health, including osteoporosis, menopause, and their consequences. I detailed doctors and nurses about prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
I tried to pass this information on to Mom, but she was the victim of media scare tactics just like millions of other women are in English and in the Chinese language. No way was she going to take anything that would give her breast cancer! She would rather die of a heart attack, she’d say. When I warned her about kyphosis she sarcastically said old people are supposed to look like that. She was, and still is very stubborn; listening to reason is not in her cards.
Dad passed away of congestive heart failure. Mom took care of him day and night for a whole year as he deteriorated right before our eyes. He was strong, too. Even though he was physically exhausted and suffered myriad problems, his attitude was to live life to the fullest until the very end. When he passed away, Mom literally looked twenty years older. That year had exhausted her as well. I knew that osteoporosis ran in her family. We are Asian and are at high risk anyway, but I could tell that Mom had lost quite a few inches in height. She was always taller than I, at five feet one or so. I’m only five feet tall, but Mom is now about four feet nine.
She suffered a fall two years ago. She did not break any bones but she complained that her back hurt terribly. The doctor said there was nothing to do but rest and take pain medication. Within six months my mother, who had been strong and straight, was now bent over like a weeping willow and could barely walk without the aid of a walker or cane or holding on to another person.
This 83-year-old woman who had the strength of a warrior has now a changed disposition. She, the indefatigable socialite, now refuses to attend most social events because” she does not look good, her clothes do not fit t right.” She's cranky, demanding, and miserably lonely, even though she has a caretaker twenty-four hours a day, neighbors who visit, and kids who take turns to care for her each weekend when the caretaker has a day off. She is terribly unhappy with the way she feels, the way she looks, and her limited lifestyle. We are looking into treatment to stop the boneless, but she changes her mind daily about whether or not to do so. There is nothing we can do to reverse the kyphosis.