Sylvia Udale-Clough has always been a bit of a thrill junkie. The rewards that followed the pursuit of speed and risk almost always outweighed the consequences in her mind, and she lived for those rewards.Broken bones were part of the risk, and she’s had more than a few. When she was in her 30s, for example, she suffered two bad fractures, both the result of skiing accidents. She admits she was showing off when they happened – a 360-degree jump gone awry in one case and too much speed in the other.
“People said to me ‘what an idiot you are,’ but nobody said to me ‘why do you think your bones break so easily?’” Sylvia says. The idea that her bones were fragile because of a medical condition never once occurred to her.
“Frankly, I didn’t understand what osteoporosis was,” she says. “I thought it was something that old people got and, therefore, I didn’t have it. I didn’t realize that I was at risk because my bones are porous.”
In fact, despite several bone fractures, three broken hips and many operations, the word osteoporosis was only recently introduced into Sylvia’s life. Most of the doctors she ever dealt with showed no interest in her history, they simply focused on the current fracture before them.
But that history is so important. Broken bones are not common in a healthy body and should only occur when put to extreme stresses.
Sylvia fractured her collarbone once when she sneezed, bumping into a doorframe – not a normal reason for a fracture.
After her third hip operation, even though she was relatively young at the time, she knew she had to change her lifestyle. She knew the osteoporosis wasn’t going away and the risk was high that she’d break a bone again.
She had no choice, she couldn’t return home. She needed lots of support and needed to focus on preventing further fractures. When she moved into long-term care in Toronto, Ontario, she figures she was a good 15 years younger than the average resident – 30 years younger than some – but, looking back, she says she had little choice.It wasn’t easy, and at times it still isn’t.
“I have been in denial about my physical limitations for some time,” Sylvia says. “I did not want to accept that because I have osteoporosis, which is a chronic disease and isn’t going to get better, that I had to make lifestyle changes.”
But change she did, in some ways more drastically than others. Moving to long-term care was a big one, for example, but switching to more sensible footwear was also a change Sylvia had to make.
Watch Sylvia talk about her experience living with osteoporosis.