The Presence of Pain and Undiagnosed Osteoporosis

Devora Greenspon vividly recalls slipping and breaking her ankle; it may have happened more than 40 years ago, but that kind of pain isn’t easy to forget. She was 39-years-old when it happened. A simple slip, a quick fall, then months of agony. The break took forever to heal, it seemed, and Devora says it got to the point where it felt like bone constantly rubbing on bone every step she took.​

“You talk about pain,” Devora says, “Holy moly.”

And she’s no stranger to pain. Years later, it would eventually dominate her waking life as age and disease, along with the aftermath of several other bone fractures, conspired against her. She suffered another serious break in her shoulder when she fell on her 65th birthday and yet, she still didn’t think it overly odd, these broken bones. She always blamed the ice or the circumstance or the awkward way she went down for her breaks, but never considered there was a reason her bones were frail. The fact is: a simple slip and fall should not result in a broken bone in a healthy person’s body; if it does, red flags should fly.

“I really didn’t know I had Osteoporosis,” Devora says, looking back. “I thought I had back problems.”

She’d been going to a clinic for years, trying to manage the ceaseless pain that had slowly taken over her life with increasing force over time. She eventually saw a doctor who specialized in back problems and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and advanced osteoporosis. She was silently living with compression fractures in her spine and the pain that goes with them.​

“It got so bad that I was walking like a pretzel, I couldn’t straighten up,”she says.

The first time she had surgery to lessen the pressure in 2008, it was far from successful. She ended up in a Florida hospital for months due to serious complications. Those were difficult times; it felt like she could no longer live with the pain and she wished, at times, she could end it all.​

“The pain, I can’t even describe it,” she says, laughing at the thought that some people believe the body’s reaction to pain lessens with age or that somehow older people don’t feel pain the same as they did in their younger days.

“The pain is not imaginary,” she says, “that’s for sure. I never had a minute with no pain; it was constant. Sometimes it would be worse than others and it would go down into my legs. I don’t know how to describe such pain – it was monstrous. Nobody should have to go through pain like that.”

When she was able to return to Canada, she was referred to doctors at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, who told her she had one of the most serious cases of osteoporosis he’d ever seen. Another surgery followed, and though today Devora prefers to get around with a wheeled walker, the constant pain the dominated her life is no longer an issue.​

“He has hands of gold,” Devora says when she mentions her doctor. “He calls me his miracle lady and I call him my miracle man.”

The pain may have lessened, but a few months after the second surgery, with her mobility compromised, Devora decided she needed the support of a long-term care home in North York, Ontario.​

Today she manages well with the help of the Osteoporosis Clinic through St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She has regular bone scans and takes Vitamin D and calcium supplements. Instead of deteriorating, her bone density is actually increasing and the pain that dominated her life for so long is virtually non-existent. That she lives in long-term care makes no difference, for there are many things residents can do to combat the effects of osteoporosis.​

Devora is as active as she’s ever been, supporting the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils as a board member, while working to raise awareness of the realities those living with osteoporosis face every day. She participates in active physiotherapy sessions three times a week, and she tries to get out and around town whenever she can, she hates to turn down an opportunity to get out, even though the thought of falling terrifies her, let alone breaking another bone.​

“I can’t live life in a bubble,” she says, with a smile.“I have to take some risks.”

If she had any advice to offer, she’d tell people to take care of themselves, eat well and take a few minutes to reflect on past experiences with broken bones. It’s likely many people are living with osteoporosis without knowing it, and suffering as a result. The biggest predictor of a fractured bone in the future is a serious fracture in the past, so people should consider this reality, and speak to their doctor about Osteoporosis. Talk about your broken bones, so you can get the care you need to keep your bones healthy.​

Devora Greenspon is a different person for having done so.​

Watch Devora talk about living with Osteoporosis in long-term care below.