“Our lives are a burning. The physical processes that fuel and sustain us–breathing and eating–are kinds of burning. Our passion also is a kind of fire. When our lives are lit by our passions, they give off light and heat. In the end our bodies are consumed, and only the gold is left.”
R. Keith McCormick, DC
Part II : A Burning
My first reaction was embarrassment. How could I have this? I’d eaten well all my life: or at least I thought I had. I’d always drunk a lot of milk. I’d never done anything “wrong.” I’d always done everything “right” to be healthy. It just didn’t make any sense. Osteoporosis–a disease associated with frailty–was the antithesis of who I thought I was. From early on, the foundation of my life centered on developing the strongest, fastest, healthiest body I could. I had always wanted to be an Olympian and it seemed that from day one my attitude had been one of wanting to improve–to be the best, strongest, toughest competitor out there. My body was the vessel by which to achieve this, and I had fueled it with those goals in mind.
I didn’t tell anyone of my condition. I was too embarrassed–ashamed of what I had become–a broken-down old man in what I had thought was the prime of my life.
Initially, I struggled, not knowing how I was going to get out of this crumbling skeletal mess. Before I was diagnosed, I felt that I was almost unstoppable and certainly unbreakable. Osteoporosis did not fit with my unbreakable self-image. Now I was afraid I would fracture my spine if I opened the garage door or bent down to pick up something, and certainly shatter if I fell off my bike. Always one to help out at my son’s school, moving benches, lifting boxes, building sheds, I began to hide or made excuses. I was supposed to be strong, an Ironman (triathlete), an ex-Olympian no less. And now, just like that, I couldn’t move a table. Everyone would surely think I was a wimp!
The voice of the orthopedist, “You should go on disability” and “Now promise me that you’ll walk with a cane,” made me want to throw up. When I stood before a mirror, no matter how long I searched for that person I used to be, all I saw was emptiness. My self-confidence, as well as my inner structural core, had withered away.
The first endocrinologist I saw read down a list of about twenty diseases and risk factors that can cause severe bone loss, asking me questions after each item. When he got to the bottom of the list, he diagnosed me with “primary osteoporosis” and handed me two prescriptions. One was for a thiazide diuretic to help reduce the calcium loss in my urine, and the other for alendronate (Fosamax), a bisphosphonate to harden my bones. I told him that I wasn’t there for prescriptions–I was there to find out why I had osteoporosis–and to fix it.
After calls and e-mails to three more endocrinologists, one of whom wrote back asking for the date of my last menstrual period, I finally made an appointment with one who specialized in the treatment of osteoporosis. The day of my appointment came and, as I opened the door to his waiting room, I stepped into a world that made me shudder. Trying to look invisible, I walked slowly to a chair and sat down. There were three other patients: all older women, all in wheelchairs, each with a dowager’s hump indicating spinal degeneration from a series of compression fractures. All three women looked downward. The did not speak. They did not make eye contact with me or each other. Each was withdrawn as though she were collapsing inward. And then it dawned on me. These women were now my peers.
When I left that office, I never looked back. I was on a mission–a mission not only to find out everything I could about my osteoporosis and fix it, but also to gain back my lost self-confidence.
“Frailty has a way of sneaking up on a person. It’s like the wear of your running shoes. Everything seems to be going along fine and then you pull up lame because your shoes have worn out — as if the innersole somehow broke down overnight while you were sleeping.”