By Nancy Werking Poling, author of
Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman; and Out of the Pumpkin Shell
Bones. Dogs gnaw on them. Archeologists study fossilized ones. Fishermen’s knives remove them. I put meat bones in the freezer so bears who roam our mountain town won’t be attracted to our trash can.
Now I’ve been made aware of my bones. “Like Swiss cheese,” is how the rheumatologist describes them after looking at the results of my bone density scan. “Your femoral neck score is -2.8. Osteoporosis.” I keep telling her of my virtuous lifestyle—as if that might change her diagnosis. I’ve never smoked. I’ve exercised since I was thirty. My diet is a healthy one: whole grain rice, whole wheat bread, plenty of fresh fruits and green vegetables. Calcium supplements, vitamin D, and bisphosphonates have been part of my daily routine for years.
Still, she frowns as she studies the printout. “This also shows you have a fracture in your back,” she says. “Do you experience pain?”
What woman my age doesn’t have occasional back pain? “Not very often.”
“A spine fracture indicates 5X risk for subsequent fractures,” a note at the bottom of the printout states.
Her treatment recommendation is aggressive, a drug I haven’t seen any celebrity endorse: Forteo. I gasp when I learn the specifics. It’s administered through a daily injection. For two years. At a cost to me of $9,000. I lean toward trusting her judgment. She’s petite like me, in her mid-forties, I’m guessing, so she’s probably been thinking about her bones too. A pilot’s certificate and pictures of airplanes hang on the walls, which somehow add to her credibility.
She advises me to think about it, come back and see her in six-weeks. Before I leave, though, she orders an x-ray of my back.
I can’t help but consider what $9,000 will buy. A good amount toward replacing our eleven-year-old car. Two trips to Europe for my husband and me, with money left over. (Yes, we’re thrifty travelers.) New furniture. An art piece to hang over the mantel (not that we’d spend that much, but a lot of people do).
Meanwhile, I begin to notice our town is full of little old ladies. I talk with everyone about the decision I have to make. In the grocery line behind a gray-haired woman, I ask, “What are you doing about your bones?” I ask naked women in the locker room of the gym where I work out, “What are you doing about your bones?” In the church vestibule I collar older women. “What are you doing about your bones?” Some say they take Fosamax. Others Boniva. A few steer away from drugs and rely on special diets or vitamin supplements.
By the time I return to the doctor, I’ve spoken with at least thirty women and lost several nights’ sleep worrying. But the doctor says that because the x-ray shows no fracture, she’s changed her recommendation. She suggests three possibilities: Evista, Prolea, or Reclast (which I’ve taken for two years). Needless to say, I’m relieved. All my angst over a daily shot, spending $9,000, and taking a drug that has been around less than ten years has been wasted.
But maybe not. “What are you doing for your bones?” I’ve discovered, is a great conversation starter.