The importance of a positive outlook for osteoporosis patients
Osteoporosis Philippa Russell suspected she had osteoporosis almost 22 years ago when the process of applying for a passport revealed she had lost 2 inches in height. She tells Dom Hall about her philosophy of looking on the bright side, despite her battle with fragile bones.
Philippa Russell is one of life’s positive people. Talking to Osteoporosis News about her battle with fragile bones over the past nineteen years, she refuses to let the problems she has encountered get her down. “I’m lucky because so far I’ve found that for me, there is always a good side to everything,” she says.
Yet Philippa has had her fair share of troubles because of her osteoporosis and fragile bones. Her first suspicion that something may be wrong came in 1993 when she was 57.
"I discovered that having been 5’10½’’ tall I was now 2’’ shorter"
“I was renewing my passport and, in those days, you had to give your height. I discovered that having been 5’10½’’ tall I was now 2’’ shorter,” she says. “I was also aware that I had never menstruated properly and I had been given oestrogen boosts to ovulate, which I stopped having when we decided that three children were quite enough to cope with. In the 1960s it wasn’t generally known that there was a link between low oestrogen levels and osteoporosis so there seemed to be no point in carrying on with the oestrogen pills.”
Armed with this information, Philippa went to see her GP, and was sent for a DXA scan.
“The consultant told me, when he gave me the results, that I had the bones of an 80 year old. This was a bit of a shock – I was feeling perfectly fit and yet here I was with osteoporosis, a hidden disease with no symptoms except for my loss of height.”
Time passed and, despite every possible care, Philippa’s bones deteriorated. Just before Christmas in 1994, she tripped on a table leg and fractured her knee causing an injury which would cause a great deal of pain, six months off work and hours of physiotherapy to recover from. Unfortunately, it was not to be Philippa’s only fracture.
“I fractured my foot in 1998, I did it again a few years later and, in 2005, I slithered slowly into a bank on a sloping, muddy field and fractured my right forearm. I tripped again in 2008 falling over the kitchen table, but this time it was really serious – a hip fracture. “
"The last fall was the one that really changed my life"
“The surgeon put a plate in, a special one, he said, because he knew I enjoyed walking. But because the lousy bone took so long to heal, after 6 months the screws holding the plate gave up and broke. The plate was removed and the bones slowly healed. Unfortunately, because of these two invasive operations the muscles took a battering and, despite hours of physio, never regained their strength,” she says.
“I was told then that I would never walk unaided again and I began to cry. The doctor tried to comfort me: ‘You are doing very well, Mrs Russell’ he said, ‘you do know don’t you that 43 per cent of people your age who fracture their hip are dead within two years’! He meant well, but somehow that was no comfort! Two years to the day after I fractured my hip my husband took me out to a meal to celebrate the fact that I was still alive,” she laughs.
It’s this sense of humour and refusal to be downhearted that Philippa believes has seen her through the past few years. Once a keen walker who would regularly went up mountains Philippa now contents herself with very short walks though her local park. She continues to volunteer once a week at her local hospital, visiting those patients who seem lonely and bored and is also a member of her local support group in Birmingham, a resource she finds extremely useful.
"The local group support has been amazing"
When I suffered fractures in my spine, it was a friend I found there who really helped me. Being able to talk to someone has been really useful. The same goes for the fantastic nurses who work on the National Osteoporosis Society Helpline, I phoned them three or four times for example about my back fractures and they were able to offer me fantastic information and support,” she says.
“Fractures in my spine mean that I still feel uncomfortable standing or sitting unsupported for more than a short time. I couldn’t play my cello for nearly a year and I thought I might never do so again, because I couldn’t sit up straight enough to do so. But happily I can now, and with an unexpected bonus: the thigh which I broke has shrunk by 2’’ (I have built-up right shoes) and so my knee no longer gets in the way of my cello bow. Formerly this had been a problem because of my long legs. I always try to find a positive way of looking at things!” she says.