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Elizabeth - Interview 09

Age at interview: 85
Age at diagnosis: 66
Brief Outline: In 1978 Elizabeth fell and broke her femur and an x-ray revealed that she has osteoporosis. She has been on alendronic acid for several years now but she thinks that it is not that effective because while on it she has had several other fractures.
Background: Elizabeth regularly travels abroad to see family and says that osteoporosis hasn't stopped her from having an active life and that she only thinks about her condition when she fractures a bone.

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In 1978 Elizabeth fell and broke her femur and an x-ray revealed that she had osteoporosis. She was sixty-six at the time of her diagnosis. Several years ago she was put on alendronic acid once a week and still continues taking that medication. Elizabeth’s mother had a broken hip when she was in her eighties.
 
Elizabeth has had several fractures in the last twenty years and doubts whether the alendronic acid has really helped her bones. In 1993 she fell and again, fractured her femur. Also in two separate falls she has had two wrist fractures. She says that since her diagnosis she has had only one bone density scan (DXA). She saw a consultant once back in 1978 when recovering from her first fracture.
 
At the time of the interview Elizabeth was recovering from another fracture. While in France visiting one of her daughters she slipped and fell on her back fracturing two vertebra. 
 
Elizabeth said that she had a ‘wonderful’ physiotherapist in France who helped her walk after her fracture. In Britain she got a private physiotherapist from the yellow pages and was very disappointed with the outcome. She has kept doing the exercises she learned from her physiotherapist in France.
 
Elizabeth feels that her recovery has been very slow and found it difficult and frustrated to sit around and do nothing. So she forced herself to keep mobile by going everyday for a walk whatever the weather. A friend accompanied her so she could lean on her arm for support
 
Elizabeth lives a very active life travelling several times a year to visit family abroad and she has friends with whom she does regular activities like outings, theatre, etc. Also, she lives in accommodation for independent living after retirement. The place offers a wide range of cultural and other activities and a chance to meet and join her friends on a regular basis. She said that osteoporosis hasn’t stops her from doing the things she wants to do. It is only when she fractures a bone that she thinks about it. She has always been careful of the need to avoid a fall but since her last fracture, she said she is particularly afraid of falling.
 

Elizabeth’s bones keeps fracturing even though she has been on medication for more than ten years.

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In 1978 I fell and broke a femur. And after that they decided that I had osteoporosis. And so I have been taking one of these weekly tablets ever since then. I’m not sure whether they do any good at all [laughs]. Because I have had numerous falls since then and it’s always resulted in a…
 
In a fracture?
 
In a fracture.
 
What’s the name of the medication? Do you remember?
 
Yes it’s out there. Alendronate, is that right?
 
And fractured a femur which was just after we moved here. And since then I’ve had two fractures to that wrist. So this is why I’m not sure whether the tablets have made much difference to me. Or whether it’s the… that I fall badly.
 
And so it’s only when something like another fall happens that you start thinking, ‘Oh dear’. My bones aren’t very good. And certainly this last fall that I had in France, the consultant there said, “Your bones are just like glass.” That was that.
 
Well no, because I think it’s just something I’ve got to live with. I mean it isn’t a curable thing. But presumably as long as I take these pills, and I do take a couple of calcium tablets a day.
 
How long have you been doing that?
 
Oh, years and years and years. Good ten years anyway.
 
OK. Suggested by your doctor?
 
The doctor, yes.
 
OK.
 
Yes.
 
OK.
 
So I do that. But I mean, otherwise I don’t think there’s a lot you can do about it, is it? I mean, I think there again it’s a good idea to keep walking.  
 

Elizabeth was disappointed with the private physiotherapist she saw.

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Have you seen a physiotherapist?
 
A physiotherapist came. I rang the whatever it is, [city] physiotherapist when I first came back from France, because I had an excellent man in France. He got me on my feet. And he was really good. And I phoned up and said I need a physiotherapist and explained why.
 
And they sent one. She came. And at that time I was either lying down or walking about and not sitting up or anything. And she came and said, “Can you get out bed?” And I said, “Yes.” And so she says, “Let me see you get up.” So I did. And so she said, “Can you walk as far as your kitchen?” And I said, “Yes.” And so with the aid of a stick I walked to the kitchen. And I’ve got a microwave in there on the thing and she said, “Do you think you could work the microwave?” And I said, “Well if I lean on the counter I can.” And so she said, “Jolly good, I don’t think you need me.” And that was the end of that. And it cost me £70. In fact I think it was £74, which I really, really begrudged [laughs].
 
You said that the person you saw in France was very good, in which, can you tell me a little bit more about what he did?
 
Well he did make me do exercises, which I have done some of them here. Like making sure my leg muscles work by doing exercise, this sort of exercise.
 
Lifting your leg?
 
Hanging on a chair and you know put your leg out and all this sort of thing. And so he did all of that plus getting me walking. And he also massaged my back, which I found absolutely wonderful.
But she refused this girl that I had. She said she didn’t do it. And so I felt that I’d got hold of the wrong person.
 
But I mean he was absolutely brilliant. And I wished in many ways that I’d stayed there. But it wasn’t convenient really because my daughter is a schoolteacher and she was working. And rushing home to get me lunch and things like that and I thought it was far too much, for her. And that’s why I came back when I did.
 
And as I say I was disappointed when this woman didn’t want to… she. I didn’t understand it really. She didn’t, she just didn’t feel that she needed to do anything, I suppose. She wasn’t prepared to do any of the things that I thought she should’ve done. I mean I thought she should’ve been taking me for walks and things like that. But she… because I could get from there to there, she didn’t think I needed any more assistance.
 
Yes.
 
You didn’t go through your GP?
 
Well my GP said, “Look in yellow pages.” When I said, ”How about a physio?”. So that’s what I did.
 
And I don’t mind paying if they do their job. But I object to paying when they don’t.
 
And in this case you were not… particularly satisfied?
 
No. Not at all, she didn’t do a thing. Nothing. I mean, you could have said to me, “Get out of bed and walk to the kitchen.” I didn’t need a, a trained physio to say that to me at all. I think she was a complete wash out.
 

When recovering from a fracture, the practical support Elizabeth got from her friend helped her a...

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Well I… I think to myself that I’ve got to be extra careful. And I… the last thing I want is another fall. But apart from that, I well, I’ve spent the months since I’ve been back here since January just trying to get back to a normal life again. But it’s been a slow job.
 
Do you feel frustrated by it or …?
 
I do. I found it very difficult to sit about and not do things. So that to quite an extent I suppose I have tried to push myself.
 
In which ways?
 
Well I had to get back on my feet and walk again. And so I have whatever the weather, made myself go out for a walk, everyday without fail.
 
And in the early days when I found it very difficult, I had a friend who went with me. And I could hold her arm. And we went a little bit further every day. So that I could feel that I was making progress. Because I just didn’t want to sit in the chair and let the days go by and not feel that I was getting better. And so, as I say sometimes it was an effort to go out during the winter days when it was cold and horrid. But I did feel it was important to go. And so we did.
 
I think you do need somebody. I mean if I hadn’t had this friend here who was wiling to sacrifice an hour say, or roughly an hour by the time she’d got here and you know, every day.
I wouldn’t been hard pressed to do, I wouldn’t, I don’t I would’ve wanted to do it on my own. But fortunately friends here were very good.
 
And it did enable me to really get going again. Now I don’t use a stick at all in the house. But I do take, always have one when I go out because this city's pavements aren’t brilliant [laughs].
 
I’ve got two, two grandchildren, two sons, two grandsons. They’re from the French daughter. And well not, she isn’t French but you know what I mean, she lives in France. And one of them is at university here. So I do see him from time to time. And in fact when I came, after I came back and I was, and I was up and thing, he did come and cook me lunch one day. He, well, he rang me up and said could he come to lunch. And I said, “Yes, but you’ll have to bring it. I’ll pay, you buy it.” And I was highly amused because I thought he’d probably go to [supermarket] and buy you know something that he could, but he didn’t, he went to the [name] market and he bought fresh sea bass and vegetables in the covered market and then he went to, I think it was [supermarket] well he went somewhere anyway and bought crème caramels for us for pudding [laughs] I thought he did extremely well. And he came and he cooked it.
 
And he washed up, well he cleared it up and put it in the dishwasher afterwards. You wouldn’t have known he’d been here afterwards. So, I rang my daughter in France and said, “Well you certainly brought that one up properly.” [laughs]. 
 

Osteoporosis has had no affect on Elizabeth’s ability to travel abroad to visit her daughters...

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I’ve lived a very active life.
 
So osteoporosis was something that you had but you...?
 
But it was only in the background.
 
In the background?
 
Yes. Absolutely. I mean it never stopped me travelling or doing any of the things I wanted to do at all.
 
Like what?
 
Well one of my daughters lives in Vancouver. And so I … every year since ’97, I have gone over to Vancouver for anything from four to six weeks in the summer. And done just what I’ve wanted to do. Taken part in all the things that are going on and so on. Very active, very active.
 
So that. And my other daughter lives in France, right down in the south, well the southwest. So I’ve been going over there two or three times a year. And think nothing of it.
 
So on the whole osteoporosis hasn’t affected you on a …
 
No, no.
 
… kind of everyday …?
 
No, no it hasn’t. Not at all.
 

Now she is older, Elizabeth isn’t as bothered when people comment about her loss of height.

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I've Shrunk.

 

You have shrunk?
 
[Laughs] It’s very embarrassing because one of my grandsons is over six foot six and I have shrunk. And I really do feel little you know. And he’s absolutely sweet. And he says, “Come on along little granny.” [laughs]. And he’s striding up the road and there’s me going? To try and keep up. But there, there we are.
 
Does it bother you or it’s just?
 
No.
 
No.
 
It, that’s one thing about getting to this age, when, it, those sort of things don’t worry you any more. They really don’t. Not least, there again we’ve talked about it, things like this and lots of things that when you were younger, would have bothered you… don’t’ bother you now.
 
Like what?
 
Oh, I don’t know…
 
Body image?
 
Yes, I suppose so. And I think to a degree years ago there were some things that you wouldn’t have perhaps spoken up and said, “Well I think so and so,” when you knew that it would  cause the other people to either be surprised or offended or whatever and now if you feel like that about something you jolly well say it. And you do have this sort of thing that you’re more, in some ways, you feel more independent in as much as you don’t have to go along with the crowd. You can say, “Well I don’t want to do that,” or “I don’t agree with that.” Or, “I think I’ll stick to my opinions over this and you can all do what you like but this is what I think.” And this is something that you could, you can do with, really without, almost without thinking about it. Whereas if you were in your 20s, 30s you would have thought, “Oh well I’ll just keep quiet and go with the crowd.” [laughs]. And this is, it’s, like quite different feeling.
 

Elizabeth only takes painkillers when she is doing something more strenuous or when she feels she...

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The doctor when he came, when I first came back, he gave me two hundred and twenty four paracetamol tablets. In other words just take these, anything up to eight a day, and keep going. And that was that. Obviously if he’s going to give you all those pills, he didn’t want to see you again. And there was nothing he could do. But that then in a funny sort of way, was a sort of challenge in as much to say to yourself, “Well let’s see how much I can do with these things.” [laughs] And then and that was that.
 
So when do you take them? When do you take your paracetamols?
 
I have only taken them when I have been going to do something. I mean on an ordinary day, if I’m not going anywhere far, if I’m just going to walk say from here to the post office in [town], just down in [name] road and back, I wouldn’t take any. But if I was going up to the city and getting on a bus and going up there and doing a lot of shopping, I would take them because I know that my back would be too painful by the time I got home. And I would feel too worn out if I don’t. So that’s the difference.
 
And how many do you take in a day?
 
Oh just two.
 
Just the two?
 
Just two to see you through while you go to town, if you see what I mean. And that’s it.
 
And do you feel differently?
 
Well you certainly feel more capable of doing the things you want to do because you’ve taken the painkillers. At the same time, you are not… you’re feeling that you’re not upsetting anything else by taking too many. I mean the doctors say to you and if you take all those of course you’ll be terribly constipated and this, that and the other. So I mean that’s another thing you see, well I don’t want to have that bother. So I just take them when I need, I feel I need to.
 
But if you stay at home, you don’t take them?
 
No, no.
 

Elizabeth attributes her dislike of taking painkillers to a generational ‘thing’ and a way of not...

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Oh yes. I’m just taking paracetamol.
 
Paracetamol? You said that you have a problem with taking them on a …?
 
Well yes I do. I do because, I don’t why, what it is but there’s a I think an inbuilt reluctance. Of people of my generation about taking things like painkillers.
 
Why?
 
I don’t know exactly why [laughs]. Whether it's because we, it makes us feel inadequate that we’ve got to take them to keep going I’m not sure. But there is a sort of inbuilt. I think younger generations don’t have that. They don’t feel the same ‘Oh why am taking painkillers I can live through this’ like we do. I’ve talked to other people here of similar age and they’re, they all feel the same thing, way. I know it’s silly. But it’s just something that happens.
 
I think it’s partly age. And partly that you feel that if you can cope without taking them, you feel better in yourself, in as much that you’ve. I suppose it’s this question of whether you feel absolutely in control.
 
And I do think that it is… you know I have talked to people about this here. And they feel like I do.
But when I talk to the younger generations like my daughter or my grandsons, they have a different attitude altogether, which is good. It’s better for them than it is for us because we’re silly.
 
It’s a question of it, I don’t know. In a way well I’ve lived until this age and I’ve managed. And oh I’ve done this and I’ve done that. And I’m going to go on doing it attitude. Instead of saying, “Oh gosh it’s wonderful to take these painkillers and you feel on cloud 9.” And it’s a stupid attitude. I know it’s a stupid attitude. But can’t help it.
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