Osteoporosis led 60-year-old Robert Cleland to make major lifestyle changes

When Robert Cleland, 60, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, was taken to hospital with a blood clot on his lung, the X-ray revealed a compressed spinal fracture. A few months later, he was diagnosed with osteoporosis and forced to make big lifestyle changes.  

Speaking about the shock diagnosis in September last year, he said: “I was staying in Scotland with friends, and I woke up one morning with pain in my chest, but I shrugged it off as having slept badly. The next day the pain was so severe I couldn’t even lie on my back. I travelled home and talked to the doctor who told me to go straight to hospital. I was diagnosed with a blood clot on the lung and had to rest for two weeks, but just after the scan, the doctor called me to say that I needed another scan as they had identified a spinal compression fracture, and I needed to be tested for osteoporosis.

“I was still waiting for the appointment to come through when, in December, I was putting my suit on to go to a funeral, and my back went again. It was still sore from the first time, but it felt worse. By the following day, I was in agony. I have never had pain like it. I went to the local hospital the next day, and they took an X-ray and diagnosed another compressed fracture.

“The appointment came through, and in January, I was sent for a bone density (DXA) scan, which confirmed osteoporosis. When the doctor told me, I didn’t understand what she was saying. I’d never heard of compression fractures and had no idea what it meant or would mean. But from that moment, everything changed.

“It was hard to have a call like that; I just didn’t know what she was talking about. Fortunately, I had a friend staying with me, and they spoke to the doctor and explained it to me after the call.

READ MORE: Thousands of people over 50 quit work as fractures take toll

“Diagnosis has made an enormous change in my life, and I am still adjusting. There are days when you feel down and just want to lie down and switch off from everything, but life still has to continue. I can no longer bend down like I used to. I have to consider my limits, and I am learning to take it easy. You’re just frightened of another fracture, I don’t want that pain again, and I don’t want to end up confined to the house, so I’m learning to find the balance between being cautious and getting on with it.

My lifestyle has changed. If I go shopping, I can’t carry much so friends and neighbours help me. Even carrying a big bottle is too much. I don’t carry that anymore. I still push myself to do nice things, like a long walk, but I end up suffering that night. You wouldn’t know to look at me. You’d think, hang on, he’s a healthy guy. But I’m not at the moment, it’s difficult to understand this pain unless you’ve lived it.

“I worked nights doing reception work and cleaning for a Salvation Army hostel. I worked there for 22 years and loved it. Initially, I was off sick for six months. My employer was very understanding and enabled me to return to working reduced hours for a month, and they also provided a special chair to support my lower back and a headrest. But after just five nights, I was in agony. I spoke to the doctor and she signed me off for another few months, but it was obvious that I would not be able to return. I was gutted. I enjoyed it and wanted to work, but I must look after my health. I have been signed off for a year, when it will be reviewed again, but it’s unlikely that I will be able to return.

“It’s very easy to isolate when you have a diagnosis like this, but I have been speaking to people from the Royal Osteoporosis Society and learning about compressed fractures. I’ve attended a free pain management course and visited a pain management coffee shop, which allows you to meet other people facing similar issues. I hope to find the right medication to manage my condition, but it will take time to find what works for me. In the meantime, I am trying to continue to make the most of life but live more cautiously.” 

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