When ice cream causes a fracture: why you should pay attention to bone health

In November 2020, during a three-day stretch of 20-plus-degree weather, I went out for a stress-relieving bike ride near my home in Toronto.  As expected, the pathways were packed with people escaping their in-house pandemic prisons, and I wore a mask to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.  

On the way back, I decided my mask was no longer needed, so at slow speed, I took it off and tried to tuck it into my neck gaiter. That’s when I suddenly found myself hurtling to the ground like a bolt of lightning, with the right side of my face and leg skidding along the ground.

Bystanders came and left, asking if I was okay. One kind woman stood six feet away, offering me water from my water bottle, until a young man rode up on his bike and offered assistance, explaining that he was a doctor.

This sudden injury shed light on my bone loss 

That’s when I learned that my injuries might not just be superficial. “I think you’ve broken your left wrist,” the doctor told me. “It’s the swelling, and I think you need to go to the hospital.”  

The ambulance came, and I was admitted to emergency where two young orthopaedic residents confirmed that I would need surgery. Because it wouldn’t be that night, they did a temporary reset of my arm. By that point, it was the wee hours of my fifty-fifth birthday, and I spent it waiting for a CT scan in a cold, dark hallway. I desperately wanted to go home, but the orthopaedic surgeon needed to see exactly how severe the break was.  

On the day of my surgery, the surgeon explained that my wrist had shattered in multiple places and might easily break again, so he wanted to insert a permanent metal pin to stabilize the bone. He added that he was surprised at the extent of the damage relative to the velocity of the fall, which he thought may be an indication of premature bone loss.  

I had surgery nine days later. The recovery took longer than I expected and thankfully was not my dominant hand. Eventually, with patience and physiotherapy, I gradually recovered full functionality in my left hand.

Next fracture: opening ice cream

Two years later, an ice cream container slipped in my hands as I was opening it, and my right pinky finger got caught in the plastic strip, yanking it very hard sideways. I thought I must have sprained it, so I stabilized my fingers with buddy tape. After 10 days, I finally went to the emergency room for an x-ray. It turns out that I had a spiral fracture. From opening ice cream.

I was now officially concerned about how easily my bones were breaking. I spoke to my GP again, who referred me to a bone specialist — an endocrinologist — which is how I learned that I have early-stage osteopenia, which occurs when the inside of your bones become brittle due to loss of calcium. 

I also learned that my vitamin D levels were low, which meant my body was therefore not absorbing enough calcium, something that can be exacerbated by menopause. I was prescribed hormone replacement therapy and instructed to include more calcium in my diet (avoiding supplements if possible) and engage in weight-bearing exercise.  

When it comes to your health, pay attention to red flags

I am motivated about my health. I also admit to a love of wine and a good cocktail, in moderation with friends, so I’m hoping I inherited the genes of my grandmother who lived to 97 primarily on gin, butter, and white wine. However, I am drinking more water, and I’m mindful and proactive about integrating calcium and exercise — including light weightlifting — into my life. 

My diagnosis and injuries were eye-opening, but my mindset is to enjoy the moment without being reckless. I’m doing things to help ensure I can stay healthy and strong enough for an active and enjoyable life well into my 80s, and I’m encouraging my female friends to get bone density scans so that they can monitor their own bone health. 

It’s important to pay attention to red flags when they appear and take action when required, because there are simple things we can all do to help ensure we can continue to live a healthy, active lifestyle — even one that includes bike rides and ice cream!


The honest talk