Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gluten & Me

I thought I would be fine--after all, I've never been a huge fan of bread or other items made with wheat flour. And then, quite inexplicably to me, I found myself crying softly in the pasta aisle, mourning the loss of something I never really liked anyway.

My doctor told me she would call early this week if there was something really crazy in my blood work, otherwise, I'd get the results in the mail. So when I received a voicemail on my phone Tuesday afternoon, telling me to call the office immediately, my heart began to race, more than a little bit. My issues this summer had prompted me to go in and see a new doctor (new insurance) for what I fondly dubbed as "the works." It had been way too long.

When I described the symptoms I suffered throughout this summer, as well as the intermittent digestive issues I've experienced for more than a decade, the first thing the doctor wanted to know was if I had been tested for Celiac Disease. No, never. I had been "diagnosed," for lack of a better term, with Irritable Bowel Syndrome eleven years ago when I had diarrhea every day for the year following my parents' divorce. It was stress related, I was told, and during those times I was a faithful adherent to the BRAT diet-bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. It is a diet I've come to know very well and the diet I subsisted on this summer, accented with peppermint oil capsules, heavy duty acidophilous, and a hefty dose of loperamide.

My doctor ran a thorough blood panel, testing me for food allergies (due to my recent reactions to shellfish), gluten intolerance, inflammation, and essential vitamin and nutrient levels. When the nurse called me to advise me that I had an extensive gluten allergy and needed to call the GI doctor immediately, I was too shocked to ask questions. I hung up the phone, a stunned look on my face.

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, I knew that this would change everything.

At the market, I pulled my sunglasses down over my red-rimmed eyes and carried on with my shopping, mentally noting the things that would soon be forbidden to me--cereals and grains, flour tortillas and crackers, pastas and cookies. Sure there are gluten-free versions of all of those things, but I've tried several different kinds and...was underwhelmed, to put it mildly. Frankly, I'd rather do without than suffer through a poor substitution of the real deal.

I am not the person with the food issues. Food issues are for other people--I am the one who will happily eat most everything. And though I'm not a bread girl...I do enjoy my artisan loaves of bread, and the occasional pastry. I am the person who gets star struck when Nancy Silverton pulls my pizza out of the oven and personally finishes it with a drizzle of olive oil. All that glutenous, carbtastic love was over with a single diagnosis...extensive gluten allergy.

Truth be told, I'm gorging myself on gluten now, devouring slices of homemade bread and cookies....fresh pasta and my favorite cereals. I'm not giving it up until I'm told to--and actually, I have read that going gluten free before testing can skew the results. Matt made reservations at Pizzeria Mozza for a last supper of Nancy's glorious, perfectly chewy and crisp pizza dough topped with a little bit of heaven. My stomach is protesting (heartily) and my head is throbbing (mightily), but I don't even care. If I'm going out, I'll do it with a bang!

I see the GI doctor on Tuesday. I suspect she will order an upper GI scope and sample of my small intestine to determine if I have full-blown Celiac Disease. I am so not looking forward to this procedure, but am secretly excited that this may be the answer to all the vague symptoms that have plagued me for so long--headaches, diarrhea, bloating and gas, mental fog and fatigue, strange blood test results, and irritability. All these things were caused by the stress of being a mother of three young children....or so I thought. Or so I had been told.

I'm standing here at the port, not quite ready to embark on this journey. I feel like I'm going through Elizabeth Kubler Ross' stages of death and dying, which is ridiculous--nobody's dying, forgodsakes. But I'm in mourning anyway. It's not easy to fathom a life without gluten, and yet so many live this life fully, and deliciously too. As usual, I feel like I'm late to the party. Like gluten allergy is so 2005. Like everyone who's anyone has been there, done that. I guess the plus side of that is that cookbooks abound and new flours and products are coming out every day to make my future life in the kitchen easier.

I still don't know what all this will entail, but there is some small comfort in the fact that I'm not alone, and that many have gone before me (and huge comfort in the fact that maybe soon I will begin to feel so. much. better.)

I will share the results of my testing as I receive them...please stay tuned.


Unknown said...

Good Luck on your testings. I am sure this is a tough road, and not much of a consolation, but as you said, their are so many people out there today living this diet, so many blogs devoted to gluten-free recipes, you will make it through ok!

Torie @amishhome said...

I have to say I can sympathize with you. We have struggled with this with my son since he was born. And after his birth I realized I developed a lactose intolerance. I have had to learn so much and it is overwhelming! The good news is that there are so many of us doing this and the support system is wide! Let me know and I would be happy to pass on some of my favorite sites, recipes, etc!
Wishing you the best!

Ktimm said...

Given all the trouble I have had, I am wondering if you are holding the family key. I will have myself tested soon. xoxoxo Mom

Alison said...

Thanks Allison and Torie! You are right that there are lots of resources available to those of us on limited diets. It makes it way more bearable to know that I a not alone. =)

Cape Cod Judy said...

A well-written piece, Alison. You make us feel your pain and your loss. And, no matter, in the life we live, day-to-day, it is a loss, a little death, to have to let go of things that are so near and dear and mean so very much to help define your psyche, your essence, your persona.

Five years ago, I lost a little of me, who I am. Everyday it gets a bit easier, but reading your essay thumps me right in the gut again.....