As many of you know, I went to the Bastyr Clinic about a month ago to see about getting off the nasty sinus infection rollercoaster I'd been on since early December. On the first visit, I got some helpful tips of the variety I'd expected: a few foods to avoid because of their known effect on the sinuses, an herbal supplement, a referral for acupuncture. Great. Good. I'm on it.
Except these things didn't solve the problem. So on the second visit, they started asking other questions. About stomach aches, and digestion, and ... Um, excuse me? I know I wanted someone who would treat the whole person and all, but I kind of make it a point not to notice certain aspects of my digestive system, let alone discuss them with strangers. Yet discuss them we did.
Two uncomfortable visits and one blood panel later, I got hit with a diagnosis I never saw coming: celiac disease.
Suddenly the doctor's advice went from "try to avoid" things like dairy and wheat, to "You can never have gluten again. For the rest of your life. Because IT CAN KILL YOU." (The doctor may or may not actually have spoken in all capital letters.)
That's right, gluten can kill you. (OK, maybe not you. But me.) I'll spare you the details, but apparently for the 1 in 133 (give or take) Americans who have celiac disease, the smallest amount of gluten triggers an autoimmune response that slowly but surely trashes your small intestine. Left untreated, this can lead to all kinds of ugly consequences, including other autoimmune diseases, cancer, and the inability to absorb nutrients. Any of them. Period.
Since it can take as long as 11 years to get an accurate diagnosis for this--and for many, these are years that can only be described as holy hell--I should feel lucky, right? My symptoms aren't that bad. And any damage done up to this point is likely reversible.
As long as I don't eat any more gluten. Ever. Which is fine, except that gluten is in a lot of things I usually eat. Like, ohIdon'tknow, EVERYTHING. I can't even make out with someone who's recently had a doughnut (or--ahem--a beer) unless he's brushed his teeth. And that better be gluten-free toothpaste you're using, mister. (I swear I am not exaggerating.)
So right about now, my rational self is celebrating. I'm going to feel better! she says. Possibly better than I've felt in a decade! I'm already eating healthier, feeling more energetic, having fewer mysterious headaches and stomach aches. Things I thought I'd lost forever--like a sense of humor, a longer fuse, and patience--are slowly returning. The panic attacks have stopped. Plus? It's a totally manageable disease, and now that I know what to do, I'm far less likely to end up with complications like osteoporosis and seizures! All good news!
My other self--the one who likes instant gratification, comfort foods, and grabbing takeout when she's too tired to cook--would like to punch the ridiculously chipper glass-half-full self in the eye. That one is grieving her former, less complicated life. At least some aspects of it. She keeps saying things like: But what about biscuits?! Burger King Whoppers! And--oh, god--Naaaaaaaaaaaaan!
I'm sure the rational self will win out eventually, but for now it's about 50-50. So if you see me around town (I can usually be found in the specialty foods section of grocery stores, squinting at labels), feel free to offer me some sympathy and a listening ear. Just don't offer me a doughnut.