My (Newly) Gluten Free Life

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that I’ve been hanging with a slightly different crowd for the past few months.  I’ve been spotted at Red Rooster asking my waiter if he’s sure that those tasty looking wings are roasted, I’ve been seen hording boxes of organic quinoa pasta whenever it goes on sale (and it almost NEVER goes on sale!), and I’ve been hashtagging ‘GlutenFree’ like it’s my job.   I’ve been gluten free since the second week of May—and here’s how it happened.

Picture this:  It’s the last week of April 2013 and you haven’t taken a vacation since September 2011.   You and your man are overworked, burnt out, and in desperate need of some time away from a computer screen, IT resumes, and hiring managers that have had you working on positions for weeks that never actually had budget approval.  Though you’d normally hop on a plane and go somewhere with sun, sand, and amazingly fresh seafood, this year you decided to keep it local and head down to DC so you can restaurant hop with your (also extremely overworked) chef brother in the up-and-coming DC restaurant scene, and spend countless hours absorbing art, history, and obscure facts about the solar system at all of the Smithsonians along the National Mall.  You and your hubby have booked your fancy hotel, planned your neighborhood visits around all of the restaurants you want to sample (prosciutto wrapped monkfish at Marcel’s?  Yes please!  Anything at Little Serow?  Mouth Watering!), and before you know it you’re on your way to your week long food tour below the Mason Dixon Line as you speed south on interstate 95.

garden roll and tum yum soup from Thaiphoon in Dupont CircleYou get to your brother’s apartment late Sunday night, and two hours after you get there you feel a bit of a tickle in the back of your throat and you feel a bit achy.  Like always, because you have an immune system stronger than security at Fort Knox, you don’t think anything of it and, after hanging with your brother and his girlfriend for a bit, head to bed.  When you wake up the next morning you feel tired, but your scratchy throat is mostly gone and you have museums to see and restaurants to eat at despite the cool and rainy weather, so you forge ahead, determined to get your vacation started.

By 4pm Monday afternoon you feel even more tired, but since your aforementioned immune system superiority and your determination to have a good vacation have pushed you into a previously unparalleled state of denial, you head to your brother’s so you can take a nap before your dinner reservations.  Except you never make it to dinner.  Once you lay down for your intended ‘nap’ your body becomes super achy and sore–your muscles are tensing and burning and you’re barely able to move.  Within two hours you feel so poor that the two nights you intended to spend at your brother’s in Alexandria (right over the river) turn into one because your brilliant boyfriend swings a last minute booking miracle and gets you into your Dupont Circle hotel a night early.  Though you’re still feeling crappy, the thought of calm dark room and a pillow top mattress instantly makes you feel better, and most of your aches go away.  You take this as a sigh of recovery, and once you get to the hotel, you feel well enough to walk with your boyfriend up the block in search of something to eat.  Not much is available after 11, so you stop at the only bar on Connecticut Ave where the kitchen is still open and your boyfriend can get a mini burger plate and you get quesadilla, but once it arrives at the table you only have the stomach to sip your water with lemon.  Once back at the hotel you pass out, convinced that a good night’s sleep means you’ll be better by the morning.

George Bush Highway Sign
The only Photo We Took the whole Trip–we though this sign was HILARIOUS

Tuesday and Wednesday come and go, and you eat very little and do even less because you still feel so weak that even showering is a challenge, and even though your boyfriend is devoted to keeping you comfortable and getting you tea and broth, you apologize profusely because you aren’t getting any better and the only notable thing about your vacation is nonstop coverage of the Jodi Arias Trial on HLN.

During the first half of the week you could drink water and tea and sip tum yum broth.  But by Thursday afternoon things change dramatically.  You can’t even keep water down and you can barely talk in between runs to the bathroom because your immune system has given up and has let whatever you’ve caught have its way with you.  And it does.  It gets so bad that by Friday morning (day 5), when you can barely recognize yourself in the wall to wall mirrors in the marble bathroom so you feebly ask your boyfriend to call your insurance and find out where you can go see a doctor.  They advise the ER at George Washington Medical, and though you have barely enough strength to put on clothes and walk to the front of the hotel while Keith hails a cab, you somehow make it to the ER where the intake nurse nods her head while she hands you a mask and says “You got it bad.”  You remember running to the bathroom after you check in so you can avoid throwing up all over the shiny white floor.  Once admitted to your own ER cubby you explain the strange history of your illness to the team of student doctors and they determine that you need an IV they pump you full of electrolytes and anti-nausea medicine, so you are coherent enough to hear them tell you that you wouldn’t even gotten sick if you hadn’t been on amoxicillin two weeks before because you had an infection where a piece of a chia seed got stuck under the skin that houses your half grown in wisdom teeth.  Though you are annoyed by this assessment because you told your dentist you didn’t want to take antibiotics (you haven’t taken them for more than ten years), you celebrate that you feel well enough to have emotions, and once you are discharged by the late afternoon, you have enough strength to walk across the street with your boyfriend to the Whole Foods and get yourself some fresh fruit and an organic Portuguese roll.  The doctors advise bread, water, and Gatorade, and maybe some soup if you can keep the other liquids down.  You go back to the hotel and sleep while your boyfriend turned nurse hits up the Rite Aid on the corner and comes back with a rainbow variety of Gatorade because he doesn’t know which disgusting red #40 infused flavor you would prefer more.  You spend all of Saturday and Sunday morning recovering, and though you still feel weak, armed with anti-nausea pills, Gatorade, and some wheat bagels for the road you’re well enough to drive back to the City on Sunday afternoon, intending to be fully recovered and to go to work the next day.

Except when you get up to go to work on Monday and Tuesday you feel so weak you can’t even think about getting on the train.  You half work from home while sipping Pho broth, nibbling rice noodles and eating a few steamed vegetables so by Friday you feel mostly back to normal.  You aren’t eating much, and your total weight loss clocks in at about 13 pounds, but you’re so happy about being able to walk without feeling like you’re going to faint that you and Keith meet friends for a drink on Friday night, and on your way home you’re silently rejoice that, after what seemed like an eternity of illness, you are feeling like yourself again.  Nausea creeps up on Saturday night while you are making dinner, but you take one of your anti-nausea pills and get through making dinner, but eat only a quarter of the pressed paninis that you made.  You wake up on Sunday feeling slightly better (and really hungry) so you have some First Asparagus of Spring Salad before you head out to Great Neck for a Mother’s Day dinner with your boyfriend’s family.  You get seated 45 minutes earlier than expected and you’re thrilled because your appetite is back full force and there is homemade crusty Italian bread on the table.  You nosh on bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and you order the whole wheat rotelli with seared brussels sprouts, thinking that you can finally eat a full meal.   But when you food arrives at the table you take two bites and get the rest wrapped because your nausea is back.  You smile through the rest of dinner and tell your extended family that you are just tired, so they send you home to get a good night’s rest in the hopes you’ll be fresh for work on Monday.  That morning you pick up some fresh fruit and plant yourself firmly at your desk so you can get through the hundreds of emails that you missed over the last two weeks.  Except that doesn’t happen either, because as soon as you’ve finished the assortment of fresh melon, strawberries, and blueberries, you’re running down the hall to the restroom and hurling it all back up.

Food Log Spread Sheet
My Food Log Spreadsheet

You tell your boss, who makes you call your doctor and have him figure out what is wrong with you.  You get an emergency appointment, where you tell him what has now turned into a far too long stretch of illness, and he harshly pokes and prods your abdomen and becomes convinced that you have appendicitis and because there is no way that you had the same flu with the same symptoms twice in two weeks.  He casually tells you that the surgery (SURGERY?!?!) will be fast, and that it’ll only take a few days to recover, but that you have to get to the ER right away for a CAT scan.  You take a cab the ten blocks to Lenox Hill, where you are admitted quickly, and they hook you up to yet another round IV for hydration, electrolytes, and anti-nausea medicine, and then you wait for 5 hours to get a CAT scan.  The results comes back totally normal—no enlarged appendix, no abnormal anything.  You leave the ER at midnight cursing your doctor and his stupid assumption that you’ll be on an operating table overnight, and call you boyfriend so he can pick up some Gatorade before the bodega closes.  You are tired, hungry, and miserable because even after visit number two to the ER you still have no definitive diagnosis.  So you work from home for the next few days, and go back to the Pho broth, rice noodles and Gatorade regiment, until Wednesday night, when you are so hungry and convinced that you are better (you haven’t been sick since Monday!) that when your boyfriend brings you home a mouthwatering slice of coffee cake from Evelyn’s Kitchen, you can’t help but have a few bites.  You go to bed that night finally happy because you feel mostly normal, until you wake up to go to work the next morning and don’t make it to the shower because you are puking your brains out yet again.

gluten pantry purge
Gluten Pantry Purge

You call out sick for the millionth time, convinced that if you didn’t have such a cool boss you would surely be fired for clocking so much sick time right after a vacation week.  In between runs to the bathroom you just sit and think.  The nasty Flu you had in DC has long left your body, and the CAT scan proved that there is nothing going on inside your body that shouldn’t be. You have gotten better and ill three different times now, so it has to be something you are eating.  Being the analytic nerd that you are, you make a spreadsheet of everything you’ve eaten over the past week, and alarm bells go off when you realize that every time the overwhelming nausea and/or cookie tossing happened around 12 hours after you had any kind of GLUTEN.  So that was it.  Since the afternoon of June 16th you have been 100% gluten free, and have been 100% healthy.

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