Tag Archives: books

Sprue Stories: The Christmas Edition

You may have figured this out by now, but I love Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Some of the most wonderful bits, in my opinion, are the songs, movies, and stories that go along with it. (You know, scary ghost stories and tales of the glories?)

So, I thought I’d share some with you. You’ve read the fairy tales; you’ve seen the Disney remakes; today, it’s time for the Christmas Edition, with a side of good cheer. Enjoy.

Note: I guest-posted a handful of these at Taste Guru’s blog today. If you’re incoming from there, you’ll want to skip straight to A Christmas Carol, with Gluten.

Santa with sleigh and reindeer

The Other Reindeer

You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, Rudolph, and maybe even Olive, the other reindeer. But do you recall Ceecee, the celiac reindeer? Of course you don’t; no one does. Ceecee used to laugh and call Rudolph names just like everyone else, but then something in that North Pole air activated her celiac genes. Soon, she was breaking antlers like a much older deer, spending sleigh practice in the bathroom, and struggling with sinus infections that gave her a scarlet schnoz to rival Rudy’s.

Since celiac was dramatically underdiagnosed in Santa’s Village, Ceecee never learned what was wrong—everyone told her it was probably just holiday stress. Boy, did she ever feel bad when Rudolph got to guide Santa’s sleigh, and she got cut out of even the footnotes of reindeer history.

The moral: If celiac disease has to happen to someone, it might as well be to a bully.

*

Not So Jolly and Happy

Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul, until his latent gluten sensitivity manifested itself with symptoms of depression and anxiety. After that, all he did was sit in a nearby walk-in freezer, eat frozen pizzas, and complain that he was going to melt any day now. So much for laughing and playing just the same as you and me. Mind you, as a snowman, he ought not to have had a digestive system in the first place, much less a malfunctioning one, but there you go: he really was as alive as he could be.

*

What the Grinch Really Stole

The Grinch, as you’re likely aware, hated Christmas. So much, in fact, that he tried to stop it from coming. But Dr. Seuss, as doctors often do, got a few parts of the story wrong: it wasn’t a heart, but a gut problem. The Grinch had suffered through years of gluten cross-contamination at the table of those daft little Whos, and this year, he was ready to end it.

So, he stole into Whoville and packed up all the gluten in every house, except for a crumb that was even too small for a mouse (though not, of course, too small to make him sick, had he eaten it). Okay, yes, he did get a bit carried away and nabbed a wreath or two as well. And he did pitch it off a cliff with a maniacal glint in his eye. But then he stayed up all night preparing a totally gluten-free feast—right down to the marinade on the roast beast!

By the time the Whos were rolling out of bed, the Grinch was rolling back into town, tooting his horn and distributing quinoa cookies right and left. Little Cindy Lou Who (whose stunted growth and persistent insomnia suggest she might’ve been diagnosed with celiac herself if Dr. Who hadn’t been so busy holding hands and singing nonsense with the rest of the town) beamed, and they all marveled that, even without gluten, Christmas Day was still in their grasp.

*

Almost Twelve Days of Celiac

On the first day of celiac, my doctor gave to me…a positive endoscopy.
On the second day of celiac, my doctor gave to me…uhhh. Man, we really need to work on our follow-up care.

*

Underneath the Mistletoe Last Night

No one suffers from fad diets as much as Santa Claus. Maintaining that jelly-bowl belly isn’t easy, you know, and he doesn’t ask for much: just cookies and milk, and a carrot or two for his steeds. But first the low-fat craze brought him soggy applesauce cookies; then the low-carb people started leaving him no cookies, just milk; then the vegans got into the game and started setting out cups of hemp milk (with more applesauce cookies). Now the gluten- and grain-free crowd gifts him lumpy cookielike substances that disintegrate into his beard as soon as he takes a bite. Poor guy.

Still, when I saw Santa kissing my gluten-sensitive mommy, I hoped he had indeed gotten only gluten-free goodies at all the hundreds of thousands of houses he’d visited before ours. Otherwise, I knew that Mommy, weak Mommy, would be waking up on Christmas feeling considerably less than nice.

*

Wise Career Moves

It’s a good thing Hermey became a dentist when he did, because Ceecee the reindeer was just the first in a long train of undiagnosed celiac animals and elves, none of whom could understand why they suddenly had so many cavities. Hermey was there for the fillings and root canals, and eventually, Mrs. Claus went back to school, became a gastroenterologist, and diagnosed them all. Now, if only something could be done about Santa’s awful insurance policies.

*

A Christmas Carol, with Gluten

Old Scrooge was a rotter, but he had an excuse: he felt lousy. One gloomy Christmas Eve, the ghost of his old partner Marley appeared (not a figment of Scrooge’s imagination conjured by indigestion, though you could see why he’d think so). “You’re forging a chain of symptoms that will destroy your life and your afterlife,” Marley warned.

The culprit, as you might guess, was gluten. Since Scrooge was sunk in denial, Marley ushered in some backup.

scrooge2

“I am the Gluten of Christmas Past,” said the first apparition, showing Scrooge a nightmarescape of himself on Christmases gone by: running to the toilet, lying in bed with a cool towel on his forehead, and snapping, “What right have you to be merry? What reason have you?”

The Gluten of Christmas Present came next, showing cheery scenes of Christmas dinners with nary a speck of flour, even in the pudding. The last home belonged to Scrooge’s clerk Bob, whose tiny and mysteriously ill son Tim had found considerable relief from a gluten- and caseine-free diet (though his parents could ill afford to pay the premium for such foods).

Christmas Future drove in the final nail (door, coffin, whichever you prefer): Scrooge’s tombstone. “Lymphoma,” the ghost confirmed, gloomily. “Entirely preventable.”

Scrooge awoke ready to change his ways. He called out the window to a passing boy, “What food is gluten-free?”

“Why, turkey, sir!” the boy called back.

The matter decided, Scrooge sent the boy off for a prize bird for his clerk, dumped the remnants of his (questionable) gruel in the fire, and went gluten-free immediately (because, New Year’s resolutions? Bah, humbug). Weeks into his reformed diet, Scrooge’s rage issues dissipated, and he lived charitably and gluten-free all the rest of his days.

*

Let me know your favorite Christmas stories in the comments. After that, have a happy, healthy, cross-contamination-free holiday. See you next year.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t know much about chemical sensitivity?

Have you seen the movie Safe?

It’s about a woman (Carol, played by Julianne Moore) who develops a mysterious and steadily worsening illness—most likely multiple chemical sensitivity.

I watched it in college. Though it was a great film, it encouraged me to dwell on my own mysterious illness, which had begun earlier that year. The film set up questions like, “Is her illness even real? Will she ever get better?” Watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder the same things about me.

Later, of course, I found out I have celiac disease, and that it could get better. I just have to not eat some things (okay, a lot of things). Except for avoiding crumbs, I don’t have to worry too much about my environment. I won’t find gluten in the air anywhere besides a bakery, and the worst chemical I contend with is natural flavorings.

cover of Allergic to Life by Kathryn Treat

But I remained curious about chemical sensitivity, which I didn’t know much about beyond its portrayal in the film.

Now, I’ve learned about it from Kathryn Chastain Treat, one of my earliest readers and strongest supporters. She blogs about her extreme chemical sensitivity, and she’s just finished a book: Allergic to Life.

To celebrate her book’s release, I asked her a few questions about what is still a misunderstood and mysterious disease.

Readers, we’d love to hear your answers to these questions, too!

What do you feel your experience has in common with the experience of people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies? What’s most different?

Kathryn: I feel that in some ways we are very similar. We can’t just go and eat anywhere or anything. I have food allergies, which causes issues similar to those that someone with celiac disease encounters when dining out or with family and friends.

What makes me different is that I have not only food allergies, but also sensitivities to chemicals (perfumes, colognes, fabric softeners) and mold. I do a lot of dining at outdoor cafes if they can tolerate my food allergies (which include foods that may contain mold, like vinegar and soy sauce) and if I can manage to find seating far enough away from someone who is very scented.

What misconceptions do people have about your illness? Which get you mad? Which do you think are just funny? How do you respond?

Kathryn: I believe people, including many in the medical profession, feel that my sensitivities to chemicals and mold are not that serious. They believe that if I can manage a short time in a store (with my mask) that I should be able to go anywhere anytime I want. I also feel that people believe because I do not work and stay at home that I just sit and watch television and eat bon bons in my fluffy slippers.

What makes me the maddest is not taking my symptoms seriously. I think the perception that I have all the time in the world because I don’t work is probably the funniest. They have no idea how much work it takes to stay as well as I have managed to get and how long it takes to clean my house.

I have responded that my total load of what my body tolerates varies from day to day. If I am having a good day, then I can make a trip to the store. I can’t do this every day or spend all day doing this because despite my mask, my body gets too overloaded with chemicals and I end up sick. Sometimes I just ignore it all together because it is hard to convince someone once they have their own preconceived ideas.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as a result of being ill?

Kathryn: My younger daughter was here for a visit and we were scheduled to visit my older daughter. My younger daughter had her hair done earlier in the day. Not thinking (I blame my off and on again companion—brainfog), we just jumped in my car. Of course she put on one of my required tyvek suits to avoid bringing any fragrances or chemicals into my car. We started down the road, and about ten miles into our trip I was having difficulty. I was getting a headache, congested, and my voice was slowly getting more of a crackle in it. Suddenly it dawned on both of us that her hair was making me ill.

As soon as possible I pulled to the side of the road and we both jumped out. How were we going to make it safe for us to continue on our journey? We couldn’t go on the way things were and I couldn’t call anyone to come help us. We searched the back seat and then the trunk to find something we could put over her hair.

Aha! There it was, a white plastic garbage bag in my trunk. I always keep some in the car for emergencies or having to put someone’s belongings in it before they can ride with me.

We got the bag out of the trunk and tried to put it over her hair. The wind was blowing and gusts of air would get under the bag and fill it like a balloon. We fought and fought the wind and the air in the bag. Here we are on the side of the road, she is already wearing the white tyvek suit, and we are now trying to put a bag over her head.

Enter the highway patrol cruiser. Just as I thought things couldn’t be worse or crazier than they were, the officer gets out to see if we need assistance. I have to explain as simply as I can without appearing to be a lunatic that I have sensitivities to chemicals and my daughter has just gotten her hair done, making me ill. I also explained that we were trying to cover her hair up with the bag but the air kept getting inside the bag. I purposely tried to ignore the fact that she was dressed in this white suit. The officer, however, noticed and made some funny comment about her tyvek suit and Ghostbusters and then calmly walked over and helped us get the bag on her hair. I was then asked to move aside so that he could write down my license plate number, which was required because he had stopped to check our status. As he walked away, he said it bothered him too when his wife got her hair done.

The story doesn’t end there. A few weeks later our tenant came to pay rent. He was talking about having coffee with his highway patrol officer friends. One had commented about these two women on the side of the road and how he had to help one put a bag over the other one’s head. I immediately started laughing and told him that I was one of the women he rescued that day. Our tenant knows all about my sensitivities and about my story. He started laughing and said he couldn’t wait to tell this particular officer that he knows the women.

I knew the officer would most likely go back and tell the story to all his buddies. I mean, how often does this kind of thing happen?

Okay, now what’s the least funny?

Kathryn: The least funny thing was when I made a quick trip with my daughter into Target. We were getting what she and I needed when we ran into a woman pushing her shopping cart with a little girl trailing alongside her. She saw me with my mask and made the fastest turnaround I had ever seen someone make with a shopping cart. I am sure she thought that I was contagious, and what she never knew was that I was more likely to get sick being around her than her from being around me.

What book or movie character would you nominate as the mascot for chemical sensitivity?

Molly: This was my final question, but we’ve both been wracking our brains and haven’t come up with anyone yet (there’s gotta be a Harry Potter reference in here somewhere). I don’t want to nominate Carol, because Kathryn and Carol don’t seem too similar (watch the film and you’ll agree).

Can you think of one? Let us know if so! Also, be sure to share your own funny and unfunny health stories. And, of course, check out Kathryn’s book.

She is offering a giveaway of three autographed copies through Rafflecopter, and her book is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon (prices vary). Autographed copies (US Only) will be available on her website.

This is stop #7 on her book blog tour, and you can find the rest on her blog.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Got worms? A review of The Wild Life of Our Bodies, by Rob Dunn

“You should rewild your gut,” my sister said to me one day, conversationally, over the phone. She said this in part because it’s the kind of thing people say to me all the time, but also in part because she’d just read The Wild Life of Our Bodies (Harper, 2011) and was eager to proselytize. When it comes to books, there’s a vacuum in me that yearns to be filled (perhaps by an intestinal worm—but we’ll get to that later), so I was an ideal soul to target.

wildbodies_cover

Althea tells me I’m the first person she recommended the book to who actually read it. Too bad, because it’s solid pop science (I, as a generally non-pop-science reader, enjoyed it), and it’s full of a lot of great tidbits for those of us who spend our days preoccupied with parts of the body that normal people are fortunate enough to forget exist.

Subtitled Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, the book’s central takeaway (which author Rob Dunn makes explicit only on the second-to-last page) is that “our bodies and lives only make sense in the context of other species. Only by looking at other lives do we really understand our own.” Although Dunn is careful to make clear just how much of what he’s writing is unproven, the ideas he presents do make good sense of senseless things.

For instance, why do we have allergies or autoimmune diseases? How did our bodies get so darn stupid? In a childhood game of “stop hitting yourself,” there’s always a sadistic older sibling in the background causing the trouble. When our own insides won’t stop hitting themselves, though, what on earth is to blame? Tell me you haven’t wondered this yourself once, twice, or every day. Dunn wondered, too. The hypothesis he describes in response is sort of the opposite of “stop hitting yourself.” It’s not that some outside force is taking the immune system by the hand and making it hurt itself; it’s that the immune system, used to having a force to act against, is hurting itself out of what amounts to habit—or boredom.

Life, as a wise candlestick once said, is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving. Like the servant in that awkwardly classist formulation, the immune system, finding its original function unneeded, casts about for something to do with all of the useful skills it’s evolved. And in the process, it manages to mess things up for us pretty thoroughly. Here’s what Dunn thinks went down.

Once, he suggests, we all had intestinal worms. They snuck in through unfiltered water or burrowed up through the soles of our feet, and they made themselves at home within our guts. In response, our immune systems sprang into action, producing antibodies to oust the unwanted guests. But, if the worms stuck around long enough and seemed not to be causing much damage, peacekeeping cells developed, too, allowing our bodies to settle into equilibrium. “This isn’t so bad,” they told the immune system, in essence. “Chill out.”

Now, clean as we are, we have no worms, but our systems, having evolved to defend us, remain slap-happy. In the absence of true parasites, they attack other stuff—stuff that isn’t in itself bad, like pollen or gluten or choice bits of our own intestines. And, unfortunately, in the absence of real threats, our peacekeepers, which might have buffered us against such needless attacks, seem to have assumed we’d be okay on our own and departed on a long, naturally selected vacation.

Dunn adds on to that one more idea—his favorite, he calls it—that a parasite, if present, would also have secreted compounds that could calm our immune systems, even bamboozle it into thinking the worm belonged. Without this gentle resistance to which it is accustomed, the immune response is even more vicious. Like the kid whose arm continues reflexively to bat back and forth even once his brother has tired of the game, our immune systems carry on lashing out—or, really, lashing in, since there’s not much to lash out against—and causing us more harm than good.

The solution? It is, of course, to dose yourself with worms (rewild your gut). Maybe. You’ll have to read chapter 4 to figure out whether or not that’s a good idea.

Other highlights, for me, included discussions of:

  • making germless animals
  • gut bacteria’s role in metabolism and obesity
  • hand sanitizer’s counterproductive legacy
  • anxiety and panic disorders as remnants of our past lives as prey
  • hairlessness as a protection against bugs and the diseases they transmit
  • the relationship between disease and disgust

Throughout, Dunn uses far clearer analogies and demonstrates a much stronger grasp of science than I have in this post (although my neuroscientist sister did approve its content). For anyone who’s ever wondered what good an appendix is, or what causes Crohn’s disease, or how bad for us city living is really, The Wild Life of Our Bodies is well worth a read. If you do decide after reading it to go get yourself some worms, I hope you’ll tell me all about it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

A label-reading lesson from Hogwarts

3I’m here again to remind you that more than magic runs in the blood of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding folks. We talked about Moaning Myrtle last time, but let’s not forget our other prime celiac/allergy role model in Harrypotterland: Mad-Eye Moody.

This is a man who:

  • drinks from a personal flask rather than risking the dining hall pumpkin juice
  • drags around a magical trunk with seven locked compartments, one of which must be stuffed with Udi’s
  • has one magical eye that I’d wager can detect gluten down to 0 ppm
  • isn’t a stranger to skin issues
    . . . or mental issues
  • and, most importantly, knows the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

All signs point to celiac.

Paranoia, double and triple checking, and intense suspicion of even the most innocuous-seeming thing may all be symptoms of paranoid personality disorder, but they’re also critical aspects of living free of gluten or food allergies. This past week, I learned anew the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE after two separate sloppy errors:

  1. A few days ago, I bought a bag of salt & pepper pistachios from CVS. After eating a handful, I grabbed the bag in a panic to double check the ingredients, as I am wont to do, but this time, rather than resting easy that my first look was enough, I realized that though the optional “may contain” line didn’t list wheat, there were natural ingredients that I hadn’t queried. When I called Gold Emblem (the CVS grocery brand), a representative confirmed the pistachios were gluten-free. Still, I should know better than to eat it before I read it.
  2. Last night, I finished off a bag of popcorn kernels from Arrowhead Mills. Because I’ve been researching pure gluten-free dried beans recently without a ton of luck, it occurred to me to recheck this bag. Sure enough, no “gluten-free” symbol, which Arrowhead states it includes on products made on dedicated lines. I’ve eaten the popcorn over the course of months, simply assuming I must have done my research properly before I bought it. Apparently not. I have to wait till 9 to call their customer service line, but I’m kicking myself already.

If Mad-Eye were here, I know he’d be grumbling, “Elementary food safety, nobody bothers about it anymore.” I know, I know, Professor. Put me in detention, take points from Ravenclaw, but please, don’t let my popcorn have had gluten in it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: