Tag Archives: education

Gluten-Free Astrology: Virgo (Born August 23 – September 22)

Hey, Gluten-Free Virgo, wait up! Don’t click…darn. Lost another one. Logical Virgo is the sign least likely to brook the vague suppositions on which astrology is founded, so I’m sure they’ve mostly fled.

Nevertheless, for those in the Virgo ranks whose anxious nature keeps them from completely dismissing even something so silly as a horoscope, or who are working on broadening their rational worldview, or who are simply too kind to abandon me now, I’ll carry on. After all, this stuff is important. Get ready, because my spot-on analysis is about to blow your left-brained mind.

Fun fact: your sign is the Virgin, but she stands more for purity of purpose than for any other kind of purity that might occur to you—though most of you are probably still a bit too reserved to go prancing about naked like this statue. Photo © Tom Magliery | Flickr

Fun fact: your sign is the Virgin, but she stands more for purity of purpose than for any other kind of purity that might occur to you—though most of you are probably still a bit too reserved to go prancing about naked like this statue.
Photo © Tom Magliery | Flickr

The GF Virgo is an organized creature. When you hit the road or the skies, there’s no throwing a half-stale bag of Popchips and a Larabar into the suitcase at the last minute for you; you travel prepared with an assortment of food optimized to fill all your calorie and nutrient needs for precisely the amount of time you’ll be away—plus backups in your carry-on and a bento box for the flight. And no, you didn’t accidentally pack anything liquid.

When you were first diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance, you wasted no time in clearing out the pantry, wiping down every surface, and perhaps even lining your drawers and resealing the dining room table.

Because of your budget savviness, you’d probably amassed quite an impressive pantry, so throwing out all of those opened packages of flour and pasta and even not-glutenous but possibly contaminated containers of sugar and baking soda may have hurt a little—but just a little. Your mottos are “order above all else”; “a clean home is a happy home”; “idle hands are the devil’s playthings”; and all that Protestant ethic jazz. Some may therefore consider you rather cold or callous, or at the very least a stickler.

And, well, the stickler part is probably true. No trying “just a taste” or figuring “this should be safe” for you. Every package gets checked, every question gets asked, every manufacturer gets directly called. And, as a result, many fewer glutenings get got. You go, GF Virgo.

The cold and callous part, though? No, that’s not you. You care intensely about doing the right thing, and that includes doing right by others. You’re dedicated to your family, friends, and community—so though you may not be as nurturing as a Cancer or as buoyant as a Leo, in your own way you’re just as warm as your fellow summertime signs.

Photo © Rromir Imami | Flickr

Your symbol, the Virgin, is often pictured holding a sheaf of wheat. In the GF Virgo’s case, she’s probably carrying it somewhere far away from her own kitchen to gift to someone who will be able to use it. Because that’s just the kind of person she is. (She will then scrub her hands for five minutes afterwards. Because that’s also the kind of person she is.)
Photo © Rromir Imami | Flickr

This month, you might put your conscientiousness to work on behalf of your fellow GFers by helping a local restaurant to iron out the kinks in its gluten-free service. Using your eagle eye for flaws, teach that sandwich bar attendee to keep the breaded chicken farther away from the cucumber, or point out (gently) that soup isn’t gluten-free if it’s served in a bread bowl. Or take advantage of back-to-school season to do a little educating of your own—many public and private schools have a thing or two to learn about gluten and allergies. Beware, however, of your tendency to overcomplicate. Not every change must be implemented by a planning committee.

Oh, and while I’m criticizing you, I should remind you that you yourself have a tendency to be overcritical, not only of others but of yourself. Virgo rules over the nervous system and the intestines, so the GF Virgo is at the heart of a perfect storm when it comes to gluten-induced anxiety. You’re also quite health-focused, and therefore prone to hypochondria. This month, try to take it easy on yourself; give yourself the same care you give others, but avoid obsessing over the details of your day-to-day wellness. Getting out of your own head (and your extraordinarily tidy house) just might be the best thing for it.

GF Virgos tend to be shy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few famous ones running around. (Pardon me, they are in fact very rarely found “running around” as opposed to “proceeding in a calm and efficient manner toward their goal.”) Here are a couple:

Confucius

Confucius

Confucius, born September 28th, 551 BC, might seem to have a birthday outside of the Virgo date range. However, my ultimate guide to astrology and several less trusty but ultimately convincing websites tell me he was a Virgo, so I’m just going to assume it has something to do with planetary motion and thousands of years having passed and all that. But was he a GF Virgo? Judge for yourself: I hear Confucius said, “I do not eat if I do not get the proper soy sauce.” Sounds like a celiac saying to me.

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa, born August 26th, 1910, would not be very happy to hear herself associated with this blasphemy, but she was without a doubt a Virgo through and through. It takes some serious belief in rules, order, and a sense of what’s right to become a nun in the first place, not to mention do the additional work to which she dedicated her life. But GF? Well, I don’t mean to say that Mother Theresa was a fad dieter, but she did briefly flirt with eating nothing but rice and salt, in imitation of the diet of the poor. She was talked out of it eventually, but at least for a time, turns out, she was by default a GF Virgo.

Anyone else you can think of? I can’t help but imagine that all of those celiac experts must fall under this sign (Peter Green? Stefano Guandalini? Alessio Fasano? Total Virgos). However, I don’t know their birthdays, and neither does Google, it seems, so you’ll have to take my word for it—though if you’re a GF Virgo, you totally won’t.

As always, the “information,” such as it is, in this post has been largely ripped off from The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need, by Joanna Martine Woolfolk, which is in fact the only astrology book you’ll ever need (need here being a relative term).

See also: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo

My dear GF Virgo friends, I am ready for you to tear into me for propagating such unremitting nonsense. (But…come on…didn’t I get it just a little right? Let me know if so!)

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Help me write a letter to my doctor

Last week (erm, two posts ago…gosh, I’ve been lazy) I asked why doctors can’t just talk to each other. I wondered if all my docs could have put their heads together and figured me out faster. The consensus was “maybe, maybe not.”

Photo © Ben Weston | Flickr

Even though celiac disease is associated with a huge range of symptoms affecting virtually every system and function of the body, with implications going well beyond the gastrointestinal, it’s GI doctors who are overwhelmingly responsible for diagnosing it. Other doctors are less likely to be trained in recognizing it, and apparently also less likely to care. (Back in February, Jess of The Patient Celiac posted a selection of anonymous comments on an online doctors forum that included this gem: “Ugh. Is there any disease more boring and worthy of turfing to the GI guys than Celiac Sprue?”)

So although in an ideal world, any of my doctors could have diagnosed me separately or in collaboration (or a supercomputer could have), in the real world it was pretty much down to the one who specialized in intestines to diagnose me.

But she didn’t.

I saw a gastrointestinal doctor for the first time back in December/January of 2011 after half a year of symptoms (my insurance made it hard to see a doctor earlier, since I was in college out of state). In that half a year, I’d had an emergency room visit, I’d tried a strict low-FODMAP diet with no results (besides an initial placebo high that wore off after a week), and I’d worried a LOT.

The GI doc did a colonoscopy but—inexplicably—not an endoscopy or at the very least a blood test for celiac disease. She wasn’t interested in talking about food (turfing it to the dietitian guys, I suppose, though she didn’t set me up with one), and she sent me on my way with OTC meds and all but a pat on the head.

Since I first got my positive bloodwork results, even before I had a fully confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease, I’ve been toying with the idea of calling or writing to this doctor. Now that it’s nearly May—celiac awareness month, as you may be (heh) aware—it seems like a good time to follow through.

What I want to accomplish here is:

1) Tell her my story
2) Understand why she didn’t test me for celiac disease (or, if she did without my being aware, why she never contacted me with the results)
3) Let her know, if she doesn’t, that my particular symptoms are commonly associated with celiac disease
4) Encourage her to test for celiac disease before diagnosing IBS in the future.

What I don’t want to do is:

1) Come off as whiny
2) Come off as condescending
3) Offend her sense of her own expertise
4) Be immediately dismissed
5) Threaten a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, I’m a whiny, condescending, offensive, easily dismissed person prone to making accidental threats. So I need your help!

Have you ever written this kind of letter? Whether or not you have, do you have any tips for me? Any specific things I should say or not say?

Is it better to do this in writing or over the phone (in your opinion or experience)?

Do you feel this kind of patient-to-doctor education is possible and worthwhile? What are other ways to go about it?

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The bathroom IS an important part of the story.

This was meant to be a lighthearted “second-favorite book character with celiac disease” post, in the vein of my Moaning Myrtle review. I was going to point to a particular scene in a Beverly Cleary book and say, “See, Ramona knows.” But when I located and reread the Ramona the Pest scene, I remembered some details that got me all righteously worked up about education and sent this post off in a totally different direction. I hope you’ll pardon my soapboxing. If you came for lighthearted, please check out my archives, where you will find plenty of absurd musing on fairy tales and brain fog. No doubt I will be back tomorrow babbling about citrus (no, but seriously).

If you’re still there, let me paint the scene for you: Kindergarten teacher Miss Binney corrals her rowdy class into something approaching order and reads aloud the story Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, an inspiring tale about sticking to your guns and living up to your promises. In the face of great doubt, Mike proves the worth of his ancient steam shovel by digging the entire cellar of the new town hall in a single day, dawn to dusk. It’s a good story, and the kids, pesky Ramona included, are rapt. But they’re especially interested in one detail that the picture book skips past:

As Ramona listened a question came into her mind, a question that had often puzzled her about the books that were read to her. Somehow books always left out one of the most important things anyone would want to know. Now that Ramona was in school, and school was a place for learning, perhaps Miss Binney could answer the question. . . .

‘Miss Binney, I want to know—how did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom when he was digging the basement of the town hall?

As I said, I was going to chop off the excerpt there and leave you with, “Anyone who places that much importance on being able to get to the bathroom probably has…” (…you see where I’m going with this.)

But when I kept reading, I found a part I’d forgotten: Miss Binney’s response.

Miss Binney’s smile seemed to last longer than smiles usually last. . . .

‘Boys and girls,’ she began, and spoke in her clear, distinct way. ‘The reason the book does not tell us how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom is that it is not an important part of the story. The story is about digging the basement of the town hall, and that is what the book tells us.’

Miss Binney spoke as if this explanation ended the matter . . .

Miss Binney’s blunt summation, “not an important part of the story,” read from my present perspective, suddenly struck me as incomplete and misguided, as well as indicative of a larger problem in the way we’re socialized in school. Here Ramona and her classmates are thinking critically about a basic human function, and Miss B., the civilizing influence, the authoritative mouthpiece of society, is standing in front of them and explaining that it’s not important. As the story goes on to remind us, Miss B. showed her class the bathroom first thing, and she’ll surely lead them there in single file the requisite number of times a day, but other than that she doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want to hear about it, and doesn’t want it popping up in her picture books.

Ramona—and good for her—learns from this that there are some lessons school won’t teach her. For now, at least, she “knew and the rest of the class knew that knowing how to go to the bathroom was important,” but for how long? How long until this understanding is beaten out of her by well-meaning teachers and other prudes? How long until she’s pretending her digestive system doesn’t exist and whispering the word bathroom like a shameful near-obscenity, if at all? And from there, how long until she’s bashfully tacking “Sorry, TMI” onto descriptions of stomach upset in a support group or a doctor’s office—or keeping quiet about it altogether?

Am I being melodramatic? Maybe a little. But whether or not I’m taking away what Bev wanted me to (and, judging from this article, I’m probably not), it’s what I’ve got. Sure, Miss Binney’s not precisely saying that using the bathroom in itself isn’t important; she means that it’s not related to the overall story, which is about the value of a good day’s work done right. But, even setting aside the implication that  access to a bathroom and the necessary breaks to use it are not important to a good day’s work (which is in itself a troubling idea about labor to be teaching to our little future workerbots in public schools, and one beyond my ability to properly dismantle in the parenthetical space I’ve granted it here), Miss B.’s message includes more than her spoken words. Her clear discomfort, her abrupt response, her effort to shut down the dialogue and move on—all of these things tell the tykes that the bathroom is not something one should talk about.

I understand that early education teachers must live in constant fear of the off topic, and I understand that this is not without reason. Still, I wish Miss B.’s response—and the response of the real teachers on whom she is no doubt based—had been different.

I wish she’d said, “Good question, Ramona.” I wish she’d said, “Sometimes writers leave stuff out, even really important details like this, because they’re focusing on other things.” I’d love it if she’d said, “You know what, Ramona? That’s a plot hole that has never occurred to me in all my years as an educator. You just might make a fine editor one day.”

In sum, I wish she’d taken the question seriously and faced without discomfort a subject no one ought to disown, least of all a teacher of kindergarteners (a poop-obsessed clan if ever there was one). Because if we were all taught from kindergarten age to speak up about things that struck us as strange or unfair, and to discuss those things that strike us as compelling or important, we might have a better educated, more self-assured, and perhaps more just population.

More specifically, if we were taught from a young age that the bathroom, and what happens there, is important (which it is—digestion affects virtually every system in our bodies, and what comes out at the end of the process is just as worthy of attention as what goes in at the start) and that it’s okay and important to talk about it, more of us might talk to our doctors about the strange things we’ve noticed in our own bathroom habits, and digestive disorders from Crohn’s to colitis to celiac to food intolerances to IBS, that chimerical beast—might be discovered and dealt with earlier.

Moreover, if it were taught that it’s important and okay to talk about the bathroom, more kids might grow up to be gastroenterologists or digestive science researchers, because those fields might be recognized as the incredibly intricate and fascinating areas of study they are, rather than being widely considered the least glamorous and least compelling arenas of medicine. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might have found a cure for ulcerative colitis by now; we might have a working celiac vaccine by now; we might have banished the diagnose of IBS and replaced it with true knowledge and solutions by now. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might even be a bit closer to making that talk truly less important by eradicating digestive dysfunctions.

Finally, if it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might be able to stop losing people (including many who are, in the grand scheme of things, not much older than those kindergarteners) to suicides precipitated by the depression that attends many digestive disorders, because they might feel comfortable speaking up about it and getting help, instead of becoming more and more hopeless and more and more humiliated by their unimportant condition until life itself starts seeming unimportant, too. (And, again, because we might have more researchers turning up results that could tangibly ease their symptoms.)

In short, although I know teachers have lesson plans to stick to and criteria to meet, I can’t help but feel that an important part of any teacher’s hard day’s work done right should be to encourage students to speak up about the things that trouble or confuse them, especially those things that concern the very most basic stuff of human functioning. And yes, that includes the bathroom.

Asking these questions shouldn’t make you a pest. It’s the refusal to listen to them that’s really annoying.

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

All excerpts from Ramona the Pest, © Beverly Cleary 1968.

Please share your thoughts! If you have kids, do you encourage them to speak up about “uncomfortable” topics? Do you speak up about digestive issues, if you have them? Are you (or your kids) shushed for talking about the toilet? How might we go about increasing our comfort level with this topic on a societal level? And do you think we should?

P.S. I know celiac disease isn’t all digestive trouble—trust me, I know—but this isn’t really a post about celiac disease. It’s a post about the BATHROOM. Which is, to me, very important.

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