Christmas this year was a pretty rough one for me. Extreme gluten sensitivity makes it very difficult to stay symptom-free for any length of time. Even the smallest traces cause minor but recognizable symptoms, but you don’t know how much damage those exposures are doing, especially when you have one exposure after another. Staying symptom-free this Christmas season was a huge struggle.
To add a little bit more context, I’m going to go back a few weeks, back to when I made a mistake not listening to my gut instinct and writing it off as paranoia. One morning, as I was taking my thyroid medication over the bathroom sink, an extra tablet fell out of the container into the sink. In the back of my mind, I wondered if it was truly safe, but I shrugged off the thought as paranoia and put the pill back into the container. I thought I was okay at first, but as time went on, I continued to have symptoms. When I was exposed to gluten in other ways during that time, it seemed strange that symptoms continued to linger rather than resolving. Finally, I wondered if I really did contaminate my thyroid pills by putting the pill that fell into the sink back into the container. I got an emergency refill of my thyroid medication and began taking the pills from that. I started feeling better. However, that was not to be the end as I continued to have gluten exposures every few days from absently doing things or just being careless. That sometimes happens when I uncover something that causes daily or almost daily exposures. I hope to get better but then still manage to find ways to ingest gluten somehow.
At a Christmas party at my aunt’s house, my mom had fixed green beans and set aside a small container for me to eat. After lunch at the party, I felt a little off and wondered if I’d had gluten. Since the meal I brought was a microwaveable meal and the dessert was individually-wrapped pieces of candy, nothing I would have had to touch directly, I wondered if the green beans might have been a problem. Since I didn’t really feel my full-blown gluten symptoms, I wondered if it was just something else. The family was to have Christmas dinner together the following Friday evening, Christmas Day, at my parents’ house. I’d been nervous eating at their house in the past, but Thanksgiving had gone well, so I wasn’t expecting this dinner to be any different. Mom had another foil pan full of green beans that had not been touched at the party the previous week. I’d brought dressing and gravy. There was ham, turkey, and fruit to eat as well. The dinner was good, but I started having symptoms soon after. That’s when I remembered the green beans. I did talk to my mom later about them, but we’re not sure how they could have gotten contaminated if they did. I took home some leftovers, my dressing, gravy, and some ham that my mom had set aside for me. When I got home, I realized that the piece of foil that had been separating the dressing from the inside of its carry-on was not there. The carry-on had been touching the dressing directly. Since I had no idea what or who could have touched the inside of that thing, I decided not to have any more of the dressing myself and set it aside for the rest of the family to eat for Sunday lunch.
The next day, I decided to have some of the leftover ham for lunch with the rest of the gravy, some veggies, and a Kinnikinnick hamburger bun. I just put some pieces of ham on the top of each bun and covered them with gravy. I put some gravy over the veggies as well. I began to get symptoms from that meal also. I wondered what could have contaminated the ham. Did my mom wash her hands after pulling the sheet of foil and before she picked up the ham to put it in there? Could it have become contaminated some other way? Something could have even happened to the gravy while it was at my parents’. I believe I handled everything carefully as I was preparing my lunch, but something could have happened there as well. I just have no idea. The amount of leftovers I found I could have for lunch the next day was beginning to dwindle. In the end, I just decided to get a frozen dinner for tomorrow’s lunch and eat it at home before going to my parents’. I went and saw the new Star Wars movie feeling hit by the proverbial gluten truck. At least I was able to enjoy the movie in spite of it. After the movie, I dropped off my leftovers at my parents’ house.
The next day at church, we had the Lord’s supper. I would sometimes bring a rice cracker to have for the “bread” portion but would always drink the grape juice for the “wine” part. I didn’t have a rice cracker this time, so I just passed the cracker plate on to the next person. When I grabbed the cup with the grape juice, I was careful not to touch the rim, and when we drank the grape juice, I just poured it into my mouth without my lips touching the cup. At the end of the service, I went home, fixed my microwave meal and dessert, ate them, and went over to my parents’ to join my family. While there, I started to feel another hit of gluten symptoms. It could have been anything, of course. I went back over lunch and could not think of anything I might have done to contaminate my meal. It included things I’d eaten before with no issues, and I was careful to wash my hands at the right times. That left the grape juice I’d had at church. Could the person handling the cups to prepare them for the Lord’s supper touched them in such a way that gluten was introduced into the grape juice when it was poured in? It’s possible they could have prepared the plates of crackers first and then went directly to preparing the cups for the grape juice. Who knows. Whether or not the grape juice for the Lord’s supper was a problem, there seem to be levels of risk associated with partaking, so I pretty much decided for my safety that I would probably not participate in the Lord’s supper at all anymore. It’s not really funny, but in a way, I have to laugh about the idea that people are going to see me not participating and wonder what the heck is going on in my life that’s keeping me from taking part in the Lord’s supper. The people who know me best will know why, but others won’t and may wonder.
That evening, I planned to ride over to my sister’s house with a friend. My parents were coming over too. My friend and my sister’s family planned to order pizza for themselves. My parents ate at home before coming over. I brought over a microwaveable meal and a dark chocolate bar. As usual, I was careful not to touch any food directly without washing my hands first. I wiped down the tray that I was to use for eating with a disposable wipe first. I washed my hands before removing my utensils and napkin from the zipper bag I used to carry them. However, my sister didn’t have any paper towels, so I ended up grabbing a clean towel from the drawer to use. I tried to use the top of it to dry my hands, because it was sitting on top of the counter, and I certainly hope no one else had touched it. I don’t think I got exposed that night, but as the evening wore on, I began feeling really tired, and my stomach didn’t feel right. When my friend and I left, I burst into tears and really unloaded on him about all my frustrations, discouragement, and feelings of loneliness I’d been experiencing. I was getting really tired and burned out by every aspect of living gluten-free. It was the first time I’d really cried about it, as in the past, I would just get angry. My family was planning on taking a day trip Tuesday, and I pretty much decided I wouldn’t go because I didn’t feel like trying to figure out my meals for that day, if I could bring them into the park, would have to rent a locker, or would have to leave them in the car, and figure out how to keep the food safe so that I would not expose myself to gluten. I wash my hard-sided coolers in the sink to remove gluten traces but as yet had not looked into how to get the soft ones thoroughly cleaned. I didn’t know if I might have to take those and if I did, I would have had to come up with meals that I could eat without touching food directly or try to find some way of getting them clean. I just didn’t feel like messing with it.
My friend and I had a long, good talk after we got back to my house. It felt good to get a lot of things off my chest. After he left, I spent the rest of that night and the next day just resting and watching TV. I was hit pretty hard by the nausea and fatigue and just tried to take it easy. I ate light meals throughout the day, trying to stick to easy-to-digest foods. I also made a half-gallon of sweet tea with a tablespoon of ginger added to it. It actually tasted okay. I just made a half gallon of sweet tea as usual and stirred in a tablespoon of ground ginger with the rest of the mixture. The nausea persisted throughout the day, but that night, I’d had the best night’s sleep that I’d had in a while. I wonder if the other nights I’d had gluten-induced insomnia. The next day, I still felt tired and nauseous. I decided to skip my morning workout again. However, I really needed to start working on getting some things done over my Christmas vacation, so I started by taking my cat to the vet. I then came home to take down the few Christmas decorations I’d put out, sweep up where the Christmas tree was standing, and load and start the dishwasher. All of that really wore me out, so I realized I was still going to have to take it easy. I decided to spread out my plans over the week as much as I could and to try not to do too much at once. I really hated missing the day trip with my family, though. Since I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t go anyway, but if I was well, I would have gone without another thought if I didn’t have to worry about food. I did however start feeling a lot better that day, thinking I was finally over it. During the night, though, the nausea came back, and I felt under the weather the next day. I decided to push through my workout anyway and was able to do that, fix breakfast, and get ready for the carpet cleaner’s arrival by moving stuff off the carpet without much of an issue. The nausea gradually left. I was happy that I was able to do some of my after-Christmas shopping in the afternoon. My stomach got a little uneasy that night but by morning was a lot better.
With everything else pretty much resolved, I’m left wondering what caused the nausea. Was it from a stomach bug that’s been going around, or was it from all these gluten exposures I’ve had over the last few weeks, starting with the major one from the thyroid medication? Could it have been a cumulative effect? Nothing like this has happened to me with my gluten exposures before. However, if it was a bug, it didn’t cause a fever, and I never did vomit or have diarrhea. I just felt nauseous. Fortunately, I go back to my gastroenterologist for another visit soon, and I plan to discuss this question with her.
Well, that was how wonderful my Christmas was. As of this writing, I’m feeling much better and am hoping the rest of my Christmas vacation goes smoothly. The nausea is almost completely gone. I have thankfully been able to do many of the things I’d been planning to get done over my vacation. Hopefully New Year’s will go well. I have a gluten-free Udi’s pepperoni pizza to fix and eat for the evening.
Did any of you have a rough Christmas as well? Please feel free to share about it in the comments below.
UPDATE: After I posted this, I read an article in September’s Women’s Health magazine where someone asked why she was nauseous when she woke up much earlier than usual. The person responding said our stomachs make more acid at night and that the acid is emptied into the intestines and neutralized there by morning. Since my nausea seemed to come back at night, I wonder if stomach acid had anything to do with it. I have noticed heartburn at times when I’ve been exposed to gluten. The person also responded that other conditions could be present if the nausea persists into the day, like ulcers, gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), GERD, or gastritis (an inflamed stomach lining). The “inflamed stomach lining” caught my attention because inflammation was found on my endoscopy. It may have even mentioned gastritis. Could the gluten exposures have caused a flare-up? It’ll be interesting to find out what my doctor says.
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