I have had the dream more times than I can count. I’m sitting at a table, talking and laughing with the people there. The people vary, but it’s always some combination of my family and friends. Sometimes my grandparents are there, which is nice, since they are no longer with us and I miss them.
As everyone laughs over the meal, food is passed around. Someone hands me a piece of bread or a cracker, and I eat it. I immediately realize what I just did – I ate gluten! I’m horrified. Then I wake up in a panic.
It takes some times for my racing heart to slow down, to remember that it was only a bad dream, that I did really eat gluten.
These kinds of nightmares make sense. After all, I spend a lot of my life stressing out over food, worrying that I might accidentally eat something that will make me very sick, and knowing it’s easy to miss that thing. Still, it’s not like I would eat a cracker!
I went gluten free 6 years ago. At least, I thought I did. That’s when I stopped eating obvious gluten. It took years to eliminate the final traces of it from my life. Gluten hides everywhere, it seems, and I had never thought it check lemon juice, chapstick, cutting boards, or hand lotion. I certainly hadn’t thought about what my date had had to eat or drink before I kissed them, but it turns out, that is enough exposure to get me sick, too. But eventually, I figured those out.
Finally, thankfully, gluten was gone. And I felt so much better!
Then in September, I got sick. Really sick. I’ll save you the gory details, since they aren’t relevant. My naturopath had told me that, thanks to my lack of gluten exposure, it could take my body up to 48 hours to react. When I first got sick, I couldn’t figure it out – I had only eaten my own cooking all day. Then I remembered what my naturopath said, so I looked at the calendar. And I knew.
2 days earlier, I had eaten dinner in the house of someone I trusted to make a gluten free meal. We had discussed every ingredient, so I knew I would be fine. There was only 1 thing to avoid: the bread. Everyone careful, even passing the bread back and forth on the other side of the table, so crumbs wouldn’t land on my plate.
Later, I was helping to clear the table between dinner and dessert. Passing back to the dining room, I grabbed some grapes off the plate that had been put out. After I swallowed, someone mentioned that the little kid in attendance had taken a huge handful of grapes, realized it was too many, and put some back. The little kid who had been eating bread with his hands. Yikes! But when I felt fine that day I forgot all about it. I remembered only 2 days later.
I was really sick for 3 or 4 days, and it was a full 2 weeks before I could eat normally again. Just from that tiny bit of exposure, probably no more than a crumb.
And that’s what makes this week’s living nightmare so horrible.
There I was, enjoying a meal at the same home, knowing everything was fine. I had checked each ingredient. The soup was great. So was the kugel. I was enjoying the salad. She had made a salad bar, putting out each vegetable in its own bowl, along with chopped up eggs, sliced turkey, and more, so we could take whatever we wanted. I ate one rolled up piece of sliced turkey, and the second I swallowed, it hit me.
“Is this gluten free?”
“Of course it is, it’s turkey.”
And I knew. I spent some time crying, before finally calming down enough to come back. But I was no longer laughing and talking with the group. I was thinking about how I would handle this week.
She had bought the turkey at the supermarket’s deli counter. Maybe it was gluten free, maybe not. There’s no way to know. I know from my own research that most deli counter turkey is not gluten free, but maybe she bought one of the few that are? Still, she didn’t know to have the deli worker clean the machine first, to avoid contamination.
This was the one home where I always felt safe eating, and even there, she wasn’t careful enough. Can I never eat outside of my own home again? It’s so frustrating!
But that’s a long term problem for another day. In the meantime, there’s the question of whether or not I got glutened. There’s nothing to do but wait. Since it took 2 days for symptoms to appear last time, I’m in limbo. I haven’t gotten sick yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I stopped eating. For the past 2 days, I have consumed only a few pieces of gluten free bread with some coconut oil, a little plain white rice, apple juice, and water. That’s it. Because not eating much for 2 days won’t kill me, but if I was glutened, and I get sick, I will be VERY glad I didn’t eat much. At least, that’s what I’m guessing.
The truth is, I don’t know. Because, despite the nightmares, this has never happened before. In 6 years, this is the first time I have had any idea I might have been glutened before I experienced any symptoms.
The psychological impact is rough. Especially because all I can do now is wait. By tomorrow I will know. My nightmare has already come true. Now I am waiting to see how bad it will be.