Post-COVID and we’re going gluten-free

Things are slowly beginning to return to normal around here. Jack went back to work on Wednesday, almost three weeks after experiencing the first signs of COVID. He normally works ten and a half hours a day. This week he kept it to eight. His company nurse thought he should have started a bit slower, working only four hours a day, but he decided to just dive back in. After coming home each day this week, he’s gone straight to the couch to lie down. After dinner, he’s back there again.

It’s occurred to me that I’ve been seeing Jack on the couch quite often for some time, even in the weeks before COVID hit him. He actually had a pretty serious flare-up in October, just weeks before Chesney and Farm Boy’s wedding, of his arthritis and other symptoms caused by his autoimmune disorder. (Granulomatosis with polyangiitis – an uncommon disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels in your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys.) Jack had been feeling great for the year or so prior, but his medications were causing his liver numbers to climb to concerning levels. So his doctor took him off all of his meds late last summer. (I’m not sure what the logic was in completely taking him off his medications, but what do I know?) Not long after that, Jack simply crashed. Without some kind of treatment, his disorder causes Jack significant arthritis pain as well as severe sinus issues. He was in misery. So before long, he was back on his meds – at a slightly lower dose so as to try to protect his liver. But it’s just not doing the trick. The arthritis is frequent, and seems to roam randomly around his body. Jack’s been talking about asking the doctor to increase his dosages again.

It occurred to me that Jack has also made some passing remarks lately about being “too old” to do this or that anymore. (He’s only sixty!) And once, when he scoffed at a slow, elderly driver, I told him to cool it. “You’ll be him someday,” I said. “If I live that long,” he deadpanned.

That bothered me. It was the first time in over thirty years of marriage that I really felt our slight (six-year) age difference. I’m always trying new types of exercise. I just bought a stand-up paddleboard and am (again) contemplating buying a bike. Jack is contemplating dying. Not in a morbid way, really. It just appears to me that he has accepted the idea that for him, the best days are done. It makes me profoundly sad.

I can’t accept this. And I decided it was time to take matters into our own hands. Since Jack was diagnosed in 2018, I’ve shared much about his health with a good friend who is very health conscious. This friend is always learning new things about diet, nutrition, and exercise, and she’s periodically mentioned that I should listen to a weekly radio show that focuses on nutrition and wellness. She said I might find something there to help Jack. And just before Jack got really sick with COVID, for whatever reason, I finally found the time to listen to a podcast of one of the episodes, which just so happened to be about nutrition and arthritis.

I was listening to the episode while waiting in the parking lot of a medical clinic where Jack was having a procedure. The podcast featured a man who has a different autoimmune disorder and different type of arthritis than Jack. BUT he had been taking similar medications to what Jack is taking. This man talked about how bad his arthritis had become, how his doctor wanted to increase his dosages (even though it would continue to increase his liver numbers,) and how he was supplementing his prescriptions with Alleve as often as he was allowed to take it. This man described how his arthritis had gotten so bad that if he spent two hours mowing his lawn, he would be done moving for the remainder of the day.

Things kept spiraling downward. He described how he felt like he wasn’t living, but only surviving until he could take more medicine. Ultimately, his wife stepped in and proposed he do something different. She wanted him to see a nutritionist. The man was skeptical, and so was his doctor, but he agreed in order to appease his wife. He was even more skeptical when the nutritionist suggested he try eliminating gluten from his diet, just for one week. He was a self-described carb-addict and was staunchly opposed to this idea. In the end, he agreed to try it as long as he could still have one piece of toast a day. And after a week, just one week, much to his surprise, he noticed that he felt slightly better. To make a long story short, this man eliminated gluten and dairy from his diet and was able to go off of medications completely and now runs marathons. It didn’t happen overnight, and there was some trial and error along the way, but the end result was life-changing.

By the time I finished listening to the podcast, I was hyper-excited. (That’s just me. I hear stuff like this and I’m a believer!) When Jack got back in the car, I told him all about it and said I wanted him to listen to the podcast when we got home. He did. He was a bit more skeptical, but he was ever so slightly intrigued. I told him that we had to try something different. He can’t spend the rest of his life on the couch with ice and heat packs, taking more pills, and watching the world pass by. He’s too young for that. I can’t sit by and let him live that way. I said that if he would try a gluten-free diet, I would do it along with him. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But we are not going to just sit back and let this disorder suck the life out of him.

And so we’re doing it. Eating gluten-free, that is. Thankfully, we know quite a few people who have gone gluten-free in their diets either because, like Jack, they thought it might help a specific health problem, or because of severe health issues that required it. And we’ve received lots of great advice. I’ve since learned that there is much evidence that a gluten-free diet can have a positive impact on autoimmunity and arthritis. After just one week, I’m also learning it’s not all that hard to plan and prepare gluten-free foods for our meals. Our local grocery stores make it easy to find gluten-free items. Not only are there aisles dedicated to gluten-free foods, but throughout the store, the price displays on the shelves include labels that tell you whether any common items are gluten-free. Funny how I never really noticed that before. Also, can I just say? Gluten-free Oreos! You can’t even tell the difference!

This bread came highly recommended.

After telling another friend about all of this, she asked if I knew that a local pizza place nearby makes only gluten-free pizzas. I was familiar with the restaurant, but I’d had no idea before she told me. We gave that place a try last night. Due to the pandemic, the employees come out to your car when you pull into the parking lot, determine who you are and what you ordered, and then bring your pizza out to your car. We had a lovely exchange with the woman who was waiting on us. Jack asked if it was a family business and she said it was. She was the owner’s wife, and shared the story of how her husband has Celiac disease, and thus has built a very successful gluten-free pizza business. I told her that Jack’s arthritis was the reason we were trying a gluten-free diet. She told us about all the people they’ve met through their business and the stories they’ve heard. She encouraged Jack, as others have, that it may take a while to see a change. “Give it three months,” she told him. “But if it’s going to work, I promise you’ll know it within three months.” We were highly impressed, with the stories and advice, as well as the service. And the pizza was delicious. We’ll go back.

I told Jack that I haven’t seen him use an ice pack or heating pad recently. “Maybe it’s working already,” I said.

“Maybe it’s just that I’ve barely moved in three weeks,” he replied. (Can you tell who is the optimist and who is the pessimist in this relationship?)

Regardless, I remain hopeful. My husband can be a bit lazy where his health and nutrition are concerned. But he seems to be embracing this effort. At work yesterday, there was a celebration for one of his coworkers who was moving on to a new job. The plan was to order pizzas for the party, but Jack told his coworkers to count him out (since that pizza wasn’t going to be gluten-free). Instead of excluding him from the meal plans, his crew rallied around him. They decided to forgo the pizza and instead ordered subs from a place that had gluten-free options. They encouraged Jack to try the lettuce wrap -something I’m quite sure he’d scoff at if I’d suggested it. He tried something new, and he actually enjoyed it. And he was impressed that his teammates cared enough to make a change for his benefit.

I really hope this helps Jack. I can’t stand to see him giving up on his life already. And if anyone reading this has tips, tricks, suggestions, or resources to suggest, please do. I welcome it all.

When COVID came

We’ve been pretty careful. At least I have. I really haven’t had to try very hard since I’ve been working from home for over a year now and the places I’ve gone with any frequency include outside (for walks,) the grocery store, and Target.

Jack, on the other hand, goes to work everyday, with a fair number of coworkers who believe we’re being duped about the severity of COVID and who try not to wear their masks as often as they can get away with it. Jack also tells me there are hand-sanitizer dispensers all over the place at work, but which are generally empty. He’s not diligent about using hand-sanitizer anyway. I can tell because the small bottle he keeps in his truck has been there for the better part of a year without needing to be refilled.

Who knows from where it really came? Jack might have picked it up at work, from a gas pump, after touching a keypad at the home improvement store. Maybe one of our kids carried it into the house. The fact remains that Jack got COVID.

He’d had a medical procedure the Wednesday before Easter. The following day, he started having chills and feeling under the weather. His paperwork from the procedure had explained he might experience chills and fever afterwards, so we didn’t think much of it at first. The doctor called the day after the procedure to give Jack his test results. (All good.) Jack told the doctor about his chills and was advised to keep an eye on things but the doctor wasn’t too concerned.

On Friday Jack stayed home from work. On Saturday he was really miserable. He got an Urgency Room appointment on Easter Sunday. And he came home with a COVID diagnosis.

All I can say is thank God he’d already had his first dose of the vaccine two weeks prior to getting sick. Jack is immunocompromised and having one dose under his belt may be the only reason he didn’t have breathing issues. And things were bad enough as it was. My poor husband stayed in the bedroom for eight days straight, in the dark, sleeping or just laying there in misery. He got out of bed only to use the restroom a few feet away and would be winded by the time he got back into bed. During this entire time, he never once turned on a television or any screen. This is how I knew how bad it was. If you knew my husband and his love of screens, you’d have been worried too.

I managed to keep him drinking as much as possible so he’d stay hydrated, but he barely ate a thing for at least a week, and I’m sure he’s lost at least a few pounds by now. He’d tell you he had a few to spare, but worst diet ever!

On the ninth day Jack turned the slightest corner and came out of the bedroom. I have never been so relieved in my life! Knowing he was past the worst of it and the breathing struggles weren’t going to happen lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For the past week since then, Jack has remained at home, mostly just laying on the couch watching television and still pretty weak, but eating a bit more and seeming more every day like his old self.

It was scary. A few well-meaning family and friends who work in the medical field advised about when I should watch for Jack to start having trouble breathing. I think that was the hardest part – being on the watch for truly dire straits. Thankfully, the worst never transpired. And we were supported by so many who offered to drop off groceries or do anything we needed doing, or just sent well-wishes and prayers. We didn’t really need anyone to do anything. InstaCart and Amazon made it easy to get anything we might need pretty easily. But it was nice to know people wanted to help.

Jack is now on the road to recovery and received his second dose of the vaccine yesterday. (Poor guy was told to expect the side-effects today to hit harder than normal due to receiving the shot after having had COVID.)

In the midst of Jack’s worst days, I got vaccinated myself (with the one-and-done version.) I felt slightly under the weather for the better part of a week, mainly having a loss of appetite and shedding a few pounds myself. But today I am confident we are on our way back to normalcy and I am so very grateful.

Very Early Morning Pages

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, and I’ve been writing the Morning Pages. Faithfully. For about three weeks now.

I’ve heard mention of the book a few times over the past few years, and recently it came across my radar again, twice, in a very short time. And so there I was on my Amazon account, buying things and thinking, “Before I check out, is there anything else I need?” And the book crossed my mind. So I found it and added it to my cart.

The book arrived a few days later and I contemplated whether I would actually put it to use. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t fully believe I’d stick with it. (I’ve got two skeins of yarns and some crochet needles sitting around the house that, if they could speak, would tell great tales of my inability to see a project through to the end.) The size of the book and the layout of the pages alone kind of fascinated me though. I dove in to read as soon as possible and I got a little bit stuck at the introduction because it laid out the rules for Morning Pages. Write three long-hand pages first thing every morning. Non-negotiable. Just write what’s in your head. The good, the bad, the ugly, the stupid. Just write it. Don’t try to write something. Just write anything as long as it’s three long-hand pages.

I was intimidated and I sat on the idea for a few days. I had a lot of what-ifs and too many doubts about my ability to follow through. How long would it take me to write three pages by hand anyway? Who writes by hand any more? There was also the issue of time. I already wake up very early. I have all my energy in the morning. I like to work out by 5:00 am. It gives me a mental boost to take me forward into the day. How was I going to squeeze in the writing too and still have time to shower, dress, dry my hair and start work on time? And no, I couldn’t really move the workout to a later point in the day. I tried it once. I knew I wasn’t going to stick with it. It’s early morning or nothing.

But I wanted to try this writing thing. I wanted to go on the journey to unblock my creative spirit and (as promised,) reach a point where it becomes so much easier to write than to not write.

So I started the Morning Pages. I made some concessions in my morning routine. Get up just a bit earlier than I already do. Write. Work out a little bit later than normal. Start work a little bit later too. (Because I ridiculously realized that since working from home, I’ve consistently been working more hours a day than expected anyway.)

And so I started writing first thing in the morning.

I thought I would hate it. I thought my hand would cramp up. (It does sometimes.) I thought I’d struggle to find any words to write. I don’t. I became hooked almost immediately. Even while struggling to open my eyes and get out of bed just after 4:00 am, I have wanted to get up and write, every day.

I think the beauty of it is that there’s no expectations. There’s nobody to impress because the pages are not to be shared with others. I’m not even supposed to go back and reread them myself. Just write the words and work out the muck so that my brain is free to be more creative for the rest of the day. Sometimes what I write feels so scattered, so mundane, and other times the writing leads to stunning revelations. I feel these personal break-throughs that were probably sitting there just below the surface, yet I had absolutely no idea. Like the day I realized that I have a problem with anger. Not that anyone would know this because I don’t show it. I don’t voice anger. I just get quiet. I stuff it down inside and I allow it to ruin whole days, whole weekends, or special times that are meant to be treasured but instead get clouded over. I get angry, usually over something really stupid, expectations that I assume someone else understands without me spelling it out. I don’t express anger, I think because I don’t believe I can express it productively and I don’t want to fight. And so I swallow it and go inside myself and allow it steal precious time from me. I am really just punishing my own self. This. This revelation came from writing words I didn’t know were going to come through my pen to the paper. This realization allowed me to start changing for the better, taking the pressure off of myself and learning to let go. It was kind of easy really, and mind-blowing all at the same time.

I started The Artist’s Way and the Morning Pages simply because I want to blog more routinely, like I used to three blogs and a hundred years ago. I like to write. It’s cathartic for me. It used to be so easy and I could barely go a day or two without writing. And then one day I started letting it go and then not writing became too easy. Trying to write seemed like so much effort. I want it to be effortless again.

I worry some days that I’m not achieving what I wanted. I’m still not writing formally all that much. Then again, I’m only on chapter three. The book reminds me that I’m going to go through some stuff. Some exciting, some frustrating. It will all lead somewhere if I stick with it. So I’m trusting it. Maybe I shouldn’t decide what the end result will be. Maybe I should just keep rolling with it and allow it to lead me wherever it goes.