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.

This is me not sleeping

Thoughts that daily make their way through my brain…

When this is over

When things are back to normal …

Maybe it will never be truly over. Maybe fragments of where we are now will stay with us forever. Normal might never be again what we once believed it to be.

I don’t always sleep well. Probably a symptom of my age. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve developed a permanent low level of anxiety (thanks to a virus) that prevents me from truly letting go long enough to sleep through the night. Maybe I haven’t. But maybe I have. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep for a long time, or I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep. My brain doesn’t want to shut down. I think as normal as I try to make things, there’s a part of me that knows that none of this is normal and it makes me feel so unsettled sometimes.

I go through the days and I do my normal things. It’s kind of nice to be able to work at home, to have those extra minutes to get something done beyond driving to and from an office. I can toss a load of laundry in the washer in the middle of the day. Put some outgoing mail in the mailbox. Pull something from the freezer for dinner. Stop for a minute to hug and kiss my dog. All things I couldn’t do if this was the old normal and I was away from home for nine or more hours a day.

Sometimes I wake up in the night and my brain immediately wants some kind of reassurance that just isn’t to be found. No matter how much I try to tell it calming, fun, happy things, think about the best things in my life, or just breathe deeply in and out, my brain goes into overdrive and sleep won’t come back. When will I stop wondering every day if I’m going to catch the virus and – not that I’m very worried for myself – but what if I pass it on to someone else and do them harm? I can’t stop thinking about my poor mother-in-law in her little apartment for months on end without any real visits from family. It hurts my heart to hear the daily death count on the news, about the shortage of vaccines, and the mutating strains of the virus.

Maybe I can’t sleep because it’s impossible to truly relax while there’s no end in sight and the world just isn’t safe for everyone. (Not that it ever was, really.) But this virus!

Of course then I remember that this probably isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. There is an end in sight and I just need to be patient a while longer. My livelihood isn’t at risk which in turn makes me able think about (and do) more for others less fortunate. There’s plenty of food on the table. I can binge watch Netflix without the usual level of guilt. Got lots of time to read books or do some project around the house. I spend a lot more time outside – in the winter even – than I ever did before. I can go to work in leggings or sweatpants if I want to. All really great perks, right?

The view outside isn’t bad.

Imagine how terrifying it must have been to live in a time when you couldn’t protect your child from polio. When a vaccine couldn’t even be imagined. And when it could, it was years away. And I think I have trouble sleeping! This isn’t so bad then, is it?

Maybe normal is never coming back. Maybe the new normal is that time passes a little bit slower. And church isn’t a building. Maybe it’s forgiveness being extended more generously, not having to be first, loving others exactly for who they are and for who they aren’t. Hugs might be a little more scarce, but personally, I hope they come back in droves. Maybe the new normal is that we all have a lot more grace to offer.

Sometimes I wonder if the bigger purpose to all this is to deconstruct everything we take so much for granted, in order to take us down a few notches. Maybe when this is all over, the world is different, better in ways we never dreamed. I have to believe there’s a purpose for what is happening in the world today, this big thing that is beyond anything I could have imagined in my lifetime. I remind myself to live in it and through it, find something redeeming each day and not just constantly look for the end of it all. But I will be so happy to get beyond it.

Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night. Then again, it could just be my age.

Vittles and Visions

It never fails that when I’ve been on a not-cooking binge, I circle back around, getting highly motivated and ambitious to prepare meals that taste good and are at least slightly less bad for our health. It was a quiet weekend around our place, which made it easier to spend time menu-planning and grocery shopping.

It wasn’t just general guilt about our poor eating habits lately that had me focused on what we’re consuming. Jack had a routine blood draw last week. He has these done in order to keep an eye on certain indicators in his body that may be impacted by his autoimmunity and the medications he takes to manage it. He’s had trouble keeping his liver numbers in a good place and last week we learned they are elevated again. And while this could be due to his medications, we also know there might be things he can do to make positive changes on his own, such as lose a few pounds. Just another reason to pay more attention to what we’re putting in our bodies.

So Saturday morning found me sitting at the kitchen island with my laptop, surrounded by cookbooks. I decided to create a spreadsheet of some favorite meals and listed them along with the specific ingredients needed for each. The plan is to build on this spreadsheet so that I’ll ultimately have a quick-pick list of meals that’s also an easy reference for my grocery list. I included a few new recipes from an InstaPot cookbook I recently bought, and I made two of those meals this weekend. On Saturday I made Thai Pumpkin Chicken Soup, which we both deemed to be interesting though it’s probably not something I’ll make again. Jack had two helpings of last night’s Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili and he also took it to work today for lunch. I really enjoyed that one as well and it will definitely go on the list for future meals.

Hopefully all of this will help us stay on top of our nutrition a little better from now on, though I think I’ll still give meal kits a try. There are weekends when Chesney and Farm Boy come to visit and the whole food thing falls apart because I’d much rather have fun with them than spend time at the grocery store. But even that is just a matter of planning ahead somewhat.

In other news, we were supposed to return to our bowling league this weekend after it was shut down in November thanks to COVID. Jack and I opted not to participate in the second half though. Since his health has seen some pitfalls in recent months, we just felt it was best to play it safe. Plus, bowling under the current restrictions (masks on, limited mingling with friends, and having to leave as soon as the games are done) just takes away all of the fun.

It’s hard to stay busy and entertained sometimes with all of the official and self-imposed restrictions on ourselves. Our kids have continued to visit periodically, but otherwise we’ve been fairly careful. As much as I look forward to the weekends after working all week, they often start to feel long and boring before Monday comes around again. I wanted to give myself a good project to fill the quiet this particular weekend. I’ve never made a vision board before, but I’ve been contemplating making one since the year began. Last week in a team meeting, a coworker shared the one she had been working on and it made me ambitious to get started myself.

I checked out a few how-to articles and then made a stop at the dollar store yesterday to buy a board and some double-sided tape. Thankfully, Jack had a stockpile of outdoor magazines and catalogues from the past year that he had yet to recycle. I spent the afternoon clipping words and images that spoke to me. After dinner, I got to work organizing my clippings on the board and then securing them in place. The effort reminded me of art projects I’d done in my school days which made me feel just a little bit silly. But I didn’t really care. It was an enjoyable way to spend a quiet, cold evening. Certainly way better than zoning out in front of the television. I’m not sure the end result truly qualifies as a vision board, but I was proud of it anyway. It ended up being a sort of potpourri of goals, inspirations, positive messages, and things that are simply important to me. It includes references to family, faith, and the outdoors, as well as ambitions about writing, work, and fitness, all things that I strive to improve with each day that I live. I know when I look at it, I’ll see words and images that are uplifting and inspirational.

I’m really happy with it. And who knows? Maybe this will become something I do at the start of each new year from now on!