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.

Blissfully Peaceful

I didn’t sleep well last night for no particularly apparent reason. I was awake this morning long before the alarm went off.

I work out each morning before I start the rest of my day. The physical activity gives both my body and mind a boost and helps me feel more prepared to face whatever may lie ahead. And if I get up on time, I might also have a few minutes to spare after a workout to meditate before the day’s demands start piling up.

I started exploring meditation in the past couple of years with the help of some free apps. I quickly found that it can help alleviate a general sense of anxiety that I seem to hold onto. My boss is extremely invested in wellness and self-care of all sorts. She’s big into yoga and encourages us to schedule daily breaks from work to go outside for a run or walk, or to meditate. So I considered myself very fortunate when she spent part of the department’s budget on HeadSpace subscriptions for the entire team. I use it often. I’m not consistently good at it, but I’ve found a sense of calm through these meditations frequently enough to want to keep working on it.

In spite of my lack of sleep, I didn’t feel fatigued or out-of-sorts this morning. It probably helped that today’s workout wasn’t so much a workout as a recovery routine, a yoga-inspired series of flowing and stretching. It helped me unwind and put me in a good frame of mind. I had plenty of time afterwards before I had to feed Lucy and then take a shower, so I pulled up my HeadSpace app and selected the day’s featured meditation.

Unlike so many other times, today I didn’t have to fight the constant interruption of thoughts or remind my muscles to relax as I tried to meditate. My eyes closed easily and my lungs filled slowly and deeply with each breath. Finally, a deep calm settled over me along with a sense of floating on clouds. It was blissfully peaceful, almost a high. I wanted to stay there forever, but of course, I couldn’t. Still, I realized how wonderful it was, even if only for a short time, to let go of the need to leap from one thought to the next, the constant list-making, and the compounding of expectations that so often occurs in my brain. All I felt was a deep sense of quiet and peace.

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This was the first thing for which I was grateful today. If nothing else went well, at least I had this.