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Deal With It; Don't Dwell On It: Learning to Live - and Love - The Gluten-free Diet - A Family's Story by Danna Korn

Our story began when our first child, a perfect baby boy, began to get sick. It started benignly enough, with more than just a touch of diarrhea, which the doctors attributed to the antibiotics he was taking for ear infections. When time was up on our allotted four-minute visit, we were told to keep an eye on it and call them if it didnt go away in a couple of weeks.

What we were supposed to keep an eye on, Im not sure. The piles of diapers that we had to haul out every afternoon? The lovely rhinoceros-skin texture that my hands were assuming, thanks to the extra washings? Or maybe the water bill that had skyrocketed because of the additional laundry I was doing when the Pampers just couldnt accommodate the excess loads they were being asked to hold. In any case, they had told us to call if the diarrhea didnt go away in a couple of weeks, so we did.

Apparently, what they meant to say was, well tell you to call if it doesnt go away just go get you out of our office feeling like we did something, but really wed rather you dont bother us because all were going to do is give you another obligatory four minutes listening to you whine and then tell you is that theres nothing wrong. Why cant people just say what they mean?

Instead, I endured the heavy sighs of the receptionist who took it upon herself to play doctor and say, You mean youre bringing him in again just because of diarrhea? Well, yeah. Thats what I was told to do! Several heavy sighs and even an I-hate-neurotic-new-moms-snicker later, we had an appointment - for three weeks out.

The second visit was, as I eluded to, an obligatory waste of time. After looking in Tyers ears, nose, and throat (did I lead you, Doctor, to believe that this problem was above his waist?!?), the doctor concluded that there was nothing to be concerned about. Oh, really? I guess its normal to be changing 22 diarrhea diapers a day? I dont think the doctor was amused when I offered to present him with a stool sample, since I was sure in the next ten minutes we would have one that we could examine together. No, I was sent away and told, once again, to call if the situation didnt improve in the next two weeks. Yeah, sure. Ill be sure to do that.

It was with sadness and grief that I realized this pediatrician whom I had hand-selected after interviewing no less than 12 in the area, and who had offered a congratulatory hugs less than 12 minutes after Tyler was born, was not listening to me. It was time to find doctor-number-two.

Sadly, our experience with doctor-number-two was a repeat of that with number-one. A quick looks in the ears, nose, and throat, followed by a declaration that we had a healthy baby boy sent my blood pressure skyrocketing. But what about the diarrhea I mentioned? I managed to ask with control worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Really, diarrhea is nothing to worry about unless the child is severely dehydrated and losing weight, I was told, as though I had the I.Q. of a water bottle. Well, Ive been force-feeding water to avoid dehydration, I explained, thinking that might make him realize that there was a reason Tyler wasnt shriveling up from thirst. Oh, good, he replied as he raced out the door to his next four-minute appointment. Keep it up and call me in two weeks if the situation hasnt improved. Ugh.

After a few months, several hundred dollars worth of diapers, and cracked and bleeding hands, we switched to doctor-number-three. We chose a woman this time, figuring maybe some element of womans instinct or a maternal inkling would alert her to what we believed was a worsening condition. Well, hes in the 75th percentile for height and weight, she declared after looking in his ears, nose and throat. Certainly nothing to worry about with this bruiser, she gloated. Trying to be patient, hiding the clenched fists, and managing a smile that was as sincere as that of a politician running for office, I replied, But he used to be in the 98th percentile. Wouldnt that indicate weight loss, which could be a sign of something wrong? Oh, honey, dont be ridiculous! What do you want, a prize fighter? Hardy, har-har. I had a real Carol Burnett on my hands. Again, we were sent away and - you know the rest.

And so it was. There was nothing wrong. Never mind that he had been loading up 22 diarrhea diapers a day for the last nine months - apparently he was just a poop machine. Never mind that his belly had grown distended to the point that he couldnt bend over and pick up his toys. Never mind that his arms and legs were skinny - hey, he was still in the 70th percentile for height and weight, and its not like I was trying to raise a prize fighter or anything.

So it was without a care nor a complaint that I dragged my irritable, listless little Biafra baby into the office of doctor-number-four, a doctor to whom we were assigned when we changed insurance plans. After looking in Tylers ears, nose and throat, he laid Tyler down on his back and thumped on his belly like you might thump a honeydew melon to see if its ripe. My goodness, he said with that Im-alarmed-but-Im-a-doctor-and-dont-want-to-freak-you-out-so-Ill-smile-smugly-and-act-calm voice, Whats going on with his belly? I couldnt answer through the tears of relief.
Relief turns to terror

I never thought Id be so excited to be referred to Childrens Hospital. I called my husband with the good news. Sweetie, guess what?!? We have to go to the hospital! I announced as though we had just won the lottery. Never quite sure how to respond to my usually-overly-enthusiastic-and-not-always-sensical proclamations, he replied, as usual, with caution. Really? Is that a good thing? I guess in retrospect it wasnt a dumb question, but at the time it deserved, DUH! Were going to see the gastroenterologist!

On the drive to the hospital, we sung the I love you song with such glee that it made Barney look like a candidate for Prozac. Were going to the hospital to see the nice doctor whos going to help us make you feel better, I sang to the tune of whatever I could come up with on short notice. Tyler, 18 months old then, sang too, and we practically danced into the doctors office for our first visit with the gastroenterologist.

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Somehow a three-hour wait in a doctors waiting room does a lot to dampen enthusiasm. Our gastroenterologist didnt even look in Tylers ears, nose or throat, a small favor for which I could have kissed him, even as tired and hungry as I was. He did do the honeydew thump on Tylers belly, and asked how long he had been experiencing diarrhea. Oh, about nine months now, I commented. Nine months? he asked. The large eyes and knitted eyebrows spoke for him, so he didnt have to finish his thought, which was obviously, Why did you wait so long, you oblivious, inexperienced nitwit?

We were told that a variety of tests needed to be run. He tossed around names of these tests: upper G.I., lower G.I., ultrasound, serology, endoscopy, biopsy fecal fat, enzyme panel, WBC, and sweat test. Thinking maybe I had slept in those days during my Bio 101 classes in college and not wanting to admit it, I said, Oh, right. So that means youre testing for.... as though the condition was right on the tip of my tongue and I just couldnt recall it. He saved me the awkward silence that would have ensued and filled in the blanks. Were going to be looking at a number of possibilities: blood diseases, cancer, cystic fibrosis...that sort of thing. I thought I was going to faint.

The bittersweet diagnosis
After signing reams of release forms that we never read, and allowing doctors to poke, prod, anesthetize and scope our baby, we finally got a call from the doctors office asking us to come in for a consultation with the gastroenterologist. Well, cant you just tell me what it is on the phone? I asked. No, he wants you to come in, the receptionist told me. But is that a bad thing? Wouldnt he just call to tell me nothings wrong if my baby was okay? I began to panic.

After a three-day wait in the waiting room (okay, it just seemed like three days because hours spent waiting in a 4 X 4 cubicle with an 18-month-old are automatically quadrupled in value), we finally saw the doctor and heard the words that would change our lives forever. Your son has celiac disease. Huh? Is that anything like a flu bug? Surely there was a pill we could give him that would make it all better. It simply requires a dietary change... Okay, so maybe we overdo the goldfish-shaped crackers a little - we can do without for a few weeks. ...he wont be able to eat gluten for the rest of his life.
Back up the truck here, Mister. Rest of his life? Gluten? Is that anything like glucose? Because we can surely cut down on sugar....

In a state of shock, we were directed down the hall to the hospital dietitian. Without looking up, she put her hand out, presumably wanting the chart that we had been instructed to give to her. Still in a daze, we handed her the chart. Several seconds of silence passed - had she fallen asleep? Was she writing her grocery list? Had she forgotten we were there? Finally, she said, So you need information on the gluten-free diet, huh? Dont get many of those. Really? I asked. How many have you had? None.

She handed us a crumpled blue piece of paper that had writing on both sides. The first side, filled with size-two font, listed the foods and ingredients we were to avoid. The other side had size 48 font, presumably in an effort to make the page look full, and was titled, Acceptable foods on the gluten-free diet. There were six items on the list.

Our first shopping trip
Still resembling a zombie, I realized I had an 18-month-old child to consider, and he had been through as much as we had, so I asked what he wanted to do. Get a tweat! Cwackews! he replied (translated to treat and crackers for those of you whose kids are over 12). Not a bad thought. We had to learn how to shop sometime, so off we went on our first gluten-free shopping expedition.

Armed with our crumpled blue sheet, we started in the cracker aisle. Carefully reading labels, I was amazed and delighted to find that not a single package had gluten in the ingredients list! How easy was this going to be! Lest you think that I do have the I.Q. of a water bottle, you have to remember that I was till in a state of shock, topped off with a touch of denial.

I consulted my trusty blue sheet and realized that flour was, indeed, buried in the size-two-font list of forbidden ingredients, and put back all the crackers I had tossed into the cart. We went up another aisle. Pretzels...nope. Bread...not even close. But Mommy, I just want a tweat. Tylers patience was wearing thin. In desperation, I picked up a bag of Fritos. Could it be? Really? Surely I missed something. No, it was true. Not a single gluten molecule to be found! Hallelujah. I grabbed seven bags and headed for home.

Ten years later...
The beauty of living with the gluten-free diet is that you learn to love the gluten-free diet. Not only is it a medical necessity in our family, but it is a healthy way of life. Sometimes when I think, If only I could not have to worry about making tonights meal gluten-free, Id make..... WHAT? What WOULD I make? Would I make macaroni and cheese out of a box? Ick! Would I make spaghetti? So what! The gluten-free stuff is just as good these days. Would I make a quick trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken or a pizza place? Oh, now theres a healthy meal. We put so much emphasis on making healthy meals that we wouldnt do those things anyway (well okay, every now and then maybe!).

We are so fortunate to live in a time when celiac awareness is at an all-time high. Gluten-free foods are delicious and readily available. Customer service reps actually know what were talking about when we ask if their products are gluten-free. Cookbooks and resource books abound, as do support groups and seminars.

Most of all, those who are diagnosed are the lucky ones. No longer do they have to wonder why theyre fatigued, depressed or suffering gastrointestinal distress; they can rest assured knowing their gluten-free diet is preventing them from being more susceptible to conditions such as intestinal lymphoma, infertility, and osteoporosis.

Yes, this diet can be a pain, but follow the mantra and you will be liberated. No longer will the diet control you, but you will control your diet. So....all together now ... Deal with it; dont dwell on it!

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5 Responses:

 
Michelle L
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
27 Dec 2007 6:19:05 PM PDT
Loved the humorous way the tale is told! It proves that with a sense of humor, you can survive anything, and even flourish! Way to go, Danna!

 
Janice Beck
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
07 Jan 2008 4:48:06 PM PDT
I can relate. My child had food allergies. If you don't laugh, you will cry!!!

 
canan
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
05 Feb 2008 6:53:50 AM PDT
Think about living long time without the knowledge of what is making your life unbearable!

 
Sara
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
16 May 2008 5:55:37 PM PDT
My 4 year old was just diagnosed after health problems since birth. I laughed and cried at the article as it was so similar to our experience!

 
Heather
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
31 Aug 2009 3:34:21 AM PDT
It is great to read stories of others learning to cope with such a sudden, and very big change! My 2 young sons are at risk and I empathize with you. The desperation for your child's well being is a scary feeling, especially when the doctors think you are overreacting. After recently being diagnosed with celiac disease, I have struggled to find my way through the whole "shopping ordeal". It is starting to become less overwhelming, and now I am looking forward to the challenge. There are many things I will always miss, but the longer I continue the gluten free diet the better I feel. Now I am loving the diet, it probably has something to do with feeling alive for the first time in my life. I never knew I could feel so good, and so I think I can do without grandma's famous brownies. I was misdiagnosed or treated like a hypochondriac more times than I can count. Always another doctor with another prescription. After almost 25 years my husband was the one to figure it out. My heart goes out to the many people who suffer every day undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed. Thanks for sharing your story.




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There is currently not any enzymes you take that will get rid of gluten, they are working on a promising one to reduce symptoms but all others out there right now are a bust and will not help you much if it all with gluten exposure, Celiac is a auto immune disease, your reacting to the proteins of gluten and it is attacking them and your own body. I do suggest a digestive enzyme if you have food issues in general to help break them down. But this will not fix gluten exposure, reduce damage from gluten, or make gluten eating safe by any means. These current ones on the market are FAD ones target at healthy people and helping them with general digesting of gluten proteins but will not help you if you have celiacs to eliminate gluten reaction symptoms.

Could try causally asking your family to get the blood test done next time they are at the doctors. They could have it and only have minor or no symtoms to it. There is a form of it called silent celiacs with no outward symptoms but it is still destroying your villi and causing your body to slowly degrade. Doing so could shed some light on other issues, make family more understanding to your issues, and help them out in the long run. I was adopted at only a few weeks old, so my issues run a bit deeper with both leaning about this disease and getting anyone in the family to understand it. Does not help my birth mother still to this day refuses to release updated medical records or accept any kind of contact. >.> I give advice all the time, I like to feel useful to others, and can be oblivious to others feelings and reactions due to a form of autism called Aspergers. Bit of a pain, but the feeling of being of use to others is very rewarding even if sometimes confused with being helpful over being a ass or someone overly intrusive. I just wish others had helped me out earlier with this disease. PS Anonymous, you keep posting on older threads, ALOT recently. Not a bad thing, just something I picked up on and piqued my interest/concern with how out of date some information might be.

Hello Anonymous, and if nobody has said as much yet, welcome Don't worry (difficult to do when it can cause anxiety :P) it's very early days and you have a lot of healing to come. If you've not already seen it there's advice and further info here: It gets easier over time as checking becomes routine, you know your 'safe' products and your eating pattern changes. You'll get there Maybe start a thread of your own if you'd like some input from others? Finally, back on topic. My Aunt has narcolepsy and although she's fiercely resistant to giving up gluten she has now made a connnection to eating bread and it's onset. As often, not conclusive but suggestive...

Hello again Well first thing is the - Usual disclaimers apply... and this is something you have to follow up with your doctors as you know. But it's helpful sometimes to get another perspective so here's this layman see's from outside. What I have seen from the various results posted here is that people's numbers vary wildly and, just as important, the numbers often don't bear any direct relationship to the level of intestinal damage revealed via endoscopy. Ultimately although you're not scoring much above positive, you are scoring a positive and there are a couple of other risk factors you've mentioned that are suggestive if not conclusive - you have another autoimmune which raises the odds of having another one for example. You've had two tests that are positive. The purpose of taking the second test was either to invalidate or confirm the first. I'd suggest it's achieved the latter, at least inasmuch as a GI may want to check you via endoscopy. That's still the 'gold standard' of celiac diagnosis and would give you an idea if there's any intestinal damage. I suspect with 2 positive tests and the history above that's what they'll suggest. If your doctor or GI doesn't want to proceed with that you have a decision to make. Push for a second opinion or new doctor or if you're done with testing give the gluten free diet a proper try. Make a journal and see if some of those subtle things you reference may actually be symptoms. Fwiw, there are a lot of people here whose thyroid issues improved dramatically once they were gluten free, so whether celiac or gluten sensitive you should certainly give the diet a try. Only however once the testing is completed and remember:

Hi! I've just been recently diagnosed as Celiac through the whole biopsy-shebang, and I have a little bit of insight on the whole diagnosis thing and how I was eventually diagnosed, and my advice for you. Brace yourself, this might be a bit long, but it might be worth the read and I promise I will eventually get to the point. If you don't want the huge story, skip to the long line of capital As: I first saw my doctor when I had a few problems swallowing. I've compared it to when you're nervous and you feel like you have a lump in your throat - but after I eat and (sometimes) drink. I just mentioned briefly it to my family doctor when I was addressing another issue, but right away he referred me to a gastroenterologist and ordered a barium swallow x-ray test. The x-ray came back completely normal, and so the g.e. then suspected GERD, put me on acid blockers to see if they would work, no harm done sort of thing. The only thing I got out of the acid blockers were the side effects, so it was back to square 1. The g.e. said that the next test he could do was an upper endoscopy with biopsies. (hint: the celiac test!) Wanting to find a solution to my problems, the endoscopy was scheduled. Pretty painless, I was in and out in a day, but the results took much much longer. Biopsies, or the little pieces of my esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, were sent to the lab, and they came back clean. I didn't really go back to the g.e. for a whole year after that because life became busy, I wasn't prompted to follow up, and I just dismissed the swallowing problems the best I could and went on my way. Now, I've never been huge on the gluten, big bread-y sandwiches or croissants or pies were never foods that I super "enjoyed". I wouldn't feel bad after eating them, I just didn't like the taste of bread so much, but I loved cookies, cake and a lot of other things that do have gluten in them. I lead a lowish gluten life but I wasn't really monitoring it that way. Everything changed when I got really nasty (systemic) poison ivy. My eyes were swollen shut, and the rash was everywhere. I almost went to the hospital, but cooped out at the family doctor's place and got a script for prednisone (a steroid). But, I found that after I had tapered off the steroids, I had magically become lactose intolerant. So back to the family doctor again probably because I broke my toe or something, but we also got to talk about this magical lactose intolerance business (because I love anything dairy and it was indeed devastating). He was surprised as there is literally no correlation between steroids and becoming lactose intolerant. He asked me if I still had the swallowing problems, which I did, and so it was back to the g.e. for round 3. because my family doctor "does not believe in coincidences". Meeting with the G.E., he mainly addressed the swallowing problems telling me that he had done what he could to diagnose with the technology that we had at the highly specialized hospital that we were at, and I would have to travel about 3 hours away to see a different doctor who would do some tests involving the muscles in the esophagus. But right before I was about to leave, we started talking about lactose intolerance. He brought up other foods that I was avoiding (if any), and then the conversation went to gluten. I mentioned that I had an aunt that was gluten-sensitive. He advised that I do the blood test that can show an indication of celiac whenever in the future. I decided to do it that day. At this point in time, I was not eating much gluten because of the fact that it was personal preference. The normal range for values in this test is from 0 to 20. A few weeks later, I learned that I scored a 35. A second upper endoscopy with biopsies was scheduled, but this time I was told to eat a moderate amount of gluten everyday before the procedure. I ate about two slices of bread per day, which is more than I normally would. I was normal for the first two-three weeks of the gluten plus diet, but then I became really sick. I started getting the normal celiac symptoms, like diarrhea and extreme tiredness. Near the end, I had debilitating stomach pain and I was 2 times more asleep than awake each day. I couldn't do the 2 pieces of bread a day some days, but the pain was still there. I knew that I wouldn't ever have to force myself to eat bread for a test ever again. I was called a few days before my endoscopy telling me that a kid in a worse state than me had to take the OR during my time. I forced myself to eat more bread for another month and a half. The day finally came. I was diagnosed celiac, which I have concluded to be initiated by (1) the steroids/poison ivy and (2) the gluten binge fest. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Celiac Disease isn't completely understood yet. Most of the time if you weren't showing symptoms when you were a baby (so your case) it means that celiac was/could be triggered by an event in your life that causes stress on the body (like stress, physical injury, etc.). The positive result that you got from the blood test doesn't automatically mean celiac, but it could. Here's some options: Talk to your doctor (or a different doctor) or even a specialist gastroenterologist (you can get a referral from a family doctor (general physician)) and see if you can do the blood test again, you have to have some kind of gluten for this to work in advance, so if you don't want to break your gluten-free streak, than don't really invest in this option. If you feel comfortable, you could even ask to do this test under a few scenarios (no gluten (now) and after a gluten binge, compare results). If you do this test and your indication is low off gluten and then high after gluten, I'd probably skip the biopsy. That's a strong enough sign that you don't need to put yourself through the painful-gluten binge. Maybe this is what that first doctor just assumed. But having that test when you haven't had any gluten could make the difference - it acts as a control. Go straight to the biopsy. You could do this, but I'd probably do the blood test first. I went through a lot of stress with the gluten-binge that you have to do to get an accurate result, you would also be breaking your gluten-free diet that may/may not be helping you right now. Do nothing, stay on your gluten free diet hoping that it is helping you. But if you are not celiac or gluten-sensitive (celiac before it starts to wreck your small intestine), going gluten free isn't healthy - you can do some research on this if it interests you. If you feel bad/unhealthy after going gluten free it's probably a sign. Good luck, also know that you might come to a point of stress in your life that can start celiac's destructive path. Ultimately, it is your body, and you should not feel forced or hesitate to act on health issues that impact you.