It began the way most of my favorite New York evenings begin. A much anticipated evening with friends, a train ride with laughter, a new restaurant selected, and theater tickets. This evening was particularly exciting, because our train was taking us out of the city to see a play starring a friend of ours. When I made these plans, I had no idea that the evening would end with a pineapple-infused cloud of impending doom hovering over my head.
I’m not going to slam this restaurant. I’m not even going to mention its name. Despite the fact that I was horribly glutened, the waitstaff and manager did the best they could in the moment, and they did comp the entire dinner for four.
We selected this cute little pizza joint because they had gluten-free pasta, not pizza, but pasta, and it was walking distance to the theater. My friends ordered pizza, and I ordered the gluten-free pasta. I clearly ordered gluten-free pasta. When the pizzas arrived, I assumed my pasta would follow shortly. When my friends had almost finished their pizza, I inquired about my order. “Don’t worry,” the waiter reassured. “Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer to prepare.”
I felt confident, because clearly the waiter remembered that I had ordered gluten-free. Clearly the staff knew enough to prepare a new pot of water instead of tossing gluten-free pasta into boiling poisonous wheat water. I sipped my wine, and minutes later a plate of pasta was placed in front of me. I didn’t even question whether this dish was mine. I was the only one without food, I had just asked about my meal, and this plate was served to ME. Clearly, it was mine.
The first bite only served to verify that this pasta was gluten free, because it was a bit chewy like bad gluten-free pasta. It wasn’t going to be a great meal, but I wasn’t going to complain. At least they offered a gluten-free option. I was a little confused about the sauce as it didn’t seem like the marinara and veggies that I’d normally order, but I had hemmed and hawed over the three vegetarian options on the menu. Maybe I didn’t realize I’d ordered a dark sauce. It was marked gluten-free, so I didn’t worry.
I ate the entire plate of pasta minus a few spoonfuls shared with those who wanted a taste. As soon as I put my fork on my cleared plate, a waitress appeared announcing, “And here’s the gluten-free pasta!”
That’s when my memory gets a little fuzzy.
I remember the waitress confirming that I’d just eaten a full plate of gluten-filled wheat pasta.
I remember involuntarily saying a word that I never say.
I remember everyone asking me, “What’s going to happen to you?”
I had no earthly idea what was going to happen to me. I hadn’t ingested that much gluten since before going gluten free 12 years ago. Was I going to get violently ill? Did I need to take the hour-long train ride home right now instead of staying for the show? Did I need to remain close to a bathroom? Was this going to get ugly and embarrassing?
I remember the waiter asking, “What can I get for you?”
He wanted to bring me more pasta on the house! That wasn’t going to make anything better. And I wasn’t going to put another piece of food in my stomach since I had no idea if the food already in there was going to stay put.
I remember the waitress suddenly realizing the severity of the issue and saying, “I will go to CVS and get whatever you need!”
I remember the Husband flying like a superhero to the manager. Their words were lost in the buzzing restaurant noise as the waitstaff swirled around my already spinning head. I just needed them to leave me alone so I could think. And within 60 seconds of hearing the news that sent this perfect New York evening careening off the magical evening track and into unknown waters, my head cleared enough to have the wisest thought of the evening.
I remembered Shirley. I had a blessed vision of Shirley. If you’ve been gluten-free for more than 12 seconds, you most likely already know Shirley of Gluten Free Easily. Shirley is the mama of the gluten-free bloggers, the teacher of newbie gluten-free eaters, and an inspiration to the gluten-free community as she demonstrates to her readers, year after year, that eating gluten free is easy, healthy, and delicious if you focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free. And I’m lucky enough to have Shirley as a friend.
I sent an SOS email to Shirley. Then the Husband and I walked to CVS and found this.
I’d never purchased the product before, but I was desperate to try anything that could help. The directions said to take the capsules before ingesting gluten. A little late for that, and confused as to why anyone with a gluten problem would willingly ingest gluten, but I figured it couldn’t hurt and I downed four capsules before even finishing the transaction with the cashier.
By the time we walked to the theater, my phone buzzed with a message from Shirley! With 8 minutes until the show started, my superhero Husband flew back to CVS to get Shirley’s recommended activated charcoal capsules and pineapple juice.
When was the last time that you purchased pineapple juice? At least at CVS, it still comes in a gigantic can that requires that special pointy-tipped can opener that you may remember from snack time in preschool. CVS didn’t have one of those. But the manager found a regular can opener for sale on a shelf and let the Husband borrow it to start the opening process. He ran with a semi-opened can of sticky juice to the theater parking lot.
This was the next step. Two minutes before show time, standing in the rain, we dripped the juice from the can into a water bottle so that I could smuggle it into the theater. Frustration and anxiety turned to hilarity as we realized that at this drip rate we’d be lucky to get to the show by intermission. Thankfully, my superhero made the hole a little larger with a key.
We did make the show, during which my friend wowed us all with her talent, and I slugged water and straight pineapple juice until I got home.
I firmly believe that Shirley’s timely answer to my frantic email took days off my recovery time. The pineapple juice provided enzymes to break down the gluten, and the activated charcoal helped to absorb it.
For the next week, my body was shock. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach. I didn’t feel like I had a digestive system at all. When I’ve been glutened in the past from cross-contamination, my biggest symptoms have been irritability, tiredness, and a brain fog that lasted a day or maybe two. This time, I felt like I had mono. I woke up exhausted after sleeping for 8-10 hours each night. Moving from the bed to the couch felt like I had just climbed a flight of stairs. The weirdest symptom I had was the sensation that my entire body was buzzing. If I had a normal job, I would have taken multiple days off. But I taught school that week through a mental haze because there was something I had to take care of each day that was beyond the scope of a substitute teacher. So I fumbled for words, lost papers in front of my face, and did the best I could to shape the minds of our future. I really can’t remember much of that week, sorry students. Thankfully I have great support teachers that helped me keep the class running.
And I had Shirley’s wise counsel ringing in my ears to take care of myself. I came home by 4:00pm each day and napped with Maggie until bedtime.
I continued taking enzymes, activated charcoal, probiotics, epsom salt baths, and I flooded my body with juices and water. Just when I was wondering if I’d ever feel like myself again, some energy and clearer thinking returned. It took six days for any improvement. I still don’t think I’m back to normal. Shirley warned me that it could take weeks, not to be discouraging, but to remind me to be patient and take time to take care of me. So I’m listening to my body, getting lots of rest, and eating well.
I want to thank my two superheroes. My number one hero is always the Husband. I’ll never forget him running to my rescue with a dripping can of pineapple juice. My number two hero is Shirley. After my brain fog lifted I remembered that Shirley wrote a post in 2011 called How to Recover After Being Glutened that you must read so you’re prepared for that inevitable moment when you will say, “What do you mean this isn’t gluten free?”