The pain started as my students finished their writing tests. It wasn’t unlike a lot of the pain I had been feeling lately in my gut — just more intense. I stood up to see if that would help as my last two students wrapped up their sentences and spoke to me about their worries.
Standing up didn’t help. I tried to focus on what the last two students were saying but found my head going cold and my thoughts losing focus. I started to sweat and tried sitting back down. By then the pain was gone. My new worry was this feeling that I would soon either pass out or throw up. I kept thinking when the student finished telling me about her own medical troubles, I’d be able to go get some help. Then it occurred to me that when she left me I would be all alone. Finally, I asked her to go get help from the adminstrative assistant as I leaned over the table. She insisted I drink her water as I sat down on the floor and then she ran off.
I tried one sip and then decided that, no, sitting was not going to do it. Things were starting to go black. I laid down on the floor and drifted until my student flew back in with the assistant, who asked if she needed to call for help. I said, yes, I could not get up to do anything so I guessed she’d have to.
My dear student then began to pray fervently over me in Romanian which, honestly, made me a bit more anxious, so I told her in my teacher voice to be calm from just before blacking out. Maybe the teacher voice pulled me back, so the prayer worked in some goofy way.
This all happened two days before Thanksgiving. It’s the most intense pain my digestion has given me but not the most aggravating. The most aggravating has involved months of a distended stomach, wondering what was going on, trying to see a doctor and waiting too long until I tried going without wheat (I know. ‘Gluten.’ But gluten sounds evil to me so I’m sticking with the word ‘wheat.’ I’ve decided to call my tormentor something a bit less scary.)
I felt remarkably better within 2 days. My stomach size returned to normal, my fingers quit aching, and my back pain all but disappeared. My head felt clearer and I began to really look at labels to see what might hide wheat.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful enough. I thought just a bit wouldn’t matter so I let myself have that package of nuts with ‘trace amounts of wheat,’ a bit of Vietnamese coffee and even some questionable oat milk. I didn’t want to be OCD about all this.
After lying on the floor at work with the medics hovering over me thinking I was having a heart attack, I’ve decided OCD is better. The gurney ride down the hall with the five point harness not unlike my son’s car seat, and my colleagues looking at me in shock convinced me even further.
So now I say no to a lot of food. I stare down aisles in Safeway, marveling at how much looks like poison to me. I take the ‘gluten free’ station (there’s that god-awful word) for communion, hoping to high heaven that the person who prepared it hasn’t touched the regular divinely delicious bread before handling my drier version of the sacrament.
And here is where the love comes in. Love comes in a student and coworkers who helped me through my worst pain episode. Love comes in a husband and others who hold me when I have my occasional pity-me moments. Love comes in a sister-in-law who double triple checks that the rice crispy treats she made are okay. Love comes in my sons who help me more in the kitchen. And love especially looks like this:
A week before my gurney ride, I came home from work to pick up my son late from daycare. Phil was on bereavement leave after his father had passed away and had been helping his mother take care of details all day. No food was waiting for me at home. The old days of slapping together a tortilla with cheese and salsa were over. I was contemplating a corn tortilla with lettuce when I got a call from my dear friend Ruth asking when I would like the dinner she had made me.
I almost cried when she handed me a wheat-free casserole, bread and a salad with enough for my whole family as well as wheat-filled rolls and a cherry pie the boys enjoyed. Maybe we feel love even more in our food when the wrong food holds the danger of a ride on a gurney.