I am starting to dread the SCC (Standard Coeliac Conversation) that happens at most social gatherings. No matter how much you might not want to talk about it, it invariably comes up whenever you refuse a repeatedly offered “desirable” food item (pizza, cookie, birthday cake).
Person: Want a piece?
Me: No thanks
Person: Oh go on!
Me: No thanks, really, I’m good.
Person: *offers to everyone else then returns to me*
Me: No thanks, I can’t eat that.
Person: You CAN’T eat it?
Me: *sighs* (Quickly decides whether or not it’s worth starting THAT conversation)
If you decide to talk with a stranger at a party about coeliac disease, you can guarantee that one of the two questions will come up:
1) “So what happens when you eat gluten?”
2) “So how sensitive are you?”
The first is sort-of-but-not-really a silly question and depending on the situation my answers can get quite dramatic, in the hopes that they will at least never ask that question again to a stranger. I have been known to use the phrase “waves of diarrhoea” when someone is not satisfied by my original answer of “gastrointestinal problems”, as if ingesting something that your body views as a foreign invader could ever result in anything BUT vomiting/nausea/diarrhoea.
The second question always baffles me somewhat, because I never know how to answer it. I have always known in theory that coeliacs could react to the slightest crumb, so I have been as careful as I can, especially after I was apparently glutened by pizza dust on a “gluten-free” pizza at Hell Pizza (since closed down, nothing to do with me, promise!).
Since us coeliacs tend to have very sensitive tummies anyway, it is always difficult, if not impossible, to know whether you have been glutened or whether you are just reacting a bit strangely to something you ate. That is, until last night when I got glutened by a glass.
Bars in Holland seem to have a relaxed attitude to washing their beer glasses, but normally soft drinks are served in slightly different glasses so it’s generally ok. I didn’t even think about this until I was two iced teas down and starting to experience “whirlwinds of gas” in my gut. Strange, I thought, and went up to order my third. I saw the woman behind the bar “wash” my glass in what can only be described as a hotbed of potential cross-contamination. I realised too late what had happened and drank my next drink straight from the bottle, while trying to surreptitiously conceal the sounds my gut was making.
By the time I got home I had a poorly stomach but thought to myself that such a small quantity can’t have any real effect beyond that can it? Well when my alarm went off I could barely open my eyes. I had intended to deliver some leftover food to my friend who lives down the street before 8am, but I found myself cancelling, drowning in fatigue. I slept in until 10:30 which is practically unheard of for a morning person like myself.
So to answer your question “Just how sensitive are you?”, I appear to be very sensitive. I am so sensitive that cross contamination from a badly washed beer glass caused me intense pain that night, and the next day I am fatigued, nauseous, sensitive to touch, and rather headachey. It annoys me because it sounds like I’m making it up, it sounds like I’m exaggerating. It also annoys me because I purposely didn’t drink in order to avoid a hangover, and now I have all the symptoms anyway. People can’t quite grasp that something they mindlessly consume many times a day can result in such a bad reaction from such a small amount.