Gluten Intolerance – Six Months Later…

July 8, 2011

It’s a little over six months now that I’ve been living gluten free. I’ve kind-of got used to it. I’ve managed to make a few cakes without tasting the tiniest morsel (though once, while mixing, I automatically stuck my finger in my mouth while it had some cake mix on it). By cautious trial and therefore very few errors, I’ve found various things I can have. Mercifully, I can have beer and some chocolates and some ice creams. So my life is not entirely a bleak desert landscape. I even tried gulab jamun recently (if you don’t know what it is, a wordy description by me certainly can’t do it justice, so I’m not even going to try) and suffered no ill effects. Actually, jamun shouldn’t have flour in it anyway, it should be made entirely of khoa – but I was just being cautious, because flour is so much cheaper and you just never know what weird recipes these commercial cookeries can come up with in an effort to cut costs.

Last Saturday, we went to Sue’s Kitchen for lunch. It is a wonderful little place that we’ve been too much too infrequently. That’s going to change. We usually like to go to “Conti” places (places that serve “western” or “continental” food – anything from sandwiches and burgers and pizzas to steaks and sizzlers) for dinner, but it’s become impossible for me to eat anything at these places. At first they claim that everything is gluten free. Then you question them closely and they disappear into the kitchen and return to confess that, yes, that sauce does use flour to thicken it and yes, that cutlet does have a bit of bread crumb mixed in, and yes, they do coat the chicken with a bit of flour before frying/grilling it and so on. Most frustrating.

So Sue’s Kitchen was something of a paradise for me. Sue, who runs the place herself, knows exactly what’s in each dish. When I told her I’m gluten-intolerant, she even seemed to know what that means. She told me the salads were all safe – no flour used as a thickener, thank god; in fact, she was aghast at the very thought of it. I’m not a great fan of salads, of course – I mean, I’m the farthest thing from a health freak when it comes to food – but the salads in Sue’s kitchen are far from health food anyway. Which is to say – they are heavily coated in mayonnaise-type salad dressings and they are absolutely delicious. Apart from salad, there’s a main course of rice, veg, two non-veg curries, channa, and rajma.

And then, there’s dessert. Of course I can’t have the cakes, but the mousses – ah! While I actually prefer my chocolate mousse with a lot more chocolate in it (overpoweringly chocolate-y is fine with me), Sue does a good job despite going easy on the chocolate and the sugar.

Chinese food is still difficult – you just never know when they use flour instead of cornflour for coating things and thickening sauces. And noodles are ruled out anyway, except for one concoction of rice noodles that I quite like.

Most Indian food is ok, so I’m not exactly starving here. I’m eating dosa in unbelievable numbers, which does reduce its appeal quite a bit, but at least it’s an item that affords a lot of variety if eaten away from home, while still being a quick and easy thing to make at home too.

There are still a lot of things I miss, though. For instance:

Cake – Sigh. What is life without cake? I sometimes dream about chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing. And I will make that some day – I am going to get hold of some gluten-free flour, and soon. All the same, the one single item I’d love to be able to eat once in a way, is my favourite Corner House Death by Chocolate. You’d think I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime, but when it comes to DBC, there’s no such thing as “enough”.

Maggi – I still find it really hard to make Maggi for the kids and not take even a single bite.

Rolls – Lazeez Kati Rolls – need I say more?

Roti – I was never very fond of roti, but I wouldn’t have elected to give it up for life. There are some times, and some dishes, when nothing works better than fresh, hot rotis.

Bread – It used to be something I took for granted – more of a convenience than something to really indulge in. But as with roti, it’s something I unexpectedly miss.

Pizza – Not that we used to have this very often, but even once in three months or so, it was something to look forward to.

Chaat – I can’t have phhuchka (pani puri) or any of the other chaats. These used to be fairly regular snack-outings for us. Now I can only have bhel puri and then too, I have to tell them not to put the papdi in it. Sob.

Apart from these, one withdrawal that I really battling nowadays is caffeine withdrawal. I’ve always had a morning cuppa, ever since I was in my teens. The quantity of milk in my coffee has varied from 100% down to zero. For a long time, I used CoffeeMate instead of milk to whiten my coffee. But in recent months I haven’t been able to get my hands on CoffeeMate, and I’ve been reacting badly to hot milk. I tried using Pediasure as a substitute, but the coffee tastes foul, primarily because I like my coffee without sugar and Pediasure is nothing if not sweet. So now I’m forced to reduce my coffee intake to zero – and it’s really hard!

Strangely enough, despite all the goodies I can’t eat any more, I don’t seem to be losing any weight. I was expecting (or at any rate hoping) the weight would just fall off me, but that hasn’t happened. I suppose I’m doing a good job of making up for all the things I can’t eat with some of the things I can. And since I the list of things I can eat now includes ice cream, chocolate, and beer, I really don’t have all that much to complain about. Until birthdays roll around.

It’s a Pain in the…

February 5, 2011


That’s the tragedy I was referring to in my previous post. Tragedy is a strong word for a little, niggling, nagging, clicking sort of pain.

But then again… Amit had a pain in the knee and that kept him away from the tennis court for three whole years. I saw him struggle with three years of restlessness, three years of boredom, three years of building up muscle to support the tendon.

Whoever has gone off the tennis court in our circles due to some little, niggling pain in an arm or a leg, has rarely made it back. We are, after all, neither young, nor professional. I don’t even know yet what is wrong and how long it is going to take to fix it. The whole prospect of starting yet another round of doctor’s appointments is depressing beyond belief.

It’s already been three weeks since I played, but the little, niggling, clicking pain is still there. At first, I was (stupidly) optimistic that a week or two of rest would take care of it. But now, I just don’t know.

Tennis has been a wonderful thing in my life these past five years. It has motivated me to get up early and get out there. It has motivated me to do at least a bare minimum of exercise to keep moving. It has (probably, hopefully) prevented my weight from shooting up even faster than it already has done and has (probably) helped to keep my cholesterol numbers in a very healthy range. It has been a good companion to me, especially in the days when I was a SAHM and it was practically the only time I got out of the house on my own.

It can’t possibly be time to say goodbye.

A Happy Confluence

January 18, 2011

Today I feel like a million dollars.

After a long time, the past few sessions of tennis have been good, and – what’s even better – improving. I’ve been swacking the ball and it feels great!

Last year, my game had completely disintegrated. Tennis Sir said I had lost conditioning, and I could see what he meant, I just couldn’t understand why. In September, after I could barely stand after a brief half-hour on the court, I finally decided it was time to see a doctor. He treated me for chronic fatigue syndrome, and I started to bounce back in days. But it’s taken time for my general conditioning level to recover. Now, after really going for the ball for over an hour, I can feel some stiffness in my arm. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened even after two whole hours on the court. But six months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand on the court for that long.

Another thing Tennis Sir has been telling me is that I’m not keeping my wrist firm while hitting the ball. After struggling for months to fix the problem, and almost giving up in despair, late last year I decided I was just going to ignore it and go back to enjoying the game like I used to. Then my parents came to visit and one idle morning, my mother started playing tennis against the wall in our living room, using Mrini’s tiny racket. “Our coach used to tell us to hold the racket tightly,” she said, referring to an event that must have taken place at least 50 years ago. I realized that I should be doing that as well. Strangely enough, it was not something either Amit or Tennis Sir had mentioned, though they are both usually extremely perceptive in identifying the mistakes in my game and suggesting strategies to fix them. Still, in the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing exclusively on holding the racket tightly, and suddenly, my loose wrist problem has improved dramatically!

Then there was that gastro problem that has been plaguing me for a year-and-a-half. I remember exactly when it started – I had decided that I really needed to lose weight (for, of course, the umpteenth time in my life) so I’d started a new diet and exercise regime. When the bloating developed, I thought it was the sprouts and boiled channa I’d taken to nibbling on, so I cut those out of my diet. Then I cut out wheat and milk for a week each. Nothing worked. After some months, I went to a doctor. He tested me for various things and then gave me a list of pills to pop and sent me away. The pills worked, but only to control the symptoms; they didn’t fix the problem. And I didn’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life.

So then, in the winter break, with many reservations and much reluctance, I finally consulted a homeopathic doctor. He gave me more pills to pop and suggested that I avoid wheat. After a few false starts and a few denials and rebuttals, I’ve succeeded in weaning myself off all kinds of wheat and flour for about a week now. It’s much more difficult than I’d thought! When I’d gone “wheat-free” for a week or so the last time around, I hadn’t realized that it also meant no bread, and no beer. I hadn’t thought to check which of the processed foods and restaurant dishes used flour. I’d just cut out the rotis and not seen any difference. This time, I’ve really tried to avoid even microscopic bits of suspected flour. Like, boondi laddoos. They should be made of besan, but unless I make them myself (unlikely!), can I be altogether sure they don’t have some flour added?

The result of all this excessive paranoia and obsession? I’m not ready to bring out the champagne yet (and I’d need to check that it doesn’t have any flour), but my bloating really does seem to have reduced. This morning, I woke up feeling light, flat, and hungry! I haven’t felt that way for months!

According to various sources on the internet, lactose intolerance, wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance (or, in more extreme cases, celiac disease), tiredness, joint and muscle ache, and possibly even chronic fatigue are all related. Also, wheat/gluten intolerance runs in families. I told the chronic-fatigue GP about my gastro problem, but he ignored it. I told both my allopathic gastro doctor and my homeopathic doctor that my sister has gluten/wheat intolerance, but the allopathic doctor just shrugged it off. If this gluten-free diet that I’ve been struggling to adhere to actually pays off in terms of putting an end to that eternal balloon-like bloating, I’ve got some nasty words in mind for those allopathic doctors. (But then again, according to the Internet, in most cases, gluten intolerance is misdiagnosed for years – so I’m actually ahead of the curve here, thanks to that homeopathic doctor that I didn’t have much faith in.)

So, right now, with my general conditioning, stamina, and strength improving, my tennis looking up, and my bloating showing signs of reducing, I have much to be happy about! Funny how sometimes what it takes is a happy confluence of circumstances. Or maybe it has to do with the alignment of the stars and planet. Whatever it is, I like it.

Lactose Overdose! Will I Survive?

October 7, 2010

I’m a firm believer in the importance of milk in a child’s diet. I was brought up on three glasses of milk a day. We had it plain – no Bournvita or Horlicks or even sugar – and cold. I loved it. My parents eventually allowed us to stop the lunch-time glass of milk, which made me feel all grown up, but I continued to have my milk twice a day until… I think until I started college/work. And then I continued to have one cup a day, though I started mixing it – still cold, or sometimes room temperature – with Nescafe. Eventually, of course, I switched to hot coffee, but it was still made entirely with milk. Back then, breakfast was my favourite meal – a big mug of milk with coffee in it, and a banana or an apple. All my favourite foods in one meal! Wow.

When we came back from the US in 1999 is the first time I recall have continuous stomach trouble. It took a while to work out that it was due to lactose intolerance. Looking back, I thought that perhaps it had been coming on for a few years before that, but it was never so bad. In the US, it seemed to have disappeared altogether, and I feasted not just on cold milk, but also on ice cream and cheese and flavoured yogurt without any problem.

For the last ten years, I’ve been aware of my lactose intolerance and all its various moods and manifestations. It comes and goes. For months at a stretch, it will be so mild that I can have generous helpings of curd or ice cream every day for days on end without any discomfort. When we travel to Calcutta it is always at its worst – a convenient and only mildly untrue basis for getting out of having to eat vast quantities of milky/creamy, sickly-sweet sweets. (In the process, I also miss out on some of the more delicious milk-based sweets, though. But you can’t avoid your cake and eat it too…)

When we trek in the Himalayas, I’ve noticed, my lactose intolerance really does become more acute. I avoid milk like the plague, of course, but even the slightest trace of ghee in the food is enough to set it off. There’s no apparent reason for this, so I can only surmise that my stomach is a little more irritable at high altitudes and this might be further exacerbated by drinking water straight out of rivers and streams (and you don’t want to even think about what all goes into the river and streams up in the hills).

Ever since the gastric trouble that the doctor is calling “functional dyspepsia” – which is a name they hang on a set of symptoms when they can’t find anything wrong that’s causing those symptoms – started, my lactose intolerance seems to be at its peak. Either that, or, I suspect, it is no longer possible to distinguish between bloating due to functional dyspepsia and bloating due to lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance used to lead quickly to a rather severe stomach upset with extreme cramping, but that no longer happens, so I’m a tad confused here.

Still, one thing is clear. Nowadays, I have to steer clear of all milk products. Even a couple of teaspoons of milk in my morning cuppa is enough to trigger the bloating. And that’s tragic. I gave up my milk-based coffee years ago, and I’ve never been able to stomach black coffee, so no milk means no coffee. And without my morning cuppa… life is just not the same anymore. The morning is strangely incomplete. The sleep won’t leave my eyes (and my brain) until I get my caffeine kick.

I struggle in other ways too. I can live without cheese and paneer, but cakes and ice creams? Is it even worth living if you can’t indulge in those once in a way (once in a day, more like)? I enjoy baking, and my baking uses liberal quantities of butter. How can I bake and then not eat? How can I not ever bake?

A much bigger problem looms ahead. Italy. The land of pizza and pasta. The land of pastry and gelato. Heaven help me – nine days of temptation! How on earth am I going to survive this?

So Much Better

October 1, 2010

I went for tennis yesterday after almost ten days of not playing. And I felt so much better! I only played about half an hour, but I didn’t feel like I would collapse at the end of it. And today there’s hardly a hint of stiff or sore muscles in my legs. Last time I played I was so stiff and sore I could barely move for two whole days! And yesterday my game was much better too. Partly that’s because Tennis Sir played with me and he can really regulate the game so that it’s just right for your abilities that day – neither too fast, nor too difficult, but just difficult enough to make you have to stretch yourself a bit. But… I played with Sir last time too, and my game was, in his words, “erratic”. Yesterday, it was beautiful – we had several 20-shot rallies and even Sir said I had made “zero errors”. I came away feeling that maybe, just maybe, I could play tennis. I haven’t felt like that for a long, long time. Last time, I seriously thought I should give it up… at least for a while.

What’s even better is, today’s Friday. Usually that means I drag myself out of bed feeling exhausted. Today I jumped out at 6 a.m. and went for a walk!

Well, what do you know? That doctor who was so extremely disinterested? Maybe he knew what he was doing after all! – despite the attitude.

And who would have thought that a couple of vitamins could make such a difference to one’s energy levels? Not me, for sure! I told you how ridiculous I felt going to a doctor because “I’m tired”? Now I feel even more stupid, because I probably should have done it long ago. Thank you, Chris, for providing the impetus I needed.

While I’m pleased and hugely relieved at having my energy levels bounce back like this, I’m slightly worried about what will happen once I stop popping pills. Amit has been persuading me to go to a homeopathic doctor, and other friends have mentioned Ayurvedic doctors. Despite the popularity of both homeopathy and ayurveda, despite the number of people who have been miraculously cured by these systems when allopathy failed, despite the number of skeptics who have been “converted”… I’m still highly skeptical. But I have to admit that after several months of allopathic medicines for a gastric problem, I’m beginning to think that, after all, what do I lose by trying out “alternative” medicine.

But first, I’ll try out the holiday treatment. That should prove highly therapeutic, I expect.


August 17, 2010

We took the kids for their annual health checkup on Saturday. Actually, there wasn’t much need to take them for a check-up, they seem to be so very ok. But we do have to provide this letter to the Family Court each year, testifying to their mental, physical, social, emotional and academic fitness… so we had to go anyway.

One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry is booming. The hospital was so crowded that we couldn’t get parking, even though they have a huge open parking lot which I never thought could possibly be filled up unless there were some kind of city-wide calamity. I went in, while Amit sat in the parking queue, but he eventually handed over the car to a valet to park. It was a smart move: A couple of minutes later, even people asking for valet parking were being turned away!

Inside, the chaos was equally evident. The pediatric department was full and overflowing, and the two attendants at the desk were harassed and busy. I asked how long we’d have to wait and was told it would take an hour. I immediately regretted having paid up the consultation fee already, but then it turned out that that was the waiting time for those who didn’t have appointments. With an appointment, we wouldn’t have to wait long.

Their weight and height was checked. They weighed in at 14 kg each, and Mrini was measured at 100.5 cm, while Tara was 101! When we found our place in front of the doctor a few minutes later, she told us their height was good and weight was only a little (1.5kg) below normal.

I had worried a lot about their weight and height in the early days. What do you do, when your one-year-old adopted babies are in the bottom 5th percentile for weight and height, and you can’t seem to get the word malnutrition out of your head? But that was a long, long time ago. It was gratifying to see them shoot up in the first six months with us, gaining inches at a time when for most kids growth slows down to a crawl. And it’s been a long, long time now since I worried about whether they were on-track weight-height-wise. I see them with kids in their class and I can see that their height is about on par. As for weight – they are obviously thin and probably always will be, until emotional issues begin to influence their food habits; but they are not unhealthy any more, and that’s the important thing.

It was good to hear from a doctor that their weight and height was no longer a cause for concern, but it was not a surprise, nor a cause for celebration – just an affirmation of something we had come to realize and accept over the months already.

What the doctor said next, though, was a surprise and more delightful than I’d have expected. She said that the girls have started to resemble us in their “dentition” and features. I don’t know exactly what features she was referring to, and to what extent this is true and to what extent it is fanciful I can’t be sure; and I don’t really see much resemblance between them and is in dentition or anything else myself; but it was strangely elevating to hear and to think that our girls might actually look like us a bit. I realized, suddenly, how much I’d missed hearing anything like that. Personally, I still don’t see it – I don’t think they look anything like us; but it was nice to think that to somebody, they look a little more like us than they did before.

It made the whole effort of driving, parking, paying, waiting, waiting some more, and finally driving back – it made all of that seem well worth while. We left the hospital with quite a smile on our faces – yes, even Amit.

…And Now This

April 5, 2010

As if we didn’t have enough on our plates already, with this second trip to Pondicherry coming up and all the paperwork it requires…

On Saturday afternoon, Tara had a mild fever. We put it down to general tiredness and/or a passing viral. It wasn’t much, and she wasn’t too put out by it, so we didn’t worry about it much.

On Sunday, she skipped lunch altogether. There was a fruit and nut cake (made by yours truly), but she skipped that too. Hmmmmm…

In the evening, she wanted cake, so we gave her some. As soon as the first bite entered her mouth, she put it down, drank a gulp of water, and practically ran away from the room. That was really strange!

That night, she refused to let me brush her teeth. I looked in her mouth and saw a small blister on the inside of her lip. Okkkaaayyyy… we skipped the brushing. Half an hour later she was screaming blue murder. Holy cow, her mouth was full of blisters! Amit called the doctor, who recommended a gel called Zytee. He got off the phone and headed out the door to get some, but before he could close the door behind him, I saw something that made my eyes pop. Her hand was erupting with blisters!

I called him back with a note of panic in my voice, which threw Mrini’s composure and sisterly solicitude to the wind. (She had been very solicitous till this point, offering Tara water, offering to hold her, and patting her on the back!)

It looked like a histamine reaction to me, specially given the rapidity with which the blisters were appearing. Was it a reaction to the nuts in the cake? Was it related to the fever? And what was that funny-looking blister thing on her bum?

Amit called the doctor nearest our home. He was away from home (and clinic) and would available at 9.30 – more than an hour away. Tara was very uncomfortable, but the blisters had stopped popping up, so we decided to wait. By the time 9.30 came, she was uncomfortably asleep, lying on her back because it hurt to put her cheek on the pillow. Amit took her to the doctor and was soon back with a diagnosis: hand, foot and mouth disease.

It was a relief to know that it wasn’t a nut allergy – that is a lifelong problem, and a big one – but… hand, foot, and mouth disease? If it hadn’t been for Sadia’s blog several months ago, it would have been something I’d never even heard of. Apparently it’s a fairly common viral, which only affects small kids. As with all virals, it is transmitted by coughing, sneezing and so on, and as with all virals, you can only administer symptomatic treatment and wait for it to run its course. At least it was nothing serious.

Still, it’s terrible to watch your child suffer. Tara slept through the night and was quite happy in the morning, until she tried to eat breakfast. Then she discovered that it still hurt to eat. I put the gel all over her mouth, but it didn’t work. Even swallowing water was difficult. The only thing she could eat or drink was milk. At lunch time she was desperately hungry, but everything she tried she rejected after a bite. Poor thing – she drank some milk and went to bed hungry.

Next will be Mrini’s turn. It’s impossible to keep them from infecting each other, especially when these virals are so vicious – people become contagious before they are symptomatic, which means, you have already spread the disease to others before you even knew you were sick. Nasty, no?

So next will be Mrini’s turn, no doubt.

And tomorrow we have to go to Pondicherry.

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