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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Longtime readers of this blog—I don’t necessarily have any proof that such entities exist so I am speaking hypothetically—may know that I had a disease called celiac, a gastrointestinal disorder where consumption of gluten causes an immune system reaction that destroys the villi in the small intestine. It’s a relatively benign disease since malnutrition is worst result and it can be “cured” by refraining from consuming gluten, which usually consists of some form of wheat, barley, or rye.

Those who know me might have cocked their heads at my use of the past tense in the first sentence. For the last three years, I have lived the life of a celiac—strenuously avoiding any kind of bread or flour, explaining to anyone with me the ins and outs of my dietary restrictions, enduring the puzzled expressions of waiters as I explained that I couldn’t have salad even though they removed the croutons because fine pieces of crouton might still remain, and learning more about digestion and nutrition than most people would ever need. And then I decided to have a slice of pizza on a lark.

That one act effectively undid those three years of gastronomic straitjacketing. I discovered that I did not immediately have diarrhea; I realized that something didn’t comport with what I had been told. I began to try previously forbidden foods and I progressively concluded that something wasn’t right. There was only way to be certain and that was an endoscopy with a biopsy of my small intestines.

So I scheduled one for January 4th. My new gastroenterologist, Dr. Berggreen, wanted me to eat a lot of gluten so that my villi would sustain enough damage that a biopsy would conclusively show the presence of celiac indicators. Since this occurred around Christmas time, I was able to eat the delicious foodstuffs that had been denied in years previous. Celiac or not, I relished the opportunity to eat like a normal human again.

Endoscopy is a painless procedure but it must really uncomfortable to watch (or perform, I suspect). The results came back: I was not nor had I ever been a celiac. It was really weird: everyone was so happy for me but I was upset. For the last several years, I was a celiac. I finally had an explanation for my significant gastrointestinal distress that permeated my adulthood. After the biopsy, I was back to square one. Something was wrong with me and I had no idea what it could be. While I was happy to eat normally, I still felt like something was missing. I wanted an explanation.

Regrettably, such an explanation isn’t possible without extensive testing, which isn’t warranted without some massive problems or a more localized, focused testing plan. The best Dr. Berggreen could tell me was that I was lactose intolerant and probably fructose intolerant as well. I am definitely lactose intolerant: milk does not do my body good. The fructose intolerance is mostly speculation given that I was drinking about two liters of Mountain Dew at the time I was diagnosed with celiac. The symptoms mimic that of celiac and it seems like I get better whenever I cut down my soda consumption.

Until I have another spate of episodes, I’m forced to be content with the discontent such an open-ended diagnosis engenders. It’s unsettling but I can at least have cheese crisps, pizza, pasta, and licorice again. Oh, and I don’t have to worry about licking stamps or envelopes anymore.