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Diary of a gluten poisoning

Posted on May 27th, 2010 by Alison Read 18 Comments - Add Your Own »

blueberrymuffinTuesday, May 25, 2010

9:15 am: I drive to muffin bakery to buy gluten-free muffin a few people told me they saw there.

9:20 am: I enter bakery and ask for gluten-free muffin. There are none in the case that is full of regular muffins. Guy behind counter goes to check in back. I see him ask someone something and then take a blueberry muffin off of a rack. He hands it to me. I ask, “You’re sure this is gluten-free?” He replies, “Oh yeah, we have a totally separate gluten-free mix.” I hesitate, thinking I should ask about cross-contamination, but don’t. (Mistake.)

9:25 am: I eat muffin while driving to San Francisco. It’s not very good. I don’t eat it all.

10:00 am: I begin consulting session at Whole Foods in San Francisco (a child has just been diagnosed with gluten, dairy and egg allergy and the family needs help.)

11:30 am: I am burping and starting to feel a little weak. I pretend to the client that I am fine.

11:40 am: I am nauseous. I open a bag of Rice Thins and eat a little bit of one. It doesn’t help. Now I tell the client that I am not feeling well and explain that I think I ate some gluten. (She didn’t know the  lesson would include seeing first-hand what can happen if one eats gluten!)

11:55 pm: I am walking as fast as I can to the Whole Foods bathroom. I get there. I vomit several times. I feel a little better. I have other gastrointestinal things going on too.

12:05 pm: I emerge from bathroom looking like hell I’m sure. I find client, apologize and pretend that I am now fine. We finish consulting session (thank god it was time to be over anyway) even though it is difficult for me to even talk as I am still nauseous.

12:20 pm: I am driving through Pacific Heights in San Francisco — huge mansions all around. I spin the car into a parking space, throw open the door and vomit into the street. Lovely.

12:30 pm: I am driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to go home, hoping I can make it across without throwing up — there is nowhere to pull over on the bridge. Deep breaths, air-conditioning on full blast, thinking happy, do-not-puke thoughts.

12:50 pm: I don’t make it home in time. Close, but I have to make an illegal turn to whip my car into a bank parking lot where I can vomit in the bushes.

1:00 pm: I am home. I have major gastrointestinal distress. I am weak. My arm and leg muscles are cramping. I crawl into bed.

2:15 pm: I want to stay in bed, but I have to pick up my girls from school. I can barely make it down my stairs, sliding down on my bottom. My body feels like jelly and is a little tingly. I sit on the stairs. I lay on the stairs. I force myself to the bathroom. More gastrointestinal stress. I am a little better.

2:50 pm: I go back into the bakery that sold me the muffin. I ask, “Is it possible that you gave me the wrong muffin this morning?” and I tell the guy what happened. Wide-eyed, he calls over someone in charge and he reassures me that it was a gluten-free muffin. I ask about cross-contamination (as I should have done in the beginning), and he tells me that they use the same trays as the regular muffins. “We can’t prevent cross-contamination,” he tell me. “No,” I think, “You won’t.” But I don’t have the energy to engage in that conversation right now.

3:00 pm: It’s over. I am weak, but no more nausea or other symptoms.

4:00 pm: I am able to eat. My energy is picking up. I am feeling almost normal but for the waves of weakness in my legs that continue throughout the evening.

I continue to to be amazed at the violent reaction I had, the worst I have ever had since being gluten-free over 7 years. How much gluten did I consume — a few crumbs leftover in the tray from another batch of muffins? I will never know.

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  1. Feel better! I usually supplement with papaya chewable tablets (aid digestion) and probiotics to help resolve the effects of accidental glutenings.

  2. Oh my gosh. That’s terrible. I would raise hell with the management of the bakery. You are being way too nice. They need to understand the consequences if they cross contaminate . They could easily mark the pans for Gluten-Free items. I am like a bull dog when stuff like this happens. I wouldn’t let them off the hook so easy.

    Hope you’re feeling better!

  3. That’s aweful! I hope you really complain to that bakery, they can’t go selling “gluten free” items like that! You are very gracious, not sharing the name of the bakery, I would have been tempted to scream abuse at them from the rooftops!
    I hope you get better soon, your poor thing!

  4. I’m jealous that you react that way to gluten. I actually go unconscious. For the next week I battle GI stuff, my nerves and brain short circuiting including bipolar manic and depressive attacks so bad that I need to go to the hospital, bloating and swelling (because my body starts hording water…. basically I don’t pee for a day or so), I loose my ability to process carbohydrate and salt, and my blood sugar levels goes to hell. That is just a trace minor contamination. Even gluten in the air (bakeries, pizzerias, festivals) will set it all in motion!

    I feel for you though. Gluten, no matter what to consequence, is evil.

  5. Oh Alison! Oh wow! Pretty intense. Thanks for giving those of us who are not gluten intolerant a picture of what life can be like for those who are. I rarely have gluten because we’ve removed it from the house for the sake of our GFCF-free toddler. When I have it I just get really sleepy and brain foggy (mild intolerance perhaps). Thanks for the glimpse …

    And thank you for the nice comment you left on The Whole Gang! 🙂

  6. Yikes! That is really awful. We need to keep educating people that we don’t just avoid foods because we’re picky — they actually make us sick.

  7. That totally sucks. I’d be so mad at the bakery for that. Hope you continue to feel better and look into probiotics, that should really help. I wonder what would happen now if I consumed gluten since it’s been a good 2 years without it.

  8. Wow. I’ve never vomited from a gluten reaction. Reading your report, I actually wondered if something else was going on, like bad blueberries or rancid butter.

    How did your body respond over the following week? I usually notice I’ve accidentally consumed gluten over a period of days, not immediately after consumption. (then days of bloating, exhaustion, gas, poor concentration…)

  9. Barry,
    I don’t what else could have been going on. When I went back in later in the day, I imagine they would have told me if others had gotten sick. I really think it had to be gluten!

    It’s probably a good thing that I vomited. Then my body didn’t absorb the gluten and stay with me.

  10. Wow – I’m so sorry that happened to you. So painful!

  11. My 14 old daughter has the same reaction to gluten contamination as you do. The longer she is gluten free the worse her reaction. Recently she went to an allergist who does not really believe that the allergy to wheat can not be treated (though he does now). He gave her a drop of sublingual allergy drops (containing wheat). Lets just say the night in the E.R. proved to him that there is no treatment except for avoiding it! her reaction was so severe that she was sick and home from school for three days! The best thing I ever did for her was see a dr in Corpus Christi,Texas that specializes in food and nutritional health. (Dr Heather White DC) I found out that other food allergies magnifies the reaction to wheat!
    This is a difficult lifestyle but worth it!

  12. Oh my! That is horrible. I didn’t actually throw up, but I sure felt like I was going to. I’m so sorry. It’s so crazy what a few crumbs can do. It makes me glad I don’t eat it any more.

    Glad you are better, now.


  13. One piece of advice I got when first diagnosed has been very helpful. “NEVER eat in a bakery.” They are so full of flour in the air and in all the machines and trays and cookware that there is no way they can prevent cross contamination. And most people working in those places don’t know the first thing about cross contamination even if they tried.

  14. I bought a bag of cookies that says gluten free wheat free at the top, and made from a gluten free recipe. I started reacting to these cookies after having eaten them several times in the past. When I read the back of the bag, it noted that it was not produced in a gluten free facility! It was a good reminder for me to always read labels, even on products that I have bought many times before. I get tingly and nauseous, have really bad headaches, and I vomit when I am exposed to gluten. The longer I am gluten free, the more severe the reactions are when I’ve accidentally ingested some. I have to wear disposable gloves to make my husband a sandwich for lunch, and I actually have to wear a pollen mask when I use regular flour for those occasions when the kids are all home and I make them pizza! I haven’t found anything that helps with the reactions and symptoms other than just waiting them out, which isn’t a lot of fun. For other allergic reactions, I take Alka Seltzer gold, which comes in a gold colored box. It doesn’t seem to help much for gluten though.

  15. Ali, I hope you printed out your “diary” and took it to the bakery. They should post it in their baking room. Your experience is terrible and others have no idea of what a poison gluten can be for some. I spent a month in China and between soy, soy sauce, rice noodles cooked in the same water with wheat, MSG, etc. I had a daily migraine and terrible stomach reactions. It’s hard to eat over there!

  16. Mari,
    I would love to know which cookies gave you a reaction!

    Everyone that thinks I should go back to the bakery and tell them what happened to me… maybe someday. I have written them off as being not gluten-free. When I think that others may suffer the same reaction that I did, I know that it is my duty to inform them.

  17. Wow, you went to a bakery? And not a purely GF bakery? I hate to say this, but – of course you were poisoned! And the fact this place touts GF products means if you don’t go in there, more unsuspecting patrons with gluten allergies will try the same thing (ahem), and maybe one of them won’t be so lucky and may end up in the ER. 🙁

  18. Alison
    I had an episode last week that was similar. My symptoms are more like a rheumatoid arthritis flare and I ended up on the couch for 5 days. No vomiting in public though. Poor you. I wrote about it on my blog and then went in to the cafe and told them what happened. The owner was visibly shaken and upset and vowed to make sure it didn’t happen again. They are new to this gf world and eager to do the right thing. I imagine when they research the business practices of the bakery, they will no longer sell their products.

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