Wright Words: I’m still not dying, but I do have celiac disease

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

The doctor gave me a brief description and apologized if the timing of the call had made my heart race.

“Who? Me?”

We hung up and, naturally, I rushed to Google all I could about celiac. Because, as everyone knows, there's no more accurate source for medical information and for highly accurate self-diagnoses than the Internet.

A few days later, I went in for my esophagogastroduodenoscopy and asked if they would give me the procedure for free if I could spell it.

No deal.

Given how complex the procedure is, I was astonished at how fast it unfolded. I was registered, given a fashionable bracelet, IV and was conked out in less than 30 minutes. Then, just 20 minutes later, I was on my side looking at my wife.

During the muggy, mostly cloudy minutes of recovery, the doctor came in to show my wife pictures of my esophagus, stomach and intestines. I have no recollection of it, but both my wife and doctor claim that I raised my head and asked if he’d found a $100 bill down there. The doctor said if he had, he would have been obligated to keep it.

Apparently not content, I then asked if he’d found any quarters or, better yet, gummy bears. This time he offered my wife a confused look and continued with his show and tell of my insides.

When I was conscious enough for a coherent conversation, my wife shared the digital images and explained what should've been there and what shouldn't. The doctor had told her the biopsies would tell the real story, but that he was very confident I had celiac disease.

Celiac is an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye — causes damage to the small intestine. When people with celiac eat gluten, the body ignites an immune response that attacks the intestine. This damages the walls and makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.

In short, it’s not an uncommon disease and at some point in the last six months, my body decided that it was no longer a member of the wheat, barley and rye fan club.

Though there is no cure for it, it is treatable by managing a strict, gluten-free diet and, at least in my case, taking iron to help the body create red blood cells to carry oxygen along my body’s freeway.

Ten days later, the doctor called to say he’d seen no surprises in the biopsy and that his suspicions were correct — celiac. My body has been damaging itself for months, and he warned me it would take a long time for everything to heal.

It's only been a few weeks and I’ve learned how common the disease really is. In fact, I presume many will read this article and comment that they, too, have something ranging from mild gluten intolerance to classic celiac.

While adjusting to a diet void of everything I love — Lucky Charms, bread, bagels, etc. — I’ve gotten mileage out of my newfound excuse.

"Honey, could you please do the dishes?”

“I'm sorry, I have celiac disease.”

“Jason, why didn't you make the bed this morning?”

“Oh boy, I’m sorry, must've been the celiac.”

Even my kids are already rolling their eyes.

In my quiet, complaining moments eating yogurt, bun-less hamburgers and salads, I reflect on the five minutes on Super Bowl Sunday night between answering the phone and the suspenseful moment he put my greatest fears to rest.

What a pity I endured some anxiety. What a shame a diet change means giving up a few foods I love.

What about all the friends and family I've known whose phone calls or doctors’ office visits ended very differently? They’ve been hit with so many tests and consultations that ended not with new diets, but with discussions of survival rates.

In fact, just in the last month, while I’ve been coping with tummy aches, two dear friends have dealt with prostate cancer.

Seriously, no more doughnuts? Woe is me, right?

I suspect it won’t take long to adjust to my new menu and, hopefully, my body will heal as promised. I don’t know the timing, but at least I know the whys. If you see me at your school, book signing or speaking gig and I politely decline your homemade sweet rolls, you'll know why, too.

No, I'm still not dying, but I sure am skinny and I do have celiac disease.

I better get to the dishes.

Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at jwright@deseretnews.com, applevalleybarndance.com or jasonfwright.com

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