Recently a neighbor asked if I could do him a huge favor because he knew I had a restaurant background. He needed a waitress to work the nite shift at his restaurant, his Italian, full of gluten restaurant. Two of his staff had called in sick on a busy Friday nite and he was in a bind, so I said yes.
The nite went off without a hitch until my last customers of the evening, this lovely young couple out on a date. I walked over to the table, introduced myself and I told them about the specials. As we chit-chatted, the busboy came by and laid down a big basket of the restaurants amazing homemade crusty bread that the restaurant was known for. They both ordered wine and upon delivering their wine, the gentleman then asked for a second basket of bread.
When their order was ready, I walked over, laid down the gentleman’s chicken cacciatore with pasta in pink sauce and he stops and just stares at his food. I got really nervous all of a sudden thinking that maybe I had gotten the order wrong somehow. Confused I asked him, ‘is everything ok, is there something wrong with your dinner?’
Still staring at his food, he took in a big breath and asked, “Can I exchange this pasta for gluten free pasta?”
I was a bit baffled at this and asked, ‘Are you gluten-free?’
“Actually”, he says softly, “I have Celiac disease”, then he sheepishly looked at his date. Then he says, “I know I ate all that bread, but I couldn’t help myself. I don’t want to be tempted by the pasta as well.”
I stood there speechless, ‘Umm, ok, sure…’, I said, thinking there was nothing gluten free about anything he had already eaten or was about to eat so what’s a little pasta going to hurt? I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to shake him and yell, what the hell are you doing, do you know the damage that you’re causing inside your body by cheating like this? Should I dump his plate and start fresh or just keep quiet and slide my card into the billfold at the end? All I kep thinking was that, I’m a Celiac advocate, how can I not say anything?!
He could see I was obviously at a loss, standing there with my mouth half open like a moron. So he took his small bread plate, scraped off the wheat pasta in pink sauce and handed it back to me. I stood there for a second longer, a million thoughts running through my brain, and then I reminded myself, I am not an interventionist right now, I am a waitress. I smiled at the couple, turned toward the kitchen and brought him the gluten free pasta.
Biting My Tongue
Wow, it was so hard to bite my tongue and not sure that if I was in that same postion I would be able to hold my tongue again. This guy did not so much as ask a question about gluten free and there was gluten everywhere, in the bread, the sauces, in his pasta and the breaded chicken. I wanted to ask why he willingly was hurting himself? Didn’t he know what would happen if he continued down this path?
I look around everyday at all the people eating away without a care in the world, admittedly feeling a little jealous at times, and it makes me feel ‘celiac small’. It makes me feel like the first time I visited the Grand Canyon and stood at the rim looking out at the vastness before me and instantly reminded of how small and inconsequential I really am in this big big world.
If it is 1 out of 133 that have celiac disease with only 15% diagnosed, I will be generous and tack on anther 5% for people who are possible Celiac’s but have not been tested and living the gluten free lifestyle. Based on the idea that 3,000,000 Americans out of 3 hundred million have CD, then that means we are only about 600,000 diagnosed; 2.4 million people still are sick and do not know why.
As I am sitting here finishing up this article, I can’t stop thinking about this man and the overall feeling of helplessness, which apparently bothered me enough to follow me into my dreams. I dreamt I was swimming through miles of damaged intestines trying to rescue this clueless guy who was hanging on to one last living villi before being washed away.
I am glad that I did slip my card into the billfold and give him the option to learn more when he is ready to. If I have learned anything it is that you cannot teach someone who does not want to be taught, but, there’s nothing wrong with a little push in the right direction.
Change starts one person at a time.