Diary of a Celiac Waitress

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.

Tags: Celiac, dining out, Gluten Free men, intervention, waitress

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    • sam son
    • September 9, 2016

    Very nice post.

    • Kathy
    • August 10, 2015

    Great post, thank you. I was agape as I read, just incredulous. This also underlines why people in the food industry have such a hard time with people with food allergies, this type of inconsistency. The wait staff that has no experience with anybody gluten free must be even more frustrated. How do you teach them to care when the people who have the disease don’t care? After reading this I will try to advocate a bit more, not sure how but I’ll figure it out.
    P.S.- When I was a newly diagnosed celiac nobody knew what gluten was, so I told a waitress I was allergic to wheat, and she said” Oh, we have white bread”. Says it all, no?

  1. Reply

    Wow, what a predicament! I was diagnosed with Celiac in February 2014 and now avoid anything with gluten and anything that might seem cross contaminated, so I can totally understand how you must have felt. I also now have to avoid rice which is a whole new challenge. But I agree that you can’t convince someone to change that isn’t ready. You can just lead by example and share your experiences to show that change is possible. And still eat delicious food while doing it :-).

    • Cecelia Calvert
    • June 29, 2014

    My husband was diagnosed with Celiac by biopsy. Before the test the doctors had him believing he had cancer. So he was relieved that it was Celiac and he only had to change what he ate. That is at first. I had to clear out the kitchen, do the research and explain to him about cross contamination. It may seem sexist, but the spouse or girlfriend may need to be the “food police” for their partner. My husband is not shy about telling people at church, at events, that he has celiac. But for some reason eating out is a huge challenge, he wants to eat what he sees not what wont make him sick, I have to tell him no don’t touch that. So we pretty much do not eat out.

    • Jack
    • June 28, 2014

    I can understand what this guy is going through, especially if his symptoms are not very severe and has no idea how much damage he is doing to his insides. But if he is having symptoms, then they are bound to get worse and finally he’ll stop. Sometimes change only comes when things get bad enough to provoke the absolute need.

      • sam son
      • September 8, 2016

      nice post..thank you

    • Nancy Meyers
    • June 28, 2014

    It is amazing what some people are willing to put up with because they are afraid there is nothing better out there, or well I don’t know why people do what they do. This is a sad story of the epidemic happening in America today and you captured it perfectly. I hope this man finds peace with himself sooner than later.

    • Gerry
    • June 28, 2014

    I had a similar experience this week. My friend’s friend is supposed to eat gf so she ordered a burger w/o bread never asking about cross contamination and French fries. Back when I ate meat and food cooked in oil I had asked this particular place about their food and determined nothing was gf. I mentioned to her my experience and she pretended not to hear me. Having.g been extremely ill for 1 year because of the effects of prolonged gluten consumption I wanted to jump up on the table and grab her plate and toss it aside. Very frustrating. Fifteen minutes of eating pleasure is not worth spending a year in bed screaming in pain for.

  2. Reply

    I feel SOOO bad if I eat gluten it doesn’t even cross my mind to cheat. No temptation is big enough to make me go there. I guess when this guy feels bad enough he’ll quit….

    1. especially since he knows how to stop feeling bad and is consciously choosing to eat food that makes him sick instead of eating food that will make him feel healthy. I just can’t imagine being sick for one more day then you have to be.

  3. Reply

    Good telling of an unusual story! I suppose this man will get to a place where he will give it up forever but it certainly can take time. My brother says he is gluten-free for breakfast. 🙁 Concerns me but it is his choice. Nice blog~!

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