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The Doctor that Nearly Died (& Her 5 No-Regrets List)

Thinking Kerry Graff, MD was going to die woke her up to the fact that the current practice of medicine was not how she wanted to live.

September 6, 2023

Out of the clear blue sky in June of 2022, I went into full blown liver failure.

It turns out that I was one of 500 or so folks poisoned by Daily Harvest’s French Lentil and Leek Crumbles, but I didn’t know that was what was making me so sick at the time; the recall wasn’t announced until a week or so later.  (The fact that I nearly died from trying to eat as healthfully as possible goes to prove that the Universe has a wicked sense of humor, but I digress…)

Anyway, all I knew then was that I was sicker than I had ever been in my life.

Having previously endured 8 surgeries for various medical issues, one of which landed me in pulmonary edema from a medical misadventure, being “sicker than I had ever been” was saying something.

 

“I was one of 500 or so folks poisoned by Daily Harvest’s French Lentil and Leek Crumbles.”

 

Within the span of three days, I turned a hideous yellow-green color all over and developed intense nausea, vomiting, headaches, body aches, insane itching, and unbelievable fatigue.

Like Earth’s gravity got turned up 1000% level fatigue.

Like the air was now made of molasses level fatigue.

My liver enzymes were 25x the upper limits of normal.

Within the first 24 hours of my hospital admission, all the usual suspects for liver failure had been ruled out except for one, and that one was “not good”- the “you get more and more of all of the miserable symptoms above until you die” kind of “not good”.   Although honestly, death really didn’t sound that bad if how I was feeling at the time was the only alternative.

And then, right when I felt so bad that I wished I’d hurry up and get this dying thing over with already, I started to feel better.

At first, I thought they must have gotten the cocktail of meds right to help manage all my symptoms since, you know, I was dying and all, but my liver enzymes were actually starting to improve a bit, as well.

It took 3 more days to get back the final test looking for what might be causing my symptoms.  My GI doc was positively giddy as he waltzed into my hospital room to tell me that the test had come back negative.

He had been sure I had it, since it was the only thing that hadn’t been ruled out yet, and he thought that the liver enzymes only looked better due to dilution effect from them pumping me up with enough IV fluids to make my fingers and toes all look like fat little sausages.   He didn’t know what the hell caused me to get so sick, but whatever it was, I was actually getting better.

I was going to live.

 

“Right when I felt so bad that I wished I’d hurry up and get this dying thing over with already, I started to feel better.”

 

Thinking that my days were numbered on the fingers of my chubby little hands profoundly changed me.  Or maybe it was all the drugs I was taking.

Either way, I spent those three miserable days when I was pretty sure I was going to die thinking about what I really would have liked to have experienced or accomplished had I known how limited my life was going to be.

There were five things on my “I don’t want to die with regrets” list:

 

Not having experienced the love of a wonderful, supportive life partner

 

Yes, I had been married before, but it hadn’t exactly been a healthy relationship.

I had been divorced for 9 years before I turned yellow-green, and during those years, a new partner had not shown up at my doorstep, which is pretty much what he’d have had to have done because I wasn’t putting much effort into finding Mr. Wonderful.

Now, I fully recognized that I didn’t have total control over finding said wonderful partner, but it was clear that working 60 hour weeks (see regret #2) and not actually socializing much sure weren’t helping my chances!

I could, however, spend time reflecting on what I would want in a partner and make an actual effort to meet someone appropriate by, say, joining an online dating site, getting out of the house for social events, and letting my friends know I was looking for a partner and asking for “referrals”.

 

Spending too much of my life doing work that was no longer meaningful

 

I was spending 60 hours a week at work, with most of that work no longer being gratifying.

I had little time to connect personally with my patients and instead spent lots of time doing rapid fire management of chronic lifestyle-related disease for patients who were not interested in changing the habits that were making them sick in the first place, in addition to doing an exorbitant amount of meaningless administrative work.

While I had been willing to spend more time on work that I didn’t actually enjoy during the pandemic (it was a public health emergency, after all!), Covid-19 was dying down, and yet the amount of time I spent doing things that I didn’t find fulfilling was only getting worse.

That brought me to regret #3…

 

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Not having written my lifestyle medicine book

 

I love to write and co-authored a book in 2015 called the 4Leaf Guide to Vibrant Health-Using the Power of Food to Heal Ourselves and Our Planet.

I have had another lifestyle medicine book rolling around in my brain for the past three years, but working 60 hours a week (see regret #2) doesn’t leave you much time to write, especially if you don’t have a life partner (see regret #1) with whom share home duties.

Plus, I personally require consistent chunks of time to be able to write, otherwise I lose my flow of thought.  Three hours in the morning most days of the week is perfect.  I might write more later in the day if I’m in the zone (true confession- I am writing this at 3:35 am on a Sunday morning because I am on a roll), but having designated time when I am not mentally spent is key for me to be able to make progress on a big project, like a book.

 

Not having traveled to Scotland

 

I have been wanting to hike the Scottish Highlands and on the Isle of Skye for, well, just about forever.

There are plenty of other places I would love to experience (can anybody say New Zealand?!), but if I died before I got to hike in Scotland, I wouldn’t just be disappointed.  I’d be pissed, and not in the drunk kind of way.

 

Not having learned how to swing dance

I have wanted to learn to swing dance for decades—it just looked so gosh darn fun!

Plus the music is wonderful.  And you get to wear swishy skirts.

But I didn’t have a partner (see regret #1) and had been working too much (see regret #2), so I had not pursued it.

 

It is now just over a year since I survived my liver debacle, and I’d like to share where I am on my “I don’t what to die with regrets” list.

First of all, I submitted my six months notice to my employer five months ago and will be starting work soon as a consultant in lifestyle medicine for Love.Life Telehealth.

I will get to set my hours-what ones and how many.

Since it is via telehealth, I will be able to work from anywhere that has reliable internet.

I will have the freedom and autonomy I thrive on, doing work that I love.

As I determine my new work/life schedule, time for writing my next book will get high priority.

 

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But before I start the new job (and actually the day after I finish at my current job!), I am leaving for a two week trip to Scotland that will include hiking with a small group in both the Highlands and on the Isle of Skye, with some added time for exploring on my own after the organized part of the trip.

In addition, for the past seven months, I have been swing dancing at least once a week, and often twice!

Who knew that a designated partner is not actually needed?!

Even if you do come with someone, it is actually considered rude not to rotate around and dance with everyone.

I wouldn’t say that I am great at swing dancing (yet!) but I’m at least not terrible!  Every week I learn something new, while also getting in a great workout and having a ball.  It really is a hoot!

And as for finding a loving, wonderful, supportive life partner?

Well, eHarmony was a bust and my friends have utterly failed to produce any viable options.  You’ll just have to stay tuned on that one…

 

 

Kerry Graff, MD

Kerry Graff, MD

Using the power of lifestyle medicine to prevent and reverse chronic disease.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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3 Responses

  1. Good luck for me (for us) that we found you in 2007 as we were introducing ourselves to Canandaigua. I have learned a great deal from you and what I have learned has inspired me to learn more, primarily by reading.

    So I credit you with teaching me to make life changes and I still only take the one medication I needed when you accepted me as a patient.

    What I have just read is very well written. Interestingly I just completed a book by another MD this morning. Chris van Tulleken’s “Ultra Processed People” and that was preceded by another doctor’s work last month “Fast Carbs/Slow Carbs” by David Kessler. So I am predisposed to enjoy the writings of physicians.

  2. Dear Dr. Kerry Graff,

    This is just so wonderful!

    I chuckled, sighed, and marveled at the wry irony of being poisoned eating healthy with Daily Harvest’s French Onion and Leek Crumbles!

    I am so grateful you took us along for the ride in this brilliant, poignant, funny piece! You guide us right alongside you as you journey from near-death to the end, and …. well, we’ll all have to just stay tuned for updates on No Regrets #1.

    I thought about my dearth of a 5 No-Regrets List, and I now moved to action … googling dancing in Frederick, thinking about my hours in front of the computer, and wondering where is the one place I need to go before I die … to get the list of 5 started.

    I have the amazing 4Leaf Guide, and will be watching and waiting now for that next book!

    Thank you for the joy you bring!

  3. Kerry, I laughed, I sighed, and I cried (with joy) from your wonderful article – straight from your heart or failing liver – or both. I could hear your voice reading this story throughout. So expressive and funny! So insightful! You’re an inspiration to live by your dreams! How many dream but fail to act. You’re living the life you want – checking off all of your “I don’t want to die with regrets” list. I’m sure before long you will have all of them checked off.
    I’m looking forward to reading your next book! I certainly enjoyed the first one.
    All the Best, Bruce

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