First Day Back from Vacation
Mythical mindlessness. I felt it, just for a bit. I floated in the Adriatic Sea, enjoying the buoyancy and the endless blueness of sky and ocean. I had nowhere to be; I had somewhere to be; they were the same, and they were right there, in that shifting tide off the Illyrian coast.
Ten days later I am continents away, trying to conjure that feeling. I have just learned that I have a patient in the ICU, a toddler who survived being run over by a truck. I have an inbox full of requests, none of them impossible, but most requiring consideration. The day stretches in front of me, my schedule scrolling to another page, patient names stacked neatly like a pile of chores to do.
The hardest thing about vacation, a colleague once said, is the day you come back.
How true. I am jetlagged. I am here against my will. I just need to go back real quick, grab onto the sense of peace I left on the sea shore. Be right back, I want to say.
But there isn’t time. In I must go, promising myself I remember how to swim.
There’s always that moment of hesitation before I jump, peering into the churning water below and assessing how far I will fall. The sun gets too warm; the time is now. My toes inch into position, feeling the roughness of limestone beneath them. There’s a flat area, a perfect base. The water roils, turbulence obscuring the shore. There might be sea urchins, or sharp-edged rocks, or the sweet forgiveness of sand. I cannot know.
I knock on the first door, hold my breath, and plunge—
and I come up, lifted by muscle memory, swimming without trying, lifting my chin.
Claire Unis MD MFA is a pediatrician and author who uses literature and writing to connect clinicians with one another and their own higher purpose.
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