Claire Unis

The Limits of Self-Care

I’ve been thinking lately about the perils of self-care. I’m an unlikely critic of anything that promotes wellness, especially among clinicians, who face daily affronts to our desire to care deeply and well for our patients. But hear me out.

We live in a consumerist society. Any notion with a glimmer of truth will be trumpeted, captioned, tweeted, and twisted into a sales pitch, whether by backyard YouTubers or major corporations. I do think self-care is important—of course I do!—but not the way most people understand it.

Apocalyptic Ping-Pong

So tired of wildfire smoke and pandemic and stress.

So grateful for clearer skies this weekend, my son’s team winning their soccer tournament, the brief moment of clean-enough air yesterday evening that allowed me to ride my horse and feel a moment of balance before diving into a new week.

Searching for Sparks

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the practice of medicine is not always the practice of wellness. How optimistically I applied to join this profession out of a sense that I intuitively took better care of myself than did many of my peers. I knew that happiness and health intertwined, though my naiveté about how to rescue one if the other faltered was sorely lacking. 

Ahh, youth. Unencumbered by the kind of financial and emotional obligations I would eventually crave, back then I could restore balance with a day trip to wine country, or a chance to ski instead of study. I took up swing dancing during my surgery rotation in medical school, if only to prove to myself that my life was my own. 

Years later I chose yoga, biking, traveling. Now, in the pandemic, yoga happens in my living room. I write about little moments. I hike. I daydream about the places I once went and hope to take my children someday.

But my pastimes are not my patients’ pastimes. Often, dropping one activity suggestion after another, like feeding quarters into a slot, I hear them fall into the coin return instantly, never registering. Too many teens are …

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False Spring

We are on the cusp of something. The weather outside says so with its mellow almost-warmth, the green grass coaxed out of latency, buds starting to form on trees that should be dormant. At an hour that should be frosty, birds are already singing to the just-risen sun, and the sky reveals a careless blue. This could be March, that month of dramatic change, time to think of planting things, of growing. 

I am outside in a sweatshirt, repairing a fence, snuggling our animals, letting my lungs fill with this peaceful morning. I putter and delay, finding projects to occupy my attention, holding tight to this moment.

When I return indoors, the newspaper screams of painful reality: sedition, pandemic, security, racism. It reminds me of the fortune I woke to: I am vaccinated but the world is not. I have space around me but the world does not. I have freedoms that much of the world does not. 

We talk instead of things to do: roses to cut back, mowing to be done, painting, cleaning. Thinking. I have found myself more introvert than not, these last ten months of pandemic. Helpless to change the political pageantry, the degradation of national …

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The Shot

Excitement. A little bit of fear. Some confidence, too. But most of all, fellowship.

Around me, spaced a careful six feet apart, are tables along with other scrub-clad men and women who work in the hospital, each of us perched on the edge of our seats, listening to a masked nurse explaining vaccination procedure. 

There is no doubt this is a momentous occasion, an opportunity for protection against an unruly pandemic. But it is also a reminder how many of us have been facing down this demon, gliding silently past one another, expressions unreadable as we carry on about our work. We are doctors and nurses and scrub techs and lab techs and cleaners and food service, and we are all, every day, in this fight together. Why is that so easy to forget?

When I chose medicine, I believed I had picked an uncontroversial way to help people. I did not anticipate the waves of science deniers, the people who wanted nothing to do with facts, or the misinformation campaigns that would sweep across social media. (What was social media?) Those voices can be loud, the arguments draining. Some days I forget how many of us are still here, …

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