Unwinding: the need for the occasional breather


When I was little, I loved when my dad would walk in the door from work. I’d accost the poor man with my three-year-old energy before he could even sit down. Usually, Mom would usher me into the kitchen to color or play with Play-Doh while Dad read the paper or checked his stock prices on the phone (before the Internet!). She’d tell me daddy had to “unwind.”

I hated that word “unwind.” It meant even after being away from me for 10 hours, my daddy would rather read the newspaper than watch me arrange my stuffed animals into a chorus on the piano. But after 15 minutes of down time, my dad would be his playful self, ready to ooh and ahh at my preschool shenanigans.

Now that I’m the grown-up, I realize what a perfect word “unwind” is. After most days at the office, my mind feels like it’s tightly coiled. I imagine the stress of my day running through my body like electricity through one of those low-energy light bulbs.

Unwinding with a guilty pleasure, such as Facebook or a gossip TV show, makes me a much more pleasant person to be around the rest of the evening. After a few months of bickering early in our marriage, my husband got this.

But I realize that in medical school, there’s no such thing as unwinding. When Will was an M1, even “breaks” such as Thanksgiving came with the burden of a big test on the first day back. His life is med school, with pauses for meals, exercise and the occasional date. But studying is the rule, and breaks are the exception. Unwinding and training to save human lives just don’t go very well together.

But maybe they should. Perhaps a chance to unwind would actually make medical students more efficient (not to mention more human). Now that he’s an M2, Will’s tests are only every three weeks instead of every week or every other week. Rumor has it breaks will actually be breaks, because exams will be scheduled before the break instead of after. Maybe unwinding will happen at least once a semester.

Then again, Step 1 still looms on the horizon. I guess unwinding will have to wait until graduation. Or retirement.

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