The Eye of the Storm: Annual Leave

It’s 8.01am on Wednesday 26th March 2014. I am lying in bed with a cup of coffee in my favourite “Nicholas – Meaning Leader” mug that I have had since I was 16 year old streak of a teenager, the radio is on playing the latest Pharell “Happy” chart-topper, and I as I stretch out under the duvet my feet extending down into the corner of the warmer parts of the bed, I let out the deepest sigh of relaxation.

This ladies and gentleman is what heaven must be like.

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As my head lies on the pillow I think about the day ahead. It is filled with all manner of activities such as putting the television on, having a nap, going for a nice long walk all Battersea park smiling to myself in the knowledge that the rest of London sleeps. Perhaps, just perhaps, I will even cook a nice meal for my housemates (the less fanciful alternative now that the girl I was dating has decided to look elsewhere). Actually, a meal for my housemates may be a bit too much like work. Let’s scrap that.

I am on day 3 of my annual leave. It feels like a lifetime. I indeed feel like a normal human being beginning to once again re-engage with my personality and life pre-doctoring. I remember I like reading magazines, making time to see my friends in the evening (and staying awake during the process!), I recall that I DO like staying up past 10pm on a weeknight and that my facial muscles do indeed, wait for it, relax. Suddenly I look and feel 10 years younger and that spring in my step has returned. I am reborn! Well, ok, yes, a slight exaggeration but I hope you get the gist – my annual leave is serving a very important act – saving me from myself.

I take another sip of the coffee (freshly pressed I might add…because…well, I have time) and do my very best to sink a little further into the mattress and relax as many as the 642 muscles in my body as I could. I look up to the ceiling and sigh once more. Bliss.

But then it happens. I feel it happening and like a slow car crash I am helpless to not look, to take a peek at the ensuing act. It chisels its way into my mind, slowly but surely…my defences are down, my body too relaxed to fight it and then before I know it…

….I am thinking about work.

If I could, I would have shed a little tear.

“I need to do the cardiac arrest audit soon; I don’t have the papers to reference that case report yet; I have the emergencies course next weekend; when am I going to sit the first part of the Membership for the Royal College of Physicians; I have to complete the quality improvement project next week; I need to review that patient’s file….” Spiral around my head like those unrelenting charity collectors that hound the streets following you like a 12 year old boy on his first game of “kiss-chase”. I shake my head to try and knock the thoughts of work out of it but it is too late. The seeds have been sown and, heart-breakingly, within 5 minutes…

…[Click]…

The laptop powers up. I have a mirror next to my desk (not for vanity reasons I assure you, it’s just, well, there) but I daren’t look at it for I know I will see disappointment in my eyes. Disappointment that I have buckled to the ferocity of being a doctor. I spend the next few hours working away on various presentations and medical ‘development’ that is all designed to make me a better doctor apparently. The time goes by in the blink of an eye.

As I briefly tune-out of the journal article on per-operative temperature management and complications, and transiently tune into the radio I hear Pharell’s “Happy” playing again – This is a clear sign that I have been working for a while. I glance down at myself, still in the rugby shorts that I sleep in with that old hoodie on (think less ‘street corner thug’ more ‘Oxford University Triathlon Hoodie’ sort), surrounded by the darkness of the bedroom with the curtains still let to be drawn, and only the glare of the laptop screen to light the way for my fingers on the keyboard. As I pause I hear the “whirr” of its aging and burning up fan. I take a sip of that coffee…

…oh Nick, why oh why did you think that would still be hot after 4 hours….

But here lies the irony in all of this. I felt a buzz. I felt accomplished in what I had done and that, strangely, made me quite happy. Very happy in fact. I smile as I remember who I am – I am the 7 year old boy who while being read bed-time stories by my Pub Nana (I called her this as she owned a Pub with my granddad, Pub grandad), would slip out of bed and say “keep reading, nana, I’m listening” as I got out my tape-measure to measure my furniture to plan my next room ‘change’ – I am the 13 year old boy who would pull a ‘sickie’ from school only to then spend the day assessing our family garage to then present a typed-up document for a proposal for a garage conversion into a bigger bedroom. I am a do-er. I am task-orientated, and that ladies and gentlemen, as much as I fight it, as much as I dislike it at times, is who I am – and ultimately what makes me happy.

Accepting who we naturally are is as a large important part of achieving true happiness. I am happy.

Besides, I think I should at least get SOME credit for lasting 3 days of annual leave….

See you next week.

Dr Nick

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