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Editor's Corner: Sisyphus Has Nothing on Us!
Thomas J. Miner, MD
In Greek mythology Sisyphus was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity. Albert Camus used the myth of Sisyphus as an example of the absurd hero and suggested that the gods had "thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor." The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus is what Camus calls "the absurd." Camus claims that there is a fundamental conflict between what we want from the universe (meaning, order, or reason) and what we find in the universe (chaos) and concludes that life is meaningless. If life has no meaning, does that mean life is not worth living?
Recently, I've noticed more references to Sisyphus during conversations regarding our profession and more specifically on surgical education. It's an easy analogy to make. On bad days, we feel the rock crashing back down on us as our best intended labors fail. We acknowledge the repetition of what we do with the changing of the guard as our well trained and trusted Chief Residents are replaced each July with a new group of interns. As I edited another version of the Resident Handbook and talked at another intern orientation I joked to my wife that I feel like the Bill Murray character in the film Groundhog's Day. (Good for me the same jokes and stories tend to keep working year after year. Where would I be?) As surgeons we are accustomed to the repetitive efforts needed to care for patients. We repeat the same lessons, correct the same mistakes, and then start over again, and again, and again...
But for surgeons the myth of Sisyphus should be good for no more than a quick chuckle. When surgeons accept the analogy, they run the risk of cynicism, hopelessness and complacency. There is nothing absurd in what we do, nothing futile and certainly nothing meaningless. The heavy lifting we are accustomed to usually results in great things such as outstanding patient care, well-trained surgeons, or a better community. The truth is, we love pushing the rock up the hill and donít mind doing it over and over again. The value of the accomplishment is rewarding as we perpetually complete that task.
As the organization prepares to meet in New Hampshire, let's plan to push some of that mythical granite up Mount Washington! Iím excited to see what we can accomplish together.
Thomas J. Miner MD