There is character from Greek mythology named Sisyphus. This man was condemned to push a large boulder up a hill, only to have that boulder fall back down the bottom right as he reached the top. Sisyphus is then forced to go back to the bottom of the hill and push the boulder back up again. He is condemned to do this for eternity, as a punishment from Zeus for having cheated death.
This is how it has felt caring for critically ill COVID patients throughout this pandemic. Patient after patient comes to the ICU, and with each one, we have some semblance of hope that this one will be different. Maybe this one will be the one who beats the odds and survives with a good outcome. Then, more often than not, we watch them die after suffering terrible affliction. Just this past week, we lost count of the number of patients who died of COVID. And there are even more who will likely not survive.
This has happened again, and again, and again. It is absolutely exhausting. And it makes me feel like I’m Sisyphus, endlessly pushing that large and heavy boulder up the hill, only to have the boulder fall back down. In fact, a “Sisyphean task” is one that seems fruitless and absolutely impossible to complete.
It is so hard to keep going, and it is taking an enormous amount of effort to resist the urge to give up and “just swim down.” But here’s the thing: we have to keep going, because our patients need us. They are relying on us to be there for them at their most vulnerable moments.
Yet, as I think about it, the reality of the situation is different, and in this, we should take heart. When we are in the thick of things – caring for our patients – it may seem that we are alone, endlessly pushing that boulder up the hill. But we are not alone. We do not have to shoulder the burden alone.
For we physicians, we have our partners and colleagues that will help us push the boulder up the hill. The same is true with our nursing, respiratory therapy, and care technician colleagues: they are also not alone, and their colleagues and teammates will also help push that boulder up the hill. And, we all have each other, and we all will help each other push that boulder up the hill.
Yes, it is still difficult. Yes, the boulder is very heavy, and the hill is very steep. But we are not alone, and we need to lean on each other and use our collective strength to see through the pandemic together.
I truly hope and sincerely pray that we are finally at the beginning of the end of the pandemic and crisis phase of SARS CoV-2. I truly hope and sincerely pray that we will finally be over the scourge and madness and death. I truly hope and sincerely pray that the tragedy of this pandemic will finally come to an end. It cannot come soon enough.
Yet, we need to always remember that we are not Sisyphus. Sisyphus was truly alone, and he was forever punished by having to bear an impossible burden alone. We are not Sisyphus. We are not alone. We have each other, and together we will win, and we will behold the beauty at the top of the hill, gleefully watching that boulder crash down the hill into the sea of oblivion.