Friday, August 5, 2011

Medicine, Oedipus and the Theban Sphinx

Theban Sphinx

It was past midnight, the moon still shy of its blemishes, hid part of its face. The trees were silent in prayer and the eerie darkness that lay heavy like a blanket, compressed all living beings into dream-like state. It was then that I noticed this creature. Beguiling deep-set eyes that seem to enshroud my thoughts. They were surrounded by a beautiful face, which commanded my total attention. She, or it, had wings for flight that were wide-spanned, light brown in color, with specks of iridescence and were imbued with power and might. The body lithe with the rhythm, grace and the strength of a lion perched on its metallic looking talons. What was this creature that did surprise but not scare my senses? It did not appear threatening nor did it appear evil. It was a transmogrified creature bearing the armament of a predator yet serenely and oddly also displayed the distinction of a human. In my eyes it seemed to have found a particular place in life's tragedy, unable to lift the burden and yet equally unable to displace it. 

The face held my gaze as the beautifully crafted wings unfolded and spread. With just a whiff of air, it took flight and gathered its claws underneath. Majestic, complete, complex, foreboding, petulant in its arrogance and self-assured in its gaze, it commanded my attention as it hovered with its powerful beating wings, demanding lift from the still air.
Sphinx of Giza

I woke up startled as my dream abruptly ended. What was it? The question haunted me for a while. What creature has those characteristics and what was it doing in my dream. Sneering? No definitely not. Reprimanding me? For what purpose? Defining a course? To where and for what reason? Those first waking moments were infused with confusion.

Slowly as the sun rises and darkness recedes, the confusion was laid to rest. The extraordinary grip of this reality cleared the sinus of my senses and I could relate the creature to what, I feel, medical science is all about.

The irresistible eyes adorning the beautiful and radiant female face is a metaphor for the capture of our senses by the nobility, dignity and grace of medical science. The nobility that lies in the care rendered to someone in need. The dignity that is ever-important to the patient’s self worth and that, of his or her physician and the grace of inspiring health and infusing a sense of well-being in the patient was the representative nuance of that haunting face, that was all angelic and all purposeful.

"What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! " Hamlet quote (Act II, Sc. II) William Shakespeare

Theban Sphinx and Oedipus

The gorgeous wings that magically unfolded and inspired an almost hypnotic flight represented the ideas and thoughts, which translate into discovery and innovation. The questions Why? And How? And When? All arise from the same seed, the same essence of desire and the same thirst for knowledge. The iridescent specks are the virtues of an inspired creative and accomplished thought. Those wings support us into newer discoveries and newer paths to follow, to help nurture life and expand the healthier horizons for humanity. The slow rhythmic motion of the wings represents a methodical effort-full but effort-less-appearing venture of validation, set in motion by the rigor of thesis and experimentation. The largesse of the wings implied the ample minds grappling with the basic science and clinical medicine to help a fellow-person in need. The still air represent; limited or no outside help, interference or resistance to the exploration of an inspired thought.

The powerful muscular physique represent the strength of the human body, its genetic diversity and its hearty immune system that tackles and wins against many a predator; It runs fast, jumps at a movement, turns to a direction and speeds through a trend to capture it’s prize. All motion is controlled, smooth and directed. All focus is narrowed to a purpose. All action is methodical and thoughtful.

And those claws that glistened in the darkness of night have a strangle hold on its purpose. Like medicine, it grasps and grabs an idea and sees it to its fulfillment. Like medicine it is replete with some bias of thought and action and like medicine if the result that springs from such action fails to bear fruit, it is discarded, sometime quickly and other times reluctantly. But it always is.

This then is the shape of the metaphorical creature. It is the mythical Theban Sphinx! It is today’s Medicine! Roiled and mauled, it helps and sometime hinders. It inspires greatness and equally subservient disdain. It transforms humanity as humans transform it. It is riddled with rancor as well as unity. It is the epitome of nobleness and also the reason for despair. It feeds on principles while principles sometime abandon it. It lies awake while humanity sleeps. It manifests its virtues while the vices are being explored. It never surrenders to the status quo. Always in flight, it explores new vistas. It explores. It divides. It changes and then is changed. The grudging gulf between humanity and medicine lies within the heart and soul of humans. It is the paradoxical strife between the beautiful face and the powerful unsheathed talons. There are no real answers that answer all the questions of life, thus there are no Oedipal heroes that will slay this beguiling beast for in it rests the vile and virtuous apothecary of human existence.

Thebes Sphinx asked the question, "Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?" She strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer. Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age.

Oedipus and the Theban Sphinx

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