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Size Matters

Size Matters

Theseus was probably the greatest hero of Athens in ancient Greece. He was born the son of Aigeus, King of Athens. Aithra, Theseus' mother, was raped by Poseidon on the same night that she slept with King Aigeus; Theseus’ parentage was uncertain.

During his life as Prince and ultimately King of Athens, he undertook six test and quest missions. He participated in the great Calydonian Boar hunt, defeated the Amazons, and killed the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a monster that was half-bull and half-man. He was the son of King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur was a flesh-eating creature that lived in a scared labyrinth.

While reading the mythology associated with Theseus, I happened to discover that he slayed a giant named Procrustes. It appears that this massive brigand was a clever monster who had the habit of luring harmless travelers into his lair for the evening. He had two guest beds. One bed was much longer than the height of an average human, and the other bed was too short for an average adult to sleep in with their legs straighten out. When a short stranger stayed with him, he put them in the long bed and stretched them to fit it. A tall man would be assigned to the short bed and his legs would be hacked off until he fit snuggly. Either way, their stay ended in mortal tragedy.

When Theseus encountered the giant, he tricked him. While being put into the short bed, Theseus flipped the giant into the bed and cut him down to size. The monster came to the same miserable demise that he had wrought on many innocent victims. It seemed as if Justice was served.

As I thought about Procrustes and his tactics, I realized that he had designed a method to assess his prospective victims, and to consciously alter their bed choices, so that they would fail to meet his criteria for living: they had to perfectly conform to the bed of his choosing in their natural state of physical being. They were doomed without even a warning.

How many people have I encountered who have experienced some sort of procrustean adventure in their lives? Thousands! Conformity or acting in accordance with customs, rules, prevailing opinion, or conventional wisdom is all around us in the modern world. Walking in accord with others, following false authority without the slightest bit of doubt will eventually lead to calamity. We commonly assume that those who are in authority share our personal agendas, that they are congruent with our best interest. I suspect even our most trusted personal relationships could potentially lead us to the wrong-sized bed from time to time. It is not the conformity that is the issue; it is alright if each of us willfully and knowingly conforms to the wisdom of the day, if everyone has the same information at the moment the decision is being made. But most of us are lured into a decision where the totality of knowledge is not shared; we are victims of ignorance, not endearment.

Several years ago, a sixteen-year-old female softball player slid into third base and injured her knee. After the game, her mother took her to a local emergency department for evaluation. X-rays revealed no evidence of fracture. She was discharged home with a prescription for pain medicine and a follow-up with an orthopedic specialist. Subsequent evaluations of her injury included more x-rays and MRIs. All tests were considered negative for injury. The adolescent was in agreement with physical therapy as a method to resolve her pain. However, the orthopedic specialist insisted on performing an arthroscopy to evaluate her knee. The teenager was not keen on going into the operating theater, but her mother intervened and firmly imposed the surgeon's will on the child. It was conventional wisdom that if a MRI could not identify the disturbance in the knee, a look inside would more than likely prove fruitful. The young woman acquiesced and underwent surgery. Afterwards the surgeon revealed that he was unable to find any anatomical disruption that could be considered a probable cause of the pain. He recommended physical therapy as a treatment.

Two days after her surgery, she called the orthopedist's office and complained of shortness of breath. She was told that she was just anxious. The nurse called in a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. That evening when her mother arrived home after work, she found her daughter unconscious, in severe respiratory distress. The young woman was transported to the hospital by ambulance, but died en route due to a massive blood clot in her lungs. She was on a birth control pill associated with causing hypercoagulable states after surgery. A black box warning label on the medication insert strongly insisted that patients taking this particular preparation of birth control pill have a month holiday from the medication before elective surgery. The warning was not heeded. The young woman underwent an exploratory procedure, which was absolutely unnecessary from any medical perspective, and she had a mortal outcome due to complications that may have been avoidable.

Four years later, the mother drove her car into a concrete bridge support while driving to see her own mother on Mother's Day. I suspect that the guilt of conformity caught up with her; she could not live any longer knowing that it was her strong advice to succumb to the orthopedist's demand for surgery that ultimately ended her daughter's life.

The myth of Theseus teaches us about several monsters we might encounter in our less-than mythical lives. As you wander through life's mysteries, be careful about conforming. A diet rich in whole grains is not healthy for you, regardless of who promulgates it. If you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, sugar, fruit, and starch are all poison to you, regardless of your endocrinologist's personal worldview. Stop eating it.

If you find yourself in a situation where complete information is shared and, despite the insistence of conventional wisdom, the remedy does not sit right with you, run as fast and as far as you can! You do not know what size bed you are going to be given once you decide to sleep in the inn.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 10:19 AM
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