A while ago, a good doctor dropped dead on the way to his office.
Sweet person. Great personality. Everyone loved him. Good father. The go-to guy when it came to his patients. Always saw them, worked them in even when his day was too full. His medical judgment was exceptional, his work ethic over-the-top.
He was adored by so many of his patients. But he had a blind spot – his own health. He let that fall between the cracks by substituting his own judgment for those of others. He didn’t pay attention when attention must be paid.
Was this denial? Maybe.
I think it was death by hubris.
This ancient Greek concept of hubris is best embodied by Achilles. The greatest warrior of all time, Achilles thought that nothing could stop him and then the enemy discovered his weak spot – his heel. They struck, he died.
Hubris is often thought of as haughtiness, arrogance. For some it is. But for others, it’s just an overconfident pride and overestimation of one’s own ability.
Most with hubris are extremely knowledgeable and competent. They have extreme pride in what they can do, and that shows in their work. But as the proverb goes, “Pride goes before a fall.”
One famous case of death by hubris was Jim Fixx, father of aerobic running. He took Ken Cooper’s concept of running for optimal health and pushed it into national prominence. Jim was 52 when he dropped dead. He ignored the fact that his dad died of a heart attack at 43. He ignored his “minimal” chest pains because he was a runner and runners know their bodies.
He ignored his family and friends’ suggestions that he see someone because he “didn’t look good.” Jim’s autopsy showed 95 percent blockage in the left main stem artery – a blockage we aptly call “the widow maker.”
Then we have that other famous case, a death-defying case – Bill Clinton. He epitomized hubris. Intelligent, confident, the ultimate go-to guy, that over-the-top energy. Extreme pride in what he thought and did. But he too ignored things. He knew better than others.
Lucky for him, the gods gave him a second chance – chest pain he couldn’t ignore. Nearly took his life. He escaped death by hubris by the skin of his teeth.
My spin: If you have overconfident pride, if you know you’re “right” most of the time and stick to your guns, then you might just suffer from hubris.
I have the cure. When your friends, family or colleagues say, “Hey, you need help,” don’t block them out. Call your doctor or even 911.
You might just keep that arrow from striking your Achilles’ heel.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.