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The Letheon

                                                        My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
                                                                              My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
                                                                    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
                                                                              One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk. . .
                                                                                            John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

Anesthesiology proudly introduces the Letheon, its first annual poetry prize. As anesthesiologists who engage in scientific inquiry and clinical practice, we discover that creativity flourishes in the tension of science and art as we navigate the liminality, if you will, of body and soul.

So we have decided to embrace our heritage. Writers of all backgrounds are encouraged to submit poems somehow related to the perioperative setting.  Are you a medical professional or related to one? Perhaps you have been anesthetized recently, or you are overly acquainted with the waiting room. If you are connected to the world of anesthesia, we encourage you to share your experience with us.

One winning poem will receive a $500 prize and will be published, along with other finalists, in the “Mind to Mind” section of Anesthesiology.  With an impact factor of 5.55 and a circulation triple that of The Paris Review, our journal is widely read both online and in print. Entry deadline is June 30, 2017 and entries should be submitted to poetry@anesthesiology.org.

Guidelines

Poems must be original, unpublished works in English.  Fifty line maximum. All styles, formal and free, are welcomed. Contestants may submit up to three poems.  Poems in series are acceptable but will be considered individually. We encourage creativity but will not consider musings on what might be called recreational anesthetics. All reviews will be conducted anonymously with the final poem to be chosen by a guest judge. Electronic entries only.

Anesthesiology reserves international first rights of accepted poems which will revert to the author after publication.

Rationale:

Whether provider or patient, we struggle to articulate the elusive.  It is precisely because anesthesia is so difficult to encapsulate that it lends itself to poetic expression. Since the fermentation of the first grape—since ice—humans have been fascinated by the mystery of anesthesia.  

As the fusion of the arts and sciences in medical education accelerates, our specialty is uniquely positioned to lead this developing narrative.  Even the language surrounding what we do—twilight, disassociation, anxiolysis—underscores the fact that we escort our patients through realms beyond the purely clinical.  We encounter patients at the most vulnerable points in their lives. For their sakes and our own, we should re-examine the daily miracle we often as commonplace.

The practice of anesthesia is more than quaternary molecules and lipid bilayers. Our daily tasks, when done thoughtfully, are sacred. Why else are we simultaneously honored and terrified when asked to care for a colleague?  “Mind to Mind” was created to explore the crossroads of medicine and literature, and the Letheon is a natural development of this process, securing our leadership role in advancing the medical humanities. Practically speaking, this contest could quadruple our annual submission count, thus allowing us to be more selective and elevating the quality of our journal as a whole.

Why “Letheon”? 

As if “ether” sounded insufficiently ethereal, in 1846 William Morton shiftily attempted to patent the anesthetic as “letheon,” channeling the mystique of classical mythology. Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, is related etymologically to the Greek word for “truth,” an irony probably lost on Morton.  The practice of anesthesia exists in a similar duality, balancing empiricism with compassion—physics with metaphysics. What, for example, is more quantifiably surreal than the removal and restoration of consciousness by the turn of a dial?  

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