Anywhere but here, anyone but you: a re-reading of Philoctetes from the foot of the bed

Susan McCammon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mythological character Philoctetes has captured the imaginations of medical educators. The wound on his foot is a symbol of physical pain as well as psychological suffering. His suffering stems from isolation and mistrust as much as it does from a physical wound. This essay offers a re-reading of Sophocles’s version of the story that focuses on the second-personal relationships between Philoctetes and the inanimate and nonhuman elements of his exile. Following on philosopher Eleonore Stump’s defense of theodicy, a close reading of the play offers insight into interacting with hostile or reticent patients by listening to second-personal dialogic address. The theme of the “difficult patient” is addressed in conclusion, proposing that mistrust between practitioner and patient is still more prevalent than current medical education acknowledges and that clinical communication skills can be broadened by attending to the human use of second-personal relationships. The essay is grounded by a personal reflection on caring for a patient from the multiple perspectives of surgeon, Palliative Medicine doctor, and clinical ethics consultant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-213
Number of pages15
JournalReview of Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Philoctetes
  • difficult patient
  • isolation
  • second-personal
  • suffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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