Act I: The Boulder
Around the time of the seventh conciliation hearing, Sisyphus really started to miss the boulder.
It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to frustration and futility. It was kind of his thing. As punishment for some… unpleasantness… Hades had forced him into a particularly gruelling situation. For centuries now he had been rolling a boulder up a hill, only for it to get away from him and roll back down to the bottom every time he approached the top. At the start it felt like there was no way it could be truly endless. Lately he hadn’t been so sure.
But then one day, his back gave out. An eternity of torment, grinding down his body, will do that to a person. Almost immediately, however, Hades was by his side, urging him to get up and get back to work. When Sisyphus simply couldn’t - his body broken and pain shooting through him like lightning - Hades seemed almost amused by a thought.
“Why don’t we get you to a doctor, then?” he said, a cruel smile curling around his mouth.
Sisyphus didn’t know the doctor Hades brought him to. It certainly wasn’t his own doctor. (Although, truth be told, he hadn’t seen a doctor of his own since he had left the land of the living.) Hades came with him, which didn’t seem right, but he went along with it. Hadn’t he read somewhere that you could choose your own doctor when you got injured? The doctor, who seemed to be on almost friendly terms with Hades, did a cursory examination of Sisyphus before writing out a certificate to say that, yes, he shouldn’t be sent back to his (literally) backbreaking labour.
Sisyphus was relieved, but Hades' amusement seemed to grow.
With Hades’ assistance (which Sisyphus thought was strange) they began filling out the paperwork for a workers’ compensation claim. It was difficult, since it hadn’t been a single incident that had caused the injury. Sisyphus had simply been doing the same thing he had always done and his back finally said no more. Nonetheless, they submitted the paperwork,
And then, the waiting. He was told it would be 28 days until a decision on his claim was reached. It seemed to take centuries. He couldn’t remember a time before the boulder, before the endless hill, and so he languished. The pain in his back moved to other parts of his body. He couldn’t sleep. The only things he could think about were the boulder crushing down on him and the moment his body seemed to betray him. He replayed the incident over and over in his head until he felt like he was reliving it in a very real, physical way. He felt guilty, ashamed, angry, anxious, depressed, isolated, confused, and above all, powerless. He’d had some dark times with the boulder, but this was something else entirely. It was like he barely recognised himself anymore.
The claim was rejected, citing a lack of evidence that the injury was linked to the work he had been performing. This was ridiculous. You didn’t have to be Almighty Zeus to see that rolling a boulder up a hill for centuries is going to cause your muscles and your bones to slowly deteriorate. But they said it was his lifestyle that caused his injuries. For centuries now, his work had been his lifestyle.
Act Two: Compo Inferno
After contacting OlympusAssist to speak about appealing the decision, things started to look up. A very patient and helpful soul, accustomed to suffering herself, was assigned to his case. Eurydice was her name, and she knew the system very well. Together they worked through the facts of the case and lodged their appeal with the Underworld Review Board.
A medical panel took a very different view to the doctor that Hades had engaged, and the day finally came when his claim was accepted.
But here his troubles truly began.
Every time Sisyphus submitted an expense to be paid by the scheme - transport, physio, gym membership, medication, treatment - the insurance company fought him every step of the way. Everything was denied, denied, denied, until it was eventually approved just as easily. It started to feel like it didn’t matter to Hades and to the insurance agent whether he got his money or not. They just pushed back because that was their default position for everything.
This continued for 52 weeks. 52 weeks of having everything withheld or granted on the whims of an insurance company seeking only to maximise its own profits. There were conciliation hearings upon conciliation hearings, all of which he had to attend in great physical pain. The mountain of paperwork seemed like Olympus itself, eternal and almighty. Then, at 52 weeks, they simply stopped his payments. Seemingly only because they could.
They said he was now in breach of his Return to Work agreement, and he had to either return to the boulder or be cut off from any and all support. He’d surely end up in the deepest, darkest parts of Tartarus after that. The only solution was yet another conciliation. This was the moment he considered just trying to suck it up and fight through the pain of going back to work. It would be easier than all this. But before the hearing, he was ordered to see another doctor.
This one was engaged by the insurance agent, not Hades himself. This one was an “independent medical examiner”, the IME. Firstly, he didn’t seem to believe that Sisyphus was injured at all, and was more focused on other questions about his personal life.
How is it you came to be here in Tartarus?” he asked. “And why is it you’re no longer King of Ephyra?” These seemed like unimportant details. All Sisyphus wanted to talk about was how much pain he was in, and why sending him back to work would be virtually impossible. The IME made a few notes here and there, but it was hard to tell what he was writing down.
Act Three: The Cruelness of the Fates
While waiting for an outcome, Sisyphus’ condition deteriorated rapidly. In his weakened state, but still under great stress from endless meetings and trips to and from doctors, he suffered a fall. It wasn’t a terrible one, but with his existing injuries it compounded the damage which had already been done. The doctor (a third doctor, this time) said he was now going to need surgery. The insurance agency, backed by the opinion of its IME, disagreed. It did not pay for the surgery.
Sisyphus had heard somewhere about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It sounded like something people only experienced after looking directly at the vile gorgon Medusa. But he was mighty Sisyphus! King Sisyphus! He who had cheated death, twice! Surely he could not be suffering from a psychological injury. But as the nights grew long and the walls seemed to close in around him, he was forced to admit that, yes, it wasn’t just his back that was causing him distress.
As a result of not getting the surgery he needed, he soon found that with each incremental worsening of his condition, surgery was both more necessary and inevitably going to be more intense. The doctor said that every year that went by without surgery, the likelihood of a full recovery was radically decreased. It was also going to get more expensive, as the damage it had to remedy got worse. And yet, still, Hades and the insurance company and the IME in their pocket pushed back and refused to pay for it.
Body broken, mind fraying, more hearings scheduled seemingly until the end of time, Sisyphus was running out of strength to go on. The hill and the boulder had been easy. He missed the comparative simplicity of it.
“Just make it stop, please!” he sobbed as he finally broke down in one of the circular and meaningless conciliation hearings. He had lost count of how many there had been. “I’ll go back to my punishment. I’m not injured. I’ll do anything you want, I just don’t want to deal with this system anymore!”
Hades smiled, as if this had been the moment of satisfaction he had been waiting for all this time. “You fool,” he laughed. “This is your punishment!”
The story above, mythical elements aside, is representative of the WorkCover scheme in Victoria and in many states around Australia. Sisyphus was not chosen at random: this is a metaphor injured workers themselves often use to describe the seemingly endless torment of the workers compensation system.
Union members have been fighting back, making sure their voices are heard in a recent review of the compensation system. The Victorian union movement’s recommendation to the review was that for-profit insurance agencies be removed entirely from the scheme as they do not serve the best interests of injured workers. The final report is expected in the coming weeks.
If you’ve been injured at work and need assistance working through the compensation system (and you’re a union member) you can contact UnionAssist.
Around the time of the seventh conciliation hearing, Sisyphus really started to miss the boulder. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to frustration and futility. It was kind of his thing. As punishment for some… unpleasantness… Hades had forced him into a particularly gruelling situation.