Gregory House has found, over the time since he was hurt, that his friend James Wilson always notices that it is almost
impossible for him to elevate his crippled leg on its own, not even with the aid of his new friend, Vicodin. However, if he
sits down and lifts both legs together quickly in an upward-swinging motion, the hurt one will follow the sound one like a
faithful dog follows its master. He looks less pathetic that way, and Wilson doesn’t make such an empathetic face! House
would rather ride out the spike of pain this action inevitably causes anyway than endure the pitying looks he receives if
he has to lift the crippled leg with both hands. Wilson still looks at him funny and winces with concern. Wilson truly gives
a damn, but House wishes he wouldn’t. That’s what the damn pain killers are for! This is known as:
When House is spending time at home, he sometimes indulges in the not-so-safe habit
of moving around the apartment without using his cane. To him, it is a matter of pride by which he is able to maintain that
he can still control his ability to navigate without a walk-aid. In his heart he knows he’s fooling no one but himself.
Wilson has told him over and over again that this practice is a really bad idea. He already knows this, but doesn’t
care. The pain it causes is secondary to the self-justification that he can still get around okay with a magazine in one hand
and a cup of coffee in the other. It proves that he does not have to be one-handed if he chooses not to be, and the Vicodin
helps him believe that this is so. He tries this at work from time to time just to gauge reactions, and then smirks to himself
when colleagues frown at what they believe to be his total disregard of common sense. At home, he can shore himself up against
the furniture or other familiar supports when his leg begins to give out. He can rest awhile, then straighten and do it again!
The chance that he could fall and injure himself seriously is a real danger, and he can imagine Wilson’s worried, dark
eyes upon him, half angry but holding his tongue.
“Look at me, Wilson! See? I’m walking!”
Going to bed at night is an ongoing battle he will never win. House spent nearly
forty years as a healthy man; an athlete, a both-ends candle burner. He was always fiercely independent and over-the-top in
intelligence. He pushed his mind and body to their limits and beyond just because he could. He pushed until it gave, then
pushed some more. When at last his physical resources ran out and his body screamed for rest, he knew he could flop down and
sleep almost anywhere, then awaken refreshed however-many hours later and start all over again. He didn’t need drugs
Then the infarction in his leg betrayed him. It turned his physical identity into a strange hurtful reality he
did not know how to handle. So many things changed overnight, and in his anger and confusion, he found that he could not even
choose the way he would lie in his own bed anymore. He could no longer curl into a ball with knees drawn up beneath a comforter
on a cold winter night. After a time, the ache in his thigh and the burning sensation that accompanied it would force him
to straighten and lie flat. More than a few minutes in that position would not work either. The burning ache would return
and the pain would move to a different location. To try to lie on his right side was impossible, and so was any attempt to
sleep on his stomach. The leg would cramp without delay and on some occasions even go into spasm. After exhausting experimentation,
House found that his only recourse was to lie on his back with a bed pillow wedged beneath his right knee, keeping both hip
and knee joints perfectly aligned. If he moved in the night and dragged the leg to a place it did not want to be, likely as
not he would jolt awake with a yelp of pain. Only the Vicodin could help.
Saucy Stacy, the love of his life, could
not endure his misery, knowing he blamed her for taking away his power of choice. After a time she could no longer ignore
his accusations and fled, leaving him alone. James Wilson, however, did not leave. His best friend was never more than a heartbeat
or a phone call away. For years House fought Wilson the same way he fought the restricting influence of his altered reality.
He rebelled. He would not be dictated to by physical betrayal. He tried sleeping on his couch with his leg propped over the
back of it: bad idea! He tried the big leather lounge chair with both legs stretched out on the ottoman: didn’t work
for more than an hour. He went to his spare room and tried sleeping on the twin bed he kept in there. Soon the muscles of
his neck, back and shoulders went into revolt and forced him to return to his own bed. The “my way or the highway”
domination of his leg prevailed. His friend Vicodin told him he was still in control. It lied. “Everybody lies!”
in awhile, however, he would take an extra pill just before going to bed, and when he was riding high on a Vicodin rocket
booster, he would curl into the position that he dictated, and enjoy it until the buzz wore off before returning to his back
and bracing the leg with pillows again. At least he’d had a say in it for a short time! Wilson told him to be careful
so he wouldn’t become addicted to painkillers. He screamed at Wilson: “I won’t!”
The worst thing about getting dressed and undressed is donning and doffing socks
and shoes. It hurts, and there is no relief for it. He has tried every trick he can think of, and there is simply no way he
can do it without the pain. No way to touch his big feet with his hands and avoid abusing the infarction site because of his
long, long legs and always too-short arms. Sometimes he thinks of himself as a creature constructed of nothing but knees and
elbows. He is too slender and long-waisted with dense bone structure; too lanky and scarecrow-like, and always sore and achy.
This has been the nature of his particular “beast” for the past five years. He has not figured out a way to resolve
the problem other than to hire a care-giver to assist him in getting dressed and undressed every morning and every night.
He would rather be shot at close range!
He could ask Wilson, and no doubt Wilson would agree to help. But
House has his pride, and there is something just so wrong with that idea! That’s not what best friends are for! And
so he endures the misery it brings as he fiddles around, pulling on a sock, manipulating it awkwardly to maintain a grip while
trying to avoid more pain by not extending the curve of his body any further downward. He holds his breath just to draw a
sock over his heel and pull it up where it belongs. “My God!” It takes forever, and his leg is screaming all the
way. If he does not get it exactly right, his foot will be full of blisters by evening; one more agony to add to the list
Underwear is not quite so bad, but still the length of his legs hinders any vestige of comfort. The
infarction site pulls, and the leg is so damn weak! Sometimes it feels as though the skin will come apart and tear open the
surgical scar all over again. He still has to pull on his jeans and wrestle them to his waist. They hurt, even the worn and
comfortable ones. The only alternative is sweats, and the pockets of sweat pants really suck! He gaps the laces wide on his
shoes, but they are still difficult. Then he has to tie the laces; pull tight that which he has just finished loosening. *Shit!*
The blue jeans tighten around his scar and the right pants leg rubs across the infarction site no matter what he does to ease
it, and he is sweating by the time he can regain his feet and find a precarious balance. The act of dressing himself pre-infarction
took two minutes. Today it has taken him more than ten times that. Sometimes he would like to weep with frustration. But he
doesn’t dare. He doesn’t dare give in to the difficulty or the anger or the hatred of his frailty. He has to suck
it up and go on! *Pop a pill, Gregg! It’ll be okay … just one extra pill!*
He desperately needs someone
or something to blame for his sorry state. But he knows he has no right. Not Stacy. Not Cruel Fate. Not God. No one pointed
a finger in his direction and dared the infarction to happen! No one made him a cripple on purpose, and no one did anything
less than what they were able to do for him at the time and under those particular circumstances. He’d drawn the short
straw and paid the price. He still pays the price every day of his life! He wishes he could see the logic of the situation,
but it takes everything he can do just to control his emotions and not allow anyone to see the hurt, the despair, and most
of all the ragged, all-consuming fear. If he can be nothing else, he can be sarcastic, angry and blunt.
let anyone see you sweat!*
Wilson would smile at that one, unless of course, he saw the desperation behind it. *Of
His shower is fitted out with every “handicapped”
convenience known to man. He hates it with a passion. He hates it when other people need to use his bathroom and see all his
“crippled” accouterments. Wilson has seen it all, yet ignores it. House hates the grab bars and the rough concave
surface of his shower floor, the fact that there is no threshold to step over to get in. He hates the wire that hangs on his
bathroom wall; the one with the red “panic button” at the end of it in case of emergency. He hates the thought
that someday he might even have to use it. He hates the damn rails on both sides of the toilet bowl which enable him to lever
himself up and down to maintain balance on the sound leg.
“Bathrooms can be dangerous to people with disabilities
…” says the little blurb on the literature that came with the bathroom installations. He makes fun of it, but
down inside where no one can see, he is grateful for the accommodations because as he gets older, he is noticing that his
leg’s instability is increasing. It’s getting worse by increments. That’s why he has been so damned careless
with his handicap lately. That’s why he bites down on his lip before he lowers himself onto his knees the way he did
back when he was still healthy. It hurts like hell, but he will do it if he wants to! He sits cross-legged in the locker room
just to prove that the pain doesn’t always hold dominion over him. He buys a used crotch-rocket motorcycle and rides
it like a bat out of hell, wondering how painful his death might be in comparison if he ever decides to fly it over a cliff
like Thelma and Louise.
His leg is losing this war he’s been fighting by himself for so long. But by God he
can still pick and choose his battles … and even win some of them by sheer force of determination! It’s the only
way he can face the mockery of “monkey bars” in his bathroom, and he is still, after all, the “monkey with
the bottle of Motrin”. *Oh yeah, man, but make that ‘the monkey with the Vicodin …’*
He has pushed all his friends away from him, so far away that sometimes he
pictures himself as a castle with buttresses and a moat full of crocodiles. And the moat is a mile across. He is the flag
with the snake which announces: “Don’t Tread on Me!”
And no one treads anymore!
He is the
scruffy, dying-of-thirst bramble bush that stands alone in the desert. One stubborn leaf remains at the end of an emaciated
twig, fluttering weakly, but somehow still hanging on. Trembling; waiting to be blown away by the harsh, dry wind. Just a
pale reminder of the green it had once been. He looks at it with disdain and wonders why this single leaf, unlike the rest,
still holds fast even after everything he has done in an attempt to dislodge it. That one leaf refuses to let go of the tree
which is in need of a miracle to sustain it. House looks at the tree, looks at the leaf, and contemplates how such a thing
is possible. But he knows! He knows the leaf, and what it means in terms of wishing for a miracle. Sometimes, he reasons,
things just happen. Sometimes dreams go south and turn into nightmares. Where there is a nightmare, there is probably a stupid
crippled guy who must finally learn to ride out of the box canyon where he has tried to imprison himself. Nightmares are stupid
also, but the rider can take control of the reins if he has the audacity.
The bum leg doesn’t work so well anymore.
He is playing with fire when he tries walking without the use of his cane. In bed at night he must position his body a certain
way or sleep will not come. It hurts to get dressed in the morning, and get undressed at night. The simple act of taking a
shower could kill him sometime, and the grab bars are there for a purpose. Even the damn motorcycle is safer than soap spilled
accidentally on his bathroom floor! Some things have no rhyme or reason. No justification. No excuses. They just are!
sighs. He closes his eyes; allows a slow smile to soft-pedal the round of self-indulgent cynicism. The haggard features soften
a fraction. He is in desperate need of a certain familiar face; soft-spoken words of encouragement, Chinese food and a few
stolen hours of a friend’s laughter. Oh so much better than Vicodin, but he takes one anyway; his last one of the night.
It’s time to call Wilson. *Life is for the living!*