Once upon a time, Lisa Cuddy took a class on fairy tales.
At first she thought it would be good to bone up on
the stories about princesses, dragons and castles in case she needed them one day to put young patients at ease.
it seemed like an easy elective to fill out her remaining liberal arts credits while still focusing on her final year of pre-med,
cramming for the MCATs and her new duties as president of Michigan’s premed chapter of the American Medical Students
She should have known better. Rather than fantasy and escape, the class was all about history and analysis.
From the first minutes on that warm sunny day in late August, the professor made sure to strip away any illusions she may
“Fairy tales are a literary form of anthropology,” he said. “Rather than bones and shards
of pottery, we’ll be sifting through the development of the character. If the hero is a warrior knight, we’re
looking at something that was created prior to the middle ages. A scholar with a stout heart brings us to the expansion of
the church and the increasing clout of priests and monks.”
“Sleeping Beauty” was merely a fable about
the dangers of apathy while countrymen suffer under a tyrant. “Little Red Riding Hood” could be explained away
by a Freudian analysis of sexual awakenings, “Beauty and the Beast” as a Jungian treatise on the ability to accept
and overcome our own dark emotions.
Cuddy told herself she didn’t care that they were picking apart every Disney
classic her parents had ever taken her to -- or that the real stories had been corrupted by Disney in the first place. She
had never believed in Prince Charming, had never expected a white knight to rescue her from a life of drudgery.
had always known that her future depended on her own abilities. There were no fairy godmothers out there handing out good
grades. So if she wanted to retain the GPA needed to get her into the med school of her choice, she had to do the work herself,
even if she didn’t buy into everything the professor said.
And he was full of himself. He’d pace the length
of the classroom, gesturing wildly at the students to emphasize every point, shouting out regularly that they should take
note of what he was saying, since he might put it on the final exam.
She regretted signing up for the class from the
moment he opened his mouth. She pulled out a pen and began taking notes resenting every moment she spent in the required humanities
class when her time would have been spent better in the lab running tests for her senior research project.
But it was
the only class that fit into her already overpacked schedule outside of either Shakespeare or Chaucer, and no matter how pretentious
the professor, “Hansel and Gretel” had to be easier than either of those options.
So Cuddy settled in with
the stories and with the assignments -- and four weeks in, was surprised to find herself looking forward to class
than a mindless exercise, she found she enjoyed diving beneath the surface, learning what evil was lurking below the fantasy.
She wondered if this was what psychiatry was like, using patients’ words to diagnose their illnesses.
the class ended, she found herself still analyzing every story.
“No, don’t you see?” she told one
of the other association members one gray day in early March when the officers had wound up at a coffee shop near the Diag.
“It’s all there -- the drudgery, the mindless servitude -- she’s treated as a lowly serf, yet capable of
“You think too much, Cuddy,” Greg House said and grabbed the bottom half of a muffin
from her plate as walked up to the table.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said and took the muffin
back out of his hand, ignoring the triumphant smile he gave when part of it still broke off between his fingers.
watched him circle the table to claim an empty chair and wondered again just how House had insinuated himself into her group
of friends over the past few months.
She’d heard of him even when she was a junior, but he was flying high in
the med school while Cuddy was still checking off the chemistry requirements of every pre-med students. Once she took over
the top post within the pre-med division of the AMSA, though, she found herself at the hospital more often, and began spending
more time with the med students planning joint AMSA events.
And the more time she spent around the med students, the
more gossip she heard. It quickly became clear that House was an unofficial topic at any gathering, though he never bothered
to show up himself.
House, they said, knew every answer to every question. He knew the diagnosis before some of the
attendings. One or two of the residents were known to just assume the fourth year med student was right and run their tests
based on his ideas, rather than do their own workups.
Cuddy was at the cafeteria one day in October, working out the
final details of a homecoming mixer when Trish Neumeyer, a second year med student, pointed House out.
He was tall
and slender, with brown hair and a short lab coat so rumpled she could make out the wrinkles from fifty feet away. There was
no one thing that made him stand out, but he did. He walked quickly through the line, filling a cup from the coffeepot, paying
for it and then leaving again.
“Maybe he’s got a ouija board hidden in his locker,” Matthews said.
not serious, are you?” Neumeyer asked.
Matthews shrugged. “It’s as good an explanation as anyone
else has come up with.”
“Ouija boards aren’t good for anything except fourth grade pajama parties,”
Neumeyer said. “He’s probably got a photographic memory. He’s never had to cram for anything in his life.”
how come he can’t remember anyone’s name?” Matthews asked.
“Ford thinks he pulled a Robert
Johnson,” Mickelssen said. “He went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming
“No soul.” Neumeyer snorted. “That’d explain a lot.”
him once or twice around the hospital campus that fall, but didn’t actually talk to him until a Sunday in January when
she and some of the other AMSA members had grabbed brunch at Angelo’s.
The diner was a good central meeting place
-- between the hospital and campus -- and a spot where they could usually drag over one or two med students to get their input.
Besides, she never could resist the toasted homemade cinnamon bread.
They were just about to order when House walked
in, his coat unzipped despite the freezing temperatures. He grabbed an empty chair and sat at the end of their booth.
looks good?” he asked.
House didn’t bother introducing himself, just acted as if they all knew who he was.
By the time Cuddy had worked up the confidence to ask him what he was doing there, he had finished eating
and tossed a few dollar bills on the table.
“I’m a little short,” he said. “You’ll cover
for me, right Cuddy?”
She was so surprised he knew her name she just nodded.
“Who knows why House
does anything?” Neumeyer said two days later when Cuddy bought her a beer at the Blind Pig and asked if she had any
idea why House had joined them.
“Maybe he was interested in something someone said,” Neumeyer said. “Maybe
he felt like seeing what kind of reaction you’d all have. Probably he just saw it as a chance to jump the line and get
seated right away.”
It had been two months since that first brunch, and House still kept showing up. No one ever
called him, as far as Cuddy knew. They’d just meet somewhere for a study break and he’d be there. Movie? There
he’d be in the lobby.
And now here he was at the coffee shop, licking the crumbs from Cuddy’s muffin off
“Fairy tales are just fairy tales,” House said and grabbed a napkin from the pile at the middle
of the table. “Cinderella isn’t some hidden code telling the huddled masses they need to stand up to oppression
-- it’s just a way to pass the hours on a long winter’s night while dangling out the promise of an eventual reward
to get the kiddies to do all their chores.”
“Right,” Cuddy said. “And a cigar is just a cigar.”
A cigar’s always about sex. Especially if you’ve been having those dreams about me again.”
looking-glass, on the wall,
Who in this land is the fairest of all?”
Little Snow White
Cuddy knew she
should have known better. But the idea that her grades, her AMSA activities and MCAT results would get her into the first
school of her choice had proved to be as much a fantasy as any fairy tale.
She had held a shred of that belief until
she saw that Jim Collins had received his acceptance letter from Harvard the same day she had been turned down, even though
she knew his grades couldn’t match hers.
The cold reality was that connections mattered. And beyond the student
associations, she didn’t have them.
“There’s no such thing as a meritocracy Cuddy, didn’t your
parents tell you that?” House said when he found her at Espresso Royale later that day, still carrying her rejection
“If that’s true then why is it you could have an internship anyplace you want to go?”
in case you haven’t heard, I’m exceptional.” He shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. “But it’s
more likely that it’s just because they haven’t met me yet. I look better on paper than in person.”
looked up from the envelope to House.
“Is that supposed to mean that you won’t be sticking around for your
House nodded. “The packing has commenced.”
“But I thought Williams loved
“Williams does love me,” House said. “So do Stern and Chao. Peters and Doucette, however?
Not so much.”
Cuddy ended up staying at Michigan for medical school, where tales of Greg House’s exploits
still echoed through the halls. House himself went east.
“A certain father had two sons, the elder of whom was
smart and sensible, and could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything, and
when people saw him they said: ‘There’s a fellow who will give his father some trouble.’”
of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was
Cuddy settled in to the long days and longer nights, smiling at
some of the stories she’d hear about House -- about how he’d take on other students, teachers, residents and even
attendings and show them all up. Some had been embellished over the last few months, some hadn’t.
even hear actual news about him from time to time over the years. Sometimes she’d find an article he’d written,
on topics that got everyone talking about him all over again. But she noticed the articles and the gossip always seemed to
place him somewhere else, always on the move to some new location -- in Baltimore, then Boston, then Cleveland.
didn’t have time to follow all of the gossip. After the frustration of the med school selection experience, she spent
every free hour away from classes or the hospital learning the art of networking.
She’d chat with the attendings
and with visiting professors, find out about their families and hobbies. She noted ways to keep conversations always interesting
and never controversial. She learned how to give and receive sincere compliments.
She took up golf, knowing that frustrating
hours spent on the golf course gave her contacts she’d never get by bitching over work with her friends at the coffee
shop. She put in work to improved her game, eventually coming to enjoy it, though never developing the same passion for golf
that she had for tennis.
“There was once a King who had an illness, and no one believed that he would come
out of it with his life.”
The Water of Life
Cuddy still believed in medicine. She knew it had its flaws,
but medicine belonged to the practical sciences. It was all about research, about tests, about measurable results.
was her second hospital after residency. She had spent a few years in Boston -- the town she once thought would be her dream
home -- only to find it wasn’t for her. Boston wasn’t a place where she could make her mark. In a medical town
already known for the best and the brightest, there were few opportunities for a talented doctor from the midwest.
though, had the raw ingredients of great minds, great connections and great facilities. More important, Cuddy saw a vacuum
in the PPTH leadership and knew she could fill it.
She volunteered for committees and never turned down any assignment.
than a year after she arrived, Cuddy was offered the chance to oversee the clinic, and grabbed it.
faculty members had to work in the clinic. Unofficially, it had become common practice for attendings to send the most inexperienced
residents down to fill out their hours. At any given time, the only doctors on staff there were either so new they could barely
find the exam rooms or so exhausted from working both their hours and their attendings’ that they couldn’t think
The records had become so jumbled and mismanaged that it was hard to tell how many patients went through
on any given day -- never mind which insurance company to bill for what procedure.
Cuddy had been on the job for three
days when House was admitted.
When she saw House in that hospital bed, she knew that everything she had believed about
medicine was just another fantasy. Medicine may be a science, but it depended on fallible humans.
once a man who had a daughter who was called Clever Elsie. And when she had grown up her father said: ‘We will get her
Cuddy wanted to believe in love, and watched from across the lobby as Stacy
helped House into a car following his discharge, Wilson guiding him through the open door, and placing the crutches in the
back seat. But eight months later, she was standing at the door of Stacy’s office, watching her pack.
sorry,” Cuddy said.
“Not your fault,” Stacy replied. She reached into a drawer and began pulling
out envelopes and folders, separating personal information from hospital files.
“I could have told him it was
all my idea, that I forced you into it.”
“You didn’t need to do that,” Stacy said. “Even
if you did, he would have figured out the truth eventually.” She put a box down on the desk and dropped into the chair.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. It never would have worked out.”
“It did for a long time before
this. You two lasted longer than most marriages these days.”
Stacy shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t
have lasted -- a couple more years maybe -- but Greg’s ... overwhelming. He’s got to be the biggest personality
in every room. He’s always got to be right.”
Cuddy stepped further inside and leaned against the desk.
“It always seemed to me that you were able to handle him.”
“No one can handle Greg,” Stacy
said. “All you can do is try to control the chaos.”
“The little louse has burnt herself,
little flea is weeping,
The little door is creaking,
The little broom is sweeping”
The Louse and the Flea
Alfredo, Cuddy thought she could believe in herself. She cleaned up the mess left behind when the former medical director
resigned without warning. She managed to bring the budget back in line while expanding clinic hours and making it clear that
all of the doctors were expected to work their own hours in the clinic. No substitutions.
She was enough of a realist
to know that PPTH could never afford to hire the biggest names in medicine, so instead she sought out rising stars. She offered
tenure and high profile positions to young doctors -- opportunities they might have had to wait decades for at other hospitals
-- and began building a staff that could rival more established facilities.
And hiring House to head the diagnostics
department meant Princeton-Plainsboro had at least one name that would stand out above the others.
She attended conferences,
always on the lookout for the next potential breakout medical star or research opportunity. As she made the rounds at receptions,
House’s former bosses would sometimes pull her aside. For the first few years, they all seemed to offer nothing but
sympathy to her. But lately, they had been asking for her secret in keeping him in line.
“Hill and vale do
not meet, but the children of men do, good and bad.”
The Two Travelers
Cuddy always knew enough not to
believe in the fantasy of House -- the one that she first heard whispered across the tables at Michigan, the idea that he
had some special insight, some medical third eye that gave him divine inspiration into every medical puzzle.
was no secret. No magic potion. Those stories ignored the nights she saw him working through the darkness and into dawn, running
tests, running his fellows and running himself to exhaustion. The days when she watched him study every book, every report
in hopes of finding the one thing everyone else missed.
The only secret was his insane stubborn nature, the one that
wouldn’t let him quit. There were days when she would swear she hated it. Days when she nearly has to physically drag
him to the clinic to fill out his hours, days when he ignores his paperwork, days when she fields yet another complaint from
yet another department.
But there were just enough days she admired that nature to make it all worthwhile. Days when
he solved another mystery, days when he saved another life, days when he won more positive buzz for PPTH.
were days when she wished should could just sit back and enjoy it all. Days when the nurses laughing at some remark he’s
made, days when he’s managed to solve a case and cut away at some inept specialist’s ego at the same time, days
when he has managed to give his fellows just the slightest of compliments -- just enough to leave them both both beaming and
bewildered, yet even more dedicated to find the answer.
Some days she will watch House and Wilson talking together
in the cafeteria, napkins and cups and plates spread across the table between them. Wilson will say something and she’ll
see House smile, or House will point out something and Wilson laughs.
Some days she wishes she were a part of that.
She can even imagine a world in which she would be part of that. She likes to believe that House respects her enough to accept
her into his very select inner circle.
But she knew that image was as much a fantasy as any other story she’s
heard. Even if House were to allow her in, Cuddy knows that he needs limits -- and it is up to her to enforce them. No one
else seems able or even willing to try any more. And after all, someone has to control the chaos.
three hundred years ago, when people were far from being so crafty and cunning as they are nowadays, an extraordinary event
took place in a little town.”
Cuddy’s life wasn’t a fairy tale. She was no princess
whose body was so delicate it could be bruised by a pea.
House was no bewitched prince who merely needed the love of
a pure heart to break a curse so he could finally be happy.
Edward Vogler was not an evil wizard whose spells would
melt away once his powers disappeared.
But that didn’t mean Cuddy couldn’t have a happy ending.
year after the board voted out Vogler, the members gathered on the stage in one of the lecture halls. Cuddy continued working
the room, greeting business leaders and government officials as she made her way to the front.
She was just stepping
up to take her seat when House walked into the back of the lecture hall. Cuddy saw him look at Wilson and saw Wilson smile
She stopped briefly and leaned down to Wilson. “How’d you get him to come?”
lost the bet.” Wilson smiled, but didn’t provide any further explanation and she took her seat between him and
the board’s new chairman, Dan Newcombe.
Cuddy had recruited Newcombe after the fiasco with Vogler. He had retired
two years earlier as a respected hospital administrator in New York, one who had provided her with guidance in her early days.
She laid out her hopes and her plans for the hospital -- along with the realities of running it, which he knew all too well.
agreed to step in for just six months to help PPTH recover from the mess Vogler left behind. He promised he would keep his
hands off the day-to-day business, and was true to his word. At the end of six months, both he and the rest of the board agreed
to extend his stay.
Now, up at the lectern, Newcombe was busy praising the hospital, its doctors, its support staff
and Cuddy herself for winning PPTH a spot in the latest ranking of the nation’s 50 best hospitals.
had been quick to approve a congratulatory billboard and some advertisements noting Princeton-Plainsboro’s accomplishments
in the New York and Philadelphia newspapers.
Wilson had suggested a day long series of receptions that would allow
the staff on every shift to stop in and get some cake and ice cream thanking them for their work. Newcombe had immediately
signed on, volunteering to show up even for the 2 a.m. event.
But Newcombe vowed he’d make only one speech.
listened to him touting PPTH’s advances during the past five years, accomplishments even beyond the statistics mentioned
in the official ranking.
Wilson’s oncology department was gaining a strong national reputation, noted both for
its thorough approach to treating every cancer, but also for its outreach programs that comforted patients and their families.
NICU unit had survival numbers that made it the top choice for every high risk pregnancy in the region.
was proving that it was possible to break even financially, and still provide top medical access to the working and lower
classes that were invisible in most college towns.
Even House’s presence was finally paying off. Not that he
was any more willing to take patients, but he was taking them. And the high profile status of some of his cases -- from Carly
Forlano to Senator Wright to Sebastian Charles and Jeff Hastert -- meant that movers and shakers were taking note of him and
Some came expecting House would treat them, and left disappointed. Others came just wanting to know more about
this hospital that had been taking on cases no one else would handle, and they brought with them money and connections that
would otherwise go to Mayo or Harvard or New York.
After the speech, the crowd from the lecture hall moved into the
cafeteria. There was cake on one table, a reprint of the magazine ranking and article on PPTH framed and hanging prominently
on the wall.
Cuddy greeted one of the city council members and looked across the room. House had a plate of cake in
one hand and was making his way back out toward the door when Wilson stopped him.
She couldn’t make out what
they were saying, but Wilson was laughing and even House had a smile on his face.
Cuddy remembered what House said
once, after Alfredo, after solving yet another case, accusing her of being unable to see the “gaping chasm” between
reality and what could be. She hadn’t been certain then whether to be pleased or pissed off.
She felt a tap on
her shoulder, interrupting her train of thought.
“Excuse me, Lisa.” She turned to see Andy DeWind, the
executive secretary for the Schaade Family Foundation. She had spent the past two months courting the nonprofit group in hopes
of winning a donation that would provide the funds needed to hire a pediatric cardiac surgeon. She smiled at him.
good to see you. I’m glad you could make it.”
“It’s always nice to have the chance to celebrate
something positive,” he said. “Do you have a minute?”
He turned away
briefly to get the attention of an older woman standing just behind him.
“Dr. Cuddy, I’d like you to meet
“It’s a pleasure.” Cuddy took note of the woman’s simple but finely tailored
“Congratulations, Dr. Cuddy,” she said. “I’ve heard some wonderful things about your
hospital -- and about you.”
“Thank you, I’m pleased you were able to come by for our little party.”
was wondering, do you have a few moments so we could talk?”
Cuddy smiled and nodded. “Why don’t we
step this way.” She led the way to a small private dining room.
Maybe House was right, she considered again.
Maybe she didn’t see the chasm. Or maybe she knew how to build bridges.
“King, what art thou doing now?
thou, or wakest thou?”
The Three Little Men in the Wood
Cuddy was exhausted by the time she finally made
it back to her office, but she had promised a follow-up call with a reporter from the local newspaper, and knew she had to
check in with him before 9 p.m. to beat his deadline.
She settled in at her desk, admiring the roses Newcombe had delivered
to her office that morning. She called the number on the business card she had slipped into her pocket.
thrilled, obviously,” she told the reporter, while checking through the stack of mail and messages on her desk. “This
is a great honor, and it’s wonderful to get the confirmation from our peers that we have become the center of excellence
that the community has known about for so long.”
She found the package buried halfway through the stack, wrapped
in newspaper. “Thank you,” she said to the reporter. “It’s a bit premature to start talking about
any expansion plans yet, but obviously there are other specialists and specialties we’ll be considering if the opportunities
Cuddy picked up the package and realized that the paper was more than six months old. Summer. Baseball
season. One of Hank Wiggen’s games was featured.
The reporter thanked her for her time, and she assured him it
was no problem. She hung up and turned the package over. There was a sticky note on it, taken from her own desk. There was
only one word, the handwriting familiar: “Congratulations.”
Cuddy gently pulled apart the paper to reveal
a book -- a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It was an updated edition of the same textbook she had used nearly twenty
years earlier, a sticker on the back identifying it as coming from one of Princeton’s used bookstores. She smiled, set
it down on the corner of the desk and went back to checking through her messages.
Ten minutes later, she had scanned
the messages and e-mail and was satisfied she had done everything she could for the evening. She turned off her desk lamp
and shut down the computer, then picked up the book and walked across to the sofa. Cuddy turned on a lamp and slipped off
her shoes. She curled her legs under her and opened the book to the first story.
“In olden times, when wishing
still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself,
which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face.”
The Frog King