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In The Rip
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by Namaste

"In The Rip"
by Namaste
completed 7/21/06



“Mind the rips.”

It was the first rule on the beaches -- along with keeping between the marked flags and staying within sight of the lifeguards. Robert and his friends regularly ignored those last two once they were old enough to hit the water without their mothers.

But no one forgot about the rips. They were the risk that hid in plain sight at every beach.

Everyone claimed to know someone who had been caught up in one of the strong underwater currents and was pulled out to sea before they could even yell for help.

Every surf report included warnings on which beaches had the right conditions for a rip.

Every beach had warning flags, letting swimmers know when the water was safe and when the risks were high.

And with every warning -- from the guards, from their parents, from the newscasters -- came the rules for surviving a rip. Once you’re caught, don’t fight it. The rip was stronger than you. Even the strongest swimmer would lose, wearing himself out trying to break away. Instead, the only way to survive was to swim with the current, parallel to shore and wait until the rip weakened, until the pressure released and you could swim free.

Even on the most secluded beaches, where the water looked perfect, Robert knew to watch for the warning signs: the sight of darker water that marked an undertow or waves that broke in two directions.

But before he turned 16, Robert learned there were far more dangerous currents on land, and the signs were far more difficult to spot.

“Robert, come and sit down, won’t you?” Robert was surprised to see Rowan there, standing in the middle of the front room on a Thursday afternoon when he got home from school. Most days Rowan didn’t make it home until well after supper, often well after dark.

Lately Robert was already in bed before he heard the sound of his father’s car in the driveway. He fell asleep to the sound of raised voices.

Now his mother was slouched back into the cushions, silent, already a ghost of the woman she once was. Rowan was perched on the edge of a footstool. He leaned forward and reached out one hand to pat Robert’s knee.

Robert sat there, still in his uniform, his tie loosened and collar unbuttoned as the words washed over him. He heard what Rowan was saying, but none of it made sense. It all felt distorted, like he was hearing the conversation from somewhere beneath the waves.

“Once I’m settled I’ll have enough room for you to stay as well,” Rowan said. “You’re very important to both of us, Robert, and we both love you very much.”

Robert knew he should have been prepared. He had heard enough arguments -- and then the silences that echoed through the house. Divorce wasn’t new. Half of his friends split their lives between different parents and different houses.

But that had always happened to other families. In other homes. Now he wondered how long the current had been building, sweeping away the sand under his feet. He told himself he should have kept a closer watch on the warning signs.

Soon he understood that this rip was pulling his mother away from him. He tried to call her back, but she paid no attention.

“Don’t nag, Robert,” she said. “You’re as bad as your father.”

She was drowning, and no one but Robert seemed to notice.

She retreated from her friends, so there were no whispers of indiscretions at the club. She gave up her volunteer work, so no one would wonder why she missed her meetings.

“Don’t look so worried, Robert,” she would tell him as she poured a splash of vodka into her morning juice. “Your father may not care about us any more, but at least he still pays the bills.”

“Of course I care, Robert,” Rowan said during one weekend visit. “I’m glad you did well, and I would have loved to have seen your game, but I’ve been busy. I have a deadline for the new book.”

Rowan had a meeting the next day and gave Robert money for a taxi so he could make his own way home.

“You’re practically a grown-up now,” he told Robert on the way out the door. “I’m sure you have other things you’d rather do than keep your old man company all day.”

When Rowan moved out of his apartment and bought a new house, he showed off the room he had selected for Robert, one with its own separate entrance.

“You’re getting old enough now that you should be able to come and go as you want to on the weekends,” Rowan said. “Within reason, of course.”

Rowan said he was thinking of buying a new car.

“Then when you move in, you will use my old one to get to class,” he said.

The view from the bedroom window looked out across the water, and Robert began to picture himself there with nothing to worry about except classes and the surf report. But at home, Robert found his mother slumped in the hallway, unable to make it to bed on her own.

Robert propped her up and let her lean against him as they made their way down the hall. “He’s going to take you away from me too, isn’t he?”

Robert didn’t answer her, just paused at the door to her bedroom to turn on the light. The bed hadn’t been made, and he could see clear liquid in the glass on the nightstand. He knew it wasn’t water.

“Please don’t leave me,” she said quietly as he eased her down onto the mattress. “I’d die if you left me too.”

So he stayed.

When he finally asked Rowan for help, Robert felt as if he had betrayed her trust. But Rowan already knew all about it.

“I couldn’t help her, Robert. Neither can you.” Rowan was in the den of his newest house. His new wife was in the kitchen, making dinner.

“How do you know?”

“This is a disease, and one even I can’t cure.”

Robert found himself on his feet. He took two steps toward his father as he felt his fear and frustration merge into anger.

“So what, I should give up on her? Like you did?” He took another two steps forward. He was standing over his father now. The anger made him feel stronger, more powerful than Rowan for the first time in his life.

“Robert ...”

“Is this how you got such a great reputation as a doctor? Only take the easy cases? Ignore the people who really need your help?”

“You’re just a boy. You don’t understand these things. Maybe someday you will, but not today.” Rowan waved his hand toward Robert, dismissing his anger and his concerns as he settled back into his chair. Rowan crossed one leg over the other. “Your mother is the only one who can help herself. You’re not strong enough to help her. My only concern is that she doesn’t drag you down with her.”

But Rowan didn’t understand. Robert knew he was the only thing that kept her afloat at all. So he stayed, and did what he could for her, even as she killed herself one glass at a time, drifting further and further from him until she passed beyond his sight.

After his mother died, Chase thought he had finally found a way to resist the pull of his parents’ lives. Everything about the seminary radiated peace. Chase could sit in the chapel or the library for hours, with no one demanding his time or attention. He walked the paths in silent meditation, listening to no one.

He felt as if he had slipped into a quiet bay where the waters were always calm, never threatening. For a while he could float in peace.

He studied the scriptures and stories of men and women who had been tried by the worst life had to offer, yet remained strong: Daniel and the fiery furnace, Job, St. Stephen, Joan of Arc. He almost convinced himself that the stories were God’s words spoken directly to him, rewarding him for remaining true to his mother.

Rowan didn’t agree.

“Don’t be a child, Robert,” he said. “You’re running away from life here. I thought you’d be smart enough to realize that.”

“I’m not running from anything,” Chase said. “I can help people through the church. I can help them find peace.”

“Nothing about life is peaceful.” Rowan gestured toward the stone walls, the green and shady grounds, the church. “Everything here is merely an illusion. It’s not the real world. There’s no peace out there. You say that all you want to do is help people. Fine. I say you should do it in medicine. You say you can do it here.”

“I can ...”

“Wait,” Rowan held up his hand. “Why don’t you start by trying out that vow of poverty? If you come back to medical school, I’ll keep paying all your bills. You stay here, you make your own way.”

Chase didn’t know what to say. He just stared at Rowan.

“And consider this,” Rowan continued. “What provides more peace to an unfortunate soul: curing them of illnesses or saying last rites over their deathbed?”

Chase wanted to believe that it was the final question that finally won him over, sent him back into the turbulent waters of Rowan’s rip current. But when he lay in bed at night he sometimes found himself thinking of Judas and his thirty pieces of silver.

Even after he gave in to Rowan, he hoped to prove his father wrong. To prove that he was not his father’s son. That he wasn’t cut out for medicine. Instead he found himself.

The first week of his first rotation in the emergency room he knew where he belonged. There was a rush there, as if everything happened at once. Chase knew this feeling. He had felt it before, as a wave broke over him and tried to push him down to the ocean floor. He knew how to stay calm, to control himself, to control his breathing, control any sense of panic.

Standing at the side of the bed, time seemed to slow down. He felt as if he could see everything laid out before him. He knew every treatment option and what the outcome would be. He knew which tests were needed and the order he’d have to run them in.

He stepped forward with the intubation kit before the resident even had a chance to call for it, and Majors glanced at him and made room for him near the patient’s head.

This wasn’t his father’s medicine, with its quiet office visits and endless lab tests. In the emergency room -- then in intensive care -- everything relied on speed and instinct. Doctors had to know what to do, and be sure of everything they did. Sometimes there was no second chance to do the right thing. The only thing that mattered was what you did now.

And in intensive care, no one cared who Chase’s father was.

For a time, that was enough. He had found his specialty and he was good in it. He knew it. And so did Rowan. Chase knew he’d never be the man his father was, but he reminded himself he didn’t want to be. He may have given up the seminary, but not the belief that he was put on the earth to help others.

He was nearing the end of his residency when a new patient was admitted to the ICU. Matthew was 17 and a surfer with tanned skin and old scars on his feet from countless coral cuts.

He also had a high fever, a newly-diagnosed heart murmur and a resting heart rate of more than 110 beats per minute. When Chase placed the pulse oximeter on Matthew’s index finger, he saw the red blotch of a Janeway lesion.

The echocardiogram confirmed endocarditis, with the inflammation in the lining of his heart threatening permanent damage to his aortic valve. He hadn’t responded to the IV antibiotics.

The cardiologist blamed the cause on drug use.

“You know these kids,” he muttered as he slouched down in one of the chairs at the nurses’ station. “If the waves aren’t breaking, they’re going to find a high somewhere else.”

Matthew’s family swore he had never taken anything. The tox screen was clean, but the cardiologist wasn’t listening.

“It doesn’t matter what caused it as long as he responds to the treatment,” the cardiologist said.

Matthew’s family stayed by his side as his fever soared. They remained when he had to be intubated, talking to him for hours even when the teen could no longer respond.

When a piece of the damaged valve broke off, Chase started a heparin infusion fast enough to dissolve it, but knew Matthew needed more.

“The antibiotic treatment can take weeks before endocarditis responds,” the cardiologist said. “We just have to give it more time.”

“No.” Chase knew the cardiologist was a faculty member, with more experience than he had, but Chase also knew he couldn’t stand by any longer. “We need to treat the underlying cause, whatever that is, or the only response we’re going to see is this kid put on a donor list or dead.”

The cardiologist shook his head, but said he wouldn’t stop Chase from doing any other tests -- as long as he didn’t interfere with the treatment.

It took Chase less than 24 hours to find the bacteremia that had infiltrated Matthew’s blood, and only a few more hours to track it to a case of yersiniosis misdiagnosed more than a month earlier as a bad case of the flu.

Once Chase got Matthew switched over to doxycycline, they began seeing subtle but distinct improvements. As the meds cleared his blood of toxins, his heart grew stronger. Its rhythm steadied.

Within a week, Matthew had been moved out of ICU, and Chase began thinking about a change. Staying in Melbourne would be easy. Safe.

Even Rowan would have been happy.

But Chase was beginning to think that maybe medicine could be more than he had seen already -- that he could be more. Staying in Melbourne would be no more than treading water.

The fellowship at Princeton-Plainsboro was not safe. It was not easy. He managed to track down one of House’s former fellows, who said that the smart thing to do was to stay as far away from House as possible.

“Sure you’ll learn something from him,” Walters warned him in an email. “But you’ll end up with more abuse than advice.”

But Chase didn’t care. This was something he wanted. Something he could do, that maybe no one else could. Something that would be his alone.

He was even willing to let Rowan make a call for him, to help smooth the surface. When his plane took off for the U.S., Chase felt as if he had finally broken free from the currents of his past, and was swimming free.

At first, Chase just watched House, trying to find if there was some kind of a pattern to what he did and when he’d strike -- the same way he used to study the waves. He knew House had his own rip current, and he wasn’t ready to get sucked into some unfamiliar ocean.

He did what House asked him to do. He ran tests, picked up lab results, even took on House’s clinic hours. When Dr. Cuddy saw him there at the desk, she just shook her head.

“I don’t mind filling in,” Chase told her. “I’ve got the time.”

“That’s not the point. Tell House I’m still keeping track.”

The only thing that was clear after two weeks was that House seemed to have made a better study of him than Chase had made of House.

“No use checking the clock,” House said when he walked into the conference room one morning, and Chase jerked his attention from the wall where he’d been looking at the time. “I don’t believe in keeping set hours.”

House poured himself a cup of coffee before heading toward his office. “You, on the other hand, would never be late. Too much Catholic guilt. I suppose that’s why you’re always here at least seven minutes early. Of course that could all change once you pick up your new car at the dealership tomorrow after work. Then you won’t have to rely on the bus schedule any more.”

Chase watched House as he walked into his office and sat behind his desk with a magazine. Chase wasn’t sure if he should be intrigued or creeped out by House’s comments. He settled for a little of both.

Nothing about House seemed easy to predict. When Chase offered to pick up lunch for House one rainy day, House yelled and asked if he thought he was incapable of getting his own food. Another day House complained when Chase returned from a coffee run with a cappuccino.

“What, nothing for the cripple?” House stood at the doorway and nodded toward Chase’s cup.

Chase studied him for just a moment before he shook his head. “Which one?” He sat and took a sip. “Orthopedics has a whole floor of them, but I can’t afford to buy for everyone on the salary you’re giving me.”

“What about something for your boss then?”

Chase wasn’t sure, but he thought House’s voice sounded different. A slightly lighter tone, one he often heard him using around Dr. Wilson. “He didn’t ask for anything either.” Chase kept his own tone light to try and match House’s mood.

“You should ask next time,” House said. “It’s called being polite. It’s something we try to practice in this country.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed it from working around you.” Chase caught the slightest change in House’s expression before House turned away.

When Cameron joined the team, she seemed almost too eager to Chase, ready to jump into the water without seeing what troubles were beneath the waves. Foreman, on the other hand, fought everything. From the day he walked into the office, he seemed convinced that he knew everything better than anyone else -- maybe even House.

Chase remembered the strong swimmers who tried to fight the rip, only to exhaust themselves and drown. He tried to drop a hint to Foreman that he should ease up, to save himself for the struggles that mattered, but it was clear that Foreman wouldn’t listen.

“I’m not a suck-up,” Foreman said, and shook his head.

Chase knew he could have defended himself, made it clear that he wasn’t either, but it just would have been a waste of time. Arguing with Foreman might have killed a few hours on a quiet day, but it would be a useless effort.

Vogler was his misstep. Chase thought he knew what was happening. Vogler had more power than House. He would take them all down. Chase allowed himself to drift for a moment into Vogler’s current. But in the end, Vogler’s drift died off as quickly as it had come. It was House who remained.

Chase knew he would have to pay for his mistake. He was ready for the worst. Ready to be fired, to be sent packing home to Melbourne. Instead House shook his head. “I’ll put it into terms you’ll understand,” he said. “I am the Lord your God and you shall put no other gods before me. If you reject my laws and spurn my rules, I will wreak misery upon you.”

Chase’s eyes widened. He knew those words. Old Testament. The Ten Commandments with something extra, from Leviticus maybe.

“I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper,” House continued. Definitely Leviticus, Chase thought. “I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins.”

House turned away from Chase and turned on the TV, dismissing him. Chase walked into the conference room. He shook his head slightly and wondered why it was that he was surprised that House could still surprise him.

Chase knows that Foreman thinks he doesn’t care about anyone but himself. That he’s just drifting. That he’s always looking for the easy way out.

And ever since Rowan died, Cameron seems to think he’s using House as some kind of substitute father figure.

But neither of them understand.

House’s power is unlike any rip current Chase has ever seen. There is no drifting with him. Nothing is easy. Nothing is comforting.

With House, Chase is tossed and pushed in directions he doesn’t want to take. He’s forced to try things he’d never imagined -- and not just the burglaries. House makes him think.

“If all I wanted was a pair of hands to run tests and keep the patient breathing, I could have hired anyone,” House told Chase during one of his first cases. “I hired you because I thought you had a brain. Use it.”

Chase knows he’s riding within House’s rip current, but he’s there by his own choice. It’s not something he was born into or something he waded into by accident. It’s a rip that’s strong, and confusing, and sometimes Chase knows he is in way over his head.

But in some strange way, he knows this is where he belongs, and that if he can survive this, he’ll become more than his mother or his father ever imagined. He’ll be something that he never could have pictured during those early days on the beach.

And sometimes, he knows that it’s worth taking a risk.

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