There are times when even The Philosopher
Jagger gets it wrong! You not only don’t get what you want, but you don’t
get what you need. This is one of the ironies of life.
Sometimes when someone is damaged beyond
repair, the only recourse is to walk away before someone else becomes damaged beyond repair. Irony!
If the one who is not yet damaged beyond
repair has an innate compulsion to remain and make some useless effort at reparation anyway, then probably all his urgent
methods of reparation will become damaged also. At this point there are two people
left damaged in the wake of useless effort, and both are destined to languish in disrepair, one with the other. Both are then useless. And way beyond repair! Ironic.
Smoke on the wind.
The house on Ridge Road is sold.
The people who bought it have two kids
and a dog and a cat. They have two cars and a motor boat. And a Mother-in-law-from-hell! The place will probably soon
be up for sale again. Irony in Paradise!
That, however, is no longer my concern.
House is on crutches and in pain.
He had to undergo surgery again. His pain had been so bad that it couldn’t be contained except with powerful injections of morphine.
The incident between us in his living room was the straw that broke the camel’s
back. When his knee hit the floor, the damage was incalculable. The transverse
tear in his right medial meniscus ruptured. Deep fractures, and bone splinters
in his LCL. His knee was nearly the size of a football. He could not wear a shoe. Even a slipper was too heavy. He could no longer touch his foot to the floor, and
the missing muscle in his upper leg made it impossible for him to hold it off the
floor. For awhile he was again wheelchair-bound, angry and silent and unreachable. Norm Lyons viewed the ultra-sound and suggested the “German solution”
I went along in the private jet that flew
him to Wiesbaden. House
was placed in a risky seven-day coma in a German hospital where such unusual procedures were quite commonplace. They pumped him full of ketamine, an experimental drug still illegal in the states. The surgical team opened his knee, examined the torn ligaments, plucked out bone fragments and made the
necessary repairs. Portions of his lateral medial ligaments are an amalgamation
of synthetics. For seven long days we waited.
When Gregory House came out of the coma,
his pain was greatly reduced, other than that from the most recent surgery. They
flew us home again and granted him a three-month leave of absence until the long-range prognosis could be determined.
Gregg was nearly pain-free for forty-six
days. He was beginning to try to walk again; to live again! Then it came back. Not as bad as before, but it incapacitated
him, and it was as though he’d gone back in time to the early post-infarction days.
Now he had another surgical scar to contend with and another bellyful of bitterness, except that this time he had no
one to blame but himself.
When he went for checkups in Orthopedics,
Norm Lyons never said: “I told you so!” But the implications were
plain. What Norm did say was: “I
want you on crutches every single day until I say otherwise!” Gregg knew
he had no choice. I remember very well the look on his face and the bleakness
in his eyes.
That was when I asked for and was given
a three-month leave of my own, and by that time everyone at the hospital knew of our status with each other. I never left House’s side, and again I put up with his bitching, whining and sullen silences. Rather than cooperation, Gregg gave me nothing but grief, and we fought long and often.
Sometimes when the yelling got out of hand,
I would walk out and close the door between him and me. Clear the air. But I always went back. Gregg could not
be left alone too long. We would apologize to one another and smooth things over,
but the peace never lasted.
Stan Ralls took over the Oncology Department,
and though he reported back to me periodically, he was definitely in charge. The
department chugged along as usual. Stan was a little more boisterous than I ever
was, but the patients respected him, he was kind, he was funnier than me, and he was certainly competent and more than generous.
Mark Fetterolf moved over to Diagnostics. He was a very different personality from Gregory House. Mark did not have the genius of his predecessor, but he did keep an unbiased ear open to the thoughts of
House’s three fellows. (He never called them “Ducklings”). Within a few weeks, a blanket of respectful camaraderie settled over the three-room
suite and the place was no longer interesting. Dr. Cuddy never had to stop by
and check up on them anymore. After a month, Cameron, Foreman and Chase were
bored to death and actively wished for the reign of chaos to return to the fold.
Mark Fetterolf could not figure out
what he’d done wrong.
Nothing, actually! He just was not House!
I moved everything I owned out of the place
on Ridge Road … sold most of it … then
rented and moved into an apartment of my own just a few blocks from House’s condo.
My clothing was there, a few sticks of furniture, and some personal items. But
my heart remains at the elegant dump on East Side Drive.
At night I would help Gregg House into
bed, and often as not, would crawl in beside him and hold him. Put up a human
barricade against the pain. Gregg was on a variety of medications now, over and
above the Vicodin. Sometimes he could not eat and once in awhile he suffered
from headaches and nausea. I fully believed I was there to shore him up and lend
support whenever and wherever I was needed.
Gregg was pale and gaunt, weak and, of
course, in pain. It was taking a lot out of him.
Grey streaks in his hair were getting wider every day, and he had aged ten years in just a matter of months. He still could not tolerate a shoe, and his leg was beginning to go into contracture. He made no effort to walk without the crutches, and it broke my heart.
I had been to the grocery store that day. Every two weeks I stocked House’s pantry with all of his favorite foods. I was coming down the hallway from the underground garage pulling a loaded complex-owned
utility cart filled with bags of groceries. I heard the piano music before I
got to the front door. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard
Gregg play. The night he played Wunderbar
and made it sound like Music Box Dancer, I think. Anyway, I could feel my eyes beginning to fill up, and I paused a minute to get myself back under control.
I stopped outside the door to listen. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Sweet, sad old song. Was Gregg playing from the heart? I remembered some of the lyrics, but not all:
laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame
Smoke gets in your eyes”
Smoke on the wind, maybe …
I turned the key in the lock and walked
in to see Gregg House in old blue jeans, a clean shirt and seated on the piano bench with both hands on the keyboard. He was no less pale, no less gaunt, no less pained, but the bitterness and anger had
receded behind a calmer exterior.
“House?” I pulled the wagon full of groceries into the room behind me and let the door fall shut. “Are you all right?”
“Been better …” His eyes were mocking; blue and penetrating.
“It still isn’t working …
obviously.” He indicated the crutches propped against the bench beside
him. “I’m sick of being useless.”
“You’re not …”
“What’s going on?”
“Cuddy called. She has a case.”
“You’re weak. You can barely move. How can you work?”
“I’ll find a way. It’s only a consult, Wilson.”
I took him to PPTH the next day. We went directly to Cuddy’s office on the ground floor rather than venturing to our respective offices
on the third. Both our departments were in other hands now, and to intrude before
our leaves of absence were up, would have been a breach of ethics.
I held the door for him … hurrying
in ahead of him with the intention of warning Dr. Cuddy of his look. She had
not seen him in awhile, and I meant to avoid any expression of shock on her part. I
needn’t have worried. She’d seen us coming and had time to take in
his gauntness, his frailty, his pain, and the overwhelming “crippledness” of his crutches, his bent leg and his
lack of a shoe. She was behind her desk, using it as a shield between herself
and the man she had so often sparred with, but also regarded with respect and admiration.
Her professional demeanor was tightly in place, and I could have hugged her for that.
Professionalism be damned!
I saw the moist gleam in Lisa’s eyes
when she first saw him; becoming an old man, crippled by life and by circumstances.
But then she steeled herself and smiled. She gave him the administrator’s
look, and not an ounce of pity showed through. She offered Gregg a chair and
he took it in silence. That in itself was a revelation. He did not greet her with open arms and she did not expect it. I
seated myself in the chair at his left elbow, reached over to take his crutches and placed them on the floor by his side while
he settled his useless leg into the most comfortable position possible.
Cuddy, to her undying credit, played her
part extremely well. If Gregg saw any chinks in her armor, he granted her the
courtesy of ignoring them. “Dr. House … I’m very glad you’re
here … you too, Dr. Wilson.” She cocked her head in that endearing
way she has, and smiled widely at both of us before centering her attention on Gregg.
She eyed him with the old challenge to her expression that she’d enjoyed with him for so many years.
“You look like you could use some
roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, Doctor! Otherwise, you’ve improved
a lot from the last time I saw you.” (The last time was just before the
jet took off for Germany.)
He looked up slowly and glared for a moment,
perhaps searching for flaws in the porcelain. Evidently he found none. “That’s not saying much, is it?”
“Well then, take me for what I mean,
not what I say!” She shot back. “I
called you because I need your considerable brain and your expert medical opinion … and not to initiate a ‘can-you-top-this’
contest! We have a puzzle, a weird set of symptoms and a young woman in trouble
… and Dr. Fetterolf and his team can’t seem to get a handle on it. Are
you interested or not?”
House bristled for a moment at the
“Dr. Fetterolf and his team” comment, but I decided she’d done
it on purpose. His nod was familiar, that quick downward thrust of his chin that
said whatever the bet, he was in!
Cuddy came around her desk toward him with
a heavily notated case file in her hand. She walked purposefully to his side as though the painful past months hadn’t
gone down the drain, and this type of consult was something they still did every day.
It was time for me to leave. I got up from the chair and turned toward the door. “House,
I’ll be around if you need me. When you get tired and want to go home,
page me. I’m going to go say ‘hi’ to the kids and wander around
Gregg turned his eyes toward me vaguely
for a moment, as though he’d already forgotten I was there, which, I suppose was the most natural thing in the world. He was back in his own element and ready to re-immerse himself in the profession he
loved. In this world, I was only part of the fringe, and I could accept that. He barely nodded an absent-minded acknowledgment in my direction.
Cuddy looked at me briefly over the top
of Gregg’s head as she settled herself into the chair I’d just vacated and turned to him with the medical file
falling open across his lap.
Cuddy winked at me with twinkling eyes,
and I paused the split second it took to wink back.
When I walked out her door and stepped
into the lobby, I was very glad I’d called her and begged her to dig up the most difficult current case in the hospital’s
open files …
I walked past Gregg’s office, checking
first to see whether Mark was there. (I did not want him to think I was spying.) He
wasn’t. From what I could tell with such a brief glimpse, it looked as
though Allison Cameron was the only one in the DD room. There were two or three
medical volumes spread open across the table. Her nose was deep into one of them, glasses down on the tip of her nose, her
fingers twiddling with a pencil.
I turned at the end of the corridor and
walked back. Two or three people smiled and waved at me as I went past, so I
figured I hadn’t been forgotten … yet. I was still grinning like
a kid in a candy store when I pushed open the door and stuck my head inside. “Hey! Cameron!”
She looked up, startled, as though she
couldn’t believe her ears. The next thing I knew, she was squealing, jumping
up and almost barreling me over with her arms wrapped around my neck. The sensation
was most pleasant, I must say. She smelled like honeysuckle and roses …
very unlike someone else who shall remain nameless.
I was half embarrassed, but I returned
the hug enthusiastically anyway. “This is not very professional, you know,
She giggled delightfully. “I’m so glad to see you! How are you?”
She didn’t say: “How is House?” But the question hung in the air
between us like a string of Christmas lights. I told her I was fine …
that long-time standard answer for everything.
Foreman and Chase walked up as we stood
there, and although we all exchanged handshakes rather than hugs, the greetings were almost as enthusiastic.
It was Eric who finally got around to asking
the question. “How is he?”
No one had to ask who he meant.
“He hurts.” The answer could have been taken in a variety of ways.
Each of the younger ones translated in
his or her mind to suit their individual concepts, and the silence stretched out for some moments.
“He’s here,” I said,
finally. “He’s down with Dr. Cuddy … consulting with her on
a case. He knows I was going to come up to say hello.” I left the rest dangle … let them grapple with their
“Will he come up for a little while? Would he talk to us if we went down?”
Chase’s boyish enthusiasm finally asked the question they all wanted the answer to. “Doctor Fetterolf is a gem, and we all get along with him very well.
But he does not yell at us!”
There it was, out in the open, without
disrespect for the other doctor, or a moment’s complaint. Chase had nailed
it, and the other two faces opened in complete agreement. “He’s not
ever silly with us … he doesn’t get angry … he never threatens
to take the tops of our heads off if we don’t figure out the right diagnosis.
Nobody calls us a ‘wombat’ or a ‘little girl’ or a ‘car thief’. I guess we don’t feel … loved … anymore …”
“Walk with me,” I said. “If you have nothing pressing at the moment, just walk with me. We can go to the cafeteria for an early lunch, or just for a cup of coffee.
We can talk, and I’ll tell you everything I know about House’s recovery … at least everything I can
tell you without invading his privacy.”
So I told them everything I could
possibly tell them about his most recent injury and the resulting deterioration of his leg.
I admitted that if it hadn’t been for the old infarction and the missing muscle, his latest surgery might have
gone much better. I told them about the continuous infusion of the ketamine while
he lay in an induced coma for seven days, and about watching him awaken for the first time in years without pain.
And then its return.
I felt, for a time, like the grim reaper
with only bad news to impart. Allison sat with tears running down her face, the
remainder of her meal pushed aside and forgotten. The dark and somber faces of
both young men made me understand that they had taken the news hard as well. But
they had asked, and now they knew.
I changed the subject then, but the news
was still not great. I told them of Gregg’s weight loss, his encroaching
frailty, the contracture in his crippled leg, his (possibly permanent) transition to the use of crutches, and the fact that
he had aged so noticeably over the past few months.
Then I told them the good stuff. He had been eager to consult on this important medical case with Cuddy.
He agreed to work out of her office so he would have only a minimum of walking.
He would be given a recliner chair that would accommodate his leg as comfortably as possible. He would also have unlimited access to every treatment room, every imaging service, every laboratory and
lab researcher the hospital had to offer, and when he became fatigued, I would take him home.
I told them he’d gone back
to playing the piano. He’d asked me to order in some Chinese food, and
stop at a distributor to pick up a case of beer.
And I told them he had called me an ‘asshole’
twice in a row.
However, I decided I would not let them
see him or try to talk to him. Not yet.
He was still not ready for their scrutiny. They would have to be content
with standing at the upstairs window to watch unobtrusively as he hobbled out to my car and I drove him slowly home.
That was two months ago.
It is now early October, and the leaves
are suddenly beginning to change again. There is a nip in the air in the mornings
when I get ready to leave and pick up Gregg for work, and I know it won’t be long until winter rears its miserable head
with three months or more of guessing games …
I don’t stay with House so often
at night anymore. Sometimes he reminds me of a teenager who is eager to leave
the comfortable fold of Mom and Dad’s place to venture out on his own. Usually
I’m okay with that, although I nag him constantly to keep his cell phone handy so he can call me right away if something
happens. Usually I get the eye roll and the scrunched face that says something
indulgently sarcastic like “Yes, Mommy …” But then he’s
been doing that kind of stuff with me for years.
I still cook a lot of his meals,
because that close-quarters kitchen of his and a pair of crutches in the hands of someone so tall, just don’t mix. He does still make a mean batch of popcorn though, so it usually evens out okay. We sit around in the evenings and watch TV together and eat junk food. Or he will play the piano soft and low and I sit on the bench beside him and lean my head on his shoulder. He manages to sneak a few bars of Wunderbar
into whatever he’s playing and then look over at me to see if I’ve caught it.
I always do! The love we have for each other has not diminished. It is just not as urgent, and with the condition of his leg, I am frightened to death
of hurting him.
He doesn’t like to drive much anymore. The suicide machine sets downstairs in his utility room with a tarp over it. I don’t think he’s even started it up to run the engine for a couple of
months. The big Envoy hasn’t fared much better, although he still goes
for drives now and then on weekends. I know he likes to cruise the back roads,
open all the windows and let the wind tousle his hair … as if it needs more “tousle” than it already has. He is “hair-in-a-blender” challenged!
We are both back to work now, our leaves
of absence long over. It is good to be back in harness again, and I feel much
more at ease with my case load in relation to the additional time I spend near House in and around his office. He lets me help him out a little more nowadays, because he no longer has a free hand to carry his stuff
around and walk at the same time. He’s back to trading insults with the
ducklings, and ordering them around as though they are his own personal indentured servants.
I know they are very happy to have him back, snark and all, and I have not heard a word of complaint from any of them.
The kids are used to his crutches now,
and his difficulty in getting around. Cameron still steals pitying looks his
way when she thinks he’s not looking. But he knows. I know he knows because he’s mentioned it to me from time to time.
He just chooses to ignore it. Some things are better left unsaid.
He refuses to let any of them wait on him
or pander to him, and from time to time I have heard him voice his opinions all the way across two rooms and into my office. I just sit and smile to myself. As long
as he can articulate his displeasure and roar like Mufasa at the same time, he is happy and doing what he loves. God bless him!
Tom calls me from time to time about Roger
and Jules. They are still working off their repayment for all the money they
stole, and surprisingly they are settling down and taking life seriously, rather than searching for more devious ways to get
their asses into trouble. Roger’s legs are still weak, and his movements
painful, but he exercises daily. He is improving slowly. Jules has proved to be the intelligent one of the pair; the dependable one.
Somehow he keeps Roger’s restless nature in check and both of them go to their jobs each day and profess to enjoy
Tom has the Dodge Shadow. It’s up on blocks in his carport and will stay there until both boys finish off their probation and
earn the privilege of driving it again. Until then, they go where they want to
go on foot … even Roger, for whom this part of the punishment seems a little severe.
Fortunately the 911 Emergency headquarters is only a block away from Tom and Suzanne’s, and they refuse to ferry
him back and forth.
Jules always hitches an early morning ride
on one of the heavy duty work trucks, and returns home after work the same way. The
roar of a New Jersey Highway Department dump truck in a quiet residential neighborhood has become a fact of life, Tom says.
So … I have stopped worrying about
my little brother. He is in good hands.
I don’t know whether Mom and Dad have accepted Jules or not. Tom
doesn’t offer and I don’t ask. If they are staying away because of
the life choices of their youngest son, what the hell will they do if they find out about House and me? I think about it sometimes, but I certainly don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s their loss.
One more thing I need to add while I sit
here in my office with my mind in the clouds …
Two weeks ago, Billy Travis and Nancy Franklin
were married. It was a beautiful ceremony, conducted in their flower-bedecked
back yard by a beautiful elderly lady minister named Bess.
was a piano player who played the Wedding March as though it were an old time spiritual.
practically danced down the grassy “aisle”. The piano player continued
playing with a long list of lively spirituals that dared anyone not to tap their toes.
Nancy and Billy’s first dance as
husband and wife was to the lilting strains of the beautiful Wunderbar. With tears threatening, I stood motionless at the outskirts of the crowd and watched them, and watched
that talented piano player as he played right through his pain and his fatigue for hours on end … for two people he
loved and admired and respected. They didn’t know yet how he really felt
about the two of them, but they would soon find out.
The piano player’s gift to
the couple was just a plain brown envelope with a folded piece of paper inside it. When
Nancy opened it later, it contained a car title and two car
keys taped to a hunk of cardboard. The bright red 1962 Corvette was all theirs.
Gregg was so sore that night, and so tired
that he cried quietly in my arms. I held him and rocked him, and later, positioned
his leg across my lap and caressed its thin contours gently until he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
And now, here I sit. In my office. It is night.
Probably after midnight. I finished my charting an hour ago, and it is
way past time to go home.
Lisa Cuddy took House home eight hours
ago when I knew I would be staying late and called her to do me the favor. Of
course she said yes. I know they had a goofy mouth battle on the way home, because
Lisa called me later and told me all about it gleefully. She is happy to see
him back and doing his job with relish. She hates to see him so crippled and
so frail … but it is still the old Gregg. He has gained back a little weight,
and looks better physically. The more things change though, the more they remain the same.
I was still smiling to myself when we rang off.
I love him.
That will never change. And I know he loves me, as much as he is capable
of such an alien emotion. But he has fears and reservations, and he does not
wish to hurt me beyond all repair, the same way things happened a long time ago with Stacy.
I can accept that. We are together and we are not. Sometimes I look into his
beautiful eyes and see a wistfulness that he will not talk about and which I cannot fathom.
Those are the times I feel him drifting away from me, and I am saddened, but not surprised.
Once I had confessed to him that sometimes
I felt restless … like smoke in the wind. And now … I wonder if some
portion of the smoke is his.
In the moment … but not!
Once in awhile I hear Wunderbar playing inside my head.
I feel a little like Daniel Jackson
in an old episode of Stargate, when he walked through a time portal into another
dimension … and the Jack O’Neill he encountered there was a shade off center from the one he’d known and
served with for so many years.
My Gregory House is like that sometimes
… a little off center … and I am at a loss to explain it. Actually,
I think, so is he.
Sometimes the philosopher Jagger
is totally off base!
The one thing you want the most and need the most in your life … turns out to be the one thing you cannot have.
Ironic, isn’t it?