Can you tell me your name?” Her hand rested lightly on his
bony shoulder and she kept her voice low.
They’d given him pain meds and he
was still groggy, but he had come around just as she and an orderly finished cleaning him up and shaving his splotchy beard. He was pitifully thin, not much more than skin over bone. They’d thrown his shoes away and cut part of his ragged coat and torn clothing off him. His dark hair had been matted, his scalp encrusted. They’d
had to use a soft-bristled brush to loosen all of it before they could wash it away.
His finger and toenails were long and dirty and unkempt, and when they’d finished cleansing his battered body,
she’d trimmed them gently. His skin was tender beneath all the dirt, and
his toes bled in the places where his ill-fitting shoes had rubbed him. The orderly
brought antiseptic skin cream and left it with her, then departed to attend to other duties.
She smiled down at him in reassurance as
she finished massaging some of the cream into his feet and face and hands. She
capped the tube and set it aside, then turned back to him. There was fear in his dark eyes, and very old pain emanating from
within their mirrored depths. She wondered if he might be mentally challenged or maybe a little psychotic. He was youngish; mid-thirties, perhaps, and he was hurting and a little uncoordinated from the pain medication. They’d dressed him in one of the light green hospital gowns beneath a terry
bathrobe, and covered him to the waist with a warm blanket. He looked like he
might blow away in the wind.
Now he was regarding her warily with those
brown, brown eyes, searching every inch of her face as though trying to decide if she might be someone he could trust. He was oddly attractive for someone in such poor physical condition. He had a heart-shaped face, a long, thin nose, thick brows, and the heavy mane of his dark brown hair covered
his ears and curled at the ends. His chin was pointed, his mouth full, his cheek
bones high and sculpted above cheeks which were much too hollow.
“Who are you?” He asked weakly. “Where am I?” His voice was soft, yet cracking from disuse. “What
happened to me?”
She sighed, pursed her lips. It looked as though she must answer some questions here before she got to ask them. So be it. Not like she’d never experienced this type
of fear before. She settled on her stool, patted his shoulder in reassurance
where her hand rested upon it, and began.
“I’m Maria. I’m an ER Nurse, and you’re at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. I’m told that you were crossing the street and fainted right there in the middle. Do you remember any of it?”
“N-No. I don’t. I was sleeping … in the park …
near a street vent …and some people were throwing stones at me … and there was a dog barking … and I got
up and ran. But my legs … they wouldn’t work right. That’s the last thing I remember. Did I hurt myself?” His eyes began to dart here and there across his body with a fearful intensity, as
though searching for some indication of injury. He seemed puzzled by the fragrant,
clean pinkish cast to his skin.
She moved her hand down his thin arm and
clasped his fingers with her own. “No … you haven’t been hurt. Not today anyway. You came close, but the driver of the truck was able to stop in
time. You fainted! You hit the street
pretty hard. You have a little bit of road rash.
You fainted!” She emphasized
the word, hoping it would penetrate. “Were you not feeling well? Have you had headaches? Fever?
Did you have stiffness in your neck? Back?
Do your muscles hurt? Are your arms and legs weak? Do they hurt you?”
He stared at her as though she had just
wrapped her hands around his soul. “All of that. How did you know?”
“Just an educated guess.” She smiled; decided it was safe to use words of more than one syllable with him. There was the shadow of a keen intelligence beginning to emerge from the dull, pain-filled
eyes. “We’re going to run some tests on you … find out what
the problem really is. You’re suffering from exposure … it’s barely twenty degrees out there! Can you move your arms and legs okay?”
He looked worried. “Yeah, I can move everything fine, but it hurts when I do.
And I can’t pay you …”
“Money isn’t important.”
He continued to stare, adding a frown to
the mix of emotions warring across his face, but didn’t reply.
She patted his fingers, then placed his
hand back at his side and straightened on the stool. “Will you tell me
your name now?”
He switched his expression back to “puzzled”
for a moment. “The guys just call me ‘Roger’.”
“Roger … who?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t known for a long time. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. We’ll figure it out. Do you remember if you might have
gotten hit on the head? Have you taken a nasty fall lately?” He looked away, face blank again, and she could see his eyes swimming out of focus. She wasn’t sure if she had his attention. “Roger?”
His awareness came back quickly. “I don’t know. Maria?” Had that been a joke?
She laughed. This was a nice kid. He deserved more in life than what he’d
obviously been dealt. She winked at him and then got up. “I’m going to make arrangements for you to have those tests, and have someone bandage your
foot injuries. I want you to be still and try to sleep until they get you a room
assignment. Then I’ll be back. Okay?”
He was still looking at her, searching
her face. A smile tugged one corner of his mouth upward a tad. “Okay. Thank you.”
She pulled the curtain which cordoned
off his cubicle and walked back toward the nurses’ station. Something niggled
at her mind; something about that crooked little smile that suggested an odd familiarity.
She frowned for a moment, thinking. Someone she knew who did that? Or
had met? He probably reminded her of some celebrity or other. That happened with patients sometimes. Hugh Laurie eyes …
or Mel Gibson hair … Harrison Ford’s charming lopsided grin …something.
She dismissed it as silly, pulled his chart from the rack and perused it.
Dr. Fetterolf had mentioned something about
polio symptoms. God knew exposure to filth and bacterial contamination in his
obviously difficult lifestyle certainly warranted that suspicion. She wasn’t
sure if she agreed with it or not, but it wasn’t her call.
Eric Foreman hurried to keep up with his
boss as Gregg House thundered along the corridor like a madman. When House got
a head of steam up, his very momentum carried him along like a bike tire with a stone in the tread. Thump-Step … Thump-step … Thump-step … Whatever the hell kept him on his feet after the way he’d looked and moved
earlier this morning, Eric didn’t know, but whatever it was, he wished he could bottle it. He could make a fortune!
After leaving Cuddy and Wilson in the clinic
examination room, House hadn’t wasted any time lighting out in the direction of the ER.
Getting there had been an exercise in devious pathways and shortcuts. Gregg
cut through department lounges, waiting rooms, connecting hallways, and even in one side of the men’s ground-floor locker
room and out the other. They emerged into the corridor across from one of the
trauma rooms and swung right toward admitting. When they arrived at the nurses’
station, however, Foreman took notice that House walked up to the counter and leaned across it, a move that effectively took
all his weight off the crippled leg. He did not let on that he’d noticed,
but moved in close to House’s weaker right side and leaned across the counter also.
There were two RNs in attendance, one of
them the petite girlfriend of night Nursing Staff Supervisor, Billy Travis. The
other one was her boss, Maria Colby, Daytime ER Nursing Supervisor. Colby’s
dark hair was pulled back in a braid. She was pug-nosed in an attractive way;
thirty-something. The smallish darker-skinned woman grinned and walked up to
Gregory House, tapped a slender index finger on the tip of his nose and whispered, “How ya doin’, Sexy?”
Gregg hung his head and looked the other
way for a moment, half embarrassed, while Foreman did a double-take and hastily slid one step to the right. “Doin’ okay, pretty woman,” Gregg said finally.
“When are you and Billy gonna stop by for a beer?”
“Oh, any day now,” she told
him with a grin. “And what can I do for you gentlemen?” Nancy Franklin was short, with tiny features and ebony hair curled close to her scalp. She was as small as Billy Travis was huge. “You wouldn’t both be over here to take a look at
our mystery man, would you?”
From the puzzled looks on both their faces,
Nancy realized they had no idea what she was talking about. “Uh oh …
I think you need to talk to Maria. She and one of the orderlies cleaned him up
and did an evaluation.” She beckoned to the senior nurse in colorful scrubs
doing paper work at the desk. Colby looked up as Nancy summoned her. She walked over and stood behind the counter with Nancy at her left.
“His name seems to be ‘Roger’,”
Maria Colby said, placing her pencil on the counter and spinning it with her fingers.
“Hi, Dr. House … Dr. Foreman. That’s all he remembers
… just ‘Roger’ … so I’m not sure if it’s his real name, or just some handle hung on him
by one of his buddies. He hasn’t told us for sure, but I’m almost
certain he’s homeless. How he’s managed to survive in this freezing
weather, I’ll never know, but he has. He was really in rough shape when
the ambulance brought him in. Half frozen, filthy dirty, unshaven, skin rash,
matted hair, finger and toenails out of control. He was weak, unable to stand
up by himself. Looked like he hadn’t had a bath in a year, and we had to
cut most of his clothes off. Threw everything away, including his shoes. His feet are raw from they way they rubbed him.
He says he hurts all over. He has muscle stiffness, and says it’s
painful to move his arms and legs. Dr. Fetterolf ordered up some tests …
CT, MRI, Ultra-Sound … you know … the whole spectrum. Want to have
House and Foreman both nodded and pushed
off from the counter as Colby came around. She led them down the long hallway
to the treatment cubicles, only a few of which were in use at this hour, until they had gone about halfway through the narrow
passage between the little box-like spaces. “Fetterolf thinks he has polio?” House asked.
Colby answered. “Could be, but it’s debatable.”
They pulled the curtain aside and walked
in. The young man lay stretched out as she had left him about a half hour before,
and he appeared to be asleep. Single-file, they circled his gurney and stood
looking. There was no room to do it any other way.
Roger woke up as Foreman bent over, removing
a penlight from his breast pocket, preparing to gauge pupil reactions. There
was a sharp intake of breath and the thin body curled upon itself in startled agitation.
“Easy there,” Foreman said. “It’s okay. I just need to check you out a bit.”
The dark eyes flitted from one person to
another, and then another, but he did not withdraw further. Colby walked close
to his head and touched his cheek with her fingers. He reached up and wrapped
his own fingers lightly around her wrist. “It’s okay, Roger,”
she said. “They want to help you … find out what’s wrong. You can trust them. This,” she
said pointing to Gregg, “is Dr. Gregory House. And this …” Indicating the man standing with his little flashlight still pointing its beam
toward the ceiling, “is Dr. Eric Foreman.”
Roger nodded warily in the direction of
each man, focusing for an extended moment on House’s awkwardly bent leg and his cane, and bristling at the fact that
he was being stared at like a bug under a microscope. He then let go of Maria
Colby’s wrist and reached his hand upward to pinch the bridge of his nose in a blatantly nervous manner. He did not speak, but allowed Foreman to continue his examination.
Across the room, Gregg House bit down on
his bottom lip, flinched in discomfort and looked for somewhere to sit down. The
pain in his leg was accelerating and he needed to be off it. At the moment, he
was unable to focus on anything else. There was nothing nearby, however, which
could readily accommodate him, and he began to hop clumsily in order to lessen the weight it had to support. He limped closer to the gurney and leaned on it for a moment, hands pressing hard on the edge, letting
his cane slide onto his wrist as he did so.
Colby saw his distress and hurried out
through the curtain to find him a stool to sit on. For a moment, there was dead
silence. Foreman sheathed his penlight and moved in House’s direction,
and the man on the gurney frowned with compassion and reached out his fingers to touch Gregg’s hand where it clenched
the edge of the metal frame. “You’re hurt,” he observed in
a small voice.
House frowned, uncomfortable with his disability
becoming the center of attention, but at the moment quite unable to do anything about it.
He sighed and closed his eyes. “Yes I am …” he said
“I’m sorry. I hate it when someone is in pain the way you are …”
The room became very quiet. Gregg hung onto the gurney desperately and gritted his teeth as the pain mounted. He could feel himself becoming lightheaded. “God damn
it! I think I’m going to pass out …”
clatter of wobbly office-chair wheels broke the silence of the moment as Maria Colby rushed through the curtain with the chair
from the nurse’s station. Gentle hands eased House down into it and he
groaned and shuddered as his weight came off the leg. His hands went to his thigh
in an effort to quiet the misery.
Roger was sitting up watching, distress
marring his sharply chiseled features. Both of his emaciated legs dangled over
the edge of his perch, and his body leaned forward, a hand reaching toward the doctor slumped painfully in the old office
chair. “Dr. House?”
Gregg didn’t answer immediately. He was quite incapable.
Foreman and Colby stood on either side
of Gregg, nothing they could do for him at that moment except be there if he needed them.
Colby decided to stand by, and if he couldn’t recover by himself … then … Demerol!
Roger leaned forward a little more. “Dr. House? … House?”
Gregg looked up quickly, his senses
suddenly assaulted with a dawning realization. Profound astonishment transformed
his paled features with the ultimate in distractions.
*NO! Can’t be!*
He found himself staring intently for the
first time into the face of a younger, darker, thinner version of his best friend, James Wilson. Even the timbre of their two voices was chillingly similar:
was the last place I saw him nine years ago. I don’t even know if he’s
This young man was Wilson’s brother! Had the others noticed the similarity? He
thought not. They were both watching him,
and they did not know Wilson as intimately as he did! He combed all emotion
from his face and looked down and away. They must not know until he had a chance
to talk to Wilson … his Wilson.
House reached into his jacket pocket for
his Vicodin bottle. He was shaking, not all of it from the misery in his leg. He tipped two of them into his palm, swallowed them dry. He leaned back in the chair to wait for the relief from pain to begin.
The others were helpless and very quiet
as they saw tears glisten at the corners of his eyes and slide onto his face. Both
doctors, however, had the wrong idea. These tears were not because of the agony
in his leg. Rather, they were a catharsis.
A cleansing. But they also distracted Foreman and Colby from his obvious
discovery. A good thing, right?
After a time, he sat forward slowly. The Vicodin were doing their job. The
physical pain was easing. Colby and Foreman could relax. But he could not tell them the truth. He had to see Wilson
first. He knew he was the only person Wilson had ever told about his brother. Even within the stilted pride of his “bastardness”, he could never break
this confidence with Wilson.
Gregg leaned further forward in the chair
and wrapped both hands gingerly about his thigh. He looked up into the concerned
face of Roger, the homeless young man, who still stared with acute distress in his face.
“It’s getting better now. I’m fine.”
Two minutes later, his pager went
off. He checked the number.
James had been taken to his room.
Gregory House lingered anxiously by Wilson’s
bedside. Evening was slipping silently over the city, and it was quite dark outside
the building. Eastern Standard Time had pulled the curtain down on New Jersey
by 6:30 p.m., and the hospital’s soothing indirect lighting bathed everything from the lobby to the roof-access stairway
with a golden glow. Wilson slept peacefully in this semi-private room on the
third floor. The empty bed across from him was made up as tight as a basic airman’s
cot. A horse shoe dropped in the middle of it would probably bounce up and ricochet off the ceiling. The blinds at the room’s two windows were shuttered tightly and the area was enveloped in shadow. The tall wheeled table that extended over the opposite side of Wilson’s
bed held the usual accumulation found in every hospital room in the world. There
was the ubiquitous generic box of tissues, a kidney-shaped plastic dish, a sterile glass with accompanying straw encased in
a plastic bag, and a tall thin Thermos of ice water.
As Cuddy had assured him earlier,
Gregg knew Wilson was doing well. They had stemmed the progression of infection
quickly, just before it got to his kidneys and caused more serious problems. James
breathed easier, looking a little pale, a little tired, but not pained. He was
free of all apparatus except the pulse-ox on his right index finger and an intravenous feed taped firmly into place on the
back of his left hand. His hand rested in a curled position on his stomach, and
to Gregg it looked quite uncomfortable. They’d changed him into one of
their skimpy hospital gowns and then covered him modestly to the waist with a sheet.
Every hospital he’d ever visited did that, House thought. It seemed
as contrived as a statement of competency; a policy instituted with great pride and maintained by armed guards and a proof
of dedicated consistency.
Hospital irony! It made him smile. Hospitals were full of ironies!
Right now, House was feeling somewhat squirmy,
unsettled and needy. He didn’t like that about himself, but the feeling
would not leave. In some ways this sensation rivaled the constant burning and
deep muscular ache in his leg. And it was just as annoying. As he sat in the room’s visitor’s chair looking in concern into his best friend’s face,
the compulsion to reach up and touch Wilson seemed to grow with each passing minute.
Tactile contact was sometimes merely a moment’s whim. At other times,
like now, it became so insistent that the feeling of need wanted to lift his hand of its own volition to make contact and
prove once and for all that James was indeed, still there. And who knew …
the laying on of hands might benefit Wilson in his dream world somehow, just as it would reassure Gregg House within his own
illusory, introspective world: his dark, sore, deeply suppressed soul.
House gave in. His fingers crept onto the edge of the bed and touched the warm hand where the line for the pulse-ox disappeared
beneath the sheet. Wilson’s own fingers moved slightly, giving mute testimony
to his unconscious awareness of the presence he could not yet define. House’s
hand lingered, feeling the reality of that other life which had, over time, become so important to him. His disturbing case of the jitters dissipated rapidly with the contact, and his body relaxed to the point
that his chin fell to his chest in relief, and he exhaled a sigh which began deep in the soles of his feet. He knew he could now be content to wait until Wilson awoke naturally and discovered him there.
Meanwhile, there was still Roger
House’s mind churned with scenarios. He would break the news to his friend about his brother’s presence here in a
fashion that would not unduly upset James.
yeah? How? Who the hell put you in charge of ‘breaking-the-news-gently’?*
House had never pretended to be a “huggy”-type
guy. Despite his off-the-scale intelligence and innate gift concerning anything
medical, he had no talent whatsoever where “bedside manner” was concerned.
He knew he would muddle through his astounding announcement somehow, but his issues with sensitivity would invariably
throw him for a loop and agitate poor Wilson to the point of apoplexy. He wished
he could palm off the responsibility for this one on one of the Ducklings. It
seemed like a job made to order for Cameron and her “Goody Two-Shoes”
need to cure the world of all ills. The only thing wrong with that was her schoolgirl
compassion which would probably screw it up worse than he would himself with caustic remarks about skinny little Jewish fags. Besides, Cameron was totally unaware of the story of Wilson’s brother. House decided it needed to remain that way unless Wilson gave his consent. Cameron had trouble keeping her mouth shut.
If Roger eventually recovered and declared
his intent to return to society, that was one thing. If he ended up going
back on the streets and breaking his brother’s heart further, then it was quite another.
Gregg remained unsettled about the whole scenario, but it was a responsibility he had to shoulder by himself and in
his own way. However it played out, it would be sobering.
House settled back into the visitor’s
chair to await developments. Wilson slept blissfully close by his side, and the
pain in his leg had scaled back to tolerable levels until time for his next medication.
He had dropped his cane and a clipboard with pages of Roger’s case report on the floor at his feet when he’d
come into this room and levered himself down. Now he picked up both and placed
them in his lap. It was too dim in this corner to read, so he took his cane by
the handle and reached up with it to press the switch of one of the little directional lights in the panel over Wilson’s
head. It came on with a soft click and he used the cane’s rubber tip to
swivel it to a point where the beam illuminated the top page of the evaluation report on “Roger Whoever”. Gregg House began to read.
Two hours previously:
When House and Foreman left Maria Colby
in the ER, House had gone directly back to his office as quickly as his throbbing leg could carry him. Foreman followed closely with a worried look on his face, but House managed to shake him off by pointing
him in the direction of the labs and asking for a detailed evaluation of Roger as soon as he could work one up. Foreman had done so, however reluctantly, suggesting to his boss that he go to his office quickly and …
“rest”. He did not dare be more explicit than that. House had simply given him a withering look and hurried off in the opposite direction.
Gregg sat in front of his computer screen
staring at the medical history of one: Philip R. Wilson, born 3 Jan 71, at Mercer
Medical Center, Trenton, New Jersey, U. S. A.
Being in the unique position of having
impeccable credentials as a renowned diagnostician certainly had its advantages, House thought smugly. His tenure and standings within the AMA gave him carte blanche to pull up the confidential medical files
of almost anyone in the United States. It had taken him approximately three minutes
to find all the information he needed. What he’d found, however, was disturbing. The young man in the emergency room was indeed Wilson’s brother, and his middle
name actually was … “Roger”. As a child, he had been given
all the appropriate inoculations, dental checkups, vision checks, physical examinations required by the state of New Jersey.
(He wore glasses, but they were not in evidence when House had spoken to him. He
would have to ask Colby). The young Master Wilson was physically and mentally
sound up until the age of nine, when for some unknown reason, he had come down with what was eventually diagnosed as infantile
House frowned and stared at this
unsettling information in surprise.
*WHOA! What the hell … ?*
Wilson had never mentioned this!
House read further.
In late 1980, the boy had presented with
all the classic symptoms of a disease which had, supposedly, been eradicated some twenty-odd years before. At that time, children were given the OPV or IPV vaccine for immunity.
Philip (Roger) had received the OPV, as had the others in his class of fourth graders.
Two months later he had fallen ill with fever, headache, fatigue, and general muscle weakness in his legs. Over a span of the next few weeks, that weakness progressed steadily until he was unable to walk.
This necessitated the use of braces and crutches and physical therapy and bed rest.
He did his fifth grade studies from his bedroom with a tutor. He became
lethargic and silent. His appetite diminished and his zest for life simply disappeared.
It was believed that his exposure to the
virus came from playing in a sand pit near a waste dump where children made sand pies and played “Diner”, pretending
to eat them with plastic spoons. It was assumed that Philip had gotten carried
away and actually eaten some of the contaminated soil, perhaps on a dare. He
was the only one of his group of four children who actually got sick. His doctors
agreed that he had spinal polio, characterized by asymmetric paralysis involving the legs.
After the passage of seven months he began to get better again, regaining function very gradually until his body returned
to near-normal status. Even after full recovery, however, Philip (Roger) continued
to experience weakness in his legs. He walked with a slight limp after that.
Philip graduated from high school in 1989. College in 1993. He was intelligent,
but he had become withdrawn, having no interest in anything but hanging with friends.
His poor vision was corrected with lenses, but he seldom wore them. He
let his dark hair grow to unflattering lengths and began staying away from home for longer and longer spans of time, and never
did he allow anyone to know where he went or with whom he associated. Vague suspicions
about his sexuality began to arise. He did not speak of it.
One night he was walking along the street
with his two older brothers when he heard his name called from a distance. He
hurried off, smiling, saying he would return shortly. That was the last time
his family saw him. It was Thanksgiving night, 1996.
Roger had now been missing for nearly ten
House sighed, feeling a twinge of
vague regret. He engaged his computer’s printer and made a hard copy of
the medical history, then deleted the information from his screen. This was private. He folded the printout twice and put it in the same pocket that held his Vicodin bottle.
And while he was thinking about it
He nicked the lid and dumped two
pills into his hand. Tipped his head, took them dry. His leg was calm at the moment. It would be nice to keep it
that way. House leaned back in his chair and lifted a fistful of pant leg until
his bad leg was propped on the desktop. Followed it quickly with the other one
and crossed the good one over the bad. He could probably stay in this position
fifteen minutes or so before he would have to move it to another location.
He wondered what was taking Foreman so
long in the labs, looking over the MRI and CT results … studying the ultrasound.
Leaving no stone unturned in his diagnosis, because House would never let him live it down if he screwed up. House smiled to himself thinking about it. It didn’t
really matter if Foreman got the findings right or not. He already knew what
was wrong with the kid … had known, in fact, ever since he’d read the first two paragraphs of the medical history.
Gregg looked around on his desk for something
with which to occupy himself until he got the report in his hands to pour over the diagnosis and finally force himself to
approach Wilson with it. Maria Colby called him with young Wilson’s room
assignment. He was in 220. House
inquired after Roger’s glasses, but Maria told him there had been none on his person when he’d been brought in. He thanked her briefly and hung up. Now
he waited for Foreman to reappear with the evaluations. Wilson should be waking
up soon, and he needed to be there. His eyes settled on the ubiquitous red tennis
ball. He reached for it and began to turn it ‘round and ‘round in
His phone rang again. It was Foreman. “Got it!” the neurologist said.
House heaved a huge sigh and put
the tennis ball back into its little dish. He lifted his legs down until both
feet were on the floor. The vibration of the desk brought up his screen saver
and it began to scroll across the computer screen.
“Meet me in Wilson’s room! 312 …” He headed for
the elevator which would take him back to the third floor.
Foreman dropped off his lab evaluations
and test results with House in Wilson’s room, made some flimsy excuse and turned tail.
Quickly! House found himself chuckling a little about that.