Back to the present:
It was quiet as a tomb on third floor east. Almost. Only the intermittent papery
rustle from slow-turning pages broke the silence. Still no one in the second
bed. A nurse stuck her head in and looked around, but withdrew quickly like a
startled turtle into its shell when she saw who was sitting in the visitor’s chair.
No one asks for grief on purpose!
House turned the pages one by one, reading
and confirming the evaluations Foreman had worked out on their patient, Philip R. Wilson.
“Roger”. Foreman’s diagnosis was right on the money. House had had the problem figured out two hours earlier, but he had to give his minion
due credit. Foreman’s work had been thorough and accurate. House wondered what method Foreman might have employed that had brought him to this conclusion. He was becoming a formidable and competent doctor. He would
never hear that from House though!
Carefully, Gregg shifted his position in
the chair, moving his shoulders slightly to the left in order to hold the clipboard directly under the beam of light. It was getting darker, evening turning into night, and the hospital was quieting down. Visiting hours were just over, and only a few straggling footfalls still echoed in
the corridor. House looked up and around, working the kinks out of his neck and
letting his gaze fall with affection on the sleeping man on the bed. Wilson looked
peaceful, his face smooth and unlined, his mouth relaxed and his baby fine hair falling about his head like a halo. Again! House had noticed this outward sign of nature’s
whimsy before. He smiled at the ceiling for no reason for a few seconds, worked
the last few kinks out of his neck, shifted his behind on the chair a tad, and returned to his perusal of the medical evaluation.
House now knew Roger was suffering from
PPS: Post Polio Syndrome. He’d
had the disease as a child, but had recovered and his life had gone on almost normally from there. But now as an adult, the virus had struck again, causing the degeneration of individual nerve terminals
in the motor units that remained after the initial illness. The virus had taken
down specific neurons in the brainstem and the anterior horn cells of the spinal cord.
Years of wear and tear on the already damaged cells had broken them down and caused serious muscle weakness and further
deterioration. Independent studies showed that the weakness of PPS is a slowly
progressing condition marked by periods of stability followed by new declines in the ability to carry out day to day activities.
Roger would need to be introduced to slow,
easy exercises to increase his muscle strength. House decided to start him on
an intravenous immunoglobin to reduce pain and increase his endurance. He would
need to be monitored closely for awhile, but he could probably achieve another recovery if he worked at it. A sea change in lifestyle would also be absolutely necessary, and House wondered what Roger would think
about that. He would definitely need a wheelchair and crutches for awhile, and
perhaps graduate to a cane as he progressed. Whether he would ever walk “normally”
again was as iffy as the flip of a coin.
House lowered the clipboard back to the
floor and shifted in the chair one more time. He would soon need to get up and
move about. His leg was waking up and preparing to throw a tantrum. He dug for a Vicodin and swallowed it quickly. On the bed,
Wilson showed signs of waking also.
Gregg grasped his cane and flicked off
the little light on the panel. If Wilson moved more than a few inches to the
right, the beam would be directly in his eyes. The light winked off and House
leaned forward, flinching slightly at the pull of damaged muscles. On the
bed, Wilson’s head lolled to the left, then back to the right, and the movement brought with it a return to consciousness
as his brown eyes opened, slowly focused and he looked around. To his immediate
right was that familiar dark tousled head leaning near him, and a pair of tired blue eyes and a thin mouth smiling foolishly.
Wilson smiled back. “Hey, House …” His voice was cracked
House felt uncharacteristically giddy. His friend was back. “Hey yourself,
Buckaroo!” He held up a hand in front of his face and wiggled the fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Wilson rolled his eyes.
… he’s fine!*
“All of them.”
“Can’t you give your doctor
a straight answer?” House was on his feet now, a little unsteady without
his cane, but circling to the other side of the bed to scoop up the sterile water glass from the wheeled table and tear off
its plastic bag.
Wilson watched him as he thumbed the bag
in the general direction of a lined waste basket, picked up the Thermos and poured half a glass of cold water. “And why is it important for me to give you a straight answer?
I so seldom get one from you.”
House leaned over the bed and aimed the
straw in the approximate location of his friend’s lips. “Because
you’re in the hospital bed and I’m not … that’s why. Here
“Crank the damn bed up first, will
you? The last time I drank anything lying down, I was too damned drunk to sit
House grinned. “Yeah, I remember …” He pulled the
control box away from where it lay crammed against the mattress and pushed the “up” button, watching as it slowly
tilted the head of the bed all the way to a sitting position.
Wilson stretched his neck to one side,
then the other, loosening it up. He put the straw in his mouth, took a few swallows
and reached to pluck the glass from House’s hand. Their fingers touched
fractionally and the pulse-ox bumped Gregg’s middle finger. Their eyes
met above the contact. “How are you doing, House?” Wilson asked softly. “Come back over here and sit down
before you fall down.”
House squinted one eye and wrinkled his
nose in clownish disdain, but hobbled back around the bed and lowered himself again into the visitor’s chair. “Even in a hospital bed you can’t let it go, can you?
Still looking out for the cripple …”
“Somebody has to. You won’t!” Wilson leaned forward and placed
the water glass back on the table. He pulled the pulse-ox off his finger and
dropped it onto the sheet. “Call Cuddy, will you? Tell her I want out of here. I feel fine, and it’s senseless
for me to take up bed space when I don’t need it. You can get this IV out
of my hand too, if you want.” The pulse box alarm began to beep annoyingly
with nothing attached to it.
House cocked his head and looked up doubtfully
from beneath shaggy brows. “Who died and left you boss?” He followed the electrical line with his fingers and pulled out the plug with a backward flip that
reminded Wilson of a kid with a worn-out casting rod.
“Nobody. I’m my own boss.”
“Not today you’re not. Do you have any idea what time it is?”
Wilson looked around, only now beginning
to discover it was no longer daylight, and it had been hours since he’d ended up flat on his back. His voice lowered in a moment’s embarrassment at the realization.
“How long have I been out?”
“It’s almost nine at night,
so you’ve just slept around the clock. We pumped you full of enough antibiotics
to choke a mule, and you’re stuck here until morning. At least. My call! You can’t pin it on Cuddy. Even Party Pants has a life. She went home hours ago.”
Wilson frowned. “Who?”
“Never mind. Just get it through your head that you’re not going anywhere until at least tomorrow morning! You had a urinary tract infection, and it just missed involving your kidneys. So the IV stays in and you get to eat hospital baby food and Jello!”
Wilson sighed and leaned back again. “Oh joy. Ampicillin?”
“Uh huh, and I won’t even go
into what else …” The grin reappeared, and Wilson had a distinct
feeling he didn’t want to know.
“I need to go to the john,”
“That’s a good thing …
but I’m pretty sure you’re going to need my help.”
Wilson made a wry face and glared without
saying anything. The look on his face was enough to get his thoughts across very
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,”
House complained, although he didn’t argue further. He reached over and
waggled his fingers in Wilson’s face. “Hand me the control box.”
“So I can call a nurse to get in
here and go along with you, pecker head! If you won’t let me go along,
fine, but you’re not walking over there by yourself. One of the LPNs can
push your IV pole for you and hold your cute little nightie closed over your cute little bare behind … you’ll
have enough to worry about just getting your own sorry ass in there and plunked down on the hole!”
Wilson crunched up his face, but handed
the unit across to House’s grasp reluctantly. “Jeez! You make it sound so attractive! And who says I need to plunk
down on the hole?”
House smiled sadly. “You’re forgetting how much mileage I’ve had in hospital beds. Be happy you don’t have to screw around getting out of a wheelchair to take a shit … or fumble
around with crutches just to get your fly unzipped.” He quieted suddenly,
his face losing its levity; going serious. He punched the call button.
Wilson’s brown eyes went liquid and
his head dropped. “Aww … House … don’t …”
Gregg shook his head quickly. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to make it a sob story.”
An LPN in light blue scrubs appeared
at the door and stuck his head inside. “Everything okay in here?”
he asked with a questioning look around.
“Could you escort Dr. Wilson to the
rest room? He doesn’t trust me!”
The man strode to the bed and stood at
Wilson’s side as he prepared to get up. “Sure, Dr. House,”
he said. “Feeling better, Dr. Wilson?”
James nodded. “Much. Thanks, Joe.” He turned his body and swung both legs over the edge. The
LPN picked up a pair of paper slippers and fitted them onto Wilson’s feet. From
beneath the bed, he pulled a light four-footed stool and placed it at the bedside.
“Hang onto my shoulder and step down. Easy … Do you feel light
Wilson shook his head. “No. Just grab the IV pole, will you? I’m okay.”
Still sitting nervously in the visitor’s
chair, Gregg House watched Wilson’s first foray to the rest room. If his
friend was able to urinate normally, then he was certainly well on his way to recovery.
If not … He did not want to think about that. He watched the slow procession to the other side of the room to the rest room alcove, and had to snicker
to himself as Joe Wallace, the diminutive LPN, did indeed pinch the loose ends of the hospital gown closed over James Wilson’s
skinny bare butt.
When the door hissed shut behind
them, House pushed himself to his feet after grabbing his cane off the floor, and began to circle the room. The temper tantrum his leg had begun awhile ago was now in full force and he could not sit still. He figured he had about two minutes to limber up before they came back out of the
bathroom and caught him giving in to his discomfort. He debated whether or not
to take another pill, knowing it was much too soon. If he didn’t, the pain
would certainly betray him because Wilson was thoroughly familiar with all his methods of distraction when it got this bad. He was tired and a little shaky from not eating all day, and the problem he faced
in revealing the discovery of Wilson’s younger brother gnawed at him and worried him because he did not want to screw
House paused beside the empty bed
across from Wilson’s, and then shifted his weight to the left. He let his
right knee go slack until the toe of his sneaker was barely touching the floor. He
planted the cane at his right hip and his left hand squarely on the frame of the bed and stood that way with his chin dipped
almost to his chest. The action stretched the muscles at the back of his neck
and in his shoulders and he felt a little better.
By the time Joe Wallace escorted Wilson
back out of the bathroom, Gregg had returned to the visitor’s chair, still sucking on a fresh Vicodin and twirling his
cane in his right hand. His leg had eased up, and his back and shoulders were
ready for another round.
Wilson’s face held a look of triumph
and he was walking a little straighter. He and Joe were chuckling at some private
joke as they moved closer to the side of the bed. Joe placed the IV pole where
it belonged and assisted Wilson back up onto his perch. In accordance with his
training, Joe fluffed the pillow and when Wilson was settled again, he pulled the sheet precisely to waist level and turned
it down one turn. Neatly. Gregg
hid a snicker behind the index and middle fingers of his left hand. Wilson looked
at him quizzically, but House ignored him.
After Joe had left, Wilson looked at his
friend and muttered, “… and I didn’t have to ‘plunk down
on the hole’, in case anyone is interested.”
House snorted into his hand and let his
cane drop to the floor. “’Anyone’
… is not!”
Gregg called down to the coffee shop near
the lobby and asked for coffee and donuts for himself; ginger ale and a cup of pudding for Wilson. He was ravenous, and would much rather scarf some pizza or Chinese.
Wilson, however, was not ready for those. When the order arrived they
made jokes about steak and potatoes, but made quick work of the meager fare.
As the night progressed, Wilson noticed
that Gregg House was beginning to retreat more and more into reticence, sitting with eyes darting furtively, face downcast. Wilson misunderstood the reason for his friend’s sudden change in demeanor. After too many minutes of awkward
silence, he could let it alone no longer. “House?”
The blue eyes lifted reluctantly from beneath
hooded lids. Gregg did not speak, just sat and studied his friend’s face
for a lingering moment before lifting his chin in a silent questioning motion.
Wilson looked worried. “What’s wrong? Why the hell don’t you go
back to my office and get some sleep?! You’re so tired it scares me, and
I can see it in your eyes that you’re really hurting! I’m fine, and
it’s not as though you need to baby-sit me through the night …”
“It’s not that.” His voice was so low that Wilson had to strain to hear him.
Gregg’s hand went to his face, scrubbing
through the rough expanse of beard. He’d dreaded this moment all day, but
now it was here and there could be no more stalling. At last he heaved a deep
breath and met James’ eyes steadily with his own.
to fish or cut bait …*
“Tell me about Philip,” he
said, purposely keeping his voice low.
Wilson frowned. “What?”
“Tell me about Philip. Roger. Please.”
Wilson’s eyes widened to saucers
at the same moment his mouth dropped open. “Do you mean … as in my
brother? How do you know about Roger? I
never mentioned his name to anyone … not even you. What about him? Tell me why you want to know! Have
you heard something about him? … of him?” Wilson’s breathing became audible.
Gregg looked up and saw the raw emotion
spark the brown eyes; listened to the ragged edge that came into his friend’s voice.
He watched tears spring to the surface and overflow. He was not sure he
could handle this. He heaved himself out of the chair and hobbled over to the
bed. Then Wilson was in his embrace and they were grasping each other fiercely.
“He’s here, Jimmy … Roger, your brother … is here.”
“’Here?’ You mean … in this hospital?”
“But how? Are you sure it’s Roger? Is he all right? Did he ask for me? House! Tell me!”
“He came in by ambulance this
morning. Cuddy and the ducks were going over his case file when you keeled over. You had no way of knowing, and they still have no idea who he is. He’s not all right, but with some care and a few helpings of roast beef, corn on the cob and mashed
potatoes and gravy, he should be much better.”
“Can I go to him? Now? And how do you know for certain it’s
my brother? How did he know where I am?”
The questions were coming faster than House could answer them.
“Whoa … whoa … whoa … If you slow down, I’ll tell you all I know … and no, you can’t
go see him tonight. He’s in the ward on the second floor … and they
have him sedated.” House stumbled on his feet suddenly, and if the two
of them hadn’t been holding each other so tightly, he might have gone down in a heap beside the bed.
Wilson made a one-handed grab for Gregg’s
shoulder, dragging his needle-imprisoned hand awkwardly across the surface of the bed behind him. Together they steadied each other. “House! Oh God, I’m so sorry … your leg …”
He slid around in the bed, pulling his IV line out of the way, wincing slightly.
“Can you get up on the bed beside me? Are you able? Oh God, are you all right? I need you with me … I need
you to hold me … and I need to know about Roger …” Wilson’s
voice was breaking again and House knew he had not yet fit his mind around the news he’d just received.
House fumbled for the stool beneath the
bed. He drew it out, steadied himself with both hands on the mattress and levered
his body upward and onto it. From there it was easier to turn and fall back on
the pillows beside Wilson. His leg was still bothersome, but he ignored it with
the effort to achieve a more successful end result. He clenched his teeth and
pressed both hands down on the thigh, slowly easing its throb and stemming the beginnings of muscle spasm.
Wilson watched helplessly. He could do little as long as the IV dragged at his hand. When House finally straightened, James leaned closer until they sat shoulder
to shoulder on the bed. House stretched out his arm and laid it across Wilson’s
back, pulling the shorter man into a shy embrace. At one time, the gesture would
have been awkward and impossible for him. Gregg could not even have considered it. But
now it was more familiar and a little easier. Their close proximity was almost
as good as an extra dose of Vicodin, and both men relaxed into it. House cleared
his throat noisily.
“Now as I was saying before we were
so rudely interrupted … what was I saying?”
Wilson followed his friend’s lead,
understanding Gregg’s need to make jokes in the wake of any incident with his leg.
“Wasn’t it something about my little brother whom I have not seen or heard from in almost ten years …
“Yeah … well … not only
did you never tell me his name, but you didn’t tell me he had polio when he was a kid either.”
“It never came up. We only talked about him briefly the night Victoria died … and then we never spoke of him again. I thought he was probably dead.”
“He’s very much alive. He’s homeless. He’s suffering
from malnutrition and exposure. And he has PPS.
He can’t walk.”
“Post Polio Syndrome? That’s when the virus comes back in an adult who had polio as a child. That’s so rare these days. How hard did it hit him? Can you tell? And how did you figure
out he was my brother? Does everyone know?”
“Slow down, Buckaroo!” House admonished. “One question
at a time.” Gregg clasped Wilson’s shoulder a little tighter in reassurance,
knowing quite suddenly that he wanted to talk about Philip … Roger … wanted it very much, and that was because
it would please Wilson and give him comfort for his soul. Gregg wanted to do
this for his friend; for this more than friend.
He took a deep breath and whistled it out between his teeth, shaking off some of the bone-deep fatigue that had been
settling into his body.
“I talked to Maria Colby in ER. He came in down there by police ambulance after he fainted trying to cross the street
downtown. They bathed him, cleaned him up and started him on IVs and nutrients. When Foreman and I went in to see him, he had no idea who he was or how he got there. All he knew was that his friends called him ‘Roger’. He was in a lot of pain. Knees, hips, back …
“The minute I saw him, I knew who
he was. Nobody else has seen it yet, but they probably will before long. The two of you have the same eyes, same shape to your noses and the same thick hair. I saw Colby looking at him a little puzzled from time to time, but I don’t think
she’s put it together yet. She will though.
It went right over Foreman’s head, but then he doesn’t look for things like that. To him, all us ‘whities look alike! Roger is just another
‘John Doe’ … or ‘Roger Doe’ as the case may be.”
Wilson looked wide-eyed into House’s
face, scandalized, but House paid no attention. James’ eyes were still
moist and red. Gregg reached his hand to the wheeled table and pulled a tissue
out of the box to hand it across. “Here,” he said. “For cryin’ out loud, wipe your snotty nose!”
Wilson took the tissues and performed the
requested action. He was smiling through his tears in spite of himself. “You know, House, when you latch onto something, you tend to hang on like a
grinned with relief to see his friend feeling better. “Yeah, I know …
Foreman’s going to get me for that one if I ever let him find out about it. I
just didn’t want you wiping snot all over my shirt.”
“Eww …” Wilson leaned his head onto House’s shoulder and sniffed.
“How did you find out Rodge had polio when he was a kid?”’
“Yeah. I’m the only one who ever called him Roger. The rest
of the family always called him Philip. So did his friends from the time he was
little. Actually, it’s kind of nice that he still thinks of himself as
Roger. So how … ?”
“… did I know he had polio? Right. Well, I went to one of the ‘Dot
Gov’ websites, pulled up all the Wilson Family medical records … and ‘Bingo’! Guess what! There you all were … lined up like tin cans
on a fence row for me to take pot-shots.”
“You used your AMA influence to pull
up private med records?”
“Yeah. So what? I do it all the time.
It gave me all the information I needed to find out what was wrong with Roger … I would have figured it out eventually,
even if they hadn’t given him that extensive battery of tests. Now
he’s being treated, and if he has the balls to stick with it, I think they can get him on his feet again. He may have to join my ‘fucked-up’ club and use a cane the rest of his life, but he should
be able to shake the wheelchair and crutches within a couple of months.” Gregg’s
voice stopped abruptly when he realized Wilson was weeping silently again.
House reached into his jacket pocket and
rummaged around for a moment, finally drew out the folded sheets of hard copy he’d shoved in there earlier in the day: Roger’s confidential medical report. He
unfolded the papers and handed them across to Wilson, watching his friend’s face for reactions. Wilson took the papers
with wide-eyed astonishment. He wiped his eyes on the shoulder of his hospital
gown and scanned the report carefully; folded it again and handed it back. “Keep
it for me, will you?”
“Sure,” House replied,
and stuffed the report back into his jacket pocket. He tightened his arm around
the narrow shoulders for the second time, feeling fiercely protective. “Lot
of stuff to swallow right after waking up in a hospital bed, isn’t it?”
Wilson nodded against him. “Yeah. Didn’t mean to blubber … but I can
hardly wait to see him. I wonder if he’ll recognize me. Does the family know?”
“Sorry … but he probably won’t
know you. He’s doesn’t even know who he is … or what he is,
or where he comes from. He doesn’t even seem to care. Right now I ‘m sure I’m the only one so far who knows that … and I’m not tellin’. I think that spreading the word is pretty much up to you. Besides, Cuddy doesn’t know yet. Nor do the ducklings.
It’s kind of private information, and I’ll keep it that way ‘til you’re good and ready to tell people
… if they don’t figure it out for themselves before then. You two
do resemble one another a lot … at least to someone who knows how to look. Besides,
I’m one up on everybody else. I’m the only one you told that he even
“Oh God, House … I don’t
deserve to have a friend like you …”
House cleared his throat and wrinkled his
nose. “Humnph!” He snorted. “Well yeah … that’s true.
You don’t deserve me! Why
the hell do you think I steal your lunch off your plate … make you buy the beer and the pizza and the Chinese?
do you think I make you haul my ass around in your car? And why do you think
I insist that you keep checking up on the cripple, and ask me how I’m feeling at least fifty times a day?
“Well …. Phfffft! Guess what!? I think I can probably make you keep paying for
not deserving me for the rest of your natural life!”
Wilson rolled his eyes.
They laughed together for the first time
in many hours.