Wednesday, January 26, 2005

1:16 PM

I'm slouched in the back row of the auditorium. Wilson at my right, Chase at my left, Cameron and Foreman in the row behind me. Cameron and Foreman each have their own reasons for preferring not to sit by me, and that's fine. I'm not here to be their pal.

The case this week had kidney complications, and I know I should be paying attention, seeing as I'm a kidney doctor and all that, but it's a pretty obvious case and there are plenty of other nephrologists to discuss it and, you know, for some strange reason everyone seems happier when I keep my mouth shut. And of course I aim to please. So I stop fighting the distraction and let my mind drift.

And of course it does not drift at all, but instead speeds like a Jet-Ski to exactly the place I did not want it to go: Eileen. Her head on my shoulder. My arms around her. The IV tubing snaking around us both.

That was six years ago. Everything happened six years ago.

I was sitting in bed, in this very hospital. The curtains were open but I couldn't see much -- only a glimpse of the afternoon sky. Somehow the fact it was bright and blue and sunny, with crisp adorable fluffy white clouds, didn't make much of an impression. It had been many days since I'd seen the outside world; it seemed like many years. The outside world was already beginning to seem like a strange, faraway place, a place I knew existed, and where I knew real people lived and people I knew had seen, but that had no real impact on my own life. A place like... oh, I don't know, Monaco. Or Boise.

The exotic outside world had sent an ambassador to me. When I had been admitted and it was plain things were going down the tubes, Wilson had asked whom he should call. But I couldn't think of anyone -- I couldn't think at all.

He quietly, patiently, persisted: "Greg, Greg, your family. What about your mom? Do you want me to call your mom?"

"No!" I croaked, "no -- it's okay--"

"No, Greg, you're sick, you're sick as crap. She needs to know. Do you have her number with you?"


So the afternoon of the next day, when I started coming out of the haze a little, there was my mother. She'd flown in and was staying at my apartment.

But now it was Saturday and my mother was worn out. I was doing a little better, so she'd gone back to my place to rest and pack. She was going to go home the next day.

Of course, "a little better" wasn't saying much. I wasn't clenching my teeth on screams of pain any more -- that's always a good sign-- and I wasn't dumping horrible scary proteins out my kidneys either. But the reason I wasn't clenching my teeth on screams of pain was that my quadriceps muscle had become more of a... a monoceps? a hemiceps? They'd explained it to me but I'd lost track. They'd done an embolectomy, an operation to get the clot out of my artery and restore blood flow to the muscle. Of course, that didn't do much good for the muscle fibers that were already dead, and the muscle fibers that were almost dead just wanted to die in peace, and kicked up a great deal of protest at being disturbed. So they debrided the muscle -- took the dead tissue out and left the remaining viable tissue to do what it could. Maybe I'd get some of it back. A little. Perhaps.

So now I was recovering from the surgery and had finally been transferred from the step-down unit to the regular floor. My nervous system was mourning the loss of the muscle but was being consoled with a continuous infusion of intravenous morphine. I had also been given a little button that connected to the pump. If I had any pain, I just pressed the button and got a top-off. A wonderful thing, PCA, Patient Controlled Analgesia. It's also known as dope-on-a-rope.

And I was dopey indeed. Dopey from the morphine. Dopey because I was weak and exhausted. Dopey for having trusted that stupid orthopedist. (I wasn't quite coherent enough for anger yet.)

Dopey. Frustrated: no matter how often I pushed the button, there was still a dull ache in my thigh (served up with a side of weird annoying tingling!) Vaguely nauseated: not enough to actually barf, but queasy enough that I wasn't interested
in anything to eat or drink. Bored and irritated: it was Saturday, dammit, and the reason I knew it was Saturday was that they were showing football instead of the soaps. But I couldn't even summon the mental energy to follow a football game.

So, to review: dopey, exhausted, frustrated, weak, queasy, bored, irritated, stupid, and oh yes -- newly crippled. And in pain. Unshaven, because my mother hadn't been around to make me. In a hospital gown (not one of those nice wrap-around gowns PPTH has now, it was a thin cotton old-school short-sleeved tie-in-the-back open-in-the-butt hospital-logo johnnie.) Lolling in a hospital bed with the head of the bed up (such a treat to sit up at last.) And if you'd pulled back the blanket to look at my right foot, you would have seen little X's drawn with a Sharpie on my arch and in back of my ankle bone: the places to check the pulses in my feet, to make sure the restored juice flowed still.

Gregory House, M.D.: Physician, faculty member, train wreck.

I'd barely seen or spoken to anyone since morning, when James had brought my mother by for a quick visit. I was getting drowsy and thinking about trying to take a nap when I heard a tentative knock at the door. "Greg?"

I was about to snarl something rude when I realized it was a woman's hand at the door -- and the arm it was connected to was not wearing a white coat.

My stomach lurched as I recognized the voice.

"Greg?" she said again. And then she stepped into the room.

It was Eileen.


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