Sunday, March 20, 2005

3:16 AM

These horror movies are so damn predictable. You see one pale creepy kid with blue lips and an ominous whispery voice, you've seen 'em all. "THEY'RE COMING!" Ya think?

I click off the TV.

I'm slouched in my chair, my head in my hand. I've been parked here for hours, idly glutting myself on whatever's been on. I am so going to pay for this, and if I don't extract myself from this chair soon it's going to be with double interest and a crushing late fee.

I pull myself up and out and limp off to bed.

And my brain flips back to the same movie it's been watching. How predictable. No use fighting anymore.

"Greg, your mom's here."

Several vague thoughts swirled around -- what? she didn't need to come all this way, I'm fine; you didn't need to go to all this trouble; thank you for getting her here -- but none of them could make it through the molasses that was my brain in time to be spoken. All I could manage was something like "Um?"

He looked at me for a long minute, and then walked over to the door. "Mrs. House?"

And there was my mother. James pulled a chair over for her and she sat down by the bed.

"Gregory," she said, and gave me that affectionate, weary, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you smile that I knew as well as my own face.

Wilson stood behind her, his hands on his hips. It occurred to me that he looked worried and angry. "I want to page Taylor to come and talk to your mom."

I nodded; it seemed to be what he expected me to do.

"I'll be right back," he said. "Mrs. House, can I get you anything?"

"Please! Call me Nancy," she said. "I'm okay, but can he have anything?"

"Let me see what's going on first," he said, and left.

"Mom --"

"Shhhhhh. Just rest." She gently laid the back of her hand across my forehead. Dismay flitted across her face. "How are you? Too hot? Too cold?"


She smiled, smoothed my hair a little, and sat back. "Oh, don't worry, I won't embarrass you in front of your friends. How are you feeling? I'm so glad you had James call me. It's a good thing he reached me when he did; another few minutes and I might have missed him, I was getting ready to head out the door."

I had a uncertain sense that it was my turn to say something, but I couldn't form a sentence, couldn't get a thought together. I could only watch dully as my mother's apprehension grew.

"Gregory?" she asked.

She swung around as Wilson entered the room. "Mrs House, this is Dr Taylor, Greg's surgeon."

Taylor opened his mouth to say something, but my mother cut him off. "What's wrong? Why is he acting so strangely? This isn't him. I thought the surgery was successful." Her voice was growing sharp with anxiety; it made me uneasy. She turned to Wilson; Wilson looked pointedly at Taylor.

Taylor started to talk. I tried to follow, but it was too much effort, so I watched my mother's and Wilson's faces instead. My mother was looking baffled and Wilson was looking grim; Taylor must have forgotten there was a layman in the room and had started talking shop with Wilson. His discourse paused at the natural any questions? point; my mother shook her head and looked at Wilson. He shook his head and she said something back at Taylor. Taylor shook her hand again, said something in the please don't hesitate to call me if you have any questions, my team is here tonight and I'll see you in the morning position, and left.

My mother looked wearily over at me and back at Wilson. "I'm sorry, but I didn't understand a word that doctor was saying to me."

He sighed. "It looks like part of Greg's thigh muscle has died, and the dead muscle cells are breaking down. The proteins that made up the cells are getting dumped into his bloodstream as waste and getting filtered through his kidneys. But that's too much protein for his kidneys to handle -- they can't clean it out of his blood fast enough. That's why he's so drowsy -- that and the pain medicine. They moved him here so they could keep a closer eye on him, and they're giving him fluids and medications to help his kidneys. They've also gotten a kidney specialist to monitor his condition."

"He said something about kidney failure. Does that mean..."

Wilson smiled. "No, it just means that his kidneys are having trouble keeping up. It doesn't mean he needs a transplant." Good old Wilson -- no wonder his patients love him so much.

"I know he looks bad right now. I was surprised too, this wasn't how I left him. But I think give him a day, maybe two, and he's going to pull through this just fine. They just need to watch him closely. Once his kidneys start catching up on cleaning all that stuff out of his blood, he's going to clear up quickly."

She looked relieved. "Thank you."

The rest of the evening passed quietly. Wilson got coffee for himself and my mother, and brought a ginger ale on ice for me. My mother bent the straw and held the cup so I could drink. Occasionally I would manage an answer to a direct question, but mostly I lay back and just listened to the pleasant murmur of their conversation. The nurse passed in and out, refreshing the IVs, recording my ins and outs, and nagging me for a pain rating ("hurts" was the best I could do.)

It seemed like they were there for a long time, but I couldn't really tell. They finally left, promising they'd be there first thing in the morning.

Time passed. I woke up. A drink. I wanted a drink.

There was a cup of ice water on the bedside table. I carefully reached over to get it, but misjudged how heavy it was and ended up dropping it into the bed, all over myself. I was too thick-witted to care. In a way it felt good -- it cooled me off a little, and it was easier to pick up an ice cube with my thick fingers than to mess with a spoon.

A nurse came by and asked me if I was comfortable. I thought it over and finally mumbled, "No." But she was already getting sheets and blankets together.

"Dr House, will you turn on your side for me? I want to change this sheet for you."

I heard the words, but I just couldn't move -- I was just too tired. Next thing I knew, there was a pair of hands at each side. The two nurses turned me back and forth, changing the sheets, changing my gown, turning the pillows. When they were done, I found myself lying on my left side, a pillow behind my back -- it felt so good, I hadn't realized how sore my back was getting -- a pillow under my right knee, a pillow under my right arm. I sighed and went straight to sleep.

I spent the night drifting in and out of sleep. When I was awake, I couldn't think, I could only turn my head and gaze at the strange twilight world of the ICU: the dark hallways, the dimmed patient rooms, the tiny pinpoints of red and green lights from the monitors, the nurses's station lit up like a control tower. On my other side, I could glimpse the pink glow of the streetlights through the drawn window blinds. Slowly the streetlights gave way to dawn, the unit lights went up, and a new nurse was introducing herself and I was looking dully back at her. The usual questions; the usual answers; the extreme difficulty pulling them out of my brain: "House.... Hospital... Leg... Hurts."

She talked at me for a while longer, but just listening to her made me tired and I ended up falling asleep before she left the room. I woke up again to see a gaggle of residents. They asked me the same damn questions. I managed to answer them and immediately fell back asleep.


My thumb hurt.

My thumb started hurting again. "Ow," I mumbled, and pulled my hand away.

"Greg!" the voice said again. Some angry person was yelling my name.

My thumb hurt again. It was being pinched. Someone was making my thumb hurt. I yanked my hand away, concentrated, and opened my eyes.

It was Wilson. "Uh," I said, in the most disappointed tone I could muster.

"Greg, wake up," he commanded.

Why was he angry with me? Had I done something? I couldn't remember doing anything.

Wilson was talking again. I looked up and saw he wasn't talking to me. He was talking to a guy in scrubs. I knew who that guy was. The guy started talking, and as he did, I remembered his name. It was Taylor. Taylor... that surgeon guy.

I felt vaguely sorry for Taylor. Wilson had stopped talking, but his eyes looked like they were about to burn two holes through Taylor's face all the way through his skull and ignite the wall behind him. I closed my eyes. My leg hurt, my whole body hurt, and all this anger -- it was more than I wanted to deal with right now.

I woke up again and Wilson was still there. He looked like he'd calmed down a bit. My mother was also there, smiling and offering me a spoonful of Cheerios. Part of me wanted to protest -- loudly -- but it was a very small part, and utterly powerless against the pain, the fatigue, and the proteins sludging up my brain. The only part of my brain that was working was the part that slowly deduced, Food. On a spoon. Open mouth. So I did. Wilson had the decency to go get some coffee instead of staying to watch my mother feed me.

Shortly after breakfast, there was a clatter at the door. The nurse started moving furniture and asked my mother to step out for a little while. They had come to do repeat Doppler studies.

The gel and the pressure weren't nearly as bad this time around, and the noise of the study -- the swish swish of the blood vessels -- was almost soothing. The operator said goodbye and left. The nurse immediately returned and closed the door.

"Dr House, your visitors will be back soon. How about a quick bath?"

She raised the head of the bed and helped me sit forward so she could wash my back. My teeth chattered as I shivered when the water hit. She handed me a washcloth and invited me to wash my face; I stared at it for a while and then slowly dabbed at my nose. She handed me another washcloth and said something about finishing the bath. I took the washcloth in my hand and just stared at it; I simply couldn't process such a complicated task.

She quickly finished the bath. I was too stuporous to be embarrassed. Another nurse came in; more rolling from side to side, even more difficult this time -- it hurt so much to be moved and there was a huge lump in the bed -- but once they were done, the clean sheets, the clean me, felt so good.

"Looks like you're liking that egg crate," said one of the nurses. That was it -- they'd put a thick foam pad on my mattress. I mentally traced my expression -- I was smiling a little -- as I slipped back to sleep.

The morning drifted by. Sometimes I dozed, sometimes I was alert anough to follow my mother's voice as she chitchatted about her work, about my brother and his work, about people we knew.... She gushed a little about James and Debbie (Debbie was Mrs Wilson #2) and how nice their house was and how kind it was of them to come and get her at the airport and put her up last night....

Wilson was there a lot too. Other faces drifted in and out... the nurse, Taylor, Gelb.... I woke up and saw Dr Nussbaum, sitting with my mother and writing something out for her. I managed to croak out his name -- strange how everyone in the room looked up, I wasn't talking to them -- but when he started talking to me, all I could do was look stupidly back at him.

A lunch tray appeared; my mother helped me drink some juice, but I was too tired to eat. Maybe later. Maybe later....

I woke up. Something was wrong.

Something was wrong, and I couldn't figure out what it was, only that I was feeling anxious. I looked weakly around the room and tried to sit up.

A rustle beside me. "House?"

Wilson was there. Wilson was there, I wasn't alone. I still felt nervous, but... protected, somehow.

"House. You okay?"

My thoughts swirled before they finally congealed around a single word. "Yeah."

But something was still wrong. I squinted, searching the room for clues.

Wilson followed my gaze to the empty chair. "Your mom went to get some lunch. She'll be back shortly."

That was it. The puzzle piece snapped into place, and I felt better. "Okay."

Wilson started talking. I was too tired to follow what he was saying, so I just watched his face until I fell asleep again.

At one point I was dimly aware that Pasternak was there, pompously shaking my mother's hand. I feigned sleep before he could start talking at me, and quickly fell back asleep for real.

The day wore on. The stupor wore on. The body aches and the pain in my right leg never really went away. Sometimes the pain was sharp, sometimes burning and tingling, sometimes a dull ache; always a constant companion. I was too stupid to do more than notice it.

I woke up. My mother was talking, but not to me. I followed her voice; she was sitting by the bed, talking on the phone. There was something off about her voice, something false.

I worked hard to pull it together and finally got a word out: "Mom."

She looked up and smiled as she finished her phone call: "Yes. Yes, thanks. I'll let you know when I'm back. Okay, bye." She hung up.

"I was calling some of my students," she said. She started telling me more about her current students and her teaching schedule, but I'd used up my power of concentration. It was too much to say anything, so I just listened to the rise and fall of her voice....

I was just about asleep when I heard the tone of my mother's voice change. She wasn't talking to me any more. The false note was gone; she sounded anxious. "He seemed to be doing better this morning..."

I clutched at wakefulness, but I couldn't hang on -- I heard Wilson starting to speak as I fell back to sleep.

I blinked as I looked around. It was sunny, a splendid fall day, a bright sun in a perfect blue sky. The trees were ablaze with color. And I had the perfect view. I was alone, on the roof of the hospital, wearing a brilliantly clean white coat.

I reached in my pocket and found a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. I lit the cigarette and took a long, long drag. It was so good, so satisfying, it was almost disorienting.

I stood there, alone, enjoying my smoke and my magnificent view and my time alone to think. I felt better than I had in months.

"Greg," said the voice behind me. My stomach leaped -- I knew that voice.

I turned, and sure enough, it was Stacey.

She smiled. I felt my chest tighten as she sauntered towards me across the roof. All I could do was stare. What did this mean?

She came and stood in front of me, fingering the lapel of my lab coat. I took a step back -- I still wasn't sure what I thought about this whole thing, about having her just appear like that.

But I was thinking I liked it.

Two intense, frustrating, amazing years of fun, of sparring, of really hot sex. All right there in Stacey. And she'd come back.

She fingered my lapel again and looked me straight in the eye. I bent down to kiss her. As I straightened up, she gave me that look, lightly brushed my cheek with her fingertips, and gently placed her palms against my chest. I could feel the warmth of her hands through my shirt. My heart pounded.

She smiled again. And then she shoved me backwards over the edge of the roof.

part five


Blogger Sanlin said...

Oy! Dreams, nightmares and that twilight world, somewhere in between, during a hospital stay... Time moves strangely, and slowly, in such environments. A day in a hospital can be like a month just about anywhere else.

And, that's the human mind, for you... It can always craft a 'horror movie' that you *haven't* seen and can't comfortably predict.

I've seen the good and bad faces of nursing, in my day, and the good ones are wonderful for the comfort they provide when a person is in extremis... Little things can make a big difference when your inner fire's burning low...

...just as tiny things can become enormous irritants and sources of pain, like not being able to move or roll over. Or, having electrical feeds, wires and IVs hooked up all over... all the monitoring equipment and such. Thirst, as you've noted, is another one. Hospitals are the kind of place where a soul will find all the different Circles of Hell. Maybe that’s why authors like Stephen King like writing about them…

On a lighter note, your Mom is very sweet. That’s a fortunate thing for the world, because, in this respect, you are, most definitely, your Mother's son.

It's always good to see James in action, too. He’s a faithful, patient, loyal and devoted soul, that one. It’s rare to find someone so very ‘true blue’ and beyond. For all the things that have bedeviled you, it's always good to know there have also constantly been angels, human and otherwise, close by you...


March 20, 2005 10:13 AM  

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