Sunday, May 22, 2005

7:46 PM

James scored a couple of tickets to a minor-league baseball game and invited me to go along. I didn't ask about why I was being asked to go and not Julie; I just made sure I was ready when he told me to be.

It was a great day to go to a game. The drive to Trenton wasn't too bad. We got there a bit on the early side, for which I was silently grateful; if I have to do stairs it's a lot easier without impatient crowds breathing down my neck.

We found our seats and James wandered off in search of something to eat. I bounced my cane in my hand and watched the park fill up. Many of the kids were wearing gigantic T-shirts -- there must have been some kind of promotion going on.

Who was playing today, anyway? I glanced at the program to find out, and then sat there, staring at it: the visiting team was the Harrisburg Senators.

I closed my eyes and sat forward, my forehead on the handle of my cane. Once the sick feeling in my stomach passed, I looked out to the field. Some of the players were throwing the ball around, warming up....

Left field. A broiling hot May afternoon. The annual softball game between the residents: Medicine versus Surgery.

In other words, a chance to socialize, drink beer, play some softball, and celebrate the coming conclusion of the residency year. In my own mind, it was a chance to celebrate making it off of Ogilvie’s rotation without there having been a murder-suicide.

And if you were one of two certain overly competitive senior residents, it was a chance to show off your pitching skills and try to win a battle you’d been fighting since that very first softball game you’d pitched, back in your first year of residency. Which meant that unless you had beer and someone to talk to, or were vitally interested in watching a pitchers’ duel, you were bored out of your mind.

I knew I was. It was the top of the fifth inning, Surgery was at bat, our pitcher was working on a no-hitter, and I was marooned out in left field with nothing to do, as far away from any other human being as our team captain could get me. And I had no beer.

The batter swung and missed: strike one. Cheers from the stands by left field: a crowd of residents, cheering for Medicine. They were getting louder.

Strike two. More yelling. What a bunch of idiots. But if you gave them enough beer, they’d probably be rooting for drying paint.

I started eyeing the stands. Many of the attendings were there; I spotted Rosenthal, my current attending, Komeda, and Norris; I knew Ogilvie was around there somewhere.

I looked again. Someone was climbing around in the stands. I chuckled to myself: it was Dr Ball, looking cool as a cucumber as he worked the crowd, hand in hand with Mrs Ball.

The pitch crossed the plate, the batter didn’t swing, the umpire called a strike, and surgery’s captain came running out. Good Lord, was this game ever going to end?

I started scanning the stand again. Some of the residents were trying to get in touch with their inner hooligan and were yelling toward the dispute at home plate. The effect was kind of pathetic – a bunch of former teachers’ pets, all voted “most likely to succeed” in high school, couldn’t do “lout” very well, especially with the attendings nearby. A knot of medical students were alternately cheering with and laughing at the residents.

I looked more closely. I recognized David Kopp among the med students, and… was that who I thought it was?

The dispute at the plate ended, Surgery’s captain went jogging back to the bench, and the Medicine crowd started to cheer. The girl next to David Kopp raised her head. Sure enough, it was Eileen Abney, and she looked the picture of misery.

I looked back towards the plate as the next batter came up. I found myself tempted to cheer for Surgery just so we’d have something to do. Was that so wrong?

A pitch, a strike. In between pitches, I glanced over to the stands to see if I could catch another glimpse of Eileen. She was holding her head in her hands again. Two more strikes and we were trudging back to our bench.

Surgery’s pitcher made short work of our lineup, and before long we were headed back out to the field. Our pitcher started working on striking out Surgery’s batters, and I started looking back over at the stands. Dr and Mrs Ball were wandering around again.

Two down, one to go. The third batter came up. Strike one – ho hum. And then, for the first time that afternoon, a hit. A flurry of activity around the infield, and the runner was safe on first.

The next batter came up. The pitch, the swing, the crack of the bat, and I was running, running, running, stretching out my arm, feeling the thud of the ball in my glove, throwing the ball to third, standing and watching as the guy on third tagged the runner. The two disappointed runners jogged back to the bench, and we fielders started heading back in ourselves. As I got closer to the stands, some of the spectators started yelling my name in approval. I looked over – a couple of them were standing and holding their beer aloft in tribute, the morons. I caught sight of Eileen again. She was sitting up and looking around. Her eyes met mine, and she suddenly, quickly, smiled.

Back at our bench. We were able to return the favor and wreck the Surgery pitcher’s dream of a no-hitter, but nobody made it across home plate. The third out, and we were headed back out to the field.

The game finally started to pick up in the last inning. Surgery got a couple of runs. I caught Eileen’s eye again as we left the field; she gave me another little smile, but she looked distracted.

By the time I made it up to bat, we had two outs and runners at the corners. I hit a double, but our next batter struck out. Surgery had won.

At last! I skipped the handshakes and high-fives after the game; if the senior residents on the teams wanted to douse each other with beer and be all sticky, that was their business. I was hot and thirsty. I hunted around in the ice buckets and found a couple of lemonades. I drank the first one straight down, opened the second one, and carried it with me over to the picnic tables. Once I’d wolfed down a couple of brownies, I started to look around. The spectators and the rest of the players were starting to make their way over to the picnic tables, following the scent of cooking meat; the attendings and residents on grill detail were ready for them, setting out the first trays of hot dogs and hamburgers while the next batches hit the grill.

I drifted over to join the line. To my surprise, I was invited to join a table; soon I was listening to a noisy conversation about fellowships and baseball while I tucked into my hamburger, fried chicken, baked beans, chips and seven-layer dip, deviled eggs, Indian rice redolent of garlic and cumin and turmeric, brownies, and a grasshopper cookie bar thing. People were coming and going: latecomers sitting down, early birds going back for seconds, a few kids running around….

Things had finally settled down. I was sort of paying attention to the guy at my right; he was talking about golf and I was wondering if perhaps I could stand being part of a foursome with him without wrapping a club around my neck from boredom. I was paying a bit more attention to my almost-empty lemonade, and trying to decide whether or not I wanted a beer.

There was a gaggle of med students seated at the next table, and out of the corner of my eye I saw them shoving over to make room for someone. I glanced over – why so late? – and was surprised to see David Kopp, a beer in one hand and a fresh plate in the other, sitting down.

But where was the little diva? She’d been at the game…. It looked like one of Kopp’s classmates was asking him the same question.

“I had to take her home,” Kopp explained. “She said she wasn’t feeling well. Hey, where’d you get that?”

His classmates started filling him in on the brownie selection and the afternoon’s gossip. I started swirling the last slosh of lemonade in the bottle; suddenly I felt very uneasy.

I stood up abruptly and only then realized that the guy on my right had still been talking to me. “House?” he asked.

“Sorry,” I said absently. “I – I’ll be right back.”

I threw my plate away and headed over to the keg. As I sipped my beer, I started reviewing my options. What had just happened? Was I tired, did I just want to go home? I did want to leave. But I’d done very little mixing – ugh, what a chore – and I needed to at least finish this golf conversation before I left.

I started trudging back to the picnic shelter and slowly let myself recognize what had just happened for what it was: disappointment and anger. Disappointment that I wouldn’t get the chance to tease Eileen, and anger at myself for missing the opportunity, and anger at the stupid irrelevant clinical part of my brain for going straight to reviewing the symptoms of heatstroke.

And my disappointment and anger was stupid and irrelevant, too. She was just a scut monkey’s kid girlfriend, she’d probably be leaving for the summer any day now, and I would never see her again. I stopped and thought about it. I was never going to see her again.

I took another sip of beer and headed back to the picnic shelter. I threw the scut monkeys a threatening look and sat back down.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “So when were you thinking about going…?”

James elbowed me in the shoulder. "Here." I came to and took one of the cardboard trays out of his hands. He sat down and took a sip of his beer. We sat, side by side, watching the seats fill up as the announcer prattled on. Finally there was some bustle on the infield -- they were setting up a microphone. A couple of guys came out with a local chanteuse.

"Ladies and gentlemen, our National Anthem...."


Anonymous Baylink said...


More Eileen!!




May 23, 2005 2:14 PM  
Blogger Sanlin said...

Well, it's difficult to compete with baylink's cogent and visceral response. LOL But, I'll *try.* ;-)

I'm glad you still enjoy baseball. Given your druthers and another life, I know you'd rather be *playing* the game than watching it. There's still something smoothly athletic in the way you carry yourself and the rather nice package ;-) you keep tucked beneath those black T-shirts. Folks don't generally get arms like you have without knowing their way around gym equipment or serious physical exercise.

Then, again, it could be all that cane twirling you do. ;-) It's funny, but watching how you handle your cane (and sometimes which cane you choose) has become a bellwether to your moods. I've heard it compared to the tail of a cat, and that may not be far off... LOL Head-on-cane is a thinking pose (especially when a case is proving especially tricky or hard to solve) or something you do when dealing with pain--even when it's painful *memories.* Word to the wise: if you still sit in on a game of poker, from time to time, don't play with your cane during the game... It's a definite 'tell.'

Ah... a fielder. That's where I used to get stuck when I played, eons ago. LOL Waiting for something to happen most of the game and then thinking "oh, crap!" when it finally *did.* LOL It's a great game, though. But its place is after hockey and curling, of course, because I'm a Canadian. LOL ;-) We also have a strange, irresistible and indescribable attraction to figure skating... We're odd, that way, on this side of the border. ;-)

Thank goodness you made it through the rotation with Ogilvie without grabbing some scalpels and deciding to "settle this like doctors." LOL *blows giant raspberry at fading memory of Ogilvie* Hearing about Dr. Ball produces warm n' fuzzy feelings, while Ogilvie... does not. LOL

Aha... It’s the return of Eileen. :-) She’s always a welcome addition. But, not feeling well--and Kopp’s typical obliviousness to that fact.

Knowing at least a little bit about who you are, now, it's fascinating (dare I say *enjoyable*?) getting to see who you *were* as a young man. What was once early potential has matured into a realization of greatness by those around you. Although, seeing and acknowledging your *own* qualities may be one of the few areas where you're often as *blind* as young Mr. Kopp was then, all those years ago.

There's something about the ice cream days of youth that stays tangible, like smacking your palm into creased leather, listening to the buzz of the crowd like the hum of insects, smelling the sweet *green* that can only be fresh-cut grass and waiting for the *crack* of bat against ball... squinting up into the bright blue of a high summer sky and waiting to snag that elusive prize. Years later, I think some of us are *still* waiting for that ball to descend and the cheer of the crowd.


May 24, 2005 4:05 PM  
Blogger LisaCuddy said...

Dr. House, you were supposed to be in the clinic two hours ago!! Your patient has been waiting since 11:30 this morning!!! Please page Dr. Cuddy at:

April 22, 2006 3:38 PM  

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