Friday, January 06, 2006

6:28 PM

A note from your author:

House has been reminiscing here and there about Eileen, a woman who came unexpectedly
to visit him in the hospital after the infarction. (There's a complete list of Eileen chapters in the right sidebar.) He'd met Eileen during his residency and found himself interested in her. Things were complicated, though, for House was... well, House, and the life of a resident is not easy. Eileen was significantly younger and -- worst of all -- was dating a medical student whom House was supervising at the time.

They bumped into each other a few times that spring, but House didn't see Eileen again until a November afternoon when their paths crossed again. Eileen has just broken up with her med student and had found herself without a way out of town for Christmas. House offered her a lift. He had his own issues at the time and wasn't looking forward to his own visit home, so he was pleased when Eileen ended up accepting the ride, and even more pleased when Eileen promised to get back in touch after the holidays....

Foreman’s got me doing paperwork again – charting, countersigning orders, tedious crap like that – and he wants this batch ready on Monday. Which of course meant I had to work on it this afternoon. Meanwhile, Cuddy seems to have thought I was supposed to be down in the clinic this afternoon. I was still working on today’s Sudoku (since Foreman dragged me to Grand Rounds, another two hours sucked away there.) So when the phone rang with Cuddy’s extension on the display, I put it through to Foreman’s pager and, while his back was turned, slipped out the office door. The green light in my head went off and I headed over to Wilson’s office; I hung out there for a while, eating his food and watching him work, until his pager went off. “So,” he asked, “am I going to see Foreman’s name on that page, or Cuddy’s?”

“Ooops. Losing my lead here.” I took the rest of the chips and headed over to my coma patient’s room to catch the tail end of General Hospital. It’s weird to see Drake back again, and even weirder to see him twenty years older. I’d always thought of him the way he looked back in the ‘eighties. What's Scorpio going to look like if he really comes back?

See, that’s why class reunions are such a stupid idea. Why show everyone how tired and old you’ve gotten, what lousy taste in spouses you turned out to have ? Let them think of you as they remember you, from back when you were thin and had hair and no wrinkles.

I finished the chips and threw out the wrapper, wondering in passing if housekeeping was surprised to see my lunch trash in that room. Before I got up, I turned around to check the settings on the vent to see if they’d made any progess in weaning him off: none yet.

I got up and headed to the door, but before I left I took a look back at the patient. Sure, the nurses had rearranged him a little bit, but otherwise he was just as he was the last time I’d seen him: a comatose old gomer, his only movement the rise and fall of his chest as the ventilator puffed air through the tube in his neck.

Now, if we could be born old and get younger… Then I could see reunions. Everyone would remember you as being old and bald and wrinkly, and you’d come in and you’d look great. You’d have nothing to lose.

I looked at the guy again and walked on. Once he was young, had hair, had tight skin…. Maybe that’s why people run fifty-year-old photographs in death notices – so that it’s their younger selves that live on in the perfection of memory.

I took the long way back to the office, ignored Foreman as he demanded to know where I’d been, and settled back in to charting. He’d wanted to sign off on it this afternoon, and sat in the conference room for a while hoping his big black brooding presence would pressure me to finish on time.

He finally gave up around six and headed out. He’ll get it Monday morning – 11:55 AM on Monday morning.

It’s been dark for a while now, and the corridor’s getting darker too as the lights in the offices go out. I get up to stretch out a little bit, go to the conference room fridge for a bottle of water, and sit down at my desk again. Wilson should be done soon; I might as well work a little longer. I date the next form with Monday’s date – 9 January 2006 – and put my pen down. I stare at the paper.

9 January….

“So the little girl –”


“Yeah, whatever. So she’s Scorpio’s daughter with Anna, not with Holly.”

“That’s right.”

“And Scorpio’s back now?”

“Yeah. But I don’t think he’s gonna stay, I think he’s going to go back.”

“Back where?”

Australia. To be with Holly.”

I slipped the rubber band around my index cards and gave it an angry snap. “Holly doesn’t need to be hanging out with dingoes and wallabies, she needs to come back here.”

“Yes she does.” The patient’s voice was earnest. He took another spoonful of ice chips and slowly brought it to his mouth. The dialysis machine on his left hummed away.

I snorted and took out a stack of lab printouts. A commercial for disposable diapers came on, and the patient turned back to me. “Are you my doctor?”

“Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“If they ask what I’m doing here, then yes, I’m your doctor. If they want me to write orders, then no, they need to page the R-1.”

The patient didn’t look satisfied. I sighed and tried to spell it out a little more. “I’m on Dr. Hirsch’s team. Dr. Lamont’s the one running your case. That’s the short one who woke you up this morning. I’m just… helping.”

“Helping how?”

“Making sure your chart’s in order.”

He seemed to accept that and turned his attention back to the large wall-mounted television. I kept reviewing the printouts as the commercial break ended. If I kept my head down and looked busy, I could probably make it all the way to the closing credits.

It was Tuesday afternoon. I was surrounded by a dozen patients in recliners, each with an arm stretched out on the armrest and connected by a needle and tubing to a dialysis unit. Their waste-laden blood was slowly drawn out, cleansed, and returned to their bodies. Some of them were dozing; a couple of them were reading; a good number of them were watching TV. The TV watchers knew their broadcast schedules; they were hooked up to the dialyzers three to five hours at a stretch, three times a week. When the dialysis nurses set up for the afternoon shift, they sorted the patients by network: CBS/NBC on one side of the room, ABC on the other.

This Tuesday, I’d lucked out and identified a patient on our service who was getting dialysis, getting it in the afternoon, and sitting on the ABC side. A chart review was an excellent pretext for stopping by and looking busy while I caught up on my real paperwork and watched General Hospital. I’d gotten into it in college and had started following it again the previous summer, when I was on the Nephrology service. Nephro meant a daily visit to the dialysis suite to check on our patients, write orders, and sign charts. A couple of afternoons on the ABC side and I was quickly drawn back into the glamorous world of Holly and… well, the other ones. But mostly Holly.

I finished my stack of papers, put it back in the file folder, and sighed. The unfairness of it all – I was all ready for report, but now I needed to dictate discharge summaries, and there was no way I was going to get away with doing that in the dialysis suite.

Well, what was twenty minutes? I could put it off until the show was over. I stole a peek at the patient’s ID bracelet – since I was here, maybe I’d even actually review Mr. Melvin Small’s chart -- but then my pager went off.

I stood up and started gathering my stuff. Mr. Small took another spoonful of ice and kept his eyes on the TV. “See you Thursday,” he said. I grunted and headed out the door.

I answered the page at a nearby wall phone. It was a second-year resident, asking for help with a patient who was going bad. It was probably something stupid and obvious, but I went anyway – better to help out now than be inconvenienced later by a time-consuming code. We got the patient to the MICU, where he could go ahead and croak on somebody else’s shift. From there it was straight to report, and then listening as Hirsch blathered about something, and blathered some more, and finally I was free… only to start dictation. As Barras, the other R-3, started a fresh pot of coffee, I stared at my papers and finally started the recording:

“Patient ID 598643. Bennet, Frances,” I rattled off. “Date of admission December 28; date of discharge January 8; attending physician Jerome Hirsch; discharge summary dictated by Gregory House, R-3; date of dictation – ” I checked my watch – “January 14.”

I hit the pause button and leaned back in the chair, staring dully ahead at the back wall of the carrel. January 14.

It had been three weeks since I dropped off Eileen, three weeks to the day. I’d long since eaten through the cookies and marshmallows she’d given me. She’d been in Briony almost that whole time, but she said she’d call back when she got back in town, around the ninth.

She hadn’t called back.

She had to be back in town -- classes were back in session at the university -- but she hadn’t called back.

At first I’d thought she might have gotten in later, but the days ticked by and I hadn’t heard from her. I’d checked my messages, scrolled through the history on my pager… nothing. For about two seconds I’d even thought about swinging by her apartment to see if the lights were on. But even as I realized how pathetic that sounded, I remembered that she didn’t live in the apartment where I’d picked her up on Christmas Eve – she lived in a dorm, and I didn’t know which one or where it was. She’d probably have me arrested anyway, and rightfully so.

I’d even broken down and tried to call her, on Sunday evening. I let the phone ring and ring, waiting for an answering machine to pick up. I was just about to give up when someone answered. “Hello?”

I was confused for a second -- it wasn’t Eileen -- until I remembered too late that living in a dorm meant roommates.

Forget it. “Hello?” the girl said again. I could hear music in the background.

“Sorry. Wrong number,” I said, and hung up.

Why hadn’t Eileen called? She promised she would.

Standing out in the snow by my car, me not knowing what to say, Eileen holding a plate of cookies, shivering but hanging back… If we go bowling in January, she’d said, I want to play chess in February....

If she never wanted to see me again, she wouldn’t have said that. Had she changed her mind? Was she sick? Did she drop out of school? Did she forget?

Did she get back together with Kopp?

“Hey. House.”

I looked up. Barras was looking at me strangely. I realized I’d been drumming my pen on the table. “You okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“Huh. Well, coffee’s up if you want some.” And excuse the hell out of me for asking, his face added.

“Thanks.” I got up and brought a cup back to my carrel. I looked down at the chart in front of me, rewound a little to see where I’d left off, and went back to telling the story of Frances Bennet’s hospital stay: “Admitting diagnosis: congestive heart failure….”

I cranked through the rest of the charts until I’d reached the last Patient to follow up with Dr Hirsch in one week. A trip to Medical Records to drop off my charts, and I’d be on my way out the door. It was about seven o’clock – not too bad.

I stacked the charts and was starting to leave when the dummy terminal at the next carrel caught my eye. I considered for a moment, but only a moment, before I sat down again and logged on.

The main menu popped up. I selected option one: PATIENT LOOKUP.

NAME? the blinking cursor asked me.

ABNEY, EILEEN, I answered.

And I got a hit, a single outpatient record from two years ago. I copied the visit number, logged out, and went to the Pathology menu. I plugged in Eileen’s number and pulled up… a negative culture for strep throat. They’d probably sent it over from the student health center. And that was all.

I logged out of Pathology and went back to the general info screen. Would they have her address?

The face sheet info came up with her Briony address: another dead end. Oh well.

I logged out, turned off the terminal, hung my white coat on the hook in my locker and stuffed my tie into the top compartment. I took my jacket and bag, spun the dial on the padlock, and headed off to Medical Records. Looking up Eileen’s record had been totally unethical and a complete waste of time. What had I thought I was going to find out about her? Even if I’d found something embarrassing, what good would it have done me? Or her address – if I’d gotten anything local, it would have been either a campus post box or a dorm address from two years ago, nothing about where she lived now.

Why hadn’t she called?

I dropped off the records and headed for the exit, bracing myself for a moment against the bitter cold before I shoved the door open and began the long slog out to my car. I warmed up the car, brushed off the snow. I was halfway home before I stopped shivering. I thought briefly about stopping off for carry-out on the way home, but decided not to – it was too cold to think about getting out again. Once I was home, by the time I got from my car back up to my apartment I was shivering again.

I peeled off my shoes and coat, dropped my bag on the floor, and headed off to the kitchen. The freezer was well stocked. I pulled out two Budget Gourmets, stuck one in the microwave, left the other on the counter, and headed off to the bedroom to change into sweats. Insta-dinner, news, second insta-dinner, Cheers rerun, mail, a couple of rounds of Commando…

I quickly lost interest in the game, so I laid down my weapon and let the digital guerillas fill my digital body with illegally obtained digital ammunition. They killed me three times before the PLAY AGAIN? screen came on. I sat back against the couch, ignoring the screen as the animation looped again and again, the game controller lying in my lap.

I was lonely.

My chest started to ache as the emotion hit me. I closed my eyes.

She’d promised she’d call. But she hadn’t.

Big deal, I tried to tell myself, but the lie did nothing to hold back the encroaching gloom. And for a minute, I was back in high school, standing by my locker, wondering why Diana Crawford was smiling at me, taking the bait like an idiot and smiling back -- and then turning to hide my face in my locker as she whispered to her friends and started to laugh ….

Stupid Diana Crawford. I sighed in disgust and pulled myself back to the present. She’d gone to some third string college and was probably married to some rich guy who she never saw because he worked crazy long hours in an investment firm or something stupid like that.

As opposed to some guy who worked crazy long hours in a teaching hospital. This was pathetic, even for me. I shook my head, picked up the controller, and restarted the game. I’d been playing about half an hour when the telephone rang.

I ignored it at first -- whoever it was, I’d call them back later – but then I remembered and paused the game to listen. The fourth ring, my message switching on, and then the beep….

“Um, hi, it’s Eileen, I was just calling to let you know I was back and – ”

I leapt up and went to the kitchen. “Hello, Abney.”

“Oh, hi! Screening your calls?”

“Of course. So where’ve you been?” I realized too late how harsh I sounded.

If Eileen was offended, though, she didn’t show it. “I got back late,” she said. “And then I had a million things to do – ”

“A million! So if you get one thing done every five seconds, you’ll be done by, oh, April. Of course, that won’t leave you any time to eat, sleep, or pee, and forget about class – ”

“You know, you’re absolutely right! Good thing you reminded me. Looks like your five seconds are up, so – ”

“Oh, right, the just-a-figure-of-speech excuse. So what kind of million things have you been up to?”

“Books, registration, class – the usual. Anyway, I think I’ve got my schedule for this month squared away, so: do you still want to go bowling? Oh, how was your trip home?”

“Yes, we’re still going bowling. Let’s see….” I walked over to the fridge. “Thursday looks good; I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Can’t do Thursday, I’ve got a rehearsal.”

“It is the first week of classes, you cannot have rehearsal already.”

“Well, I do. What about Friday?”

“On call. Sunday?”

“Sunday’s bad.”

“Good Lord, Abney! How far ahead are you booked?”

“Just two days! You’re the one who was working on Friday.”

After some going back and forth we were finally able to set a date for the next Wednesday. I offered her an out on the actual bowling, but she carried on about promises and the keeping of promises until I was afraid she’d commit seppuku if I didn’t take her to put on a pair of ugly shoes. So bowling it was. And before I knew it, the plan was set. “See you next Wednesday!” she chirped. And that was it.

I hung up the phone, wandered back into the living room, and picked up the game again. I’d just the fourth level when it hit me: I was taking Eileen Abney out.

Was I going on a date with her?

Did I think it was a date?

Did Eileen think it was a date?

What had I gotten myself into?


I look up. Wilson’s at the door, wearing his overcoat. “You ready?” He steps into the room and sees the papers spread across the desk. “You know, if you really wanted to confuse Foreman, maybe you could hand those in early – just to shake things up a bit.”

“You make it sound like I’m trying to jerk the guy around.”

“Well, at least lock that stuff up, no sense dragging HIPAA into this.”

I was already on it, stuffing the papers into the desk. I shut the drawer, lock it, put the key in my pocket, and go to join Wilson.


Anonymous Benj said...

So subtle, awesome, awesome stuff.

Loved Coma Guy getting a mention and the old to young idea- seamlessly perfect.

House, the original illegal file sharer (someone should tell Cuddy to check for illegal downloads) snooping through Eileen's records. So smart. Writing is so great, I read all the cringe kidney moments because it's too compelling.

And a 'date/not date' to look forward too! Hooked as always and this never disappoints.

Cheers and HNY!


January 06, 2006 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Baylink said...


That's *all*?

Just, waaah.

January 06, 2006 10:39 PM  

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