Chapter 32 "Irony"
There are times when even "The Philosopher Jagger" gets it wrong! You not only don't get what you want, but you don't get what you need.
This is one of the ironies of life.
The hell you say!
Sometimes when an entity is damaged beyond repair, the only recourse is to walk away before another entity becomes damaged beyond repair.
Oh. Right …(whatever that means!)
If the one who is not yet damaged beyond repair has an innate compulsion to remain and make some useless effort at reparation anyway, then probably the originator of such attempts at reparation will become damaged also.
You're not listening!
At this point there are two entities left damaged in the wake of useless effort, and both are destined to languish in disrepair, one with the other. Both are then useless. And way beyond repair!
Smoke on the wind, you see. Ironic!
Never heard such total crap in all my life …you are totally immersed in your own erudition!
The house on Ridge Road is sold.
The people who bought it have two kids and a dog and a cat. They have two cars and a motorboat. And a Mother-in-law-from-hell! The place will probably soon be up for sale again.
Irony in Paradise!
That, however, is no longer my concern.
House is on crutches and in pain.
He had to undergo surgery again. His pain had been so bad that it couldn't be contained for long except with powerful injections of morphine.
The incident between the two of us in his living room was the straw that broke the camel's back. When his knee hit the floor, the damage was incalculable. The transverse tear in his right medial meniscus ruptured. Deep fractures, and bone splinters in his LCL. His knee was nearly the size of a football. He could not wear a shoe. Even a slipper was too heavy. He could no longer touch his foot to the floor, and the missing muscle in his upper leg made it impossible for him to hold it off the floor.
For a time he was again wheelchair-bound, angry and silent and unreachable. Norm Lyons viewed the ultra-sound that Monday night, and suggested the "German solution."
I went along in the private jet that flew him to Wiesbaden. House was placed in a risky five-day coma in a German hospital where such unusual procedures were quite commonplace. They pumped him full of ketamine, an experimental drug still illegal in the states.
The surgical team opened his knee, examined the torn ligaments, plucked out multiple bone fragments and made the necessary repairs. Portions of his lateral medial ligaments are now an amalgamation of synthetics. He may walk again someday. Or not.
For five long days, we waited.
When Gregory House came out of the coma, his pain was greatly reduced, other than residual discomfort from the most recent injury. They flew us home again and granted him a three-month leave of absence until the long-range prognosis could be determined.
Gregg was nearly pain-free for twenty-six days. He was beginning to try to walk again, to live again!
Then it came back. Not as bad as before, but it incapacitated him, and it was as though he'd gone back in time to the early post-infarction days. Now he had another surgical scar to contend with and another bellyful of bitterness, except that this time he had no one to blame but himself. And me. Which he did.
When he went for checkups in Orthopedics, Norm Lyons never said: "I told you so!" But the implications were plain. What Norm did say was: "I want you on crutches every single day until I say otherwise!" Gregg knew he had no choice. I remember very well the look on his face and the bleakness in his eyes.
That was when I asked for and was granted a three-month leave of my own, and by that time everyone at the hospital knew of our status with each other. I never left House's side, and again I put up with his bitching, whining and sullen silences. Rather than cooperation, Gregg gave me nothing but grief, and we fought long and often.
Sometimes when the yelling got out of hand, I would walk out and close the door between him and me. Clear the air. But I always went back. Gregg could not be left alone too long. We would apologize to one another and smooth things over, but the peace never lasted.
Stan Ralls took over the Oncology Department, and though he reported back to me periodically, he was definitely in charge. The department chugged along as usual. Stan was a little more boisterous than I ever was, but the patients respected him. He was kind, he was funnier than me, and he was certainly competent and more than generous.
Mark Fetterolf moved over to Diagnostics. He was a very different personality from Gregory House. Mark did not have the genius of his predecessor, but he did give a damn, and he kept an unbiased ear open to the thoughts of House's three fellows. (He never called them "Ducklings").
Within a few weeks, a blanket of respectful cooperation descended over the two-room suite, and the place was no longer interesting. The ball and the yo-yo and the Game Boy and the stereo system disappeared, and Dr. Cuddy never had to stop by and check up on their cases anymore. After a few weeks, Cameron, Foreman and Chase were bored to tears and actively wished for the reign of chaos to return to the fold.
Mark Fetterolf could not figure out what he'd done wrong.
Nothing, actually … he just was not House!
I moved everything I owned out of the place on Ridge Road … sold most of it … then rented and moved into an apartment of my own a few blocks from House's condo. My clothing is there, a few sticks of furniture, and some personal items. But my heart remains at the elegant dump on East Side Drive.
At night I would help Gregg House into bed, and often as not, crawl in beside him and hold him. Put up a human barricade against the pain. Gregg was on a variety of medications now, over and above the Vicodin. Sometimes he could not eat, and once in awhile he suffered from headaches and nausea. I fully believed I was there to shore him up and lend support whenever and wherever I was needed. He had nothing left to give, and it showed.
Gregg was pale and gaunt, weak and, of course, in pain. It was taking a lot out of him. Grey streaks in his hair were getting wider every day, and he had aged ten years in just a matter of months.
He still could not tolerate a shoe on the right foot, and his leg was beginning to go into contracture. He made no effort to walk without the crutches, and it broke my heart.
I had been to the grocery store that day. Every two weeks I stocked House's pantry with all his favorite foods. I was coming down the hallway from the underground garage pulling a loaded complex-owned utility cart filled with bags of groceries.
I heard the piano before I got to the front door. I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard Gregg play. (The night he played Wunderbar and made it sound like Music Box Dancer, I think.) Anyway, I could feel my eyes beginning to fill up, and I paused a minute to get myself back under control.
I stopped outside the door to listen. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Sweet, sad old song. Was Gregg playing from the heart? I remembered some of the lyrics, but not all:
"Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes"
Smoke on the wind, maybe …
I turned the key in the lock and walked in to see my dearest friend in old blue jeans, a clean tee shirt and seated on the piano bench with both hands on the keyboard. He was no less pale, no less gaunt, no less pained, but the bitterness and anger had receded behind a calmer exterior.
"House?" I pulled the wagon full of groceries into the room behind me and let the door fall shut. "Are you all right?"
"I've often been better …" His eyes were mocking, deep blue and penetrating.
"Still not working … obviously …" He indicated the crutches propped against the bench beside him. "I'm so damn sick of being useless."
"You're not …"
"Wilson … please"
"What's going on?"
"Cuddy called. She has a case."
"You're weak. You can barely move. How can you work?"
"I'll find a way. It's only a consult, Wilson."
I took him to PPTH the next day. We went directly to Cuddy's office on the ground floor rather than venturing to our respective offices on the third. Both our departments were in other hands now, and to intrude before our leaves of absence were up, would have been a breach of ethics.
I held the door for him … hurrying in ahead of him with the intention of warning Dr. Cuddy of his haggard look. She had not seen him in awhile, and I meant to avoid any expression of shock on her part.
I needn't have worried. She'd seen us coming and had time to take in his gauntness, his frailty, his pain, and the overwhelming "crippledness" of his crutches, his bent leg and his lack of a shoe. She was behind her desk, using it as a shield between herself and the man she had so often sparred with, but also regarded with respect and admiration. Her professional demeanor was tightly in place, and I could have hugged her for that. Professionalism be damned!
I saw the moist gleam in Lisa's eyes when she first saw him; turning into an old man before his time and crippled by life and by circumstances. But then she steeled herself and smiled. She gave him the administrator's look, and not an ounce of pity showed through. She offered Gregg a chair and he took it in silence.
That in itself was a revelation. He did not greet her with open arms and she did not expect it. I seated myself in the chair at his left elbow, reached over to take his crutches and placed them on the floor by his side while he settled his useless leg into the most comfortable position possible.
Cuddy, to her undying credit, played her part extremely well. If Gregg saw any chinks in her armor, he granted her the courtesy of ignoring them. "Dr. House … I'm very glad you're here … you too, Dr. Wilson." She cocked her head in that endearing way she has, and smiled widely at both of us before centering her attention back on Gregg. She eyed him with the old challenge to her expression that she'd enjoyed with him for so many years.
"You look like you could use some roast beef and mashed potatoes, Doctor! Otherwise, you've improved a lot from the last time I saw you." (The last time was just before the jet took off for Germany.)
He looked up slowly and glared for a moment, perhaps searching for flaws in the porcelain. Evidently he found none. "That's not saying much, is it?"
"Well then, take me for what I mean, not what I say!" She shot back. "I called you because I need your expert medical opinion … and not to initiate a 'can-you-top-this' contest! We have a puzzle; a weird set of symptoms and a young woman in trouble … and Dr. Fetterolf and his team can't seem to get a handle on it. Are you interested or not?"
House bristled for a moment at the "Dr. Fetterolf and his team" comment, but I decided she'd done it on purpose. His nod was familiar, that quick downward thrust of his chin that said whatever the bet, he was in!
Cuddy came around her desk toward him with a heavily notated case file in her hand. She walked purposefully to his side as though the painful past months hadn't gone down, and this type of consult was something they still did every day.
It was time for me to leave. I got up from the chair and turned toward the door. "House, I'll be around if you need me. When you get tired and want to go home, page me. I'm going to go say 'hi' to the kids and wander around awhile. Okay?"
Gregg turned his eyes toward me vaguely for a moment, as though he'd already forgotten I was there, which, I suppose was the most natural thing in the world. He was back in his own element and ready to re-immerse himself in the profession he loved. In this world, I was only part of the fringe, and I could accept that. He barely nodded an absent-minded acknowledgment in my direction.
Cuddy looked at me briefly over the top of Gregg's head as she settled herself into the chair I'd just vacated and turned to him with the medical file falling open across his lap.
Cuddy winked at me with twinkling eyes, and I paused the split second it took to wink back.
When I walked out her door and stepped into the lobby, I was very glad I'd called and beseeched her to dig up the most difficult current case in the hospital's open files.
I walked past Gregg's office, checking first to see whether Mark was there. (I did not want him to think I was spying.) He wasn't. From what I could tell with such a brief glimpse, it looked as though Allison Cameron was the only one in the DD room. There were two or three medical volumes spread open across the table. Her nose was deep into one of them, glasses down on the tip of her nose, her fingers twiddling with a pencil.
I turned at the end of the corridor and walked back. Two or three people smiled and waved at me as I went past, so I figured I hadn't been forgotten … yet. I was still grinning like a kid in a candy store when I pushed open the door and stuck my head inside. "Hey! Cameron!"
She looked up, startled, as though she couldn't believe her ears. The next thing I knew, she was squealing, jumping up and almost barreling me over with her arms wrapped around my neck. The sensation was most pleasant, I must say. She smelled like honeysuckle and roses, very unlike someone else we won't mention, who smells of stale cigars, Scotch and Old Spice.
I was half embarrassed, but I returned the hug enthusiastically anyway. "This is not very professional, you know, young lady!"
She giggled delightfully. "I'm so glad to see you! How are you?"
She didn't say: "How is House?" But the question hung in the air between us like a Meaty Bone dangled in front of a hungry puppy. I told her I was "fine" … that long-time standard answer for everything.
Foreman and Chase walked up as we stood there, and although we exchanged handshakes rather than hugs, the greetings were just as enthusiastic.
It was Eric who finally got around to asking the question. "How is he?" No one had to ask whom he meant.
"He hurts." My non-committal answer could have been taken in a variety of ways.
Each of the younger ones translated in his or her mind to suit their individual concepts, and the silence stretched out for some moments.
"He's here," I said, finally. "Actually, he's down with Dr. Cuddy … consulting with her on a case. He knows I was going to come up to say hello." I left the rest dangle. Let them grapple with their own scenarios!
"Will he come up for a little while? Would he talk to us if we went down?" Chase's boyish enthusiasm finally asked the questions they all wanted the answers to. "Doctor Fetterolf is a gem, and we all get along with him very well. But he does not yell at us!"
There it was, out in the open, without disrespect for the other doctor, or a moment's complaint. Chase had nailed it, and the other two faces opened in complete agreement.
"He doesn't ever get silly with us … he doesn't get angry … he never threatens to take the tops of our heads off if we don't figure out the right diagnosis. Nobody calls us a 'wombat' or a 'little girl' or a 'car thief'. I guess we don't feel … loved … anymore …"
"Walk with me," I said. "If you have nothing pressing at the moment, just walk with me. We can go to the cafeteria for an early lunch, or just a cup of coffee. We can talk, and I'll tell you everything I know about House's recovery … at least everything I can tell you without invading his privacy."
So I told them everything I could possibly tell them about his most recent injury and the resulting deterioration and reparation surgery. I admitted that if it hadn't been for the old infarction problems and the missing muscle, his latest surgery might have gone much better. I told them about the continuous infusion of the ketamine while he lay in an induced coma for five days, and about watching him awaken for the first time in years without pain.
And then its return …
I felt, for a time, like the grim reaper with only bad news to impart. Allison sat with tears running down her face, the remainder of her meal pushed aside and forgotten. The dark and somber faces of both young men made me understand that they had taken the news hard as well. But they had asked, and now they knew.
I changed the subject then, but the news was still not great. I told them of Gregg's weight loss, his encroaching frailty, the contracture in his crippled leg, his (possibly permanent) transition to the use of crutches, and the fact that he had aged so noticeably over the past few months.
Then I told them the good stuff. He had been eager to consult on this medical case with Cuddy. He'd already agreed to work out of her office so he would have only a minimum of walking. He would be given a recliner chair that would accommodate his leg as comfortably as possible. He would also have unlimited access to every treatment room, every imaging service, every laboratory and lab researcher the hospital had to offer, and when he became fatigued, I would take him home.
I told them he'd gone back to playing the piano. He'd asked me to order in some Chinese food, and stop at a distributor to pick up a case of beer.
And I told them he had called me 'an asshole' two days in a row.
However, I decided I would not let them see him or try to talk to him. Not yet. He was still not ready for their scrutiny. They would have to be content with standing at the upstairs window to watch unobtrusively as he hobbled out to my car when I drove him slowly home.
That was two months ago.
It is now early October, and the leaves are suddenly beginning to change again. There is a nip in the air in the mornings when I get ready to leave and pick up Gregg for work, and I know it won't be long until winter rears its miserable head with three months or more of guessing games …
I don't stay with House every single night anymore. Sometimes he reminds me of a teenager who is eager to leave the comfortable fold of Mom and Dad's place to venture out on his own. Usually I'm okay with that, although I nag him constantly to keep his cell phone handy so he can call me right away if something happens. Usually I get the eye roll and the scrunched face that says something indulgently sarcastic like "Yes, Mommy." But then he's been doing that kind of stuff with me for years.
I still cook a lot of his meals, because that close-quarters kitchen of his and a pair of crutches in the hands of someone so tall, just don't mix. He does still make a mean batch of popcorn though, so it usually evens out okay.
We sit around in the evenings and watch TV together and eat junk food. Or he will play the piano soft and low and I sit on the bench beside him and lean my head on his shoulder. He manages to sneak a few bars of Wunderbar into whatever he's playing and then look over at me to see if I've caught it. I always do!
The love we have for each other has not diminished. It is just not as urgent, and with the condition of his leg, I am frightened to death of hurting him.
He doesn't like to drive much anymore. The suicide machine sets downstairs in his utility room with a tarp over it. I don't think he's even started it up to run the engine for a couple of months.
The big Envoy hasn't fared much better, although he still goes for drives now and then on weekends. Sometimes I'm invited along … sometimes not. I know he likes to cruise the back roads, open all the windows and let the wind tousle his hair … as if it needs more "tousle" than it already has. He is "hair-in-a-blender" challenged!
We are both back to work now, our leaves of absence long over. It is good to be back in harness again, and I feel much more at ease with my caseload in relation to the additional time I spend near House in and around his office. He lets me help him out a little more nowadays, because he no longer has a free hand to carry his stuff around and walk at the same time.
He's back to trading insults with the ducklings, and ordering them around as though they are his own personal indentured servants. I know they are very happy to have him back, snark and all, and I have not heard a word of complaint from any of them.
The kids are used to his crutches now, and his difficulty in getting around. Cameron still steals pitying looks his way when she thinks he's not looking. But he knows. I know he knows because he's mentioned it to me from time to time. He just chooses to ignore it. Some things are better left unsaid.
He refuses to let any of them wait on him or pander to him, and from time to time I have heard him voice his opinions all the way across two rooms and into my office. I just sit and smile to myself. As long as he can articulate his displeasure and roar like Mufasa at the same time, he is happy and doing what he loves. God bless him!
Tom calls me from time to time about Roger and Jules. They are still working off their repayment for all the money they stole, and surprisingly they are settling down and taking life seriously, rather than searching for more devious ways to get their asses into trouble.
Roger's legs are still weak, and his movements painful, but he exercises daily … and he is improving slowly. Jules has proved to be the intelligent one of the pair, the dependable one. Somehow he keeps Roger's restless nature in check and both of them go to their jobs each day and profess to enjoy the work.
Tom has the Dodge Shadow. It's up on blocks in his carport and will stay there until both boys finish off their probation and earn the privilege of driving it again. Until then, they go where they want to go on foot … even Roger, for whom this part of the punishment seems a little severe. His problem. He asked for it. Fortunately the 911 Emergency headquarters is only a block away from Tom and Suzanne's, and they refuse to ferry him back and forth.
Jules always hitches an early morning ride on one of the heavy-duty work trucks, and returns home after work the same way. The roar of a New Jersey Highway Department dump truck in a quiet residential neighborhood has become a fact of life, Tom says. The neighbors aren't nuts about it, but what can they do?
So … I have stopped worrying about my little brother. He is in good hands. I don't know whether Mom and Dad have accepted Jules or not. Tom doesn't offer and I don't ask. If they are staying away because of the life choices of their youngest son, what the hell will they do if they find out about House and me? I think about it sometimes, but I certainly don't lose any sleep over it. It's their loss.
One more thing I need to add here, while I sit in my office with my mind in the clouds …
Two weeks ago, Billy Travis and Nancy Franklin were married. It was a beautiful ceremony, conducted in their flower-bedecked back yard by a wonderful minister with a voice like James Earl Jones.
There was also a tall, skinny piano player who played the Wedding March as though it were an old time spiritual. Magnificent! Nancy practically danced down the grassy "aisle". The piano player continued playing with a long list of old standards that dared anyone not to tap their toes and hum along.
Nancy and Billy's first dance as husband and wife was to the lilting strains of the beautiful Wunderbar.
With tears threatening, I stood motionless at the outskirts of the crowd and watched them … and watched that talented piano player, while he played right through his pain and his fatigue, for hours on end … for two people he admired and respected.
They didn't know at the time, how he really felt about the two of them, but they would soon find out. The piano player's gift to the couple was just a plain brown envelope with a folded piece of paper inside it. When Nancy opened it later, it contained a car title and two car keys taped to a hunk of cardboard.
The bright red classic Corvette was all theirs.
Gregg was so sore that night, and so tired that he moaned quietly in my arms. I held him and rocked him, and later, positioned his leg across my lap and caressed its thin contours gently until he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
And now, here I sit … in my office … in the dark. It's probably after midnight. I finished my charting an hour ago, and it's way past time to go home. But still I linger, thinking thoughts filled with conflicting emotions.
Lisa Cuddy took House back to his place eight hours ago when I knew I would be staying late and called her to do me the favor. Of course she said yes. I know they had a goofy mouth battle on the way home, because Lisa called me later and told me all about it gleefully.
She is happy to see him back and doing his job with relish. She hates to see him so crippled and so frail … but House is still House. He has gained back a little of the weight he'd lost, and looks better physically. The more things change though, the more they remain the same.
I was still smiling to myself when Cuddy and I rang off.
I love him, I admire him, and I respect him. Completely. That will never change.
I know he returns the compliment too, as much as he is capable of such alien emotions. But he has fears and reservations, and he does not wish to hurt me beyond all repair, the same way things happened a long time ago with Stacy.
I can accept that. We are together and we are not.
Sometimes I look into his beautiful eyes and see a wistfulness there that he will not talk about, and which I cannot fathom. Those are the times I feel him drifting away from me, and I am saddened, but not surprised.
Once I had confessed to him that sometimes I felt restless … like smoke in the wind.
Now … I wonder if some portion of the smoke is his also.
In the moment … but not …
… and once in awhile I hear Wunderbar playing lightly inside my head.
I feel a little like Daniel Jackson in an old episode of Stargate I, when he walked through a time portal into another dimension … and the Jack O'Neill he encountered there was a shade off center from the one he'd known and served with for so many years.
My Gregory House is like that too sometimes … just a shade off center … and I am at a loss to explain it. Actually, I think, so is he.
Sometimes "The Philosopher Jagger" is totally off base!
The one thing you want the most and need the most in your life … turns out to be the one thing you cannot have.
Ironic, isn't it?
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