The word "chronic" comes from a Greek root meaning "of or pertaining to time". That's why it's the descriptor of choice for conditions which extend over time, as opposed to those that come on suddenly. Chronic fatigue, for example, means that the afflicted person is tired all the time, over a long period of time; in contrast, acute fatigue is what happens when a person does something strenuous and gets tired out by it.

Similarly, chronic pain means that the sufferer is in pain all the time, over a long period of time.

House had always thought it was apropos that the word to describe the kind of pain he suffered was also a good description of what it did to him. He was acutely aware of time, in a way he never had been before: how many more minutes till the next pill, how long till this spasm eases up, how long could he stand on his feet before aggravating the leg?

Longer periods of time, too: like six years, which was, he discovered, just about long enough to forget what normal felt like; long enough to get fed up with people telling him how much he'd changed, as if he could help it. As if being in pain all the time was somehow supposed to leave him completely untouched.

People didn't seem to get that the Vicodin didn't actually make him pain-free. All the pills did was damp it down enough that it could be ignored; enough that he could focus around it and still get things done. There were stronger drugs that would have killed the pain entirely, yes, but they were also too strong to let him do his job. And he needed to have the distraction of the job, because without it he wasn't sure how long it would be before he found himself, pretty much by accident, taking more pills than even his dependent system could handle. And House, in spite of everything, wasn't ready to die. Aside from the world, which contained music he'd never heard or played, pretty women he'd never seen, games he'd never mastered, and uncountable idiots he'd never tormented, Wilson would have been pissed.

He tried to avoid other chronic sufferers, because one of the times he really hated was when he met their eyes while the sister or the husband or the friend who had dragged them in there was talking about new meds and they had that moment of perfect understanding which the people who didn't have chronic conditions never seemed to grasp. That moment reminded him of far too many things he didn't like to think about, like the way that, strangely enough, he was one of the lucky ones because he had meds that he could take and still do his job and there were a lot of people who didn't, because everybody was different and at some level every case was an idiopathic presentation. For a lot of people, it was a question of what was more important that day: not feeling pain or getting out of bed. Not feeling pain, or walking the dog; not feeling pain, or getting the kids to school; not feeling pain, or going to work. And when it was time to get out of bed or walk the dog or get the kids to school or go to work, and you couldn't do that and not feel pain, then not feeling pain wasn't really an option. House didn't really like that moment.

There were worse times. There were the times when he went from pacing to curling on his side, hurting too much to moan; past that, there were the times when the world was fragile and strange and too bright and he didn't even really hurt anymore, but he could feel the pain waiting to pounce if he dared to move. There were the times waiting for it to be the right time to take the next pill. All of those times went into making his time, House Standard Time, the time he lived in.

Because, after all, "chronic" means time.