"Frank, where have you been?" The voice of my supervisor, Don, rang through the hallway like a bullhorn.
I froze, knowing this would happen. I'd been waiting for it, actually. I had absolutely no idea how to explain my absence from the hospital during work hours. This was it.
"You realize I could terminate you right here on the spot, don't you? You can't just up and leave the premises without permission. Heck, you didn't even let anyone know you were gone! Did it ever occur to you that someone might be worried? We might have called your wife and scared her half to death. What were you thinking?" He'd pulled me aside into a quieter part of the hallway, his hands on his hips, waiting for an answer.
"He was helping me save a patient's life." I hadn't even seen Doc House sidle up behind Don and was shocked, let me tell you.
Don turned slightly and straightened his back, neck hairs bristling. "Doctor House, as much as I appreciate your input, this matter is out of your jurisdiction and definitely outside your authority. I'd prefer it if you'd put what you have to say into a memo and forward it to me through appropriate channels."
Well, the ruckus must have spooked somebody, 'cause right about then Dr. Cuddy shows up, none to happy. "My office… now!"
None of us was very keen about this development. We all followed rather sheepishly. I decided to keep my mouth shut as long as possible and let the super powers do the shouting. Either way, I was in for it.
"Okay, let's hear it." Dr. Cuddy sat down behind her desk, looking from Doc House to Don and back again, finally settling on Doc House. Somehow, she'd already pegged him as the ultimate culprit. Me? I just sort of hovered in the corner, trying to make myself as small as possible.
"Frank was absent from the hospital during work hours. No one knew where he was or what he was doing. Why this is a matter for the Dean of Medicine, I can't imagine. It's strictly a Plant Maintenance matter." If Don had planned on cutting me some slack earlier, he was reconsidering now. His back was up, his territory invaded, his authority challenged. This was not good. I tried to calculate how much savings I had in the bank.
Dr. Cuddy turned her attention to Doc House. "Well?"
"Well, what? Frank gave me an idea. I needed a duckling. I figure he's just as good as a thirteen year old on a plane."
"What did you do, House?" Dr. Cuddy's voice had dropped a notch into a 'I'm not going to want to hear this, am I?' tone.
"We went to the Jackson's house and poked around. Frank was right, I found what is really poisoning this woman."
"Poison? Who said anything about poison? House are you out of your mind?" Dr. Cuddy jumped out of her chair and would have been foaming at the mouth if she weren't such a class act.
"Look, the woman is found unconscious in her home. Husband even admits she's been fainting a lot lately…"
"Wait, why would you even be involved in the Jackson case anyway? There's nothing out of the ordinary here. She's probably pregnant!"
"He's the guy who came into the clinic wearing his wife's lingerie with a terrific case of the crabs. Surely you remember him?"
Dr. Cuddy went white. Her words became measured and menacing. "Oh, yes, I remember, House." I was pretty sure what she really wanted to do was jump across that desk and rip his throat out with her teeth.
Don piped up, "None of this matters…"
"Shut up!" Came the shouted reply from both doctors.
That's it, I thought. Find the nearest newspaper and start running through the help-wanted ads. I'm going to be sleeping on the couch for a month.
"Don, please sit down a moment. You're right, none of this matters in your determination of your employee's behavior. However, we may have other problems." Dr. Cuddy's voice had become calm and soothing. My boss sat down and waited. Dr. Cuddy turned her attention back to Doc House, seating herself once again.
Doc House took a deep breath and started talking like he was lecturing five year olds. "The Missus arrives in the ED after having fainted at home."
"We've heard this part."
"You want to hear more, or are you going to let me finish?"
Tempers were short, but Dr. Cuddy was trying real hard to keep things calm.
"Complete workup negative. A little anemic, but I haven't met many women of childbearing age…" This part he drew out a bit, "…who weren't anemic. Creatinine normal, BUN a bit elevated. Just a little dehydrated. Still nothing I haven't seen before. Tox Screen negative: no opiates, no cocaine, no barbiturates, no cannabis, no amphetamines, no alcohol. CT and MRI of the head negative: no bleeds, no clots, no infarcts. The woman is perfectly healthy. Oh, and by the way, HCG negative, so, no… she isn't pregnant. So you tell me, Cuddles, what makes a perfectly healthy 35-year old woman suddenly start fainting?" Doc House sat down and thumped his cane between his knees, waiting for a response.
Don looked at me and mouthed 'Cuddles?' I shrugged my shoulders.
"Bulimia, anorexia?" Dr. Cuddy offered.
"Teeth in perfect condition, soft palate intact. CBC, chemistries, like I said, essentially within normal limits."
"A bit hypotensive, but nothing to write home about. No fever, no tachycardia."
Dr. Cuddy seemed a bit deflated. She rolled her eyes, giving in, "Heavy metal screen?"
Doc House lit up like a Christmas tree. "Negative." His eyes were absolutely shining.
"Wait, did you do an EEG or sleep study?" Dr. Cuddy seemed stoked.
"Normal EEG, sleep study boringly normal. She snores in a lovely falsetto."
"You did the sleep study yourself?" Dr. Cuddy was surprised to say the least.
"Why do you think I look like I haven't slept in days?" Doc House smirked his famous smirk.
"You always look like you haven't slept in days, how am I supposed to tell the difference?" Dr. Cuddy was giving as good as she was getting. Don chuckled and I just turned my face to the wall. After all, Don and Doc were both heads of their departments. I figured I'd let them duke it out.
Dr. Cuddy regained control of the situation. "Alright, alright… where does Mr., um…"
"Mr. Disaronno." Don spoke up for me for the first time.
Doc House's head whipped around toward me. "Disaronno? You're kidding, right?"
I tilted my head to one side. "Got a problem with that?" There were more times than I could remember that I had to defend my family name.
Doc House raised his hands in mock defeat and turned his attention back to Dr. Cuddy.
"House, did you disclose any of this medical information to Mr. Disaronno?"
Doc House sat back into the sofa and gave a wicked grin. "Not until you dragged us in here."
"Oh God." Dr. Cuddy cradled her head in her hands.
There was a pause in the conversation. Suddenly I realized that Don wasn't so much angry with me any more. He just wanted to find out the rest of the story. Then Dr. Cuddy said, "Alright, House, what's the rest?"
I started paying attention at this point.
"The rest of the story is that Frank, here, gave me an idea and I took him with me to the Jackson's house to snoop around. Now let me ask you a question, Cuddy. What's the number one acquisition of a rich middle aged man?"
Dr. Cuddy got a sick look on her face. "A trophy wife."
"And what does every 55-65 year old man have in common? Well, besides Viagra." Doc House was reeling her in like a twenty pound catfish.
"Diabetes? Hypertension? Coronary artery disease? Wait a minute… how did you treat her?"
"You mean after her heart rate started to plummet and she started circling the drain?" Doc House could be so condescending sometimes.
Dr. Cuddy started getting upset again. "You said her vital signs were stable!"
"In the beginning, yes, they were." He just stared her down. "Soon enough, however, her blood pressure and her blood sugar began to crash. That's when I gave her glucagon and she bounced right back. What does that tell you?"
"Oh my God. Beta blocker overdose?"
"And guess who has a prescription for propranolol in his medicine cabinet which was filled a week ago and is almost empty now?"
Don and I kept looking back and forth to each of them like we were watching a tennis match. They might as well have been talking Swahili.
"Oh God, House, you know none of that will stand up in court! What were you thinking?"
He just shook his head. "How many times have I appeared in court for stuff like this?"
She stood up and pointed her finger at him. "Leave it alone, House, I mean it!"
"Leave it alone? How am I supposed to leave it alone? You want to send her home, then wait until she shows up DOA?" Doc House appeared to be a bit more livid than usual.
"House, we have no proof of poisoning! We can't just accuse the man of attempted murder! There might have been other reasons for her collapse." She had come around the corner of her desk and was now nose-to-chin with the Doc.
"She's been fainting on and off, as it were, for a week. Since she's been here, her blood pressure and glucose have been just fine. How are you going to explain that?" He lowered his head 'til they were nose-to-nose.
Dr. Cuddy sighed loudly. "I'll talk to her." Then, pointing her finger at the Doc, "You stay away from her!"
"I'm her doctor!" He shouted.
"Not any more!" She shouted right back.
Now, I have to be honest with you, I don't know all the particulars of the end of this tale, like who said what to who. I can only tell you what I heard and what I saw. As you might have already guessed, Doc House didn't 'leave it alone'. Don hustled me out of Dr. Cuddy's office real quick-like.
"I should fire you right here and now, Frank, but so help me, that was the funniest thing I've seen in years and I owe it all to you. I swear, those two should just get a room!" He started laughing out loud. I didn't really see it as funny, but I wasn't going to argue. We traveled down to his basement office. "Now, I want to know what really happened."
"Don, there's not much to tell." I told him all that stuff about me doing the Doc's windows and him coming in looking like death warmed over twice and getting him a cup of coffee and just talking to him. "I have no idea what I said that made him want to get in that house. Next thing I knew, we were there. Scaredest I've been since high school!"
"The scaredest you've been since high school was your wedding day. I was there, remember?" Don made this weird snorting sound when he was laughing for real.
I nervously laughed along with him. "Well, that's true."
Don looked down at his desk, then back at me. "Get your butt back to work… but I'm only paying you for half a day!"
I don't remember leaving a room any faster than I left that one. That was one big bullet I just dodged, and I knew it.
I got a call to check out one of the hospital beds upstairs, it wasn't working right. Usually ends up being something simple, like plugging it in, but you never know. These new-fangled contraptions are always breaking down.
When I got there, the patient was standing by the window, talking on the phone. I let her know I was there and why and she just nodded and turned back to the glass. "Mom, I don't know. They've done all kinds of tests… NO, mother, for the last time, I'm NOT pregnant! That was the first thing they tested for." There was a pause. "Then explain to me why I feel like crap at home and I feel just fine here." I suddenly realized with a chill whose room I was in.
There really was something wrong with the hospital bed, looked like something electronic. Out of my depth, so I pulled it out of the room, promising the lady I'd have another brought in directly. Just about that time, Dr. Cuddy walked in. I didn't envy her at all. They took a seat around the little table in the corner and I slid the door shut as quietly as I could.
The quickest way to resolve the bed issue was to pull a working bed out of one of the empty rooms. As I was doing so, I could see the two ladies hunkered down. I waited while they spoke and could tell when the conversation turned intense, then calmed again. Soon enough, Dr. Cuddy left.
Moving the new bed into the room, I could see the lady was upset. She was near tears. I tried to hook up the bed, test it, and get out of there as fast as I could. I felt so bad for her. How do you make sense of something like that? I said a quick prayer that she would be alright and get out of the situation without getting hurt. I hauled the broken bed to the basement and left it with the tech guys.
Just before quitting time, there was a terrible commotion in the lobby. I heard "Code Green" announced overhead, which meant either a staff member, visitor, or patient was in danger of physical harm. Oh great! What it means to me is that if I'm anywhere near the area, I run. "All male hands on deck" in other words.
I ran down the stairs, instead of waiting for the elevator and found the lobby in chaos. Wouldn't you know, there was Doc House slammed up against the wall by some really ticked off guy who was screaming in his face. Didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who this was. A security guard was sprawled on the floor, out cold. Quick like a bunny, I ran across the room and managed to grab the guy under the arms and spin him off the Doc, wrestling him down. Man, was he pissed off! I hadn't heard that kind of language coming out of anybody since my dad beat up the dad of the kid next door who had been terrorizing my sister and everybody else in the neighborhood.
Two more security guards ran through the lobby and took the guy into custody. I'm getting too old for this, I think I sprained my wrist. Doc House was rubbing his jaw and I was rubbing my wrist. "Come on, Frank, let's get you looked at," was all he said.
Days later I read in the paper where the Jacksons of Princeton were getting a divorce and looked like it was going to be a fight to the finish. Somebody in housekeeping started a pool to see which one of them would end up in the ER first. First pool I took a pass on in years.
You know, it's really strange, I'll never know why Doc House confided in me, but I quickly realized that I was the only one who knew about his 'mistake'. Neither one of us has ever said a word about it and I'm guessing we never will. The weekly poker games go on, the beer is cold, and I occasionally make a killing, but mostly I just have a good time.
Now and then, I think Doc House has a good time, too.