"It took some trust, on your part, to say the things you need,
And I won't say,
anything that I can't take back,
Cause I'm a fake, and I can't do this anymore.
It's not the first time that I've heard this; it's nothing new and I might regret it.
There's no words to speak, to explain this.
So just be patient and I'll make this painless," Nothing Every Stays.
Two more months went by. We went to his appointments, played videogames, watched a monster truck rally—and sat in the third row—got high together a couple of times, and did a lot of talking. House's hair still hadn't fallen out, which actually happens in about 15% of patients. I woke up early on the morning of his next scheduled MRI. If the results were good, he'd start his final round of chemo. If it wasn't…well I was trying not to think about that possibility. House had been extremely nervous throughout most of the previous night, and hadn't fallen sleep until almost 3:00 AM, so I knew we were going to be late. Not that I cared. He was sick, and needed his rest. So, I let him sleep in. The alarm clock was set for 7:45, but just before it rolled around, I turned the thing off, and set my cell phone to vibrate in another 20 minutes, and then I woke him up, as gently as I could. I helped him pick out some sweats, and put them on. He smiled, as my hand grazed his thigh, watching me tiredly.
"You okay for today," I asked, touching his hand in mine, and sitting down beside him, and trying to be patient. Even though he had only been up for fifteen minutes, he was already getting on my nerves. I watched Greg rock slowly, squeezing my hand in his and sighing. "You're still worried that it's not going to be good, that those dreams were right?"
"I was having the stupid nightmare when you woke me up. I'm just not exactly in the best, mood, but—actually my head hasn't been hurting as much lately, and the other symptoms are also slightly down from where they were when I first told you about them. Just a bit though, nothing to celebrate."
"That's still good," I said, helping him stand up, mostly responding so he'd know I was listening. At this point House didn't really want to have a conversation. He needed to tell me something, and expected me to listen and be quiet. So I did just that, as the two of us got into the car. Greg sat beside me in the front seat, staring into space and—for a while—not saying a word. After a few blocks, I turned my head to look at him quickly, flashing a smile, and moved one hand from the wheel to his knee.
"Don't do that," he ordered, sounding more than a little uncomfortable. I quickly replaced it. Greg finally added, "Maybe I'm a little afraid that it's not gonna be so good news." I know, I thought. You've been telling me that for months. "I don't think you get it. It's like I'm a—I think I'm in big trouble here, but, I. Nevermind; it's nothing. Pointless for me to worry until we know what's going on."
"But, you're still—you can't control emotional stuff, Greg, especially fear, and pain, and depression. Do you understand that?" I don't know how many times I'd explained this to him, but I knew I would have to keep doing so for a while.
"I know that you idiot," he snapped, rolling his eyes the way he always did. I patted his hand. "But it doesn't make me feel better." House and I drove the rest of the way without talking much, but he didn't seem as concerned as he had been. Obviously he was still upset by the dream, and there was something going on, something he needed to deal with, or else the guy wouldn't be having the dream anymore. I just wasn't sure what or why. I held his hand while putting him into the machine, gave him special headphones so he could listen to music instead of concentrating on what was happening, and went into the other room. He didn't talk during the procedure. I stared in silence at the monitor, watching his brain get clearer and clearer. He didn't say a word when I brought him upstairs, or when I hooked his central line up to the meds, or when I handed him his Gameboy.
"The news is good, but not great," I explained, sitting beside him. "Your tumor hasn't gotten any bigger, and it is smaller than it was in the last scan..." House interrupted me.
"But not gone, and not as small as you would like at this point in time," he explained, as if he had been expecting that. "And don't tell me everything is going to be okay. It won't help." I nodded, and hugged him again. "How much longer?"
"After this week, we're—you're going to take some time off to recuperate. Then, a couple more rounds of chemo and another MRI, in—maybe three or four months." I smiled at him, gently, and kissed his forehead. "You want a patch?" House shook his head. "Morphine?" Another no. "Anything?"
"Do we have any more pot left," he asked, nervously, and a little bit sad.
"A little, yeah, but I can't give it to you here," I teased. "Your stomach bothering you already?" He nodded. "Zophran?" He shrugged, pretending not care, but I gave him that and a pain shot and, after a few minutes, he seemed a tiny bit better. I put my arm around his shoulder while Greg played Gameboy and listened to his iPod. After a couple of hours, I tapped him on the shoulder. House gave me a dirty look. "Yeah I know; you hate it when I do this, but we need to talk." He groaned, yanked one of the buds out, but didn't actually turn the music off. "I just gave you big news, and you didn't react"
"I'm not five-years-old. I understand that this is not an exact science, despite the fact that you're still technically practicing medicine. I'm not mad at you because this is taking longer than you originally thought. It sucks, but talking about it isn't gonna do anything. I don't blame you either. So, can I just deal with this the way I usually do," he practically begged.
"By drowning your sorrows in a bucket of bourbon and Vicodin while you blast music into your head, bite down on your lower lip to keep from crying, and completely isolate yourself from the world until you have a breakdown, and finally do turn into that five-year-old version of yourself permanently?" He didn't give me the you're-such-an-idiot look, but he had to focus all his energy on behaving himself. 'That was harsh. I'm sorry." He shrugged, rubbing his chin, and turned the Gameboy off. "You are going to be alright…well, I mean. I can fix the cancer."
"You're really not gonna let this go—ever—are you? Not unless we talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk and talk, for at least seven hours?" Greg sighed, rolled his eyes, once more.
"I'm just worried, because you don't seem to be dealing with this, and it's a huge setback. These last two weeks were supposed to be it, and now, we've—you've—probably got an extra six months of what is basically torture. Don't you think that's a big deal," I almost shrieked.
"I was fully expecting that thing to be two or three times bigger than it was when I first—when you first found it." I must have looked shocked because he added, "I don't think you're an entirely terrible doctor, but—I haven't really had the best luck health wise. My appendix ruptured when I was 12. I've had substance abuse problems—actually, my whole life, but dear ol' dad can be blamed for that one. He was the one ho used to force his four-year-old to pop quaaludes and drink schnapps. Then, there's my leg. I got shot, and now this. Pretty much learned to always expect the worst. So, you know—I'm not dying. This was actually good news to me." He relaxed a little when I put my arms around him, but also fought me a little, mostly—I think—just for the sake of maintaining his independence.
"Hey," I swore, rubbing his back and shoulders, and kissing his hair a little. "I've got you, Greg. I'm here, and I will take care of. I'll do whatever it takes to make you feel better again."
"Again, suggests I was ever okay to begin with," he said, in that tone, the one he used when he was annoyed or trying to sound annoyed but was actually covering up some other emotion.
"You prefer things this way don't you? And before you call me an idiot, I've got some proof, or at least a little logic here. As much as your life might suck right now, as bad as your head might hurt, even with the nausea, and fatigue, and everything else, your leg doesn't hurt. If I were in your position, I'd gladly trade this world for one where I had to live with the sort of pain you deal with on a daily basis," I said, hoping to impress him, and failing miserably.
"Then you're an even bigger idiot than I thought," he snapped. "I'm so tired I can barely get out of bed, and yet I hardly sleep. When I do, I have these, weird, mixed, up confusing, bizarre, painful dreams. I can't eat. I throw up all the time, and have to wear sweatpants, with the string tied tight, because I lost so much weight. Then, there's the tumor symptoms, clumsiness, inability to write, concentrate, and read more. I could have a seizure or hallucination—though that one might be fun…and I haven't even gotten to the pain yet. My head hurts a million times worse than my leg ever did, and this is just the regular, everyday ache. Every so often—just to keep it interesting—the tumor kicks it up a notch. Bam!—someone shoved an ice pick through my eye and all the way out the back of my skull," he shouted furiously. "And you think I would rather have this than my usual Hell?" I blushed, mortified. Greg sighed, but rubbed his head against my neck anyway. "You weren't thinking about it that way, were you?" I shook my head. "You just figured it must not suck as bad because I—I can't even imagine the logic behind this one, especially since I look like crap right now," he explained. I nodded, held onto his tiny, thin frame, apologizing over and over. He fell asleep around 3:00, after I gave him his afternoon pain meds, and woke up just as they were bringing in his dinner. Naturally this brought up other issues, other problems. He didn't want hospital food—although I had a feeling he'd say I don't want…no mater what I had brought to him—and refused to eat anything.
"You just tell me what you want, and I'll have it brought in for you. Hell, if you like I'll have something flown in from California if you know a good restaurant in San Diego," I swore, already anticipating the response.
"Just California," he snickered. I sighed, and winked at him, holding my hands up a little. "Besides, I just stopped feeling like my stomach is an elevator stuck on up-chuck." He laughed a little. I didn't know hat to say, so I just sighed again, but nodded. "Am I really that pathetic?"
"Um...yeah, but it's not you. It's the med, and in a couple of months, when you're healthy—er, and you've gained back some of that weight, maybe you know, get a little sun and cover up those dark circles under your eyes, we'll go back to normal." He chuckled.
"I want you to act like you just did more of the time. It a about time you started acting normal," he chirped, taking the spoon from his tray and picking at the Jell-O a little. "This has gotta be the worst tasting crap on the entire planet."
"Do you want me to bring us in food from someplace else?" He shook his head, and pushed the tray away from himself again.
"I can't eat this garbage."
"I'll send somebody out tomorrow to bring us something nice. Maybe some Chinese takeout, hmm? How does that sound?"
"I'd rather eat that in a room that doesn't reek of ammonia, and when I'm not using every ounce of strength in my body to not throw up," he explained, rubbing his eyes. "Actually I'd rather eat anything in that room."
"What if I send Cameron to the grocery store, stick you in a wheelchair, and make us macadamia nut pancakes in the lounge," I suggested, at this point willing to fly him to Paris or Antarctica if it meant he'd eat something.
"I forgot, is the lounge still technically a part of the hospital or has it moved and is now in a different building somewhere else in the world?"
"We both know that there's a huge difference between the smell of the patients room and the lounge, or the morgue or your office. Just let me try it, once. Come on, please?" I was begging, there's no doubt about it, but I was desperate.
He rolled his eyes again, and refused to discuss it anymore, except to say, "you can try whatever you like, doesn't mean it's gonna have any real effect on me or us, or anything. Me, I honestly couldn't care less." That was pretty much House's way of saying pretty please with a cherry on top, except, he could never say that, so he'd shrug, or insult me, or claim not to give a crap, but by this point in our relationship, I'd gotten pretty good at figuring out when he really didn't care, and when he actually wanted and or needed something. The next morning I made pancakes, and we hung in the lounge for a while, which did help…sort of.
The next couple of days I did what I could to help him find things to eat, help him keep it down, and tried to make the guy comfortable. Greg was his usual, cranky self, complaining about everything, except for when he asked me to borrow a videogame cart from pediatrics. Apparently he forgot to bring the charger for his handheld and as a result could no longer use the thing. I did it, of course. Within less than an hour, a bald kid with bright blue eyes and fire truck pajamas, who was lugging an IV poll behind him, found his way into our room.
"How long do you think you're gonna be using that," the little boy asked, sadly. Greg shrugged. "There are two controllers. Would it be okay if I play with you?"
"What's wrong with you," he asked the kid, and I almost—mind you almost—smacked him. You can't just say something like that to a child in the hospital. It's bad enough that you basically made me steal this thing, don't get into more trouble.
"I have Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia," the kid told him, with a small lisp. House sighed; sucking in his bottom lip, then shrugged. "I promise I won't beat you. I'm not very good at this game."
"What's your name," he said at last, handing over a controller. "I'm Greg," he added, changing to two-player mode. "And uh we're not supposed to fight each other, but—I think—work together." The boy nodded, taking a seat in the chair beside his bed.
"My name is Zack," the kid said, squirming in his seat a little.
"Are you alright," Greg asked, and actually managed to sound like he gave a crap. The boy shrugged and then winced. "Does that hurt?" The kid looked away embarrassed. "I'm a doctor, and so is—he," House said, pointing his chin towards me. "If you want, either one of us can look at it." No response. "Don't you think your parents are gonna be a little worried if you're not in your room?" The boy shrugged again, a much smaller gesture this time.
"They're not here. My little sister has Strep throat, so they hafta get tested to make sure they're not contagious," Zack explained.
"So they just left all alone? You don't have like a grandmother or something," he murmured. On the TV screen his character double jumped onto a hidden ledge and picked up a red square. Greg had been playing Lego Star Wars ever since he got sick, and was getting to be really good at it.
"They can't stay here overnight and my mom and dad both work; so most days they just come for dinner and tuck me when visiting hours are over." Zack then added, "That was awesome. I never know where the red bricks are."
House smiled quickly, and watched the boy for a while. "You never really answered my first question, about the central line. If it's sore, that could be a sign that something else is wrong. You could have a—an infection."
"I know; it always hurts. Dr. Kaufman checks it twice a week." Some time passed. They finished the level. "What kind of doctors are you guys?" the game continued, and Greg twisted, moving his controller to avoid falling off the edge of what looked like a cliff.
"I have two specialties. Infectious Disease and Nephrology—that's the kidneys, and Dr. Wilson over there's an Oncologist." The kid had met me before, because he I'd diagnosed him before House got sick, but I wasn't sure if he remembered me. "Look, uh—this game is better with two people, and Jimmy is terrible. So, uh, until your folks come back, or if you ever get bored, I'll probably have a console. You know whatever." Zack looked up at me, slightly confused.
"He's giving you an open invitation to hang out and play videogames anytime you want," I explained. His mouth spread open in a large grin, and the two played for nearly two hours before a nurse came looking for Zack.
"I gotta go to bed now, but I'll see you tomorrow, maybe," he said, walking over to House, and holding his arm out. Greg stared awkwardly for a moment, as if confused. Then he paused the game and shook hands. I waited until I was completely sure the boy was gone before saying anything.
"That was really nice of you," I told him. He just shrugged. "But you probably already knew that. Well, tomorrow's gonna be a busy day for you." This got his attention. "Your mom's coming for a visit," I reminded him. He threw the controller down on the bed.
"I told you, I don't want her to see me like this! Not in the hospital. Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" Of course I had told him, several times, but he obviously hadn't been listening at the time. "I'm like...I don't—please? Not here; not like this. I'll do all your clinic hours for all eternity, if you just call her and say I have an infection or something, so she can't come," he pleaded.
"Yeah…I'm sorry, but I can't do that. Look, we can put make up on under your eyes and to cover up how pale you are, trade the gown for sweats, put you in that chair over there, instead of the hospital bed, and pump you full of meds, buff your numbers a little." He made this sort of growling sound. "She knows you have cancer. She saw you at the funeral. She held you, and sat with you. Plus, I can't lie to her, and neither can you. So, we can't tell her you're too sick for her to come in. Not that it matters, this has nothing to do with her. You just wanna be healthy again," I whispered, gently, kissing his head. He rolled his eyes yet again. "At least you still have your hair."
"It's not going to fall out. Never. I'm 45, and I've still got more than half. When I'm 50, when I'm 60, when I'm 80, still gonna have it. And not that bald on top but a tiny amount of way too long hair on the sides look, but real hair." I smiled, still kissing him. "You're wrong by the way. I really don't want her to see me like this. You're gonna hafta work really hard to make me look good," he instructed. I nodded. "But not too good, 'cuz then she might get the wrong idea, think I'm all better." I nodded, patting his stomach a little. "How long are you gonna keep doing this?"
"Do what?" I had a feeling I knew what this was about. I always try to give Greg what he wants—within reason—but ever since he got sick, I'd been ridiculously nice, forgiving, and helpful. I bought pot for crying out loud! "'Til you get better," I explained. House gave me another dirty look. "What? I should start yelling at you, molest and mock and hit you? Force you to eat crappy hospital food, and sleep alone, on the floor?"
"No, no, yes, no—well maybe sort of yes, and no. Just act like I'm normal. Nothing's changed except that I'm in more pain, I 'm tired, and I barf all the time. Other than that, though, I'm pretty much the same guy I always was. I don't wanna be treated like some poor, pathetic, dying kid. I'm not little Zackie," he explained. I smiled. Except, you are a poor, pathetic—sick, and possibly dying kid. I can't yell at a caner patient. I'm just not that kind of person.
"I'll try to do better, but…no promises, Greg. I can only do so much for you, Pal. You're sick. You've lost at least 30 pounds. You don't sleep. Your skin is all sallow, and patchy, and pale. You're in pain, and like you said, throwing up all the time. I love you, and I'm watching you waste away. I don't wanna lose you, and have to deal with the fact that I spent the last week of your life treating you like crap."
"But you don't care if you lose me," he snorted. Now I rolled my eyes. He smiled. He liked that I was getting annoyed with him. "I want things to be normal. I want to you to make jokes, tease me, laugh with me, and at me sometimes—like we always do. You're the only one who treated me in a way that wasn't completely boring. I want that back."
"You got it, butt face." I hated myself. He grinned, and pressed his head against my shoulder tiredly. "I'll work on that, okay?" He nodded. "But I still love you," I whispered.
"Aww, shut up. I've had just about enough of that nonsense. You don't hafta keep on saying that. Hell, you never hafta say it again. Just spending time with me is a lot." I'd heard Greg say the exact same thing once or twice, but it still bothered me. I have always hated the way he thinks about and treats himself, but I'm pretty much powerless to stop it. John House had convinced his little boy that he was completely useless, unworthy of love, and (unfortunately) that was one of the few things he'd continued to believe, even to this day.
"I don't pretend to be smart enough to understand much—if any—of the things you say. You're much, much, much smarter than me; I'll concede to that." I paused, to think about exactly what I was going to say next, and House used the time to throw his two cents into the mix
"I'm laying here, hooked up to a poison pump, pale, thin as an anorexic, puking my guys out, and in pain and you're gonna give me a lecture?"
"You're the one who told me to treat you like I usually would, and I usually lecture you. Now, this—most of the time you're right about stuff. You are annoying, sarcastic, often cold, and occasionally cruel, but you're also smart, funny, exciting and lots of fun to be around—and no, I'm not just saying that to make you feel better. At work you're a completely different person than you are at home. You're cocky, arrogant, and so sure of yourself. As a doctor, you know exactly what to do, what's gong on, even what to say—sort of—but when it comes to personal relationships, with me, with your team, strangers, girls, guys...you don't know. I'm willing to believe that you hate virtually everyone, especially the stupid and annoying people, but I think you're afraid too get close, even to me, because people are never nice, unless there's a reason behind it. And anyone who's nice to you, well they must either think you're pathetic, or they want something. I don't know if you think you don't deserve love, of friends, or my affection, or if you're afraid that I'm going to turn out to be like your dad, and that I'm gonna hurt you in some unimaginable way, or if it's something else, but I do love you, and I'm gong to keep saying it. For two reasons, one because you really don't believe me, and two, because people need love, and human contact to—well technically you could live without ever getting any, but you wouldn't do well." He sighed, tuning away from me, closing his eyes, yawning, and opening them again. "Go to sleep," I whispered. "Please. She won't be here until early evening, late afternoon. We'll get you looking stronger, better. She knows you're sick, but no one should ever have to see someone they love like this."
"What about you," he asked, still yawning. I started massaging the back of his neck and shoulders. "Don't you love me? And if so, how can you keep on looking at me like this?" I touched his hair.
"Believe me, if I could treat you, and hold you and love you, and take care of you and everything else, without ever having to see you like this, I'd do it, but I can't. That's okay. I know you don't believe me right now, but you are gonna get better. I won't let you die. I wouldn't put you through all of this for nothing, okay?" He shrugged, closed his eyes, sort of, curled up beside me, and shrugged. "I love you, Greg." He nodded once, muttering something to himself, before falling asleep.