01. FIRST OPERATION

She can hear her mother shouting at the nurses even through the heavy doors of the operating room. It's really bright but she's scared to ask them to turn the lights down; she senses she's not supposed to.

Nobody talks to her, she can hear rattling like someone putting all the knives and forks on the table. Lisa wants to ask if her brother is okay, but he was still stuck in the car when they took her and her sister away in the ambulance.

The doctor wipes away her tears with a rough cloth before he puts the funny plastic thing on her mouth and it all goes fuzzy.

When she wakes up in the room with clowns on the wallpaper, the doctor tells her that she still has her spleen.

Her mother's tears tell her she doesn't have a brother.


02. SCALPEL

She'd never stolen anything before. Not a cookie from the jar, not even that pink glitter pen that she'd begged her mom to buy her for six months.

This summer she's volunteering, her dad said he would increase her allowance if she wanted to do this instead of getting a job. So she's a candy striper, one step closer to the dream she's been working towards for four years now.

It's impossible to resist when she sees the supply cupboard, and before she's conscious of her actions, she grabs the thin plastic packet and shoves it in the pocket of her apron.

At home she uses it as a bookmark in her biology textbook, the shiny metal glinting through the packaging.

Over twenty years later, it rests in the outside pocket of her briefcase, her very first scalpel.


03. OXYGEN

When Rachel comes into her life, she prepares for a lot of sacrifices – sleep, quiet nights with a glass of wine, any chance of ever having another relationship. What she didn't consider was finding time to exercise – the gym, the empty streets at 6am, had always been her sanctuary.

For weeks she doesn't run, until one Saturday her sister is there to watch the baby and she laces up her Nikes like a nervous child on Sports Day. The pavements are more crowded with families, there are more cars to dodge but she pushes herself to keep going.

At the top of the hill that runs behind her house, she pauses to suck in air. She's greedy in her quest to fill her lungs, having exerted herself too much for a first day back.

But she feels alive, and she hasn't lost herself after all; it's worth the aching calves and burning lungs.


04. ROLES REVERSED

She used to treasure her grandmother's lucid moments, but now it's a relief that they're so infrequent. When she is aware, she cries for what her own mind is doing to her, and Lisa helps her eat with tears running down her own face. This is her summer vacation, fetching and cleaning and listening to ramblings about long-dead people she never met. All her friends from school are at their summer houses, and she feels bad for wishing she was too.

Sometimes, when her grandmother grasps her hand firmly, Lisa can remember the hard year after her brother died and her mother couldn't look at her. Those wrinkled hands that had once tousled her curls and told her it would all get better, one day.

She owes her this, and more.


05. PATIENT

There are times when she wishes she wasn't quite so tuned into the hospital gossip, and finding out that Remy Hadley is going to die is near the top of the list.

They'd adjusted to the impact of losing Amber, and she'd tried so hard to stop Wilson from unspooling and House from making that worse. Just as equilibrium seemed to be restored, Kutner was dead on his bedroom floor and the world was tumbling once more.

She'd always been able to visualize the future with startling clarity, once an idea took root in her brain. She tried everything but couldn't seem to dismiss the image of Dr Hadley restrained in a bed to control her muscles spasms, a flimsy plastic bracelet all that's left to confirm the person she used to be.

In a way, it's worse than Amber and after a while it affects her still more than Kutner. Slow and painful never seems the right way to go, the strongest affront to her oath to do no harm.

Not that she ever says anything to Dr Hadley, their interactions always seem rooted in conflict and there never seems a moment to say sorry about her death sentence. Instead she watches for signs and prays it's a long time before they appear.


06. DEATH

They called her a bitch, and yet they mourn her. From the hallway, Cuddy watches the solemn procession of doctors and can't help but be irritated by their hypocrisy – their touching goodbyes are a response to their own mortality, not Amber's.

When Wilson leaves to make the necessary calls, she enters the silent room and waves the nurses away. In perfect silence, she pulls out the tubes and carefully cleans the body in preparation. The morgue will do it all again, but she feels it's the least she can do.

She wonders what they'll say about her when it comes.


07. LIFE

When he collapses on the dirty floor of the bus, she worries for a moment that her heart has stopped too.

Color fades from the world, and in a bus full of medical professionals, she's the first to react.

Wilson joins her, his heart compressions keeping syncopated time with her infusions of recycled air.

When he sputters, jolts, lives again, she feels like she's been plugged back in. Noises come roaring back and compete with the vibrant grays and blacks and whites that surround her.

It's been so long since she saved a life, but she's glad it was this one.


08. SEDATIVE

She only feels a little guilt when he drops his pants so willingly.

His mother did call her, all grace and sadness to ask the favor when she realized there was a chance Wilson wouldn't come through. It merely set up another opportunity for them to conspire, to be the two sides of a triangle whose own union is incidental; their role is to support the other side, the only thing either of them cares about anymore.

The urge to pinch his exposed ass cheek is fleeting, but the thought puts a spring in her step when she turns to leave.


09. VOMIT

She sipped her ginger tea dutifully, and stockpiled plain crackers like her mother and sister lectured her to.

It was a crappy way to start the morning, every morning, but afterwards she smiled around her toothbrush at the satisfaction of getting what she wanted.

When it was over, the bleeding, the tears, the indignity of the D&C with the doctor who wouldn't look at her, she forgot what nausea felt like.

She doesn't experience it again until he pulls back that curtain and spits his bile at her; it's all she can do not to throw up right there and then.


10. MED SCHOOL

Chris Taub is an extraordinarily gifted plastic surgeon. She checks the post-boob job patient and can't help but be impressed by the precision of the work.

He was a year ahead of her in med school, she worked out that much from his resume. He was at Dartmouth, no reason for their paths to ever cross. She watches him in the differentials sometimes, older and allegedly wiser than the rest of the group.

He's exactly the kind of man her mother wanted her to go for, the reason she told Lisa there was no need to be a doctor when she could marry one. She thinks about his infidelity and his wife with her seemingly traditional role, weighs it up against the power she enjoys on a daily basis and the fact that she's beholden to no-one.

She stands by the decisions she made, but she wonders in fleeting moments how different her life might have been if she'd met someone like him in her first year.


11. STITCHES

The ketamine had been administered with the anesthesia, but despite the chaos that awaited her back in the rest of the hospital, she stayed in the OR as they worked to retrieve the bullets.

Her trauma surgeons worked seamlessly together, Cuddy noted with dull satisfaction. They deferred to her occasionally, not wanting to ignore their boss despite being far more experienced than her with bullet wounds.

She interrupted only once, as they came to close the last incision.

Some skills never leave you, she knew. With neat and precise stitches, she closed the gaping skin on House's stomach, the steady beeping of the monitors reassurance that he was going to make it.


12. FIRST JOB

Her first paycheck was framed and put on the wall of her bedroom in that crappy apartment she shared with three punks and a guy she never actually spoke to.

Two weeks later, she cashed it to pay the gas bill because nobody else was going to and Boston in October didn't lend itself to having no heat or hot water.

Her parents had paid her way through college, but the crappy economy had hit them pretty hard when her dad lost his job, and when she finally started her internship the money had dried up.

It was scarcely enough to live on, but she managed. She lived on jello and reheated mashed potato when things got tight, and though it made her miserable sometimes, she wouldn't trade her place at Boston Mercy and its crappy pay for anything else in the world.


13. NERVES

From the navy pinstripes to the modest heels, she knows the outfit is perfect. Her hair is straight and her glasses are on. She runs through her presentation silently, restraining herself from completing the gestures she practiced until they were fluid.

When she's called she walks in as though strutting on the catwalk, steeling herself to feel nothing but confidence.

It's afterwards that it hits, the stomach-churning nausea that has her rushing to the nearest restroom, unfortunately the men's.

As she washes her face and tests the shakiness of her legs, she smiles at herself in the mirror.

She nailed it.


14. SURGICAL MASK

Chase looks different in the OR; just older perhaps. It's hard not to remember the preppy kid who waltzed in like the world owed him a living because of his surname.

He'll never admit that House taught him anything, the bruise to his pride has lasted far longer than the one on his face.

When she sees the twinkle in his eyes above the white cotton, she knows that it was worth it.

Chase comes to say sorry when he hears, and she realizes that he was proud of being the one to save Joy. She'll always be grateful for that.


15. INCISION

She doesn't cut much these days – the occasional tie falls victim to her marauding scissors, or a budget gets slashed when she's trying to tighten the hospital's collective belt a little.

Her routine two hours in the clinic are ebbing to a close, and she's already drifting in her mind to the pile of letters on her desk that need to be signed and sent out.

When the woman drags her wheezing child in, complaining about the crappy inhalers that haven't helped his asthma today, it takes Cuddy a moment to react.

It's anaphylactic shock, that's why this kid can't breathe, and she tries to intubate, pushing the mother aside as she calls for a crash team. His lips are turning blue and the wheeze is barely present when she knows she has to act.

A quick antiseptic wipe is the best she can do, grabbing at the tray of instruments as soon as she opens the right drawer. It's a second to focus, another to trace the correct spot with her index finger, then scalpel, cut, blood and tube inserted.

The mother is complaining about the scare she's been given when Cuddy pulls off her latex gloves and leaves the room. She pauses, turns back and opts for the more polite of the sentences queuing up in her head.

"Next time, take him to the ER. Not breathing is an emergency."


16. RESIDENCY

Apparently she was a mortal lock for Chief Resident.

Not that she knew it at the time, still fumbling her way through the tougher world where people expected things of you, no longer cloaked in the protection of intern status.

She threw herself headfirst into everything, natural bossiness rising to the forefront. It didn't go unnoticed by her attendings, and she was flattered to hear the vote was unanimous. From the moment she took on the additional responsibilities, she knew her path was set.

Four years later, she applied for Dean of Medicine, secure in the knowledge that she wasn't just another doctor, she could lead too.


17. SHOE COVERS

Foreman was asleep, the cop's body still in there with him. House and the other two were safely in the lab. She'd offered Mr Foreman a hotel room on the hospital's dime, but he'd declined in favor of praying all night in the chapel.

She put the biohazard suit on. House would love it, if he could see her breaking the rules like this. The bastard knew he how she struggled with the thought of losing a patient, never mind one of the hospital 'family' as he mockingly put it.

For an hour she wrestled with her conscience, torn between her gut feeling and the countless hours of Ethics classes she'd willingly sat through. She thought of Rousseau and the greater good. She thought of the cup of coffee she got for being called in at 2am. Time ticked by as she sat there in the thin white plastic, the shoe covers in her hand, the last item to put on before she entered.

As light began to dawn, she made her decision.

She hung up the suit and threw the shoe covers in the trash on her way out, unused.


18. RETIREMENT

She doesn't like to think about it, but she has to when she makes her will, fills out life insurance forms, bequeaths everything she owns to the daughter that's now her life.

Six months ago, if pressed, she'd have said she wanted to drop down dead two weeks after retirement – have the perfect vacation and then slip away before the boredom set in. All that nothing terrified her.

Now she thought about taking it early, spending quality time with Rachel at the end of her childhood. She hadn't known how much better a real priority could feel.


19. PRACTICE

It's Wilson who drags her back to the courts after House's infarction. He can see her punishing herself by refusing any activity that House can no longer enjoy. They used to play mixed doubles, when Bonnie refused to be around House any longer, she became his partner.

She's rusty from the winter and missing most of the good weather through guilt. Wilson takes it easy on her, though he's hardly Pete Sampras.

By the second set he's beet red and sweating like he just ran the New York marathon.

She might be out of practice, but she can still kick his ass.


20. WRITER'S CHOICE - BLOOD

When she hears what happened to Cameron, a strange fear grips her. This is what she's insulated from in her administrative ivory tower, it's the front line that she never has to walk.

If she thought her consolation or advice would be worth anything, she'd seek the younger woman out. Instead she pressures House to make sure the test is done by any means necessary, and prepares a new set of material for the staff on correct protocols for dealing with blood-borne diseases. Something has to be better than nothing, that's what she tells herself.

She makes sure she's copied in on the test results, probably knows before Cameron herself. It's all she can do not to hug her when they next pass each other in the halls, but she summons the will to resist.