An hour later, Janet gently touched House's shoulder. His eyes fluttered open.
"How do you feel?"
House looked at her as his mind grappled with where he was and how he felt.
"Still hurts," he said.
Janet's heart sank. Had she made the right choice?
Gingerly, he moved his right leg.
"But it's better. Much better."
Thank God, she thought, relief flooding her.
She saw a puzzled look on his face.
"What is it, Greg?"
"Before… before the coma… why did you say you were sorry?"
Janet shrugged. "I don't know. Just so sorry you've had to go through all this pain."
"Yeah, well, me too. But it's definitely better."
"So you were right. About the coma."
"You doubted me?" For the first time in three days, he grinned at her.
She squeezed his hand and smiled back.
"Not much. If I hadn't believed in patients' rights before, I'd have to be stupid not to believe in them now, when the patient is a doctor… and when the doctor is you."
* * * *
For the next two weeks, House lived at the hospital, some of his days spent recovering his strength after the surgery and the coma, and some of his days beginning intensive physical therapy as he learned to walk again.
Janet was with him as much as possible, although her law practice couldn't be put on hold indefinitely, so some days she was there only a few hours, and other days not at all.
Every day or so, his musician friends came by, providing impromptu concerts for the patients on the floor. Brenda Previn conceded defeat.
Cuddy, of course, was making the transition to her new position, her days full of meetings and administrative duties.
Now that the situation was no longer grave, Wilson returned to his oncology practice. But at least once a day, he found himself drawn to the musician who was really a doctor—or was it a doctor who was really a musician? Sometimes Janet was there. Sometimes his musician friends were visiting. But sometimes, House was alone.
When he was alone, Wilson settled into the chair next to the bed, and the two of them talked. Given how much pain the man had been in, Wilson wouldn't have been surprised to find that House didn't even remember him. But House not only remembered him, he seemed to enjoy his company.
Wilson had never wanted to be anything except a doctor, so he found House, and the decisions he'd made about his life, fascinating. As they conversed, time slipped away, and Wilson was often startled to discover that he'd spent two hours or more at the side of this man he realized he'd never understand.
The day House was scheduled to be discharged, Wilson stopped by. Looking through the glass door, he saw House sitting up in bed, quietly strumming a ukulele. He knocked, then slid open the door and stepped inside.
"How's it going?" he asked.
The strumming stopped as House looked up.
"Ah, it's Dr. Cancer," said House, a hint of a twinkle in his eye.
"It's Dr. Medical-Genius-Who'd-Rather-Drop-Out."
"I guess this provided a change for you," he said. "No chemo and vomiting, no baldness, no death sentences."
His eyes searched Wilson's to see if he'd be shocked by his bluntness.
Wilson wasn't fazed. "On the other hand, I got to hear lots of screaming, and you've left me with a mystery."
House smiled. "Sometimes a mystery is a good thing. Which mystery do you mean?"
Wilson shrugged. "The mystery of why."
One of the things Wilson had figured out over the last couple of weeks is that House was seldom surprised, and never needed to have things spelled out for him. So when he responded, his tone of voice suggested that he had anticipated how Wilson had reacted to getting to know him.
"Why," he stated declaratively.
"Yes, why. Why would you turn your back on all this talent? I've never seen anyone else do what you just did—break down the symptoms until you found the answer. How can you walk away from all that medical training and a career in medicine?"
House snorted again.
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not walking away. I'm hobbling."
Wilson smiled. "Okay, then. Hobbling. You have to come back to medicine."
House looked at him intently for a long time. When he finally spoke, it was in a low, determined voice.
"No, Wilson, I don't. When it really matters, medicine comes and finds me. But music is always there. For the most part, medicine just taps into my left brain, the thinking part of me. Finding the solution is exhilarating, it's a challenge and it can be rewarding. It's like the quick adrenalin high from parachute jumping—goes right to your senses and leaves you breathless… but eventually it leaves you.
"Music… it's my right brain and my left brain together. The left brain figures out the chord changes and remembers the melody, while the right brain uses that information to tap into something deep, something primal. It's that adrenalin high and so much more. Medicine just can't compete."
It didn't make sense. Wilson still couldn't figure out how House could turn his back on a career that could bring him so much. What he couldn't quite admit to himself is that part of him envied House having such tremendous gifts in two different areas, when he had only one and, frankly, wasn't sure how great his gift was. Certainly, he was bright, but he knew he wasn't brilliant like this man. And the part he really couldn't admit is that he envied what he saw of House's life—the crazy hours, the eccentric friends, the girlfriend who obviously adored him.
What did he have? Patients who were constantly dying, and a marriage that was dying, too. He struggled to understand.
"You could be making so much more money if you got back into medicine."
"What would I spend it on? More musical instruments, probably. I've got those anyway."
"But you have an obligation to use that gift of yours. You have to use it. It's… it's like a sin not to."
As soon as he'd said it, Wilson knew he'd struck a dissonant chord. House was annoyed.
"Let's get this straight, Wilson, right now. I appreciate everything you've done for me. But you really don't have the right to tell me how to run my life. I'm sorry it doesn't meet with your approval, but it's my life to live, not yours."
"I-I never said I didn't approve…"
"You didn't have to. It's all over your face. It's in the way you stand. Look, I know you'd like it better if I gave up music for medicine. My whole life people have been trying to force me to make that very choice. I tried it for a while. The costs outweighed the benefits. So drop it."
Wilson had stepped over a line, and he knew it.
"Sorry. Really none of my business."
"Yep. None of your business. My business."
Silently, Wilson helped House into requisite wheelchair and rolled him out into the hall and down toward the elevator.
As they exited onto the first floor and headed for the main door, where Janet was waiting with the car, Wilson sighed.
"Hey," he said quietly.
House looked up at him.
"If you ever feel the need to… I don't know… talk about medicine, maybe, give me a call, okay?"
"Deal," said House. "Pizza's good, too."
* * * *
Cuddy felt guilty for trying to pressure Janet into the debridement. Good thing Janet hadn't listened, that she'd supported House's wishes. He'd been right, of course. But then, he'd always been right. Eighteen weeks and he'd been right every time.
He would walk with a slight limp, perhaps for the rest of his life, but he'd kept his leg and the pain was receding daily.
"I'm about to create a Department of Diagnostic Medicine," said Cuddy over the phone a few days later. "I'd like you to apply to be the department head."
"Not a chance," replied House firmly.
"But you'd be perfect for it."
"Don't care. I've got a good thing, and for once in my life I'm not going to screw it up."
* * * *
Two months later, at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, Wilson sat alone at his comped front-row table at the Satchmo Club.
"Happy Sunday, everyone!" called out Paul Randolph Johnston from a mike near the front of the room. "We're delighted to have you join us for our weekly Sunday Jazz Brunch with Johnston's Jazz All-Stars."
"Before I bring in the band, I just want to let all of you know how happy all of us are that one of our musicians has pulled through a difficult medical situation. This will be his first time back with the group in a couple of months. When they come on stage, please give a special welcome to our own renaissance man, our former drummer, current piano player and sometime guitar plucker, Greg 'Skins' House. Ladies and Gentlemen, Johnston's Jazz All-Stars."
The band ambled on. First the drummer—kid what's-his-name—now a permanent member since Keys had quit the band, followed by Deep Voice, lugging his bass, Reeds, who settled several shot glasses full of bourbon and reeds inside the open lid to the piano, and then Hot Lips, of course, plus several others Wilson didn't recognize.
Finally, on came House, leaning heavily on his cane—a little slowly, a little unsteadily, but clearly determined to make it to the far side of the stage and his piano. Wilson saw Janet standing in the wings, watching his progression.
The applause was spontaneous and warm.
As House crossed the stage, Wilson saw the limp. It was a bad one. But House's face showed no pain. His decision had been the right one. With physical therapy, he'd be okay. Not perfect, but okay.
Almost without realizing he'd done it, Wilson slowly stood to his feet, oblivious to the fact that he was triggering a standing ovation behind him. He merely wanted to acknowledge the medical genius he'd felt privileged to watch in action.
About the time House reached the edge of the piano, he realized the applause wasn't dying down. He glanced up at the crowd, then looked away uncomfortably, as if unwilling to believe the reaction was for him. But when he looked off to his right, he saw Hot Lips and Reeds, clapping their hands, too. He finally seemed to realize both the audience and his fellow musicians were honoring him.
"We missed you!" came a voice from the crowd.
Paul Randolph Johnston came forward.
"We sure did, man." He clapped House on the shoulder and guided him the rest of the way to the piano bench.
Wilson thought he detected a sharp intake of breath, perhaps House's way of trying to control his emotions in the face of the unexpected acclaim. Shaking his head slightly, House turned toward the audience, squared his shoulders and put on a mask of humor to cover up his embarrassment.
"Oh, you!" he said, smiling, swiping his hand at the audience. "Now stop that!"
The audience laughed, and finally began to calm down.
"Come on, guys. Let's make some music."
As House settled himself behind the piano, he gently laid the cane on the floor and began to play, launching into a sweet, lazy Dixieland version of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans."
After three choruses, one of which he sang, he looked past the keyboard and spotted Wilson seated up front.
For a long moment, their eyes met. House nodded in Wilson's direction.
Then, as the music carried him along, House closed his eyes and smiled.THE END