Taking the Stand
Title: Taking the Stand Rating: Gen Spoilers: Up to and including Merry Little Christmas Summary: Would you want to be House's lawyer? Especially if he decided to take a stand on principle. This is set just after Merry Little Christmas, when House is being tried for forging scripts.
"Dr. Cuddy, you were Dr. House's physician when he suffered the injury to his leg, is that correct?"
"I took over for his attending, yes."
"Could you describe for the court the injury to his leg?"
"Dr. House suffered an infarction in his right thigh, a blockage of blood flow, which resulted in extensive muscle death. After we removed the clot that caused it, the surgeon performed a debridement."
"He surgically removed a good deal of the dead muscle in the thigh."
"What was the result of this operation?"
"The patient," Cuddy's eyes shifted to House's for the briefest instant, "Dr. House, that is, was left with limited mobility in his right leg. And as a result of the amount of muscle that was debrided, and subsequent nerve damage, he was left in chronic pain." She cleared her throat once. "A good deal of pain."
House's lawyer picked up a folder from his desk and passed it to Dr. Cuddy. "Could you tell the court what the photographs in here depict?" Cuddy opened the folder, and for a moment her composure wavered. She recovered and leafed through the items quickly. Closing the folder, she drew a breath and steadied her voice. "These are pictures of the surgical procedure, and the resulting scar." The lawyer took the folder back and handed it to the judge.
"You honor, I would like to enter these photographs as evidence. They are labeled exhibits A through-"
"I object! Irrelevant!" The judge, as she had, repeatedly, throughout the testimony that morning, ignored the outburst. She opened the folder. The color drained from her face at the first image, but she pressed her lips together and carefully examined each one, stopping at the last one for a long moment until she was again interrupted.
"Your honor, this is a cheap emotional ploy designed to gain sympathy for the defendant. It has no bearing on the case and -"
"Dr. House, you will sit down and shut up. I have put up with constant interruptions and my patience is at an end. You will have your chance to make your case when you take the stand. Until then, you will behave yourself and let your attorney speak for you."
"But he's an idiot. He never consulted me about using those photos. I never-"
"Perhaps because he has a vested interest in winningthis case for you. Mr. Hoover, if you cannot restrain your client, he will be declared in contempt of court." She gave one last look at the photo before her, took a long drink of water from a tumbler on the desk and then rubbed her forehead. "I am declaring a short recess. Mr. Hoover, I suggest you take advantage of it to go over the rules of the court with Dr. House." She stood somewhat shakily.
Cuddy gave her an anxious glance from the witness box. "I would recommend putting your head between your knees for a moment," she suggested, but the judge was already on her way out of the courtroom. "Or a scotch and soda," she added under her breath. The court stenographer dutifully recorded the comment anyway.
"Dr. Wilson, you have been prescribing painkillers for Dr. House for several years, is that right?" asked Mr. Hoover.
"And you have never had any reason to doubt that he needed them?"
"So why did you refuse to believe him when he told you that the pain had worsened, earlier in the spring, and later this fall, when he said the effects of the ketamine had worn off? Why did you refuse to write him a script?"
"I...was convinced the pain was psychosomatic. On both occasions, he'd been through some...extremely stressful events and hadn't really dealt with them. There's something called a conversion disorder where-"
"I see. Ever had a stress headache, Dr. Wilson?"
"What about migraines?"
"Hurt like a sonofabitch, don't they?" When Wilson didn't respond, he kept going. "Both can be triggered by stress, am I right?"
"Almost by definition, yes."
"So that must mean they are psychosomatic-like Dr. House's pain. When you get this kind of headache, you just ignore it because the pain is imaginary?" Wilson had the grace to blush.
"No," he said. "I take something for them."
"Even though the pain is 'just' psychosomatic? Isn't it true that psychosomatic pain hurts just as much as the other kind, Doctor?"
"Yes, I suppose so." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and refused to look at House. Hoover persevered.
"You supposeso. You are an oncologist, am I right? So you have some experience with treating pain?"
"And you must have had patients who lost a limb to amputation."
"Yes, quite a few over the years."
"In your experience, does amputation always stop the pain caused by the cancer?"
"No. In a majority of the cases, in fact, the patient experiences what is called phantom limb pain."
"He continues to feel pain in the limb although the limb is no longer there? That must be imaginary pain, then, mustn't it? I mean, how can you have pain in a limb that's not there? So you refuse to write pain scripts for those patients with phantom pain, don't you? Answer the question, please, Dr. Wilson."
"No, of course I don't refuse to write scripts for them."
"Let me see if I get this right: you freely give painkillers to patients with pain in limbs they no longer have. In fact, have you refused to write a script for painkillers for any patient of yours? Ever?" Hoover made no effort to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
"Not once. Oh, except for Dr. House. Dr. Wilson? I said, except for Dr. House?"
"Yes. Except for Dr. House."
"Because his pain was imaginary." He turned to the judge. "That's all, your honor."
"Thank you, Dr. Wilson. You may step down."
"Your witness," concluded Hoover, and sat down. The DA rose to cross examine.
"Dr. House, perhaps you would like to tell the court why you objected to entering the photos of your surgery and your scar as evidence in this case."
"Thank you, Mr. Flint. I would be happy to." House turned and glared at his own attorney, who sighed and rubbed his fingers across his brow. Hoover had refused to ask House about it on the stand, had even tried to talk House out of testifying altogether. "I objected, because there is no real correlation between a scar and pain. For example, the judge here has a pretty horrific scar from some open-heart surgery she had a few years ago." He turned to the astonished judge. "Quintuple bypass leaves a nasty scar. Are you in any pain, though?" She merely opened her mouth and gaped at him. "I'll take that as a no. On the other hand-" But the judge had recovered her powers of speech.
"Just exactly how did you know that I had-"
"Obviously," said House with exaggerated patience, "I hacked into your medical records. Well, the DA here has done hishomework, I needed to do mine. I saw you taking some pills and took the opportunity-"
"Enough. Does the word HIPAA mean nothing to you, Dr. House? I could charge you with-"
"Lots of things, I'm sure. But let's take this one crime at a time. Do you have any pain with that scar? Now, today?"
"And you've also given birth-three times, to be exact-and have nothing to show for it. Not a single scar. So that means it wasn't painful?"
"Your honor, I-"
"Shut up, Mr. Flint. You better believe it was painful." The judge actually looked like she was enjoying this. She glared at the DA. "Well, youtry giving birth to a ten-pound baby. See how you like it." House just grinned. "Get to the point, Dr. House."
"My point is this: pain is invisible. Using photos of my scar cheapens this whole debate. What this is really about is the way pain patients are treated. Because no one can see their pain-any more than you can see a headache-it often gets discounted, dismissed. Worse than dismissed, ridiculed." He shot a glance at Wilson, and then at Cuddy. He held their eyes for a moment before continuing. "When that happens, the need gets...driven underground."
The DA sensed his advantage, and pursued it, while Hoover actually squirmed in his seat. "And what did you do when that need got, as you put it, driven underground?"
"I took matters into my own hands."
"You forged prescriptions?"
"Your honor, I object. My client is an idiot-"
"Agreed. But overruled. You may continue, Dr. House."
"Thank you, your honor. I also, to save you the trouble of pointing it out, stole drugs from the bedside of a dead patient, tried to deceive an ER doc into prescribing for me, and even, on one occasion when the pain got unbearable, stole some morphine from the hospital and shot it up."
The DA looked like he couldn't believe his good luck. "Well," he said slowly, "a full confession." He turned to regard the courtroom, spreading his hands wide. " I rest my case. You may step down, Dr. House."
"Just a moment, your honor," said Hoover, scrambling to his feet. He approached the judge with a wild look on his face. "Permission to, to treat Dr. House as a hostile witness?"
The judge shook her head in disbelief. "I...Why not? There's no precedent for such a thing. But go ahead. Be my guest. You may cross examine."
"Dr. House, you insist on standing on principle here?"
"Yes, the principle being that only pain patients know their own needs. The state can't tell them what's a reasonable amount of pain medication. Nor can their own doctor. And if they aren't listened to, there is only one logical course for them to take."
"Can you describe the legitimate methods you took to try to cope with the increasing leg pain?'
"Gladly. When things got bad, in the spring, I let Dr. Wilson MRI my leg to see if there was a physical explanation for the pain."
"And what did that prove?"
"Nothing. No physical evidence of anything. Which Dr. Wilson took to mean, I was imagining the pain. Again, because it was invisible."
"So when your own doctor refused to believe you, what did you do?"
"I went to my boss-Dr. Cuddy, and asked her...beggedher to give me an intrathecal injection of morphine. In my spine," he explained for the judge's benefit. She winced. "She gave me a shot-of saline. A placebo."
"It worked, as placebos often do. For a short while. When I went back for another, she told me about the placebo. Which convinced me I was just imagining the whole thing. I tried, for weeks, to believe it. I even cut back on the Vicodin. It didn't work. It got worse, to the point where I couldn't sleep, couldn't concentrate at work. That's when I took the morphine."
"You felt you had exhausted all legal pain remedies?"
"Yes, all but the illegal-or experimental ones. I knew the morphine was a dead end, so I undertook a very risky, experimental treatment: the ketamine you referred to."
"What were the risks?"
"Hallucinations and...I could have lost everything-my ability to think, my short term memory."
"You must have been very desperate."
House shifted in his seat. "I was."
"Is that it, then? Rock bottom. " He looked at House. This testimony was unrehearsed. A minefield. Against everything he'd been taught to do. Although it broke the cardinal rule of cross examination, he asked a question he didn't know the answer to. "Did you try anything else for the pain?"
House didn't answer him. "Dr. House?"
When House lifted his head to answer, finally, his gaze was not fixed on Hoover, or Wilson or Cuddy, but on a flag in the far corner of the courtroom. "Last month. Dr. Cuddy had cut off my Vicodin. I was detoxing. Hard. And in...real pain. I lied to the pharmacist, picked up a prescription for another patient. 30 Oxycodone." He glanced at Hoover, who raised his eyebrows as if to say, So, what else is new? House looked back at the flag in the corner. "I took them all."
Hoover was distinctly shaken. "At the same time?"
"More or less."
"So you...Were you trying to...?"
"I was just trying to stop the pain," said House, looking down, his hands grasped so tightly in his lap that the fingers were white. His voice was almost inaudible. But Hoover didn't ask him to repeat himself so that the stenographer could put it all down on her little machine. Some things didn't need to be recorded for posterity. "Thank you, Dr. House," he said, and returned to his chair. "That will be all."
The room was entirely silent "You can step down now," said the judge, gently.
"Dr. House, something tells me you would be a very lucrative client for me to have on retainer. But do me a favor and never darken the door to this office again. My blood pressure can't take it, even if my checking account can."
"Relax," said House with his vulpine grin. "Your reputation is intact. You won your case, didn't you?"
"No," said Hoover, shaking his hand as he ushered him to the door. "Youwon your case."
House paused in the doorway. "Does that mean you won't be sending me that bill for thirty grand?"
"Not a chance. Now git. Or I'll start charging for my medical costs as well." Hoover began squeezing the door gently but firmly, forcing the doctor out into the hallway.
"We can't have that," said House over his shoulder. "Everyone knows doctors are all crooks. But if you need to have that blood pressure looked at-"
"I'm going to Princeton General. Thank you very much and goodbye. Did I say goodbye yet? Goodbye Dr. House. It's been a pleasure. Goodbye. Have a nice day."
The door finally closed, and the lawyer sagged against it, just in case House decided to make a return appearance. He wondered briefly if it was feasible, at his age, to take up a different career-say, plumbing. Or roofing. He'd heard that roofers made a good living. He would look into that first thing tomorrow. As soon as his blood pressure got down into the low two hundred range.