CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: Results
In the morning, House feels well enough to complain about the oxygen, and the aerosols, and the scheduled chest x-ray. Wilson, relieved that they’ve turned the situation around before it could become serious, tolerates the griping good-naturedly, and even agrees to decrease the O2 to two liters. This pacifies House only until the mobile radiology service arrives.
“Why do we need a chest x-ray?” House asks. “We know it’s pneumonia; two out of two department heads agree. Can’t we skip the unnecessary dose of radiation?”
When the radiology tech starts to explain that the radiation exposure is minimal, Wilson quickly informs her that House is not the department head of the Housewares section, but of Diagnostics. She wisely refrains from further explanation, but Wilson hears her mutter under her breath, “Doctors are the absolute worst.”
Wilson leans over and whispers back to her, “And I assure you, Dr. House is the worst of the worst.” The tech completes her work and makes a hasty retreat.
Wilson raises a questioning eyebrow at House, who’s been snickering since Wilson’s comment to the tech. “Housewares,” House explains. “I love a bad pun, ‘specially when it pertains to me!” Wilson can only shake his head and groan.
House eats a good lunch, then settles on the couch to watch his soaps. The TV hasn’t been on even five minutes, though, when he falls asleep. Wilson’s noticed that—since the discussion of House’s recurring nightmare—House has shown no further reluctance to sleep. The naps that he’d previously been denying himself during the day are now becoming a regular part of the routine. In Wilson’s opinion, that can only help speed up House’s recovery.
But this time, it’s different. As Wilson walks through the living room, a glance over at the sleeping man causes Wilson to freeze where he stands. House’s face is contorted, his teeth are clenched, and there’s a line of sweat above his lip. He’s pulling his left leg up towards his chest. As Wilson watches, House’s eyes open wide and both hands go to the left thigh. But before Wilson can cross the room, House’s hands relax, and he straightens out the leg. He shakes his head at Wilson; he looks puzzled.
“What was that?” Wilson asks quietly as he approaches the couch.
“Not sure. I guess I was dreaming that my leg hurt. But when I woke up, it was fine. Weird.” House moves to a sitting position, and rubs experimentally at his left thigh. “Doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Do you remember what you were dreaming about when it started?” asks Wilson as he checks the muscle; it seems fine.
House thinks about this, then says, “No idea.” His expression becomes mischievous, teasing. “I got it! I’ve been grieving the loss of the pain so much that my subconscious decided to make me feel better by letting me dream about it. Too cool!”
Wilson is not amused. “No. I saw your face before you woke up. You looked like you were in agony. It was real.”
“Oh, relax! Maybe I hit my leg on the couch or something.”
Now it’s Wilson’s turn to be amused. “Yeah, those sofa cushions and all those pillows can be murder on the joints. Gotta be real careful near those soft, round objects.” He grows serious again. “Everything I’ve ever read indicates that pain incorporated into dreams is actual pain that’s disrupting REM sleep. You’re certain you’re okay?”
The look on House’s face can only be called patronizing. “Let me get this straight. You’re upset because I’m not having a problem. You’re concerned that I’m not currently in pain? Sorry that I’m… uh… comfortable. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll try to arrange for an abscessed tooth or something….”
Wilson has to laugh at that. “You’re right; it’s ridiculous to worry that you’re not in pain. But that was… strange.”
House shrugs and turns to the television, the odd occurrence forgotten.
But just half an hour later, Wilson thinks that the weird dream may simply have been a harbinger—as he enters the room with a fresh bag of TPN, House is rubbing angrily at the left thigh, and this time he’s definitely awake.
House looks up at Wilson’s entrance. “Hurts for real this time.” He tries to smile. “Happy now?” House asks, but the weak attempt at humor dies on his lips when he sees the concern etched across Wilson’s face. So he looks away, and decides to be honest. “It’s gonna be a bad one.”
Wilson wonders if House is asking for the morphine to be administered before the spasm can get out of control. “Should I--” Before he can finish the question, House nods sharply.
Before he leaves to prepare the med, Wilson goes to the couch to see if he can help House position himself more comfortably.
“Don’t touch me,” House grinds out, as he curls himself protectively over the leg. “Just get it.” And Wilson knows this is going to be the worst one yet.
Wilson returns as quickly as he can with the morphine. He’s got two 5mg syringes. He’d like to keep the dose to a minimum; this is not the time to be depressing House’s already-compromised respiratory effort. But it’s also not the time to be second-guessing his degree of pain, so Wilson’s prepared, either way.
House has already reached the point in the spasm where all ten fingers are still and white, dug deeply into the muscle. His eyes are tightly closed; he’s trying hard to control his breathing, but it’s coming in anguished gasps.
Wilson knows that House will hear him only peripherally, but he speaks calmly anyway. “I’m pushing the med now,” he says as he swabs the port and inserts the syringe. “It’ll start to ease up soon.” He murmurs all the soothing nonsense he can think of as he watches House’s face and continues to administer the dose.
“You’re doing real well controlling your breathing; keep it up. Got about 3mg in now; should be hitting the spasm. Breathe. I’m right here; you’re doing good. Relax your hands, let the med work. Just go with it. And breathe again….”
House obediently pulls in a breath, and his hands move slowly away from the leg. His eyes are still tightly shut, but the lines of his face are beginning to relax. He takes a few more breaths before he speaks. “Okay. It’s bearable. Wasn’t as bad as I thought.” He opens his eyes and looks at Wilson. “Thanks.”
Not as bad as you thought? Bearable? Oh, God, House—you can’t live like this! It’s not fair; gotta find out what it is. Gonna fix it. Wilson tries to imbue his voice with confidence as he answers. “We should get the test results back today; we’ll know what it is. We’ll take care of it. Promise. Just… hang in there, a little while longer.”
House smiles sadly. “Shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep,” he says softly, and the discouragement in his voice twists at Wilson’s heart.
House looks directly at Wilson. “Been thinking. There’s been no improvement; if it were an injury, it’d be better by now. If the tests don’t show anything, I… want you to do a biopsy.”
“No! We’ll figure this out; that won’t be necessary! House, I--”
“Be objective,” House interrupts flatly, harshly. “If I were any other patient, what would be your next move?”
“But you’re not any other….” Wilson’s voice trails off. He lowers his head, pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Ten seconds of absolute silence pass, and then Wilson sighs. “A muscle biopsy. We’ll have to wait about ten days because of the EMG. That’ll give me time to find someone to do the procedure.”
“No. I said I want you to do it.” There’s a plea in House’s eyes that he can’t voice, and that Wilson can’t turn down.
“Okay. I’ll do it. Maybe… maybe it won’t come to that. We’ve still got ten days for this to resolve.” But Wilson doesn’t even try to put hope in his voice; he won’t insult House that way.
Both House and Wilson are subdued the rest of the day. When Cuddy arrives, shortly after 6:30, Wilson pulls her into the kitchen and updates her. She, too, is shocked and saddened by House’s request, but she understands why Wilson has agreed to it.
“I’ll take care of him this evening, get him settled for the night,” Cuddy offers. “Try not to worry too much. Call me optimistic, but ten days is a long time; something might still change.”
Wilson gratefully accepts her offer—and her optimism. Now that the initial shock has worn off, he’s daring to hope again for a less drastic answer.
When the courier arrives that night, Cuddy is just leaving House’s room, and she’s smiling. She’d allowed House to remove the oxygen an hour earlier, and he’s maintained his sats at 95 percent on his own. He’d managed a good cough effort after the aerosol treatment, he’s moving air well—and he’d gone contentedly to sleep after trouncing Cuddy soundly in a game of gin.
Wilson’s happier, too. He’s made use of the time Cuddy’s given him to do extensive research into the differentials on House’s leg pain, and he doesn’t think that even the muscle biopsy will reveal anything that can’t be treated. So when the courier hands him an envelope containing the test results, he feels no sense of foreboding.
Wilson closes the door and moves to the couch to open the envelope. He quickly scans the cover page, and his face goes pale as Cuddy hears him whisper, “No!”
Cuddy starts towards him as he tears almost frantically through the pages of final results. As she’s about to ask him what they show, he stands abruptly, scattering the papers, and heads to the kitchen. He’s shaking his head, and repeating, “No; it can’t be. No!”
Alarmed now, Cuddy reaches over and grabs the cover letter. She skips rapidly to the last few lines, where she’s aware any diagnoses and recommendations will be. Her eyes widen as she reads, then she lifts her head, and listens. And she hears Wilson pick up the phone.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Repercussions
When Wilson finally hangs up the phone, he looks at Cuddy, sitting across from him, and he tries to take encouragement from her calm demeanor. She’d been wonderful during the phone consultation; she’d followed him into the kitchen, test results in hand, and she’d provided moral support—and the clear mind that Wilson had lacked.
Cuddy had stayed silent throughout, but would periodically hand him a pertinent question, or observation, scribbled quickly on a sheet of paper, and he’d pass it on and be grateful that she’d thought to bring it up. And every few minutes, her warm hand would come down firmly on Wilson’s own cold, trembling fingers, and reassurance would flow through him, for a little while. So now, he thanks her, and hopes that she knows how deep his gratitude really is.
Then they discuss the diagnosis, and the consultation, and the possible ways all this might play out. What they don’t discuss is how this could have happened—and Wilson’s even more grateful for that.
After Cuddy leaves, Wilson goes to House’s room. He’s able to busy himself for several minutes with all the routine night duties—a set of vital signs, a pulse ox reading, a careful assessment. He’s grateful for the tasks; they enable him, for a short while, to fill his mind with something other than the final test results, the upsetting phone call, the hour-long talk with Cuddy after he’d hung up.
But eventually the chores end, as he knew they would. And all that’s left is to sink wearily into the bedside chair and stare at his sleeping friend. And think. There’s too much thinking to do, and his thoughts go in fruitless circles. He blames that on the Ativan, but he knows it’s just an excuse—and a poor one, at that. So he takes a perverse satisfaction in punishing himself by allowing those fruitless thoughts free rein through his mind, as he stares at the unknowing victim of his mistake, his stupidity, his denial. It might be easier on him if he weren’t looking at House, and he doesn’t deserve ‘easier,’ so he denies himself permission to leave, or even to look away from the man in the bed.
I did this to you, and now I can’t even fix it. The only one who can undo it is you. I’ll try to help—if you’ll let me. But, no matter what I do, you’ll still be the one paying for my mistake, and I have no idea how much it’ll cost you. The last person in the world I’d ever want to harm, and I’ve found the single most effective way to hurt you. You trusted me to keep you safe, and now it turns out I’ve been your biggest danger.
House shifts position in the bed; he frowns as if Wilson’s thoughts are being telegraphed to him in his sleep. Wilson studies his face; he’s always found it fascinating that when House is sleeping, and all his walls are down, he looks so wholly defenseless. There’s a sadness there, an utter vulnerability, whose depths Wilson’s never seen in the face of any other adult, certainly never sees in House at any other time.
As House’s frown eases, and his face relaxes again, that vulnerability momentarily overwhelms Wilson; his only thought is a fierce desire to protect this occasionally child-like friend of his from the world.
And I did try to protect you. You’re right, you know; I do overcompensate, don’t I? This time, all that bought you was protection from the truth. You knew it; you tried to tell me with that nightmare of yours. Hell, I knew the truth too; my own nightmare shouted it at me. And I was so busy convincing both of us that I could fix everything that I turned a deaf ear to what you tried to say. Even ignored my own subconscious.
Wilson shifts uncomfortably in the chair, then stills himself as House turns in the bed. He waits, not even breathing, until House sighs and settles back into sleep.
It was right in front of us, in front of me, and I refused to see it, to deal with it. Some doctor I am. Some friend. Some… brother. It won’t count for anything, but I’m sorry. So damned sorry….
Finally, with a last, regretful look at House, Wilson stands and makes his way wearily to the couch. He sleeps, but despite the medication, his brain battles all night with the repercussions of his neglect.
At 6:00am, he gives up the battle, and rises for the day. After checking on House, the first thing he does is to gather the test results and his laptop. He needs to start figuring out how to tell House what’s wrong, and to help him through this, if House will allow it. And at least he’d had the presence of mind last night to ask that the phone conversation be recorded, and to ask Dr. Richard Dickinson to send it to him immediately. A quick check of his email confirms that Dick had uploaded the voice file to him shortly after they’d spoken.
Wilson takes the papers and the laptop to the kitchen and lays everything neatly out on the table while he waits for the coffee to brew. When the coffee’s done, Wilson picks up the pot to pour a cup. But his hands are shaking, and the pot slips from his grasp. He’s somehow able to catch it before it hits the floor, but there’s coffee everywhere. He sighs, rinses the pot, and starts the coffee again.
While he waits, Wilson turns the water on and scrubs the counter and floor with vigor. He knows he’s simply using the mess to stall the inevitable, but he’s pleasantly surprised at how comforting he finds the mindless cleaning tasks. So when he’s finally ready to get started, he feels a bit more relaxed, and a lot more clear-minded. He sits down in front of a blank legal pad and turns on last night’s voice file. A pen in one hand, his coffee in the other, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be to face the repercussions of his own inactions.
Chapter Twenty-Five: BETRAYED