CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: BREATHING ROOM
When Foreman enters House’s cubicle, Wilson and Cuddy see him, but pay no attention; they’re deep into a heated discussion. Foreman stands quietly at the door—he knows that no one else has any place in the decisions these two are trying to make.
Foreman had been in the Diagnostics office when Chase, clearly disturbed, had come in. Chase had told him about House’s worsening condition, the respiratory distress, Wilson’s demand for a ventilator. And then he’d revealed the details of his confidential conversation with House. So Foreman had taken a few minutes to bring himself up to date on House’s condition. Then he’d examined his own feelings about what was transpiring, and he’d discovered that he understood both sides of the argument. Now, he’s here to provide whatever support he can, whichever way the decision goes. So he waits.
“He’s suffering,” Wilson tells Cuddy as they both watch House pull in a torturous breath at the end of eighteen seconds of apnea.
“And if we put him on a vent, we’ll be prolonging the suffering. He’s comatose now; in all likelihood he’s unaware of what’s happening to him. And in a few hours, a day maybe, it’ll… be over. But if we intubate, get him on the respirator, he may regain consciousness at some point. And then he’ll know that he’s dying, that medically we’re powerless to help him. He’ll know everything, he’ll feel everything. Is that what you want for him?” Cuddy looks deep into Wilson’s eyes, trying to make him understand.
“You know it isn’t,” Wilson answers fervently. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll keep him heavily sedated, and the vent’ll buy us the time we need to figure out how to treat this. I’ve got a couple leads on clinical trials; I’m waiting on a callback right now on a new compound that’s shown promising results. Time, Cuddy. That’s all I’m asking for—a little more time.”
Cuddy sighs. “Sedation isn’t foolproof, and if anyone can fight it off, it’ll be House. I’m sorry; his kidneys are failing, his lungs are failing. The latest lab results indicate that his liver’s next. And what happens when—not if, but when—the infection stops responding to linezolid?”
“By then, we’ll have something else; I know it. Come on, Cuddy; we’re wasting time! While we’re standing here debating this, we’re risking hypoxia, stroke, respiratory arrest—and we’re not giving him the chance he needs to fight this.”
Cuddy puts a hand on Wilson’s arm and leads him over to sit on the edge of the cot. Both the situation and the discussion have left him drained, and he allows it. Cuddy sits beside him.
“Let’s say you’re right,” Cuddy says quietly. “Let’s say that we get him on the vent, stabilize him until we find an effective treatment. Surely you’re aware of what his recovery would be like, the sequelae he’d face in light of his current condition. And that’s assuming that nothing else goes wrong during treatment.”
“Of course I’m aware of it. I know how long his recovery will be, the complications he’ll face. But we’ll deal with them. He’s gonna be angry, miserable. He’ll make my life a living hell; I get that. And I’m okay with it. Told you I’m not Stacy; not gonna cut and run on him, no matter what he does, what he says.”
“What if he meant what he said to Chase? What if you’re wrong about him changing his mind, and that’s the way he feels now?”
Wilson takes a deep breath, locks his eyes with Cuddy’s. “He’s been depressed, seriously depressed. And we didn’t know just how bad it was until the brain cancer stunt. But you know what that told me? Told me he doesn’t just want to live, he wants a better life than he’s got now. When he found out I’d been dosing him with antidepressants, he didn’t get angry. More importantly, he didn’t quit taking them! Cuddy, he doesn’t want to die; maybe what he wants is another chance at life. And right now, you’re the only one who can give me that chance.”
Cuddy stares at Wilson. He doesn’t realize what he just said—he didn’t catch his slip, saying ‘me’ instead of ‘him’. This isn’t just about House for him. House was right; Wilson does see this as his last chance to make things right. House is going to die. But before that happens, Wilson’s got to feel that he’s done everything humanly possible for him. And then maybe Wilson will be able to go on. Maybe House would understand that. Maybe he’d even approve….
Cuddy looks over at House, then back to Wilson. “And if we do this, and he dies?”
“That’s not going to happen. But… if he doesn’t make it… he’ll die knowing that we cared enough, loved him enough, to fight for him.”
Cuddy has to blink away tears, and Wilson can see that she’s beginning to waver. “Look, he’s going to get better,” Wilson says. “It’ll be long; it’ll be hard. But I’ll take a leave of absence from my practice, from the hospital. I’ll make sure he’s never alone, never has a chance to brood. I’ll take care of him, and I’ll monitor his mental state. And he’ll get through it, we’ll get through it. Whatever it takes.” He looks at Cuddy, and the plea in his eyes is as loud as a shout.
“You’d give it all up, your own life, everything, just to help him?”
“That’s what friends do,” Wilson says simply.
Cuddy smiles faintly. “Do me a favor. Next time you’re near a dictionary, look up self preservation. And then, try to learn what it means, okay?” She leans over and gives Wilson a hug.
“Is that a yes?” Wilson’s afraid to hope. When Cuddy nods wordlessly, he hugs her back. “Thank you,” he whispers. “You won’t be sorry.”
They both stand and return to House’s side. “I’ll do it,” Wilson tells Cuddy quietly, but she can hear the immense strain in his voice.
“No,” she responds. “I’ll do it. I can’t order Chase to go against a patient’s expressed wishes.”
Wilson almost smiles. “Why not? House makes him do it all the time.”
Foreman steps forward, and Wilson and Cuddy both startle; they’d forgotten he was there. “I do this a lot more often than either of you,” he tells them. “And God knows, wouldn’t wanna risk damaging House’s precious vocal cords!”
At his last remark, Cuddy and Wilson finally have genuine smiles on their pale, worried faces, which is exactly what Foreman had intended. He nods at them both, then says to Cuddy, “Take this man down to the cafeteria for some coffee, and get a decent meal into him.”
Wilson starts to protest; then he sees Foreman’s eyes. The message is clear—you don’t need to see this; don’t argue with me—and it’s wrapped in compassion. So Wilson nods, then looks down at his comatose friend.
“Not going far, pal. Be back soon. And… you’re in good hands.” Wilson looks gratefully over at Foreman. “The best.”