Chapter Three - "Rising Up to the Sky"
Thirteen sat at the table in the conference room, paging through a patient's medical history for the fourth or fifth time. Chase and Taub were playing some sort of manly game on their i-phones as evidenced by their random grunts and occasional hand smacks on the table; clearly machismo was in full bloom. The only other sound in the room was Foreman's irritated sighs, the result of being made to wait for House's arrival.
“Does anyone know when House is coming in?” asked Thirteen. “This poor woman is miserable right now and instead of helping her, we're sitting here wasting time.” No answer. “Have any of you even looked at this?” She held up the patient's file.
“First of all, I am not wasting time,” said Taub “I've actually made it to stage 7 of 'Death Star Ranger.’ And yes, I looked at the file.”
“Stage 7?” asked Chase, “I can't get past stage 5.”
“Are you using the viper head sword when he gets trapped in the ice cave or the XD 7 particle gun?”
“The gun, of course,” answered Chase. Thirteen looked back and forth between the two men, incredulous at their lack of attention to the patient.
“I don't believe you two! We have a case to deal with and all you can do is have a teen-aged testosterone war?”
“Why are you so hung up on this patient?” asked Foreman. “And what makes you think House will care about the case?”
“I probably won't care. Unless a pair of tickets to next month's Mega Double-Dare Monster Truck Rally is the prize for making the boo-boo go away.” And with that, House dropped his backpack on the floor, sat down at the head of the table, and returned to work. He pointed to the folder Thirteen was holding. “So, who's come crawling to us for help this time?”
“Female, 50 years old, extensive medical history. Presenting with severe pain in her head and face on the right side only. Stops midline on the nose, cheek, and forehead. No earache or hearing loss. Mouth ulcerations which haven't allowed her to eat properly. Says chewing and swallowing are agony. She's lost 57 pounds in seven weeks.”
“You know, with the right marketing campaign, she could make millions in the diet and weight loss industry,” said House. “Of course, you'd have to leave out all the stuff about being deathly ill.”
“Why has she waited seven weeks to get help?” Foreman asked.
“Clearly some mean old doctor didn't let her eat the ice cream off the stick when she was a child,” remarked House. “And what are you doing here? I thought you'd be administering to the needs of the hospital, not the needs of one of its patients.”
“Wilson and I were in the ER when the patient came in. He suggested I follow the case.”
“So it's your turn to play super nanny. I have to warn you, I don't respond well to time outs.”
“Can we get back to the patient? It seems she sees lots of doctors on a regular basis,” said Thirteen. “She is a type one diabetic for almost forty years, has both psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiac issues galore: enlarged heart, CHF, MI, cardiac arrest, quadruple bypass five years ago… ”
“Don't forget Fibromyalgia,” chimed in Taub.
“And a history of sinusitis,” added Chase.
“See,” said Taub, “We both read the chart.”
“Yes, but did you understand it?” asked House.
“This just seems like a severe sinus infection. Maybe she has a low threshold for pain,” said Foreman.
“No,” said Thirteen firmly. “There's something else going on. She needs more than a nasal spray or some pills from a drug store.”
“Foreman's right,” Taub said. “You do seem to have an extra interest in this case.” Thirteen looked around the table.
“When I was a kid, my neighbor was a diabetic from the time he was 5, which was in the 1950's. He never took very good care of himself; he used to stop on the way home from dialysis to get an ice cream soda.” She looked down at the table. “Eventually they wound up amputating one part of him at a time until he just gave up and died. He helped me through a lot of what I was going through with my mother; let me talk and get things out. This patient… just reminds me of him a lot.” Chase, Foreman and Taub nodded.
“Wow,” said House, “You know, if you haven't missed the publishing deadline, you really should send that story to the ‘Why I Care’ column of the AMA's journal. It would make a hot read.” Thirteen shot him a look.
“You asked,” she said.
“No, they asked. I don't want to know about any personal cheap thrill you're getting from the case,” House admonished. “OK, let's start with the basics: complete medical history from the time she was a tadpole in her mommy's tummy to today, list of current meds, list of everything the doctors she's been seeing have given her so we know what doesn't work, complete lab work up and a CAT scan with contrast of her sinuses, no MRI.”
“Why not?” asked Foreman.
“Well, if you insist on exploding the defibrillator in her chest, go right ahead, but somehow I think the patient might raise some objections.”
“How do you know she has a defibrillator?” Taub questioned.
“The same way I know she has extreme edema in her right cheek and right side of her nose, her right eye is tearing profusely and is almost swollen shut. And for an eye she's blind in, which none of you mentioned, she has severe photophobia.”
“She's blind in her right eye?” questioned Thirteen, “That's not in her file the husband brought us.”
“Right. The file is probably both inaccurate and incomplete, not to mention any test results are at least five weeks old. When the other doctors couldn't find anything, they stopped looking.”
“How do you know all of this?” Chase asked.
“When I was walking through the lobby, I was ambushed by the patient's husband. It seems someone,” House said as he turned and looked accusingly at Foreman. “Pointed me out to him. Plausible deniability was chucked out the window. You two,” he said motioning with his cane to Taub and Chase. ”Go to the patient's house and look for the usual suspects. Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse,” he said indicating Thirteen and Foreman. “Can get the history and run the tests.”
“Actually, Wilson just paged me. He needs me to give him a hand with something.” House gave him a look.
“It really turns you on to talk dirty like that, doesn't it?” he asked sarcastically.
“I can do the history and tests,” said Thirteen, not giving Foreman a chance to respond. “Of course you could always give me a hand,” she said looking at House.
“‘Fraid not. I've already reached my patient contact quota for the month.” Thirteen shook her head as she stood up. House also rose and started to walk into his office, then turned around and said, “Find out if she's allergic to morphine; if not, start her on a drip to relieve the pain. If she is allergic, start her on one of the other drugs I wish I was on. And make sure you interview the husband and wife separately.”
“Why separately?” asked Taub. House rolled his eyes up to the ceiling.
“Really? After all this time, I still have to spell it out for you? OK. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E-L-I-E-S.” With that, House left his office to get something to eat. While not his usual choice, he took the stairs down as he already had encountered too many staff members commenting on his return to work. The next one that asked if it was too soon was going to get a can of alum poured down their throat. House was pleased with himself for making it as far as he did, when suddenly, he stopped and listened. It was a piano; unfortunately, it sounded like it was being played by someone's elbow rather than their hands. He followed the sound to the hospital chapel. Looking inside, he saw two men moving the piano at the front of the room.
“Hey, what are you doing?” House asked. The men looked up at him, startled.
“We're putting the piano back. The carpets in here were cleaned and it had to be moved.” The worker who spoke eyed him suspiciously. “Who are you? You work here?” House walked toward the piano and set his new piano cane down on the top.
“Nope. I'm from Local 1812. Piano inspector's union,” said House as he gestured to the cane. “I have to make sure it wasn't knocked out of tune during any of its travels.”
“It went from one side of the room to the other,” said the second workman. House sat down at the keyboard.
“Silence!” he commanded. “I need quiet to do my work.” He stretched his arms out, placed his hands on the keys and started playing "Chopsticks". The two workers shook their heads and left the chapel. When he was sure they were gone, House stopped playing and looked down at the keys. It had been a long time since he played just for the hell of it. Come to think of it, said House to himself. I didn't even imagine playing while in the coma. He placed his hands back on the keys. Starting off with Bach, House moved on to Gershwin and then some Dr. John. His fingers glided effortlessly over the keyboard; music always had a calming effect on him and now it was particularly soothing to be returning to an old friend. He had just finished the song, when he paused and smiled.
“Hello, Greg.” Shock was the first emotion that came in waves over House; his pulse and breathing quickened. He knew the voice, but didn't know how he could be hearing it here. If he was still in the coma, he could understand retrieving that voice from deep within him; but he was very much living in real time. He took a breath as he removed his hands from the keyboard.
“Hello, Lydia.” He turned and looked at the entrance to the chapel. He was right… it was her. Standing in the doorway was the person who helped him get through so much at Mayfield. She accepted his flaws and embraced his talents and always judged him gently. House wanted to go to her and take her in his arms as he had once before, but he resisted the urge. He didn't know why she was here and was in no position to assume anything. She was after all, married; but just as beautiful as ever to him. “How did you know where to find me?” House asked moving up the aisle toward her.
"You told me the name of the hospital where you worked when you were at Mayfield,” she replied. “As far as how I found you within the building, I parked in the lot on this side,” she said pointing to the open chapel windows. “I heard the music outside and I knew it could only be you playing.” House did his best to hide the smile he felt at her compliment.
“What led you to that conclusion?” She shrugged.
"The person playing was too heavy on the right foot," Lydia said, using the same criticism that House directed at her back at Mayfield.
“Not me; you must be thinking of some other person who doesn't play as well as me,” House said pretending to be insulted. Lydia moved toward him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. That one gesture stirred feelings that House thought he had buried forever. His eyes met hers and he did his best to hide what he was thinking. "The recent reports of cockroach sightings in the cafeteria have been attributed to the rats spreading nasty rumors. I was going there for a bite to eat. Care to join me?" he asked. Lydia nodded and they started down the hall. She looked down toward his feet as they made their way to the cafeteria.
“I like your cane.”
“It has a really long story behind it.”
“Good. You can tell me while we break bread with the local vermin.” House cleared his throat and tried to sound casual as he spoke.
“So, you get tired of cacti providing the only shade out in Arizona? Coyotes make off with one too many of your kittens? Or is domesticating prairie dogs not all you thought it would be?” Lydia laughed.
“None of the above. Annie is returning to the Philadelphia Philharmonic in a few weeks. One of their cellists is retiring and the conductor she played under contacted her and asked if she would be interested in coming back. I told her I wanted to be there to watch her return to the stage. So, here I am.” They arrived at the cafeteria and House reached for the door.
“The dutiful sister-in-law has come to play cheerleader. How sweet,” he said as he opened the door and stepped back to let Lydia in. She took a step forward, then paused in the doorway. She turned to look at House.
“Ex-sister-in-law,” she corrected. She looked away and continued inside. At that moment, Wilson appeared behind House at the doorway, intending to step inside.
“House, are you OK?” he asked. House was staring at Lydia in disbelief, not even acknowledging Wilson's presence. Wilson followed House's gaze.
“House?” he questioned.
“Later,” said House. He walked away from Wilson and over to where Lydia was standing.
“Ex?” questioned House. Lydia took a deep breath.
“My life has been a crazy, complicated mess. I had told you that Ben had stopped paying attention to Annie; he showed her no love or concern. But she’s his sister! You’d think he’d have felt something! After we got out to Phoenix and she was living with us, he even said he wished she was still in Mayfield!” She paused for a moment to compose herself. “I never had a real marriage; I was just stupidly hoping that as I talked to Annie about being married to her brother, that it would jolt her out of her catatonic state. The more I looked at things, I realized that I didn’t have a family to hold on to… Ben became more and more … ” Lydia struggled to find the words.
“Abusive?” House offered.
“Yes… more verbally than physically, but he was directing it more and more toward the children. Then, thanks to you, Annie woke up,” Lydia said her eyes tearing up. “I had my best friend back. And while it was always our plan to move to Arizona if she ever got better, I knew deep down it was a mistake to go, especially after you came to my door that night.” The two of them had walked over to a table and sat down as Lydia had been speaking; she now removed several napkins from the holder on the table to wipe her eyes.
“So unlike the mythical bird, Phoenix wasn’t a re-birth of all things good for you,” House noted.
“No, not at all. I had Annie, of course, which meant the world to me; but she was in therapy for so many hours a day, and had a hard time getting reacquainted with the world. I took some classes at the local community college to keep busy; they couldn’t help me finish my original degree, but I did get certified as a teaching assistant with an emphasis in music education. I had very few friends I could socialize with, just some people I met at the college; acquaintances, really. My ex had all these people he knew from his travels out to the company’s Phoenix office; men and… women.” She looked at House; he knew what she was inferring and nodded. “Annie got the call and decided to come back here, right after a horrible incident with Ben; his temper just exploded. It was then I knew that I had to leave and filed for divorce right away. I wasn’t going to let her take this on by herself, and at least I had some friends back here. In the time it took Annie to get ready, and move, my divorce was finalized. The only issue is custody of the children, which shouldn’t be an issue since he says he never wanted them.” House didn’t know how to react to what he was hearing; there was so much he wanted to ask her, he wasn’t sure what to say.
“Lydia… ” he began. At that moment, his phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and glared at it. “This better not be a potty break request,” he muttered as he answered the call. “So, has her head exploded yet? Has she lost another ten pounds in the past hour? Or is she spewing pea soup all over the place?” House asked he looked at Lydia and saw she was laughing as he spoke.
“Tachycardia, pulse rate 142,” said Thirteen. “We're giving her Flecainide, pulse is down to 96. She can barely talk, but she said that the pain became unbearable, and that's when her heart went haywire.”
“Give her Dilaudid; see if we can get the pain under control for now. Have you gotten the labs back yet?”
“Yes, and we just finished the CAT scan.” House's eyes darted about as he thought.
“Did the pain become worse when you moved her?”
“Yeah; on her right side, she's in agony, on her left side, she gets some relief.”
“Well, I hope you have her on her left side at the moment.” He heard Thirteen let out a sigh.
“Be there in a minute.” House ended the phone and stared at it for a moment. He was deep in thought, concentrating on the patient's latest turn of events, when he became aware of Lydia standing up. He looked at her, and didn't know what to do. He wanted to sit down and listen to all that had happened to her and tell her what his life had been like since they parted company, but he knew he couldn't do that; he had a mystery to solve, a patient to save.
“I should go,” said Lydia. “I didn't mean to intrude on your work.”
“You're not. I…I want to talk. I can't right now.” She smiled and nodded. Reaching inside her pocketbook, she took out a small pad and a pen and started to write.
“Here is my number. When you're ready, give me a call.” She ripped the piece of paper from the pad and handed it to him. House took it, folded it and put it in his jacket pocket as he rose from his chair.
“I’ll be pretend to be what passes for a gentleman and walk you out,” he said as they left the cafeteria.
“Isn't your patient upstairs?” asked Lydia as she pointed to the set of elevators at the back of the lobby.
“Yeah, but those aren't the right elevators. They’ll take me in the wrong direction.” She stopped, folded her arms and looked at him disapprovingly. “This is what I have a team for. To take care of things until I can get my cape and tights on.” The two continued toward the front doors; they paused for a moment just past the reception desk, and stood in an awkward silence. It seemed neither one wanted to initiate the good-bye. Finally Lydia spoke.
“Well, I'd better let you find a phone booth so you can change.” House reached out and took her hand in his.
“You came looking for me. Why?” Lydia smiled and shook her head.
“Always questioning things; why did I look for you? Back at Mayfield, why did I kiss you?” House closed his eyes at the memory of the kiss. He opened his eyes and looked at her as she took a step closer to him. “We are going to talk; we will discuss it then. Now, go play doctor.” She leaned into him, gave him a kiss on the lips, turned and walked out the door. House stood and watched her for as long as she was in sight. When she was gone, he turned, and quickly walked toward the elevators. He had a patient that needed him.