I have a long history of becoming far too invested in my prime time TV shows. For a period, I went around telling friends and associates in various states of legal trouble that “a writ of mandamus must be issued” or that “these things usually sort themselves out in voir dire,” along with other bits of unsolicited, erroneous legal advice mined from “Law & Order” episodes. I employed, usually to little effect, modern forensic techniques learned on “CSI: Las Vegas” to create a time-line for those moments spurred on by my late-night roistering. I know I went to Taco Bell late-night because there are beans on my face this morning. But wait. Perhaps I am confusing correlation with causation. I’ll need more grant money to close the book on that case. But this is different. I’ve got a big problem now. The folks over at FOX have really done it to me this time.
“House, M.D.,” which usually airs at 8/7c, is a show that features the brilliant and ornery infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory House, his three minions, Drs. Chase, Foreman and Cameron, along with Dr. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro and oncology specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Wilson. The show follows Dr. House and his colleagues through the Byzantine world of medicine, “where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients,” at least according to a FOX network statement.
For me and my girlfriend Allison, this show has become an overwhelming presence, not just in our quotidian routine, but in the bedroom. Initially, my reaction to House, M.D. was a predictable one. I am a failed pre-med student, and even before the advent of Dr. House and his crew, I often resorted to offering ill-advised medical advice to those in need, falling back on my elementary training in medicine along with reruns of “ER.”
“Where does it hurt?”
“It’s my stomach. I think it might have been the fajitas.”
“Hmm, it sounds like your liver is shutting down. We need to start lactulose, 30 cc’s per NG and a get a stool and urine sample to see if there’s any blood in there.”
“It’s just a stomach ache.”
“Tyler, we’re at a Chili’s. What’s the matter with you?”
“Fine. It’s your life. Do you want the Mudslide Pie to go?”
But “House, M.D.” is a completely different kind of monster. Instead of breakneck emergency room procedures, House and his team are consistently faced with medical mysteries and procedures that would throw the common ER doctor for a loop. Just the other day House had to treat a man with electro-shock therapy for male menopause to wipe out his memory because the man was also sick with love for his brother’s fiancée and the only way to get him better was to fry his brain and erase the memories to keep heart attacks brought on by his brother’s fiancée’s presence away. Not the run of the mill motorcycle vs. pedestrian so common on other medical dramas.
After Allison and I decided this was a worthwhile show and one worth purchasing on DVD, things took a turn for the worse. Innocuous medical issues became intense projects, as I would eschew the common diagnosis for a more bewildering prognosis.
“You wouldn’t believe it, Tyler. Everybody at work is sick. I think the flu is going around. Maybe I’ll take tomorrow off.”
“I see. Has anybody in your office been to Africa in the last six months to a year?”
“Why? I think Amy might have gone to Miami last summer with her husband, but I don’t think anybody went to Africa.”
“So you’re not sure?”
“Well no, not totally.”
“Look, after we put your office in quarentine, I’m going to need to check Beta 2 protein levels and do a lumbar puncture on all the employees. I’m leaning toward cowpox, but it could be amyloidosis or lymphoma. However, if the biopsy and abdominal CT scan are negative for cancers, I’m going to need to check for scurvy and African horse sickness along with hypergonadism. You all may also have a mild case of Addison’s disease.”
“Did you say ‘hypergonadism?’”
“Yes, of course. Why?”
“How do you explain a case of hypergonadism in an office full of women?”
And unlike her distaste for my other forays into pseudo, prime-time science, Allison was oddly tolerant and even encouraged my maverick House M.D.-induced diagnostic career. In fact, it now occurs to me that her long string of coughs, sneezes, yawns, ticks and alleged night sweats over the past year was a ruse to get closer to Dr. House and his colleagues.
“Babe, my head hurts. Do you think it’s anything,” she’ll say, prompting me to list a litany of ailments. Dr. House is never one to rule out any scenario and neither was I. Of course, my database of disease increased with every “House, M.D.” episode: Bwamba fever, Potato leaf roll virus, Mafucci syndrome, adrenal hypoplasia, Touraine-Solente-Golé syndrome, cat-scratch fever, oral-facial-digital syndrome types I-IV, you name it.
“Maybe it’s nothing. Why don’t you come in to the bedroom with me?” In the bedroom, Allison was nice to me and these niceties continued for quite a while. I hadn’t noticed the correlation, however, between our horizontal antics and their proximity in time to our viewing of “House, M.D.” I don’t believe men have the capability to reflect accurately on why or how they are treated nicely; we accept the situation with an awe and wonderment reserved for the contemplation of Machu Picchuor the Edelbrock intake or Buffalo wings. Once again, I confused correlation with causation, assuming my vast knowledge of pathology was the catalyst behind our new and improved love life. Alas, it was not my knowledge of medicinal arcana that provoked Allison’s amorous behavior; it was Gregory House, M.D.
As season one moved to season two, Allison’s and my fanaticism for the show grew. After the first season, you have a good sense of the characters—their motivations, a look into their skeleton-packed closets—and you begin to relate to them. Gregory House M.D. suffers from some kind of untreatable condition that led to necrosis in his quadricep, causing the brilliant doctor significant discomfort. I have a few ideas about what could be ailing House, but my humility prevents me from divulging these notions to strangers. Ok, I don’t really have a concrete idea about what could be wrong with Dr. House, but neither does he, which is why we both flirt with a Vicodin addiction. Dr. House needs a few handfuls a day to cope with the agonizing pain brought on by his condition and the stupidity of the hospital administration and his patients, while I, on the other hand, require a few handfuls to offer “moral support” to House and because my friend Brent has some left over from when he had his wisdom teeth removed. As for what’s ailing Dr. House, I’ll put it this way: Fulminating osteomyelitis is still on the list. But then again, so are a thyroid hormone plasma membrane transport defect and scabies. As you see, my enthusiasm for the show increased with every episode. Allison, however, began to “present” symptoms of a similar, yet more corporeal fanaticism.
Around the middle of season two, Allison, who is not much for idol worship, proposed we buy a poster of House, M.D. and his team on E-bay. During college and far too long after, I inflicted upon my roommates posters featuring green space aliens that glowed eerily under a black light, that Bob Marley poster that everybody has where he is smoking a joint the size of the Hindenburg, and the requisite poster of Anna Nicole Smith before she ballooned and fell into a quaalude/chicken fried steak-induced torpor. I thought I could manage another juvenile poster; time and maturity relegating them all (aside from the alien poster) to a dumpster at the behest of some style-conscious former love. We looked online and saw a House, M.D. poster signed by all the doctors, so for Christmas, I endeavored to purchase on eBay this one-of-a-kind item for Allison.
A 24 x 36 poster signed by Dr. Gregory House, M.D. and his staff (including Dr. Cuddy and Dr. Wilson) hovering over what looks like an exam table, the eminent doctors backlit by a surgical lamp, was available on eBay for $100. I went to work and during a lull, logged on to the site to put in my bid on the poster. I bid $150 and went back to work, confident that in two days, nine hours, and seventeen minutes the item would be mine. I checked on my offer a day later only to find I had been outbid by house_lover22. This devotee had pushed the bid up to $200. Fazed, but still possessing a little of the fight that has kept my alien poster up all these years (although I was told I’d have to lose the black light as it was, according to a former girlfriend, “the drippiest, crispy, weed-smoking patchouli bong resin relic I’ve ever seen”) I went whole hog in for $220. Only the best for my gal! But the next day, as I went to check my bid, house_lover22 dropped a $260 bomb on me. War. Without flinching, I offered $275 for the poster, certain that this would scare off the little House, M.D. tourist. Then, 45 minutes later, I had been outbid again, sure enough, by house_lover22. Three-hundred god damned dollars. I was done. He wins. I left the bidding arena feeling like a victim of acute cadmium poisoning.
I arrived home from my office and found Allison all worked up into a tizzy.
“I got it! I got it! That House poster we were looking at. Some fucker tried to snatch it up, but I hung around and got it.”
“Do we even have three-hundred dollars?”
“How’d you know it was…oh shit. Gift of the Magi. Sort of.”
The poster arrived and Allison hung it above our bed, where a mirror used to be. This is when I first came to suspect that Allison’s love of House, M.D. had taken a distinctly different shape than my own. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have a massive crush on Drs. Cuddy and Cameron and a bit of a man-crush on Dr. Chase. Obviously, Gregory House M.D., is included in this list, but my attraction to him is less physical—I’d like him to stay and chat over scotch and then maybe something happens. . . . But Allison, it now became clear, had only a selfish interest in my prognosticating. My diagnoses were mere vehicles on which she could ride away from the “real world” and into the arms of the wildly attractive knot of doctors at Princeton-Plainsboro.
I caught Allison engaged in House M.D. chat rooms, vigorously smashing away at the keyboard to harass other members of the otherwise innocuous chat room and reinforce the notion that these brilliant doctors were misunderstood by the cretinoid masses here at the Forum: http://forums.fox.com/foxhouse/.
“You dumb sons of bitches. Dr. Chase is merely trying to live up to his father’s wild, unattainable expectations. Of course he’s going to be wound tight, you sanctimonious fucks.”
Eventually these rants found Allison banned from a number of “House, M.D.” chat rooms and left to stew in the thought that there existed people out in the world who would disparage perhaps the finest team of doctors ever to be assembled. Speaking of the real world, I began to feel my first pang of jealousy, as our love life, at least in the bedroom, had become a decidedly canine diversion. Now, I love to watch House, M.D. on Tuesdays at 8/7c, but I don’t need to see the staff above my bed, examining my every move, judging me, diagnosing me.
“Hey, Dr. Foreman. The patient looks odd and manic. Do you think it could be Japanese encephalitis?”
“Well, Chase. I don’t know. Certainly neurological. Maybe metachromatic leukodystrophy. Dr. Cameron, any thoughts?”
“Yeah. Is that all he’s got? Jesus. Poor bastard.”
I remained tolerant of our signed House, M.D. poster because I am no fool and I know a good thing when I’ve got it. But, I really felt I had to establish myself as a plausible substitute for Dr. House and his colleagues. I met with my friend Ben at a sushi restaurant over Camparis to try and orchestrate a plan. We spent the afternoon sipping our Italian aperitifs and pinching at spider rolls, my confidence rising with the alcohol and Ben’s completely misguided advice.
“You should fucking apply to medical school, man.”
“What do you mean? I already tanked in pre-med and any relevant medical knowledge I’ve ever had is shaky at best, Ben.”
“Why are you so hard on yourself?”
“I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m trying to be honest with myself, Ben.”
“Oh, sorry. I guess I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m also on mushrooms.”
Everyone needs the friend who will actually ingest all the ridiculous psychedelic chemicals used for the occupational vision quest. I would never have conceived of applying to medical school in my current state—fragile, insecure and possibly suffering from delusions of grandeur or angina pectoris. But Ben planted this seed, and after tracking him down in the bathroom where he was organizing a bowl of edamame to resemble Che Guevara, I patted him on the back, stuck him with the bar tab and went to the half-price book store to purchase a guide to taking the MCAT.
Allison supported my decision to apply to medical school, but her behavior turned from one of trepidation toward to outright disgust. After delaying my attack on the MCAT a half dozen times for various reasons (“Who’s to say I don’t have cadmium poisoning?) I discovered medical school and even the medical profession at large, involved more than the rote memorization of obscure diseases and dosage amounts. There’s also quite a bit of mathematics and chemistry, two subjects which I would characterize as my weak suits. I sat on the couch going through MCAT flashcards featuring calculus and covalent bonds most evenings except for Tuesdays 8/7c, when House, M.D. would take me to a loftier position, in particular, the head of diagnostic medicine at Princeton Plainsboro hospital. Allison would sit transfixed, her tongue probing the air as if to catch some renegade particle escaped from the sweet breath of Dr. House through the phosphorous and the ray tubes of the television and onto her pursed and eager lips. The only time she ever strayed from her seat was when she would have to throw the cat against the wall for stepping on the remote control. Wednesday through Monday, however, I worked like mad toward being accepted to, “you know what? Fuck it,” I said, “Princeton Medical School.” Alas, Allison’s feelings of disgust at my obvious lack of aptitude for the sciences came to head one afternoon when she barked,
“How can you not know the difference between aromatic and alicyclic compounds or even less an atom and a god damned molecule? Baboons know that shit! I’m going on-line. You’re a mess.” I was, though. I was terrible. I began to copy test answers from the previous owner of this study guide’s practice tests. No doubt this whiz was already chief of cardiac medicine somewhere fancy. I allowed myself to be swept up in the idea that I had, like Allison and Dr. House’s molecules (atoms?), somehow become intertwined with this book’s previous owner. Another practice test. Another near-perfect performance. Allison came to trust in my capabilities, noting, “Maybe it’s just weird. Maybe you just sound like an idiot when you’re talking.” But I knew better and as the date of my MCAT came upon me, I was seized with fear. I was a fraud. All that legal jargon, all that ridiculous recitation of House’s diagnoses, not mine…puerile, stupid, show-offy, greasy kid stuff. What was I thinking? “Law & Order” never had me applying to law school; I saw “A Brief History of Time” and I didn’t go rushing off for a doctorate in space physics; “The Karate Kid” did see me enroll in karate lessons, but only for one day, as I wore my gi out in public sporting the never-menacing beginner’s white belt, and was quickly set upon by local hoods who locked me in a Port-o-Potty for 45 minutes. What the hell was this? Who did I think I was? I’m not a doctor, I’m a guy who makes a watermelon helmet at the end of a barbecue when I’m half-crocked on Carlo Rossi burgundy. I aimed to come clean to Allison and to myself, but I just couldn’t bear it. Not to mention, season three of House was coming to a close and a general malaise took over the apartment. Allison lost all interest in my imminent medical career and sex, I became overrun with guilt, monotonously going over practice MCATs executed to near-perfection by their previous taker, and even the cat seemed downtrodden, occasionally throwing herself against the wall in a touching display of nostalgia and abject boredom.
The day of the MCAT came and I lumbered off to take the exam in a nearby high school at eight in the morning as Allison dozed away.
“Good luck, doctor,” she italicized hopefully, unconvincingly.
When I arrived at the high school, I had to negotiate my way from the parking lot, through a gang fight (Why do gangs get up so early? Seems counter-intuitive.) and past a number of methamphetamine dealers to arrive at the auditorium, a trek that caused me a fair amount of unease. But unlike other major tests in my life, I wasn’t nervous for this one. I didn’t have those paralyzing butterflies or nausea present during my SAT or those other tests that determine whether you’ll be in the class that’s learning long math or the one where there are two kids locked in a cage and another kid rubbing his own feces all over the sack lunches. I was calm. There was a kind of Bach fugue/walking through honey-and-gauze calm that came over me. I was going to get through this. I was going to go in there and try my best and maybe, just maybe I’d pull it out this one time. The onetime cosmic forces all line up in your favor and there is no man, no superstructure, no howling stampede in this blasted world who can stop you! I thought this for a few more moments then decided that that kind of shit only happens on ESPN Classic and went to a bar instead.
I felt awful, not so much for skipping my MCAT as for deceiving myself and Allison the whole time I was allegedly “studying” for this test. Delusional parisitosis, or “Morgellon’s disease” could be a possible cause of my delusional medical aspirations. But then, so could leprosy.
The bar was an old Irish place called “The Blarney Stone.” The Blarney Stone, like the fourteen other Irish bars I’ve been to called The Blarney Stone, opened early—some loophole they must take advantage of by offering an Irish “breakfast” (in most cases a lukewarm hot dog, lukewarmer beans and $2 wells). I sat at the bar and lit a cigarette, taking in the faint smell of excelsior for just long enough to consider that jejune notion you talk about in college after too much marijuana where we are all cosmic guinea pigs, just spinning around that proverbial wheel in the proverbial unknown with credit card debt, acne vulgaris, goiters, elephantitis, jaundice, rush hour traffic and the like in some silly celestial aquarium filled with…
“Yeah, I’ll have a Guinness and one of those weenies.”And after a few Guinness, a quantity of scotch and plenty of lukewarm weenies, I was thrown out of the bar for telling the bartender he looked like he might have thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and to maybe hurry up with another one of those weenies.
I arrived home around noon to find Allison sitting on the couch with the MCAT book in her hand. I kissed her awkwardly and then paced around the apartment like I often do when I am drunk and hiding something.
“Look,” I said. “I’m going to have to come clean here. I didn’t take the MCAT. I just want…”
“I know, babe. I know you didn’t—unless they started serving scotch for breakfast over at the high school.”
“I think the PTA is considering it.”
“You got a letter from Princeton. It doesn’t look like an application.” I opened the letter, my clumsy, drunken hands fumbling over the envelope. I strained to read the letter, holding it closer, then further away from my face. I was finally able to make it out:
Dear Mr. Smith,
We appreciate your interest in Princeton University. Unfortunately, we offer no graduate program in medicine, nor do we have a medical school.
The Graduate School
Clio Hall, Princeton, NJ, 08544
And so it goes…
I gave the letter to Allison who, naturally, roared with laughter. I sank onto the couch, drunk and embarrassed, intermittently hiccuping blasts of fetid weenie about the living room.
“So why didn’t you take it?” she asked. “You paid good money.”
“It would have been a disaster. They would have had to check the machine to verify a score could dip so low.”
“Well, I’m proud of you, Tyler.”
“Thanks. See anything interesting in the study guide?
“No,” she smiled. “I’m just going over my old practice tests.”
“My MCAT practice tests. I should get my scores in a week or two.”
“What the fuck do you mean your scores? I think I’m on mushrooms. I have to lie down.”
With my dipsomania subsided and a solid nap under my belt, I went to Allison to clarify what I thought she’d been babbling about earlier.
“Yeah, you just let it sit there for weeks. I thought I’d take a crack at it.
“So you took the MCAT?”
“Yeah. I think I nailed it.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“That’s so ninja.”
“House, M.D. style!
Now that season five of House, M.D. is nigh, our lives have become decidedly different. Allison pores over medical school applications while I go about my routine, making sandwiches and catching smidgens of “Boston Legal,” something to pass the time until “House, M.D.” arrives. We still have the “House, M.D.” poster up in the bedroom, but it doesn’t seem like such the centerpiece anymore. Allison still manages a few tirades on rogue internet chat rooms about “House, M.D.,” but she’s focusing on a big life move. Soon, Allison will be telling me I’ve got gonadal dysgenesis and I’m actually going to have to do something about it. She’ll be surrounded by people who speak this language, people who actually understand it. And where does that leave me? I don’t know. I’m nervous. But, as I’ve always firmly believed, these things do usually sort themselves out in voir dire.