Chapter 10: A Bustle in the Hedgerow
“Hey, stay awake.”
House flicked the top of Wilson’s ear, prompting Wilson to open his eyes.
He was welcomed by a wave of dizziness, one that felt rather pointless, as he was already lying down. The trees quivered back and forth around him as his eyes followed in an impersonation of a merry-go-round.
Somehow, they found their way to House’s eyes.
“Why? You afraid I’ll go to sleep and never wake up again?”
He laughed unintentionally. His emotions were caught in the crossfire of pain and something resembling drunkenness. It made for an odd combination.
“No,” said House, “if you’re asleep, I’ll be bored.” His attempt fell short of convincing Wilson that things were not as bad as they seemed. Very frequently, things are as bad as they seem, if not worse. Yet, you can see how that sort of thinking tends to put a damper on morale.
“Wilson. Hey Wilson!”
Wilson was nodding off again. He hadn’t noticed.
He opened his eyes blearily at House, like an animal who doesn’t know it’s about to be dinner. House took both jackets off of Wilson’s shoulders and began to unbutton his shirt.
“Wow, you work fast,” said Wilson, his words almost incomprehensibly slurred and broken by small gasps.
“Don’t talk,” said House, suddenly understanding Cuddy’s difficulty with the last three buttons. “You’re a lot less annoying when you aren’t close to…”
He didn’t say it. Had this been any other patient he would’ve said it. Worse still, Wilson knew what he was going to say, and Wilson knew why he didn’t say it.
Because this is what it feels like to be close to death.
Blood was already starting to dye his fingers by the time House had undone the last button. He yanked Wilson’s hands through the sleeves of his formerly new dress shirt, the blood crawling along his stomach and onto the snow behind him.
It wasn’t as bad as House had thought, but that didn’t matter, because there’s no such thing as more dead or less dead. There’s just alive and dead, and the time that runs in between. Wilson was simply running out of time.
‘Wilson, hey, can you hear me?” said House.
“Yeah,” said Wilson, sobered up by pain.
“You’re in hypovolemic shock. Remember tearing your stitches?”
“When you tripped me, I—that’s probably when it happened.”
“You didn’t notice?”
Wilson winced as House held the shirt against his side. His eyes watered as a heavier surge of snowflakes stung his face, but he knew House would think he was crying.
“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning more than for ignoring the symptoms of shock.
“It’s okay,” said House, meaning more than accepting the apology.
House ripped a long strip off of Wilson’s shirt with his mouth and left hand, and began to tie it around Wilson’s waist. It hurt, like a bad splinter in your finger—the kind you can see, but can’t seem to dislodge. And when House finally tied the last knot in the shirt, it was as if Wilson was playing the piano with that splintered finger.
“You done?” he wheezed, looking at House pointedly.
Wilson breathed what would’ve been a sigh of relief had he been able to get a full breath of air.
“I’m gonna elevate your feet. Get blood to your head.”
“House, I’m a doctor too.”
“Oh. That’s right. Sometimes I forget, something about you being an idiot when it comes to your health.”
Wilson felt two of House’s clammy fingers on his neck, and he wondered if maybe House was as scared as he was. Wilson was tired again.
“Hey, wake up!”
But Wilson didn’t wake up.
House didn’t have time to morally weigh the option of punching Wilson’s broken fingers. He just did it.
Wilson’s eyes popped open as he yelped and grabbed his hand. Then he rolled over to his side, as if shielding himself from whatever horrid plans House had in store for him. He was more tired than before.
The world around him made sense to everyone but him, and that didn’t make any sense. Something was wrong here.
“House…I think I’m gonna be sick.”
And while House’s first instinct was to tell Wilson to vomit in an elsewhere direction, his second instinct—the instinct of a good doctor who didn’t let emotions get in the way and didn’t care that he was watching his best friend die of an otherwise treatable condition and didn’t feel the cold shank of irony in his back—that was the instinct that prevailed. And that instinct told him vomiting was a bad idea.
“Hey, look at me, Wilson.”
Wilson complied, and House continued. “Do not throw up. It doesn’t matter how sick you feel, ‘cause the second you throw up you’re losing any hydration you have left, understand?”
House looked at him, not blinking, and now Wilson really was crying. He could feel the salty aftertaste of beef jerky gripping at the back of his tongue, daring him to open his mouth so it could spill his chance of survival onto the snow beside him. But he nodded anyways. He nodded so that when it happened, when he did die, House couldn’t blame him for not trying.
He tried to think of something else. All he could think about were the ER patients who didn’t make it. The boy who got his foot cut off by a lawn mower and died of shock; the shark attack victim who died of shock; the soccer mom who crashed her minivan and died of shock. And those people had proper medical treatment.
He needed to tell House about the blood in his vomit, as if it were the missing piece of the puzzle, as if after House knew of it, Wilson would be okay, everything would be okay.
Wilson opened his mouth to tell House this theory, and realized that everything wasn’t okay.
He threw up.
He didn’t do it on House, but he got damn close.
All he felt was guilt, like some beaten dog who peed on the rug.
“I’m sorry,” he said, but House didn’t hear him.
Wilson stared at the sorry remains of the beefy jerky as it melted through the top layer of snow, simultaneously being covered by new snow, falling as rapidly as ever.
His vision began to blur, and the trees around them turned into amorphous blobs, as did House’s face. House was yelling something at him, but he couldn’t hear it, didn’t really care to hear it. The warmth of unconsciousness beckoned to him. No patients, no pain, no beef jerky. Just sleep. He really needed sleep.
So Wilson slept.
Wilson didn’t answer and didn’t move. House wasn’t even sure he was breathing. He put a finger to Wilson’s wrist and held it there. His pulse was faint and rapid.
“Shit!” House skimmed his left hand across the snow with violent force, spraying the bottom three feet of surrounding trees with a thin layer of powder. He was breathing hard now, as frustration turned the knot in his stomach into a lump in his throat.
He looked at his watch. The face was broken. He looked at the sky. The sun was high over the peaks, still covered by clouds. He guessed it was early afternoon, maybe 1 or 2. Chase and Cuddy would be wondering where they were.
House tried a few more tricks to get Wilson to open his eyes. He called his name, pinched his cheeks, and pulled his hair, none of which earned a response.
And what made it all worse was that he had an answer. This wasn’t some mysterious disease that required thought or dangerous tests to solve. This was as plain as appendicitis, and just as treatable, but this was killing Wilson. This was killing his best friend while the rest of the world didn’t give a shit.
He took his eyes off Wilson briefly to look at the rest of the world. He could see it from where he sat, the rest of the world, that is. It was around on the other side of their little pack of trees. He saw the hill there, how it drifted up to meet the road at a manageable angle, and how every so often the sunlight would catch on the windshield of a car passing by on the ridge.
He stood up and walked around to where the trees were cleared. Here he could see the newly collected powder on the hill, and the little rocks that jutted out here and there, begging to be footholds for any stranded travelers that happened to tread on them. He swore he could smell the oil rising from the asphalt on the road as snow continued to fall. The slope was tangible now. It was simply one large trigonometric function that separated a population from desolation. He walked a little closer, manipulating the variables in his head, like angles and distances and energy and time, trying to cut down on all four of those if possible, namely time. Regardless, he needed to get to that road, and the people on it.
Amazing. Gregory House had spent his entire life trying to avoid people. Now, people were the only thing he could think of, and the only thing he wanted to get back to.
It would hurt. A lot. But still, it didn’t seem as bad as the alternative.
Scratch that. It didn’t seem as foreign as the alternative.
Because, as much as House enjoyed the occasional Wilson-free day, and especially his Wilson lecture-free days, he knew that he’d never really be able to wake up and know that Wilson was no longer there to lecture him. The thought itself seemed wrong. He couldn’t imagine what the actual experience would be like.
It should’ve been him lying in the snow. Maybe he’d have a sense of humor about it.
He turned around and headed back toward Wilson, aware that it might be the last time he ever saw him, but unaware of what that really meant.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. There, crumpled up in a little ball behind 40 of Wilson’s dollars, was his business card. He’d passed it out once, a week after Cuddy told him he needed one. It had Ethel Newenburg’s phone number on it. He didn’t know who Ethel Newenburg was, only that her number was in the phonebook and that she wasn’t him.
He uncurled the little piece of paper and found a pen in Wilson’s front pocket. Wilson didn’t stir when House poked him with said pen, nor had his pulse changed from the last time House checked it.
He scribbled out Ethel Newenburg’s number and put his own just below the words “Gregory House, MD.” He wasn’t sure why. Then he flipped the card over and wrote:
Went to get help on ridge to the northeast. Will be back.
He stuck it in Wilson’s front pocket, along with the pen, leaving the corners sticking out a little so that someone might see it. Either Cuddy would come, and he’d already be back to tell her how Wilson died, or they’d both die out here. But if that happened, Cuddy and Chase still might not find the note. House mostly wrote it for himself.
He briefly imagined a news reporter recounting their struggle and eventual deaths. He imagined a Housicle and a Wilsonsicle being plucked from frozen blocks of ice. Humor has an odd way of sneaking up on you sometimes.
He looked at Wilson, wanted to say something to him. He opened his mouth. Nothing came out. So he sat there for just a little while longer and watched Wilson sleep (if you could call it that).
He kept his mouth open dumbly just in case the right words decided to make an appearance.
For the first time in a long time, they did.
“I’m sorry,” he said, immensely thankful Wilson couldn’t hear him.
It surprised him that the words didn’t feel alien or even absurd. They felt right. They felt necessary, even if only to give meaning to a friendship most people really didn’t understand.
They felt so necessary, that he continued.
“I’m sorry I have to leave you like this. I’m sorry I can’t fix you myself. I’m sorry I didn’t catch this sooner. I’m sorry I didn’t share the pretzels. I’m sorry I broke your nose at the batting cages. I’m sorry for Cindy Fink. I’m sorry for Vogler, Tritter, faking cancer, stealing your food for the past 18 years, and that you had to choose between me and Bonnie.”
And House didn’t know if he was sorry, just that he should be. Sometimes, that ought to be good enough.
“I’m sorry you had to watch me be miserable. I’m sorry you’re miserable. I’m sorry I couldn’t come to Lou’s after golf.”
But for some reason, the more House started a sentence with “I’m sorry,” the more the words that followed felt true. He thought maybe he felt a little better. He wondered if this was how well adjusted people felt after apologizing.
So he did it some more.
“I’m sorry…that you’ve had to take care of me for so long, you forgot how to take care of yourself, and I’m sorry,” said House, “for being a shitty best friend.”
House wanted to say more, but he couldn’t.
He didn’t know what to say. He put a little snow in Wilson’s mouth, just enough that he wouldn’t die of dehydration before he died of shock. He watched as it melted on Wilson’s tongue and the man swallowed it down.
Then House stood up and began walking in the direction of the road, not daring to hope, not daring to look back, not daring to consider that those were probably the last things he’d ever say to his best friend.
He’d wasted time that Wilson didn’t have. At least now he was doing something about it.