Chapter 12: Eleven Minutes in Heaven with James Wilson
This all started with a proper noun, a bag of pretzels, and two gift cards. Similarly, two micrograms of the toxin secreted through a poison dart frog’s skin will kill a grown man.
But at least death by poison dart frog is quick.
James Wilson had the idea that death by a proper noun, bag of pretzels, and two gift cards would be slow and painful.
Or at least, that was the idea. That was the idea of all deaths excluding gunshot wounds and decapitation—slow and painful, something to be avoided at all costs. This was the idea fed into the minds of small children when they went to their grandparents’ funerals. This was the idea Wilson saw every time a patient lost hope and faded away. This was the idea Wilson felt every time he remembered there was really no hope to begin with.
It was an equation fit for Sesame Street.: Life is good. Death is bad.
But now, as he lay there with snow in his back pockets and House’s bulky jacket over his arms and shoulders, eyes closed and barely breathing, he questioned death’s taboo.
Because this didn’t seem as bad as what he saw at the hospital. No code blues and defibrillators. No stressed out orderlies, no spouses, no tears.
He wasn’t really asleep, and he wasn’t really awake. He wasn’t aware of anything outside of what occurred within his own mind. He wondered if other people should be so lucky, to be aware of their mortality in play-by-play clarity.
Wilson shook as another wave of nausea hit him, the kind where you know nothing will come up except for bile and whatever energy you have left.
The only energy Wilson had left was burned by wondering how it would happen—whether he’d wink out in the passing of a second, or whether it’d all be too slow to really see, like the hour hand on a clock.
The brain is still active for approximately 11 minutes after death. He knew that. Most doctors knew that. What they didn’t know is what happens in those 11 minutes. Do you go towards white lights? Do chemical reactions in the brain cause auditory and visual hallucinations? Do you even exist, or is it just flesh, just a jumbled mass of bones and muscle while the computer in your head shuts down?
And while Wilson had spent his life acting as though he didn’t care about those 11 minutes, in the back of his mind, he knew that those 11 minutes wouldn’t last 11 minutes. Because those 11 minutes were all he’d have. Be it Heaven or Hell or complete nothingness, the world of James Wilson would be nothing more than what was contained in those minutes.
Strangely enough, it comforted him.
He thought about the elegance of death through other, more articulate, eyes. Like the last scene of American Beauty or the modish wit of Fight Club, and suddenly he was sad again, because he’d never be able to top Lester Burham or Tyler Durden.
Shit, he didn’t even have any good last words.
“Rosebud” was already taken.
And in all probability, those 11 minutes would be spent rewatching classic movies on cable, watching other people do great things, as seemed to be the trend while he was alive.
It was here he came to wonder if his 11 minutes had already started. These were the long-winded, incoherent ramblings of a dead man, so it suited James Wilson that he was already dead.
He pictured the epitaph on his grave.
Here lies Dr. Jim
You probably haven’t heard of him
Then again, House might throw in an artistic contribution or two…
Here lies the body of Dr. James
Whose life was like a pinball game
He went here, there, and all around
His purpose here is yet to be found
He couldn’t hack it, couldn’t climb the walls
Life was too fast, so he lost his balls.
He’d smile and laugh if he could. Everything was dwindling down to not being as important as he felt, but he was okay with that. He made lives better, even saved a few, but that really didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was that somehow, in the middle of nowhere, in the bitter cold, he felt warm. It was a warmness that engulfed all of him, filled him up with a definite sense of…contentment. And despite the yearly supply of “thank you”s, the awards, the salary, nothing could quite compare to the sensation of knowing that everything was okay. Wilson wandered around his head looking for a white light. He was finished. He was ready. The clock was set at 11 minutes.
But what about House?
Wilson suddenly felt as if he were leaving a part of himself behind. Trouble was, it wasn’t a tiny part like a fingernail or a hair or even a tooth. Wilson felt as if he were walking out of the house without his legs—a feat that was understandably hard to accomplish.
And Wilson could continue to kid himself, to think that dying was possibly the one decision he had some say in, to view himself as the balance beam under the unlimited neediness of Gregory House…
But there was a part of him that refused to let his last thoughts be a lie.
Wilson wondered if just maybe, he needed House as much as House needed him. House could say what Wilson couldn’t. House could do what Wilson couldn’t. House could be what Wilson couldn’t.
And still, Wilson could do what House would never be able to do, which was to finally admit that such things were true.
House was not the leech on Wilson’s leg, but rather the sea anemone to Wilson’s clownfish.
In the wild, when one dies, so does the other.
Scratch that. House and Wilson were in the wild.
And so you wonder what man can know these things, and still give up, what man can know this, and still count backwards from 11 minutes.
If he died, House would die, and he knew that if House died, he would die. He figured he’d let House keep the smug satisfaction he seemed to possess whenever he was alive…which was frequently.
And before deciding whether he could wait, Wilson decided that he would wait.
Just a little longer.