Categories > TV > House > Pathology

Chapter 7

by MelantheVida 0 reviews

House returns to New Jersey, where the flu seems to be running rampant, making everyone a patient--including one of his own.

Category: House - Rating: R - Genres: Crossover, Drama - Characters: Allison Cameron, Eric Foreman, Gregory House, James Wilson, Lisa Cuddy, Robert Chase - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2007-02-05 - Updated: 2007-02-06 - 4229 words

A priest, a rabbi, and a Jehovah's Witness walked into an airport - it sounded like the beginning of a bad bar joke, except House was pretty sure he wasn't drunk yet. Drugged, maybe. But not drunk. Though at 2 AM, the difference seemed negligible.

Sighing, he tugged his deer hunter hat further down on his head and prayed that the Vicodin would kick in before the prolific woman's preaching drove him - as well as several other sleepy-eyed passengers - to the great, big loony bin in the sky. It was bad enough that he had to take the red eye back to Princeton, worse still when said red eye's boarding was delayed thanks to an electronic problem with the baggage check machine. But what God had he angered to deserve an accompaniment by the religious nutzoid version of the United Nations? At least the priest and the rabbi were wise enough not to recruit among a roomful of exhausted airline passengers. The Witnesses, on the other hand...

House shot a quick glance in her direction. Three persons down. Two, technically, because one of the guys was most definitely a Koran-thumping (did they thump their Korans or just wave them dramatically around?) Muslim, and even the JW's knew not to poke those with a stick. Maybe if he was lucky, airport maintenance would overcome their ineptness long enough to fix the baggage check before she threaded her way over here.

Except -

"Sir, would you like to live forever in a perfect paradise on Earth?"

Jehovah's Witnesses tended to travel in pairs.

House looked up slowly from his Cosmo magazine, and blinked. "I'm guessing.../that's/ a rhetorical question."

"If you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you too can enter the kingdom of heaven at the appointed time of Armageddon," the young woman in front of him continued on earnestly. She settled into the seat across from him, dress folded primly, and balanced her stack of pamphlets on her lap.

"Yeah, but then I'd have to climb all those stairs." House reached over for his cane.

"Your spirit will transcend the physical to unite with our Lord above, where there is no suffering, no hunger, and - " She paused, solemnly. " - no /pain/." For a moment, the woman's eyes flicked over his leg, as House pushed himself up and snatched for his haphazard luggage. "Only the peaceful serenity of His eternal presence. All He asks of you is that you open up your soul to Him."

"Oh, really?" House began walking off at a rapid pace. "But see, I sold my soul to the anti-Christ, and all I got was this lousy cane. Any chance I can mortgage half for a refund?"

The Jehovah's Witness looked a bit perturbed, but quickly recovered her composure as she kept up a step behind him. "And why exactly were you trying to sell your soul?"

"Because if I sold my heart, then little Betty Lou would cry," House replied in a mock-whiny voice. He saw her reach for the bundle of pamphlets under her arm. "Before you finish, just answer me this." Abruptly, he turned to face her. "Why is God trying to cheat the IRS?"

The woman seemed confused. "I...beg your pardon?"

"Well, I'm sure 'Jenova' wasn't a typo." House poked a finger at the top page of the pamphlet in her hand.

The way she glanced down at it, startled, you would almost think that she'd actually seen a multi-tentacled, mutated freak.

House made good his getaway.

Several minutes later, he finally found his way back to the baggage check line, sans religious stalker. The other Jehovah's Witness, after failing to convince a Wall Street investment banker to give up his life of monetary gain in favor of one declaring the apocalypse every few years, seemed to have left as well. Perfect. House slipped alongside a drowsy mother of two, knowing full well that the woman wasn't about to stir up a protest at his line-hopping and risk the far graver threat of awakening her young, fidgety children.

Who said Early Childhood Development was a useless class?

In the interim of his escape, a steady progression of sleepy-eyed businessmen and travelers had built up in front of the bulky X-ray machine, all shuffling along silently as an equally bored security guard shoved their possessions through the conveyor belt. His partner by the metal detector went through the motions of waving the passengers through, all the while flicking one eye over at the clock on the far terminal wall. Clearly, all those heightened airport security measures had not yet extended to the graveyard shift crowd. House estimated that the flight delay would put him back in Princeton just in time to catch the morning patient rush - an unpleasant deluge of drunken frat bar casualties and random calls from incompetent clinic patients.

Speaking of which...House found himself replaying the conversation he'd had with Foreman earlier that night. The patient dead, seemingly out of nowhere, his symptoms almost an exact replica of what he'd been admitted with, except more severe...and far more advanced. It all nagged at the back of his mind.


The shrill ringing of his cell phone interrupted his thoughts.

House paused, one hand about to push the answer button. He hadn't bothered to charge his cell for awhile, but...that didn't mean he had forgotten his ringtones. Snoop Dogg for Foreman. Kumbaya for Cameron. Britney Spears for Chase. Stacy's was an evil laugh, Cuddy's was an eviler cackle, and Wilson had ended up with The Song that Never Ends because he ran out of music to freeload. But no, this wasn't any of them. Neither annoying, nor catchy, nor gay. Which could only mean...

An unknown number?

Did that telemarketer clinic patient finally make good on her spam threats?

"Sir, I need you to place all your metallic possessions in the basket."

House glanced up at the security guard, then back down at his cell phone screen. Unknown number. Unknown, but not necessarily unheard of. The first few digits seemed vaguely familiar...perhaps something to do with a previous case? Fletcher had left his cell phone number, but as far as he could recall, the journalist only knew House's work number at the hospital, not his private cell (which he rarely used anyway). Then again, these reporter types had a way of squirreling out unlisted information...

"/Sir/." The security guard glared at him, one hand held out expectantly for the electronic device. His partner roused from his position by the metal detector. "Your cell phone, please."

"Yeah, yeah. Just trying to save a dying baby here." House gave the number one last glance before canceling the call and tossing the phone into the basket along with his car keys. If Fletcher really needed another consult, he could leave a message on his voice mail. For now, the only thing House was willing to diagnose was a case of red eye - coupled with a good night's sleep.


The hospital doors were clear glass, so House saw the chaos before they even began to slide open, though that still didn't give him enough time to truly recover. His eyebrows arched upwards as he halted and regarded the scene before him.

It definitely had not been this bad when he'd left yesterday afternoon.

Old women, daughters, babies, obsessively worried parents, massive hypochondriacs. Families shuffling back and forth in the lobby, rubbing at runny noses and stopping every few minutes to ask a nurse, already overloaded with cases, when the next doctor could see them. Humanity crunched into a chaotic little box. All here, concentrated in one area, and all with the flu.


House turned at the voice to see Wilson approaching from the clinic doors. "Where've you been?"

"Consult," House replied, stepping inside the clinic and looking around distractedly. "The hooker I hired wanted a check-up along with her regular dues." He turned to Wilson, noting a slightly glassy look in the other's brown eyes. After a brief moment, he dismissed it in favor of more important things. Namely, his dead patient and the fact that the hospital had become the new community hangout. "What's going on here?"

Wilson shrugged. "It just...filled up. Flu, mostly. Cuddy'll be glad you're back, we're really short on hands." His gaze flicked to his watch. Only five minutes, but that was valuable time given the amount of patients waiting for him. "A good number of the staff got sick, too."

"That doesn't include my peons, I hope."

"Dr. Wilson!" a new, female voice called. One of the nurses stuck her head around the corner. "You're needed in Exam Room Two."

House was fairly certain there was some version of "See you later" from Wilson, but he didn't register the exact words. His eyes latched onto a familiar figure striding quickly through the waiting room, head down and folder open in his hands as he examined a file beneath a curtain of blond hair.


Chase stopped in his tracks and glanced up in time to see House snapping his fingers and making a "come hither" motion with his hand. He sighed and made his way over.

"Can this wait? It's a bit busy in here." Nevertheless, he reluctantly followed when House began limping out of the clinic. "And where've you been?"

"No, yes, and...irrelevant," House said, neatly answering all three questions. "Where's Cameron and Foreman?"

Chase shrugged. "Probably with patients like everyone else is. What's with the sudden round up?"

"Need to re-diagnose the dead patient that all of you have apparently forgotten about." House jabbed at the elevator button.

"Well, excuse us for paying more attention to the living when the hospital's completely filled and nearly a quarter of the nurses and doctors have called in sick," Chase shot back, annoyed, as his boss entered the elevator.

House poked his head out, slamming his cane with a bang against the sliding doors to hold them open. Chase started slightly.

"But you haven't," he snapped, even more scathingly than usual. House's patience was running razor thin. "Sorry, unsolved diagnostics cases trump clinic duty. You'll need a better excuse than that." He hit the door close button just as his subordinate stepped inside, and reached immediately for his Vicodin. Two pills popped neatly into his mouth.

"Clinic duty comes with Cuddy," Chase replied, though substantially less snippy than before. "I think Cuddy is a very good excuse."

"Yeah, if you're still in first year of med school. Have you forgotten everything I've taught you about avoiding the hospital administrator?"

Chase rolled his eyes. "Look, will you tell me already why you've dragged me here? Our patient dying is very tragic. It may even be a mystery, but it's not like you can save him anymore."

"And what about the rest of the hospital?" House retorted, barely allowing Chase to finish. "You're gonna condemn them to death too?" He paused as the elevator doors slid open on the fourth floor, realizing he'd let slip about what had gone down in Florida. And that particular slip, Chase hadn't missed, judging by the bewildered look on the other's face.

He shoved the issue aside. "Get Cameron and Foreman, meet me back at the conference room," House said, already disappearing down the hallway.

"What?" Chase blinked, his mind still back at his boss's last comment. Condemning the hospital to death? He struggled briefly to understand what could possibly have been meant by that line, but could only come up with a strictly literal interpretation. One that didn't make much sense. "I-I'm fairly certain Michael was an isolated incident..." He trailed off as House didn't even cast a look back.

Wasn't it an isolated case? Of course. Of that there was no doubt, or else he would've heard about it...

Chase exhaled loudly. Obviously, this wasn't going to be clarified for him any time soon. He pulled out his pager and beeped his two colleagues.


The whiteboard had been wiped clean, but House was staring at the blank surface, black marker in hand, as though it surely held the meaning of life. "What were his symptoms upon admission?"

There was a moment of silence as his team exchanged quick glances, during which each concluded that none of the other two knew precisely what was going on. Chase's earlier comment seemed to sum it up pretty well - House thinks we're all condemned to die. It's making him a bit pricklier than usual.

"First or second admission?" Foreman asked finally.

"Second," House replied.

Foreman shrugged one shoulder slightly. "Usual flu symptoms. Fatigue, cough, fever..."

"Hundred and three," Cameron said from where she was sitting closest to the cabinets. Her fingers were curled around the handle of her mug, but she had yet to take a drink. "It just spiked all of a sudden."

House's hand moved rapidly as he scribbled all that down. "Respiratory?"

"All the classic symptoms." Foreman shifted in his seat. "Why are we doing another differential on this patient? He's a little beyond medicine now."

House outright ignored him. "The respiratory symptoms did him in?"

There was hesitation from all three.

"Yeah," Chase said at last, choosing to take the least painful route. He'd been with House long enough to know that unless it affected your personal interests, it was far better not to ask any questions when his boss was in this kind of mood. In any case, he was either going to sit here and do the differential or go back to the clinic. The first option sounded far more appealing.

"Respiratory failure," Cameron said. "It was almost like pneumonia."

"But not," Chase added, squinting in thought. He chewed absently on the end of a wooden stirring stick.

House paused a moment before continuing writing. Orlando guy mimicked pneumonia, as well. By now, his hunch was obviously correct-whatever the guy in Florida had had, this kid had caught it, too. Maybe Mikey had wanted to see Mickey. How wasn't so much the question here, though, but /what/.

What is this?

The flu, pneumonia, and plague. A three in one? Did God decide to hold a promotion because His diseases weren't selling so well?

House frowned at the whiteboard. Nothing. Even the most useful member of his team couldn't give him a diagnosis. Maybe the board needed more symptoms as sacrifice before it would be appeased.

"How much blood was there?" he asked.

Cameron blinked. "There...wasn't any."

House stopped abruptly in the middle of his writing, pen still poised at the tail end of 'hemorrha.' Obviously, one of his assumptions was incorrect. "No hemoptysis, even?" he asked, turning to face his team.

Foreman shook his head. "There was a lot of coughing. None of which produced blood."

House crossed out the unfinished word. Bleeding presented in only a portion of the cases? Possible...

"He might've just not had a chance to, though," said Chase. "The blastomycosis had severely compromised his lungs. They failed pretty fast."

The marker began flipping deftly through the fingers of House's hand, stopping when it hit his pinky and reversing back the other way.

Michael had died before the hemorrhaging could kick in. That was also entirely possible.

"What about the swelling around the neck?" House registered his team's unanimous surprise before he even turned again to face them.

"How did you know?" Cameron asked, breaking the short silence.

"Yeah, how did you know?" Foreman's inquiry contained far less curiosity and more suspicion. "Since you were conveniently absent during the admission."

Chase only dipped the stirring stick into his coffee and then began to suck on the wood, briefly wondering if he'd get a splinter from this. Not that he wasn't curious as to how House knew, either, but he figured Foreman would put enough pressure for all three of them. Besides which, he wasn't in the mood for further argument.

House locked his sarcastic gaze onto Foreman. "I had my palm read in the morning, said my head line was out of sync. What about the swelling around the neck?" he asked again, louder.

"Yes, there was swelling," Foreman replied, irritation tinting his voice. "Now, how did you know? I know you didn't read the file."

"Ah, but someone left me an audio book version of it."

"Was it a patient you had before, presenting with the same signs?" Cameron asked. It wouldn't be the first time this had occurred.

House disregarded her comment entirely. "Any bruising?"

Chase had stopped nibbling on the stirring stick. "Not quite, but his swollen tissue turned black. Bit like the bubonic plague."

House scribbled the last bit down and stared at the board. Still no answer. Not enough sacrifices, perhaps, he thought wryly, and then promptly realized that that was true.

"Something's missing here," he muttered to himself.

Respiratory failure. Swelling. Fever.

Dammit. What was he missing?

House set his cane aside and began slowly to connect the dots, circling first one symptom, then another, and joining them together in reverse order of appearance. Arrows pointed every which way. He hardly noticed his team watching him, with even Foreman ceasing to press for answers to his mysterious actions.

Cough...fever...dizziness...and what? What else had Michael come in with?

Or maybe that was the wrong question. What had brought him in?


He squeezed in the last symptom, barely fitting it into the upper left hand corner. The messy, tiny writing left the word looking like a mangled spider web.

House stepped back, eyes fixed on the final piece of the puzzle.


Blackout preceded the onset of every infection.

Michael had caught this. He doubted any bodily fluids had been exchanged between the kid and the Russian, or even anyone the latter might've gotten intimate with. No environmental factors, no contaminants. Not to mention its strong resemblance to influenza and, to some extent, the plague. Which could only mean one thing -

Whatever this was, it was most likely contagious by air.


The slight creak of an opening door was all the warning Cuddy received before House made his dramatic announcement.

"We've got an epidemic."

Fortunately, she'd just finished with her patient, a mother and daughter pair who hurried out the exit before the strange, cane-wielding madman could make any more proclamations. Cuddy turned to face House, one hand pressed dramatically against her chest in faux surprise.

"What?" she gasped. "Oh my God, all those sick people exhibiting the same symptoms, I was wondering what it meant." She snapped off her gloves and dropped them in the metal garbage can.

"This isn't a regular flu epidemic," House said, walking closer to stop just a couple of feet before her. "It's national." His gaze looked deadly serious. "A lot of these people are going to die."

Cuddy lifted an eyebrow, not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, she couldn't dismiss House's medical instincts, having witnessed them personally during the maternity ward crisis, but on the other...national epidemic seemed to be a gross overstatement at the moment, crowded waiting room or not.

"House," she said finally, "I know a lot of these people are getting hit harder than expected, but I'm happy to report none of them have actually died, aside from your usual seniors and infants."

House waved his hand, dismissing her statement. "My patient had the flu when he was admitted. We fixed him up, gave him amphotericin, and sent him home with a mild cough. One day later, he was dead." He thrust a file into her hands, the corners of some of the papers sticking out of the manila folder as though he'd shoved them in there in a rush. "These were his test results."

After a moment's hesitation, Cuddy flipped through the tests. CBC and viral load. An unusually high white count for someone who was supposed to be recovering for the former, and a spike in the virus for the latter. Definitely strange, true. Nevertheless -

"It's still only one patient," she said, tucking the papers in neatly before handing the file back. "One who was already sick with another infection, at that. Furthermore," she went on, eyes narrowing a little, "you said national. This isn't national based on what you just told me, it's only in Princeton." She studied him intently. "Who's the other case study?"

House paused. There was no way out of it. He could lie, but even he knew he couldn't possibly withhold information for petty reasons when there was a crisis at this level. "The patient I had down in Florida. 45-yr-old military man, died of respiratory failure brought on by advanced infiltrates into the lungs. His charts showed the exact same symptoms upon admittance."

Cuddy, to his mild surprise, didn't immediately attack him. Instead, she only sighed. "I knew it wasn't just any consult," she muttered, folding her arms. "Well, reports are that Florida's been hit the hardest this flu season. They've got overcrowding in the hospitals and an unusually high mortality rate." She threw out a hand slowly. "House, if we don't even know what we're dealing with when the epidemic's already reached this level..." If there was an epidemic, she reminded herself. She did trust House - on very few items, but she trusted him nonetheless - yet something of this magnitude required a few phone calls and meetings on her own to confirm.

"If it's spread this fast in just a matter of days, then we're all likely to catch it as well," House said, speaking what they both had on their minds. He stopped suddenly, recalling one of the first things he'd seen upon entering the hospital - Wilson, eyes red from strain, tucking away a pill bottle as he made his way toward the elevators. House had downed enough medication to know when someone else was overdosing on painkillers.

"Or maybe one of us already has..."

He spun on his heel, disappearing out of the room as abruptly as he'd come in.


The office door swung wide open without so much as a knock from House.

"You're not suffering from a hangover."

Wilson jolted slightly from the sudden intrusion, one hand still rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Wha - "

"When'd you first get that headache?" House asked, ignoring the other's protest. He walked behind the desk and laid his hand on Wilson's forehead. "A day ago, two days?"

Wilson leaned back from the touch, a little bewildered. His chair squeaked. "House, it's...just a headache. Happens when they send you too much paperwork in size eight font." Although that wasn't quite true, he thought privately, as he waved at the folders scattered across his desk.

House only shifted the cane in his grip, appearing less than convinced. "Right, and when said paperwork has been sitting on your desk untouched for the last 48 hours, that's when the migraine really kicks in." His hand dropped to cup the other's neck, feeling for swollen lymph nodes. After a moment, his eyes narrowed briefly.

"You're running a fever." House let his cane rest against the side of the desk, then reached for the stethoscope still hanging around Wilson's shoulders. "How long have you been working in the clinic?" He started unbuttoning his colleague's shirt, steel end pressed above the other's lungs as he listened for decreased breathing.

Seeing that his friend wasn't about to be brushed off, Wilson relented to the impromptu check-up. He pinched the bridge of his nose. House's sudden visit seemed to be causing his headache to flare up even more.

"I don't know, a lot, it was busy - House." He pushed the stethoscope away firmly. "I was vaccinated. If I've caught something, it's just the common cold." Wilson tugged at the flaps of his jacket, as he stood up to leave. There were still at least five patients waiting on him back at the clinic, and this wasn't even his official break yet. All he'd come for was some aspirin.

"Either way, I'm fine." He paused, frowning at the way the exit seemed to spin in his vision. "And thirsty."

His next step took him directly into House, who stumbled backward, arm thrown out to steady the other as he tried to ward off their imminent collapse upon the weight of his cane. The force of the fall was too much for his balance, however, and a sudden slip in grip caused him to nearly trip over himself when the added burden shifted abruptly onto his bad leg. Pain jolted upward, an agonizing electric shock. He cursed as he lurched further back, a complete crash only stemmed by the presence of the bookcase against his back. Several picture frames fell over as House grasped it for support.

...So much for the definitive diagnosis, then.

He eased Wilson to the floor and himself into a chair, his hand absently massaging his thigh to ease the dulling pain, as he contemplated the gravity of the situation. His eyes flicked to the prone form before him.

Breathing, but clearly out of it. No head trauma. Just a sudden loss of consciousness.

Two patients, miles apart. Significant age gap. Vastly different histories. One died within days; the other took several weeks. But two things had been exactly the same - both had gone by means of respiratory failure.

And both had suffered a blackout before entering a phase of rapid deterioration.
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