Laurel and I heartily recommend “House” (Fox, Tuesdays at 9) for those who tire of the usual bland and predictable network television fare. We’ve watched two episodes and I have come to love the utterly unlovable Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant infectious disease specialist who would much prefer that diseases could be treated without the annoying complication of having patients attached to them.
House, ably played by Hugh Laurie, walks with a cane and a limp. In the first episode we learned that he was poorly treated by an incompetent (but probably nice and warm) doctor for a leg problem. Now House has to pop pain pills like Chiclets. If he gets roped into seeing a real live patient by his beautiful hospital administrator nemesis, Dr. Lisa Cuddy, House is apt to pop open his pill bottle and say, “Here, have one on me” when the patient complains of some discomfort.
This is only one example of House’s many forays into political incorrectness and doctor-patient relationship inappropriateness. This week he encountered a young woman with a sick baby who told him that she wasn’t immunizing her child because she didn’t believe immunizations worked. In a normal doctor TV show we’d be treated to compassionate Dr. X gently explaining why the baby would benefit from getting shots.
But Dr. House rolled his eyes and said something like, “So, you must really like baby coffins. What kind of coffin are you planning to get for your baby? Teak? Mahogany?” He was unfeeling, blunt, and utterly correct. He’s the sort of doctor that you would want to have if you were dying of some disease that nobody else could diagnose, but not if you merely wanted someone to listen attentively to your concerns about a relatively mundane problem.
Still, I wouldn’t mind having Dr. House for my regular physician. In fact, House reminds me somewhat of my current family doctor. My doctor is detached and businesslike in the exam room, fine qualities in my opinion. That’s because I don’t have any real health problems at the moment, physical ones at least (Laurel would diagnose me as having “Internet/weblog addiction disorder,” but that’s mental and essentially untreatable).
When I see my doctor for my annual physical, as I did a few weeks ago, I want to get out of the clinic as quickly as possible. Conveniently, I feel that he similarly wants to have as little to do with me as possible within the bounds of competent medical practice. So he runs through his list of physical exam questions—“any problems with a, b, or c?”—but I don’t get the impression that he cares if I’m afflicted with a, b, or c.
And that’s fine with me. I don’t want my doctor to be my friend. I don’t even care if he cares about me. I just want him to know what he’s doing. Which makes Dr. House a good fit for me, but not for Laurel. I shudder at the thought of Laurel being House’s patient. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. “I’ve read such and such about my condition,” Laurel would say. “I think that…”
At that House would bolt from the exam room, popping a few pain pills on his way out, and look for one of his residents to take over this impossible patient for him. Dr. House doesn’t trust patients. “They all lie,” he likes to say. “Everybody lies.” Since he considers that even his own residents are clueless much of the time, a patient’s opinion about what ails him or her carries such little weight as to make helium a heavy element by comparison.
It’s hugely refreshing to watch a television show where the main character is an unredeemable curmudgeon. With no new episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on the air at the moment, “House” is our main current get real TV fix.
In episode #1 House was asked by each of his residents why he chose them for the elite infectious disease post-doc training they are getting. The seriously attractive Dr. Cameron was basically told “Because you’re beautiful. I wanted a hot chick around.” She replied, “That’s terrible. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be appreciated for my brains rather than my beauty.”
I waited for the customarily obligatory, “Just kidding,” from Dr. House. But no, he stuck to his guns. “Well, live with it. I picked you for your looks.” And you got the impression that he wasn’t kidding at all. One thing about Dr. House, he always tells the truth. Life, for him, is all about seeing things as they are, not as how we’d like them to be.
That’s what makes him such a great diagnostician. And also why he has such an annoying bedside manner. Truth is uncomfortable close up. But wonderfully watchable from a safe distance on a television screen.