“The C-Word”—cancer: this week's episode on House, M.D. Not so unusual; it is a medical show after all. But our cancer patient this week is far from usual.
For years Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) has been treating the young and the old with compassion, caring and kindness. But unlike his best friend House (Hugh Laurie), who has suffered for years in constant chronic pain, has not had the misfortune to walk in patients’ shoes.
House has a native understanding of what pain—what serious illness—does to a person. It has always informed his treatment of his sickest patients, whether anyone else is privy to it or not. House understands what it means to be at the end of your tether—living with pain every day. In some ways its made him harder, in others—more significantly—its given him a sort of empathy that he reserves for those most in need of it. It is one of the things, probably the most important to me, that keeps House human, sympathetic and watchable.
In an ironic turn of events, last week we’d learned that Wilson has cancer, and this week, we learn early on that it’s growing. The cancer doctor is dying (perhaps) of cancer, and unwilling to die a slow death surrounded by pity and the beautiful lies people tell, Wilson wants to try a risky procedure; something he would never advocate for his own patients.
The procedure has as much chance of killing him as does the cancer, but Wilson, schooled for years not in both witnessing his own patients die, and by House’s success rate with risk, believes he would rather die trying than condemn himself to the sort of a death he only knows from the safe distance of a lab coat and telemetry. The procedure will either work or he will die.
Knowing that House would do everything he can to thwart him from going this risky route, Wilson keeps his plan secret as long as he can. But he should know better; House is nothing if not resourceful—particularly in medicine—and he sniffs out Wilson’s borderline suicidal treatment plans pretty quickly. With Wilson still insistent, House agrees to help, both risking his freedom and his career to administer the treatment himself in his apartment—away from the prying eyes and piteous expressions of comfort Wilson wants to avoid.