Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Brain But Not Brain

Last weekend I was hanging out flipping through the channels. I am not usually a channel surfer, but sometimes when I am bored (procrastinating) I resort to flipping mindlessly. I came upon a marathon of the TV show House, MD. For those of you who may not be familiar, this show is the story of a perfectionist doctor with an irreverent bed side manner. Gregory House is a physician whose specialty I have yet to figure out because he seems to be versed in pretty much all of them. And, I am not quite sure whether the cloud of doctors hovering around him are peers or residents. Dr. House, simply called House, gets all the patients that have stumped everyone else and does not rest until he and his team has answers for those patients. I have never been a House watcher, but it caught my attention and cured my boredom (but not the procrastination.) I watched enough episodes to know that I enjoyed it and that there were some lessons to be learned from the arrogant and intelligent House.

What, you may ask, is there to be learned from such a show? Well, never fear, I plan to tell you just that.

The medical problems faced are varied and never as easy as swab the throat, yes you have strep throat. They involve skin coming off in sheets, unexplained bleeding, incredible tumors, and my personal favorite, a left hand that had a mind of its own. The conditions that are eventually diagnosed, treated, and recovered from are not your run of the mill cancers or infections. (Sorry, I know cancers aren’t run of the mill and I am not trying to be cavalier.) Answers are slow coming and suffering is great. Often the patient hangs on the brink of death before the solution is found. As the doctors work feverishly to come up with ideas House challenges them to think outside the box, dare to try something different, and most of all never give up hope.

One episode included a young woman with cornea transplants. All of the other recipients of organs from the same donor died violent, painful deaths in a matter of days of each other. House’s team brought the woman into the hospital in hopes of preventing her death. What they found was that she wasn’t near dying, but that her vision was not what it should be and she wasn’t able to see certain images. After multiple theories that didn’t pan out, House figured out the mystery. The organ donor had cancer before he died although it didn’t kill him. Once in the recipients the cancer cells mutated to become much like the tissue they were near. So the woman had a mass growing in her brain that was not cancer and not brain tissue; brain but not brain. It was interfering with her vision and when the doctors removed it they were able to save her vision. It was only because House has the ability to think outside the box that he was able to realize the problem.

Dr. House knew the only way to save the woman was to figure out which tissue was brain, but not brain so that it could be removed. He advocated trying a procedure that had its dangers. It involved removing a piece of her skull and using an untried procedure to show which part of the brain needed to be removed. That allowed the surgeon to successfully treat the patient. House met lots of opposition about the procedure. Most of the docs involved wanted to go with the safer route of chemotherapy. Still, House believed that the only way to really ensure the woman’s recovery was to try the unexpected. He was not afraid to dare in an attempt for a more favorable outcome.

Beneath his crusty and irreverent demeanor House is driven by the need to help his patients. It is more important than what people think of him. He doesn’t stop until he has exhausted all avenues in an attempt to save a life and improve someone’s quality of life. He never gives up hope even when it seems there are no answers. He marches on in his quest to make a difference one patient at a time.

So, yes, I procrastinated this weekend and didn’t accomplish as much I had hoped. I am also a little dismayed at having an obsession with this show, especially after I found that there are six seasons for me to catch up on. However, it wasn’t totally wasted. I have been reminded to dream the impossible, to be brave enough to try, and never give up hope of making a difference.

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