I can’t watch House anymore. Not since I started thinking about it while watching it.
Now, I’ve known that TV isn’t real life for almost six months now. I love Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. Greg House is essentially just Holmes with a few details rearranged (initials often left as is). Despite all this, the show is so frustrating to watch and hits so close to home I literally can’t get through an episode these days.
Why? Because House would totally suck as a doctor in the real world. I know this because he sucks in many of the same ways that my actual doctors have. I don’t invite them into my house for 44-minute visits either.
Why is House, the Bestest Doctor in the Whole Wide World Evar, a horrible excuse for a healer? Let me explain. There are three major reasons:
1. House doesn’t listen to his patients. House theorizes that all people, and therefore all sick people, lie, so he only bothers to have conversations with them when it creates dramatic tension or advances the plot somehow. It’s a cute little curmudgeonly quirk on the show, but in real life your health care professionals need to listen to you. They see you for fifteen minutes, if you’re lucky. You live in your body all day. Communication is helpful here.
Your symptoms won’t always be cinematic and obvious. You don’t have an in-body camera shot available to show the microscopic Tarantula virus gnawing away at your optic nerve, or whatever.1 In the real world you should be asked details about your symptoms, your pain levels, your history, and your lifestyle. And this information isn’t just a formality. It’s useful.
2. He’s ego-driven. This is probably the flaw they mention most often in the actual show, but it bears repeating. Doctoring for House isn’t about helping the patients. It’s about winning the Clever Bowl because his brain, which is a wizard, has this mindblowing, God-like power over life and death. Sure, we should all take pride in what we do, but let’s put this in perspective: When I’m ill and in the hospital, this is my entire freaking life we’re talking about. It’s not about what a super spectacular dude my doctor is. Get a hobby, buddy.
Oh wait, he has a hobby. He’s a drug addict! Did I say three major reasons? I meant four.
In the year+ doctors were trying to diagnose me, I bumped against monster doctor ego all the time. It mostly manifested thus: If they couldn’t figure out what the problem was, it didn’t exist. I must be crazy. This drove me crazy, and it’s not good medicine.
But the absolute top reason Greg House would be a horrible doctor in real life is…
3. His diagnostic method is throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks. If you’ve seen this show, you know I’m right. House and his team guess what the diagnosis could be, treat it, and see if it’s effective. Usually it almost kills the victim patient the first time, and then it’s back to the white board and the next wild stab in the dark.
Misdiagnosis is serious. Once, on an episode of House, the patient was given corticosteroids to suppress her immune system because they thought she had an autoimmune issue. It made her actual condition worse… for about ten TV minutes, and they ended up diagnosing her in the final minutes of the show and dispensing a swift, complete cure.2
But that exact thing happened to me in real life. My treating neurologist ran out of ideas diagnosing me, but theorized that since there was so much inflammation present steroids might help. And they did help, for two weeks. Then I got much, much worse, and the bacteria I fight to this day got a firmer chokehold than they ever would’ve otherwise.
Corticosteroids inhibit the immune system. This will help ease inflammation, an immune response. But what if the immune system is responding to something, as it does with, say, infectious disease, instead of freaking out for no good reason, as with an autoimmune disorder? Turning off the immune system in that case has real consequences.
This cycling blindly through treatments is House’s, and sadly, many real-life doctors’ method of diagnosis. Responsible doctors try to minimize this. They try to confirm diagnoses before treating, because you can’t wipe the human body clean like you can a white board. Every pharmaceutical you put inside you has effects, and sometimes some of them persist even after your doctor realizes the Patagonian Puffin Flu was actually a better theory all along.
When all my doctors were shrugging their shoulders and suggesting I might be out of my mind, lots of well-meaning, clueless people told me “You need House, M.D.! That’s who you need… you know, if he were real and stuff…”