I forgot why I stopped watching “House M.D.” (Spoiler: It was the romantic subplots.) But that was nearly a year ago, and besides, I had too much work to do last night; I needed to procrastinate. So I started where I last stopped: season seven. And on episode two of that season, Dr. House and one of his patients had an interaction that struck me very deeply.
Dr. House had a patient come in with his son. The patient was 102 years old and was complaining of fatigue and weakness. House is his normal caustic self, and tells the patient nothing is wrong, he’s just old. Both the patient and his son insist House do a full battery of tests. Later, then son catches House privately, hands him 20 dollar bills, and asks him to commit his father to a care facility. The son tells House that he’s tired of taking care of his father and he begs House to fake doing the tests. He then shuffles off.
At the time, I didn’t know why this scene struck me. Thinking about it now, I can see many parallels in my own experience. My mother taking care of her mother-in-law even after it was clear my grandmother needed professional care. My sister currently taking care of her very ill mother. Those years of watching my brother go through cancer. The exhaustion of helping take care of an autistic brother. The overwhelming social pressure to take care of other people to the detriment of ourselves.
Later on, the patient approaches House, gives him 100 dollars, and begs House to tell his son that the needs to be in a care facility. He’s tired of his son hanging around him all the time. He wants his son to get a life and he wants to be around other women his own age.
And now, instead of a long-suffering but dutiful child and a grateful but deserving parent, we have two people in a dysfunctional relationship. Two people who need to learn to talk to each other. Two people who need to learn to use their words. The thing is, seen from the outside in, it’s very easy to recognize these types of relationships. From the inside out, however, it’s far more difficult.
And here I want to point out: I am using dysfunctional in the most literal sense here. I don’t mean “dysfunctional” as in “wrong” or “bad” or “abusive;” I mean “dysfunctional” as in “not fulfilling its function.” Instead of bringing the patient and the son together, their relationship was causing distance and pulling them apart. It wasn’t functional. Of course, this is dramatized and not entirely realistic, but think about it: How many times has a friend come to you about a relationship problem and the solution was, “go talk to them about it?” How many times have you stressed out about talking to a professor and then had it work out even better than you expected? How many times have you skipped office hours because you don’t have any questions important enough to bother your professor with?
Go talk to people. Talk to people above your pay grade. Talk to people below your pay grade. Ask your professors for advice. Go talk to your advisors, even if there’s no enrollment hold hanging over your head. Email your high school teachers — yes, out of the blue; it’s fine.
Go talk to people.
Contact Dabiyyah Agbere at bagbere ‘at’ stanford.edu.