Thursday, May 15, 2008

House MD

I was able to watch at least two consecutive episodes of the TV series House MD. And so far, I am fascinated by its lead character and its plot. Its lead character, Dr. Gregory House is played by Hugh Laurie, a British actor doing an American role. Dr. House is a (I hope I got this right) diagnostician who leads a team of doctor using the Socratic (or dialectic) method in asking (and answering) series of questions, eliminating the impossible, and ultimately arriving to a diagnosis.

What I find interesting in the program is that it somehow touches on philosophy, basically on questions of ethics and morality, in relation to medicine and biology.

In the first episode of its second season, titled “Acceptance”, Clarence, a death-row inmate suddenly suffers an attack where his heart beats so fast and pumps out air instead of blood. Dr. House initially diagnosed it as hypoxia (shortage of oxygen in the body, I got this from Wikipedia) with fluid in his lungs and told the warden that Clarence would die in about an hour, and should call an ambulance. The warden told House that he is sentenced to die anyway but House told the warden that the state is specific in the manner in which he is going to die.

It also touches on the question whether it was worth it to save the life of a deathrow inmate. Personally, it made me ask what is the value of a person’s life? Would one person’s life be more valuable than another? Would a convicted murderer’s life be less valuable than, say a philanthropist, for example?

In the latter part of the episode, Clarence was diagnosed to be having a pheochromocytoma, a small, adrenaline-secreting tumor that causes rage or panic attacks. Dr. Foreman, one of the doctor in House’s team, believed that the tumor caused random shots of adrenaline, which led to rage attacks, that made Clarence become a murderer in the first place. When foreman said that he would testify for Clarence’s appeal, House responded that to give Clarence a “free-pass” would insult (my word) those who suffered the same malady but was able to control their adrenaline rush such as race car drivers, etc. He said that removing the tumor “puts a stop to those random shots adrenaline, but it doesn't absolve him."

Would it really be possible that our emotions are affected by our biology? This is an almost similar question I asked in the second episode “Autopsy” where Andie, a nine year old girl terminal cancer patient is suffering from hallucinations. The medical staff admires her for her “bravery” but House is unimpressed. House believes that her “lack of fear” is a symptom that a clot is affecting the fear center in her brain, wherever that maybe. Could it really be possible that our body dictates our emotion? Personally, I would sometimes feel “ill tempered” when my head aches. Would that be a similar symptom to Andie’s? I don’t know, but my guess is as good as yours.

Other interesting sidelights of the show is in the first episode when Dr. Cameron, a female doctor had a patient who appeared to be anemic, but x-rays indicate she has lung cancer. Cameron refuses to believe it, and referred to Dr. House for other possible diagnosis. When she referred the case to House, he wrote on the board the words “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance” and then crossed a line in the word “Denial.” Cameron identified these set of words to be the “five stages of dying.” In a scene after that, when House refused, Cameron became angry and again afterwards pleaded him for other possible diagnosis, House responded “You just made a completely seamless jump from anger to bargaining.” House crossed the lines on both the words “Anger” and “Bargaining.” Apparently, the words House wrote on the board referred to Cameron’s response to her patient’s condition.

Two of the scenes I found amusing was when Dr. House was eating some chips, placed on top of a patient and Dr. Wilson was shocked to see him doing such. Apparently, the patient is in coma, and House told Dr. Wilson that he (House) asked the patient’s permission. House was also wondering why the television was turned on inside the patient’s room. Wilson said that some people believe that patients’ in coma can still hear. House asked why not turn on a radio instead? Another amusing scene was when Dr. House brought alcohol (I’m not sure if it’s whiskey, a gin or wine, I couldn’t tell the difference anyway) inside the patient Clarence’s room and they both had several shots. It turned out that the alcohol was apparently a cure for Clarence, which House assumed to have tried to commit suicide by previously drinking copier fluids which contains methanol, a poisonous substance.

Watch House MD every Tuesday night at 9pm on 2nd Avenue cable channel.

Terms of Venery

The study of (and playing with) words is quite fun, if one would consider it. I remember in particular, one game I had fun playing was called Balderdash. The fun part of the game is in inventing phony definitions of almost unknown but real words and bluffing other players into taking that definition to be true.

One particular area I have been interested in is in the English terms for different groups of animals. The term used to define groups of objects is called a collective noun. But when collective noun is referred specifically to groups of animals, it is called terms of venery. Venery is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the art, act, or practice of hunting.”

Venery comes from the Latin venari, where I would guess we got the word venison. Interestingly enough, the word venereal, which comes from the Latin from Latin venereus means something differently. I don’t know if the word vino which means wine would have any relation to its word origin as well. So there must be a possibility that in one way or another, the venison you eat, the wine that you drink and the disease you may acquire after much intoxication seems plausibly related in origin. But that is a different story altogether.

In terms of venery, a group of dogs is not just simply termed so, but is called either a kennel of dogs or a pack of dogs. Although pack is more popularly referred to a group of wolves. Amusingly, a group of baboons (or of old white men) is called a congress. A group of ants is called either an army or colony, perhaps because most of them are either soldiers or workers? The most popular are terms such as school of fish, flock of pigeons, pride of lions. But what i found most interesting are terms such as bloat of hippopotami, convocation of eagles, murder of crows, parliament of owls, crash of rhinoceri.

For a longer list of terms of venery, check out the site Fun with Words at or Ojohaven's Collective Noun page at