― Dr. Gregory House
For eight seasons, actor Hugh Laurie portrayed the abrasive, antisocial character Gregory House, MD on the eponymously titled television show, House, MD. In each episode over the course of the show's popular run, Dr. House and his colleagues delved into medical mysteries, ruled out complicated or obscure health problems, and, in Sherlock Holmes style, solved each case.
While traditional medical dramas -- think ER and Grey's Anatomy -- feature a heavy diet of car accident victims, cancer, and dramatic childbirths, House, MD was heavy on complex, difficult-to-diagnose conditions that don't often get attention. And a key feature of the show was always the process of ruling out the possibilities in order to hone in on the correct diagnosis.
There's a saying that many doctors seem to embrace: "If you hear hoof beats, it's more likely to be a horse than a zebra." But on House, MD, they were always looking for or trying to rule out the zebras, and along the way, calling attention to a variety of conditions that don't often make it into network dramas.
Frankly, House, MD may have done more to promote awareness of autoimmune, endocrine, and thyroid diseases than any other program on television. In numerous episodes, Dr. House and colleagues -- including endocrinologist and love interest Dr. Lisa Cuddy -- saw patients who had symptoms such as heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, altered mental states, and high blood pressure, and almost always ordered comprehensive evaluation for thyroid disease and various autoimmune diseases.
In the end, a number of Dr. House's patients had some form of thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism, Hashimoto's disease, hyperthyroidism, thyroid storm, even myxedema coma. Along the way, other diagnoses included autoimmune diseases like sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, lupus, Addison's disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and Sjögren's syndrome. Endocrine disorders also made their appearance, including polyglandular autoimmune syndrome, pheochromocytoma. House, MD also tackled controversial and frequently marginalized conditions often seen in thyroid patients, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Epstein-Barr disease.
Since House, MD has been on the air, I can't tell you how many emails I've received from people who say they are looking for a doctor "like the guy on House" who will really delve into their symptoms and figure out what's going on. One woman even wrote to say: "Please, please, let me know...WHO is the Dr. House in the thyroid world? Who is going to be able to take my hair loss, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and 20 other symptoms, and stop telling me that my TSH is normal, and handing me a prescription for Prozac? I don't care if they have the rotten bedside manner of Dr. House -- I just need someone who won't give up! Who is it?"
That's a good question. Because in the real world we thyroid patients live in, very few doctors approach things like Dr. House. The majority of doctors we encounter hear those hoof beats, and assume it's a horse.
Uncontrollable weight gain? Easy...you're eating too much. Fatigue? What's the big deal...just get more sleep. Depression? Here, have an antidepressant!
Meanwhile, many patients have to be our own detectives, and when we come to realize that we're probably up against a thyroid or autoimmune condition -- the proverbial zebra -- it's just the beginning of a challenge. Because then we need to find a doctor willing to explore the possibilities, rule out options, and hone in on a diagnosis. That takes time, patience, and resources that few doctors can offer.
While the fictional Dr. House may have been grumpy, negative, and cantankerous, there are many thyroid patients who would give anything to find their own Dr. House. Because until real-life doctors start acting more like the fictional Dr. House, thyroid, autoimmune and endocrine disease will always be the zebra.