House MD--Christmas

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EFL Movie Study Guides (for English learners)

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EFL Movie Study Guide for: House MD, Christmas (season 1)


Introduction: In this episode (I think the original title was "Damned if I do"), a nun suffers from symptoms that point to an allergy, but doctors can't find the cause. It also touches on the role of "non-medical" factors, such as doctors' mistakes, hypochondria, incomplete information, the effect of some herbs, and the peace experienced by this dying nun. In the end, Dr. House finds the problem: a left-over from previous surgery, still inside the woman's body. (my version is 40 minutes)


Note 1: The main patient and her co-workers are nuns (recognizable by their black head coverings, called "habits"): These Christian women call each other "sister" or "Sister Augustine" (etc.); they have dedicated their lives to being single, thus freeing them to serve God through service to needy people. Many nuns serve as nurses, teachers, community-development workers, etc., giving time and care to people overlooked by society. Other nuns spend most of their time in prayer.

Note 2: Remember that this TV show uses a lot of sarcasm (See House, Pilot for examples)

A few terms (these are underlined the first time they appear in the text):

agnostic: to believe that people cannot know whether or not God exists (A religious person believes God does exist. An atheist believes that God does not exist. An agnostic is not sure. The letters "gnos"—from Greek—often mean "know.")

^allergy/allergen/allergic: a condition that makes you ill (or gives you skin problems, etc) because of contact with something your body can’t handle (e.g., an insect bite, oil from some plants, chemicals in the air); when you get sick because of an allergy it is called an “allergic reaction”; the thing that makes you react is an "allergen"

candy canes: a popular J-shaped Christmas candy/decoration ("Candy canes? Are you mocking me because I walk with a cane? …Relax. It's a joke.")

*cardiac: related to the heart (cardiac arrest = heart attack—when your heart stops)

cast: a hard, temporary casing that doctors put on a broken bone to keep it still while it heals

*defibrillator: a machine doctors use to electrically shock and thus restart your heart

*derma-: a prefix that means skin, so dermatitis (皮炎) means skin inflammation

divine (adj): from God or related to Him, so "divine intervention" would mean "when God gets involved to produce change"

*dose/dosage: the amount of a medicine you take at one time (two pills, 0.1cc, etc.)

to exacerbate: to cause sth bad to get worse

foster home/foster care: a place where some children are raised (often temporarily) if their parents are dead, in jail, etc.

*fragile: easy to break

*hypo-: a prefix that means below or abnormally low, so hypoallergenic means abnormally low chance to cause an allergic reaction.

hypochondria: the fear that you often have illnesses when you don't (from Greek, literally meaning "under the cartilage/abdomen—which was once thought to be the source of sad emotions)

hypochondriac: sb who suffers from hypochondria (see above: i.e., has imaginary illnesses)

infallible: perfect; without error or mistakes

^injection/to inject: shot; a way to put medicine into a body through a needle

*malpractice: a legal term related to doctors' mistakes that should be punished (malpractice insurance helps doctors pay to fight unreasonable lawsuits)

^medication: drugs or medicine (prescription or over-the-counter) used to treat illnesses

miracle: something very good that happens when you didn't expect it; a good thing that God does, and that is normally impossible (奇迹?)

miserable: extremely unhappy or uncomfortable, especially because your situation is not the way you think it should or could be (e.g., due to bad health, poverty, etc.)

monastery: a place where religious people live and study (修道院)

*negligent/negligence: careless, in such a way that your mistake can cause damage ("I admit negligence, but I'm not guilty of malpractice.")

*to notify: to tell sb about something in a formal way, often by sending a written notice. (Notice that you would say: "If you need help, please notify me" and not "Please notice me." The latter means "please look at me" and sounds humorous.)

^over-the-counter drugs: medicine that you can buy without a prescription ("You need a prescription to buy antibiotics in the US, but they are over-the-counter in China.")

*prognosis: medical prediction; what a doctor thinks will happen as the result of an illness

^protocol: the official set of rules and practices

saint: a person who is seen as almost perfect or holy, extremely good/kind/patient/etc.

*secular: not religious; not related to or under the authority of religious leaders

*stethoscope: a Y-shaped tool doctors use to listen to your heart and lungs (听诊器?)

to subside: to gradually become less, often until it goes away ("It took several days for the flood waters to subside.")

*syringe: a special medical tube with a needle, used for injections or take out your blood

^toxic/toxicity: poisonous/level of poisonous-ness

^vulnerable: easily harmed or damaged

Main characters:

Dr. House: Head of Diagnostic Medicine

Dr. Cameron: one of three young doctors; the only female on this team

Dr. Chase: another young doctor; from Australia

Dr. Foreman: another young doctor; an African-American

Dr. Wilson: a slightly older doctor (oncologist), who is also a friend of Dr. House

Dr. Cutty: the head administrator of the hospital

Sister Augustine: the nun with the medical problem

Sister Pius: a young nun who stays to care for Augustine

Sister Eucharist: an older nun, sort of like Augustine's supervisor, but not as high of an authority as the Mother Superior (the head of their unit)


Terms defined in the text below:

anthropomorphic entity (human-like or animal-like being)

antihistamine (allergy medicine)

cc (cubic centimeter)

chapel (a room set aside for prayer, such as a hospital chapel)

compromised (damaged or endangered)

cortisone cream (a topical hormone medicine)

donation (gift)

get laid (to have sex)

gotcha (I've got you)

grim (very serious)

hemlock (poison, used in literature for people to kill themselves)

IUD (intra-uterine device—a type of birth control)

leave through a hospital's front door, not the back door (i.e., healthy, not dead)

modulates (changes)

pack it in (give up)

pick-me-up (sth that gives you energy, like coffee)

prodigal (wasteful); "the prodigal son" wasted his father's money in a distant land, but one day came home

ralphed (vomited)

to screw up: to make a mistake

somebody's out to get her (someone intentionally wants to hurt her)

suppress it (force it to stop working)

vow (a serious religious promise; "my vows" means the promise to become a nun or priest)


A few phrases:

[4th, 5th, etc.] circle of hell: refers to a famous 14th century Italian novel (Danté's Inferno, often studied as "the greatest medieval poem") that supposedly described the different levels of punishment after death (Doctors House and Wilson use this phrase several times when talking about duties they don't like, such as filling out medical records)

*pay through the nose: to have to spend an unreasonable amount of money for something

*pulled off the market: taken out of stores so that no one can buy it anymore

to rat sb out: to tell an authority about something sb did wrong; to betray sb by speaking against them

^to screw up: to make a mistake

that well doesn't run dry: (rare) that topic is like a water well that never runs out of water; you keep talking about something when you should forget it






Dialogs have been edited for class use; this is not a transcript of the show. To understand some of the medical terms I looked at See our "use policy" regarding the definitions used on this website.

*I want my students to learn these terms

^My students have had these terms before—be sure you understand them


Dialog 1: (4)

-Dr House: [Do you have] Anything new in the kitchen?

-Sister Pius: We just got a donation (gift) of pans and pots this week.

House: This is contact dermatitis; you're allergic to dish soap.

-Sister Eucharist: Nonsense. We've always used that soap.

House: I've been a doctor for years. Why do I have to keep assuring people that I know what I'm doing? A person can become allergic to substances that they've had repeated and prolonged exposure to. The good news is—free samples. Diphenhydramine. It's an antihistamine (allergy medicine). It'll stop the allergic reaction. And [you need to] get some of that over-the-counter cortisone cream (a topical hormone medicine).

-Sister Augustine: Thank you, Doctor.

Eucharist: (in the next room) I want to thank you for your patience. It's good to get a secular diagnosis. The sisters tend to interpret their illnesses as divine intervention.

House: And you don't? Then you're wearing an awfully funny hat.

Eucharist: If I break my leg, I believe it happened for a reason. I believe God wanted me to break my leg. I also believe he wants me to put a cast on it.

Pius (panic in her voice) : Doctor, something's wrong!

House (after examining Augustine with a stethoscope): Sister, you're having an asthma attack. I need you to relax. I'm gonna give you epinephrine. It'll open your lungs and help you breathe. (House gives her an injection)

Eucharist: What happened?

House: It's probably an allergic reaction.

Pius: She's allergic to an anti-allergy medicine?

House: You figure somebody's out to get her (You think that someone intentionally wants to hurt her)?

Augustine: Is my heart supposed to be feeling so funny?

House: It's called adrenaline. It makes your heart beat fast… But not this fast… Get a nurse! Nurse, call a code and charge up a defibrillator. She's got no pulse.


Dialog 2: (2)

-Cutty: …You injected her with epinephrine. Presumably 1cc (cubic centimeter).

-House: 0.1cc. That is the standard dose. That is what I gave her.

Cutty: People don't go into cardiac arrest from 0.1cc epinephrine.

House: She must have a preexisting heart condition that got exacerbated by the epinephrine.

Cutty: The drawer has syringes with both dosages. You could have reached for the wrong one.

House: But I didn't.

Cutty: Everyone makes mistakes. This is why doctors pay through the nose for malpractice insurance. I can justify keeping her here for a 24-hour observation. If you haven't found an underlying cause for the cardiac arrest by then, I will have to notify our attorneys [about the probability that you were negligent].


Dialog 3: (4)

-House (to his staff): It's not allergic. Allergies don't cause cardiac arrest like this.

-Foreman: Vasculitis? But that wouldn't explain the symptoms.

House: Churg-Strauss vasculitis would. The blood vessels of the heart, lungs and skin become inflamed, causing the asthma, rash and heart problems.

Foreman: Isn't the prognosis for Churg-Strauss a bit grim (very serious)?

-Cameron: Yeah. Untreated, only 33% of patients survive past a year. Treated—five years.

Foreman: If it was any other attending doctor, I'd say that he made a mistake and gave her too much epinephrine.

House: I didn't screw up. (then House leaves)

Foreman: I don't trust a man who won't admit he might be wrong.

Cameron: I don't believe he is wrong about what happened in the clinic.

Foreman: What about you, Chase? [Do] You think he's infallible too?

-Chase: All I know is, if House didn't make a mistake and Sister Augustine has Churg-Strauss, he'll be self-satisfied and our lives will be good for a few weeks. If House did make a mistake, he'll be upset and our lives will be miserable for months.


Dialog 4: (6)

-Cameron: Hi, I'm Dr. Cameron.

-Augustine: Has Dr. House figured out what I have? Will I be okay?

Cameron: We're not sure what's wrong yet. You'll have a chest CT scan soon that'll help with the diagnosis.

-Pius: Dr. House is giving her medication, and he doesn't know what she has yet?

Augustine: Trust, Sister Pius. It all happens for a reason. (They head for the CT department.) Doctors, I've been talking to the staff. Did you know that the woman from the lab studied astrophysics before becoming a nurse?

-Chase: You know the staff better than I do.

Augustine: I love to hear all about people.

Chase: Yet you live [away from people] in a monastery.

Augustine: It's where I serve our Lord and the world best.

Chase: Our Lord, maybe. The rest of the world, on the other hand, would probably get more out of…

Augustine: Healing the sick?

Chase: As an example, yeah.

Augustine: Did you always want to be a doctor?

Chase: Always. [Did] You always want to be a nun?

Augustine: My parents died when I was six. I was raised in a foster home run by the Church. When I was 18 I took my vows (a serious religious promise).

(They put her in the CT machine, and Augustine quotes from the Bible to help her relax.)

-Foreman: Well, she's got God on her side.

Cameron: I don't believe in God.

Foreman: You're not even a little agnostic?

Augustine: Is it supposed to smell funny?

-Technician: Someone ralphed (AmE: vomited) in there this morning. We cleaned it up, but…

Cameron: It's normal sister. (Then talking to Foreman.) I believe in a higher order that's in control of what happens, but not one, anthropomorphic entity (human-like or animal-like being) called "God" who is concerned with the everyday workings of you and me.

Foreman: What else is there to control but the everyday workings of you and me?

Chase (looking at the CT results): Sister Augustine has no vascular pathology, which means no Churg-Strauss.

Foreman: Which means House made a mistake.

Cameron: No, not necessarily. It could be something else.

Augustine: Please help me! The smell [is terrible].

Cameron: We're coming. I gotcha (I've got you).

Augustine (obviously traumatized by something, sits up and says): Oh, I see Jesus! He's burning me with his touch.

Foreman: Let's get her on some Ativan. The smells, religious visions—it's symptomatic of temporal lobe swelling.

Cameron: She's seizing (having a seizure). Get the jaw block!


Dialog 5: (4)

-Chase: Her immune system is severely compromised (damaged or endangered).

-Cutty: Prednisone compromises the immune system. (sarcastically:) Isn't that the medicine that you gave her for that thing she doesn't have?

-House (to his staff): So, what are the options for a compromised immune system?

Chase: Mixed connective tissue disease would explain why she was feeling better on the prednisone—before it almost killed her.

-Foreman: But the treatment for that is prednisone, and we can't go there because of the encephalitis.

House: Then we'll treat it with something that modulates (changes) the immune system but doesn't suppress it (force it to stop working)—hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Foreman: There's no protocol for putting a patient in a high-pressure oxygen room to treat auto-immune problems. It could cause oxygen toxicity—lung and eye damage.

House (annoyed): Every treatment has its dangers. Prep the nun and discontinue the prednisone.

Cutty: She comes in with a rash, and you put her into cardiac arrest.

House: That well just never runs dry, does it? Her reaction to the medicine is a symptom, not an error.

Cutty: There's always an explanation, isn't there? But never one involving you screwing up!

House: One that fits all the facts.

Cutty: I want this patient going out the front door and not the back (i.e., healthy, not dead), so I'm going to do you the biggest favor one doctor can do for another. I am gonna stop you from killing your patient. You're off the case.


Dialog 6 (in the hospital chapel, a room set aside for prayer, but House goes there to watch a portable TV): (2)

-Eucharist: I need to talk with you, Dr. House. Sister Augustine believes in things that aren't real.

-House (sarcastically): I thought that was a job requirement for you [religious] people.

Eucharist (somewhat offended): She's been known to lie to get sympathy. She's a hypochondriac.

House: So you're warning me that I may be treating a non-existent ailment?

Eucharist: [She has had] Sore throats, joint pains. There's always something wrong, and there's never a reason for it. Mother Superior (their boss) plays right into it… lets Augustine off work duties, treating her as fragile—special.

House: Let's talk about you for a moment. We've got pride, anger, envy, gluttony… That's four of the "seven deadly sins" in under two minutes (less than two minutes).

Eucharist (still annoyed, but calm): They say you have a gift. You hide behind your intelligence. And you make jokes because you're afraid to take anything seriously. Because if you take things seriously, they matter. And if they matter…

House: …when things go wrong, I get hurt. I'm not tough. I'm vulnerable.

Eucharist: I barely know you, but I hope I'm right because the alternative is that you really are as miserable as you seem to be.

Dialog 7 (at the monastery) : (2)

-House: Did you paint or put in new carpets (地毯) recently?

-Mother Superior: No… Why haven't you asked Sister Augustine about these things directly?

House: I've found that when you want to know the truth about someone, that someone is probably the last person you should ask.

Mother: And have you been speaking to Sister Eucharist?

House: She ratted out her fellow sister pretty quickly.

Mother: (laughing) Well, becoming a nun doesn't make you a saint.

House: Becoming a doctor doesn't make you a healer, either. Tell me about Sister Augustine's life when she wasn't a nun.

Mother: We consider that our lives begin when we put on our habits and take our vows (i.e., enter the profession of being a nun). What happens before then…

House: …is irrelevant to you, but it's relevant to me [as her doctor].

Mother: Sister Augustine left foster care when she was 12. She lived on the streets. She got into drugs. When she was 15 she became pregnant and tried to self-abort. She lost the child. She became ill. We took her in when she came back. If we thought it was medically relevant, we would have told you.

House: It's not. (He drinks some of the monastery's special tea.) This is delicious. [Is it made from] Local herbs?


Dialog 8: (3)

-Cutty (sarcastically; after House gives her a tea bag): What's this? Hemlock? (i.e., poison so I can kill myself)

-House: I'm going to do you the biggest favor one doctor can do for another. I am gonna stop you from killing your patient. It's figwort tea. It is a great morning pick-me-up (sth that gives you energy, like coffee). Opens the lungs, increases the blood pressure, stimulates the heart. Unfortunately, if you then get injected with even 0.1cc of epinephrine—instant cardiac arrest. (sarcastically) Still, what the hell, it tastes great.

-Foreman: If we take the cardiac arrest out of the equation…

House: All the rest of the symptoms can be explained by a severe long-term allergic reaction.

Foreman: Well, that's what Cameron said in the beginning.

House (to Cameron): Yes. Well done. But your unwillingness to stick by your diagnosis almost killed this woman. Take a lesson from Foreman. I was upset when he reported my actions to Cutty, but at least he stood up for what he believed. (House leaves)

Foreman: Damned if you do, damned if you don't (no matter what I say or do, it will be considered wrong)


Dialog 9 (in a hypoallergenic "clean room"): (2)

-Chase: This room has filtered air, filtered water, and even silk sheets. You should be feeling better here.

-Augustine: Can the other sisters come in and pray with me?

Chase: It'd be better if you don't have any visitors. (She begins to cry) I… I can pray with you.

Augustine: I don’t wanna die. Why has God left me?

Chase: Before I decided to become a doctor, I was in seminary school, studying to become a priest (神甫, 牧师). They asked us what our favorite Bible passage was. 1 Peter 1:7 says "These trials only test your faith to see whether or not it is strong and pure. Your faith is being tested, as fire tests gold and purifies it…"

Augustine: I know that passage. "…and your faith is far more precious to the Lord than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tested, it will bring you much praise, glory and honor on the day of Jesus' return."

Chase: He hasn't left you. The only thing in the way, keeping you from knowing he's there, is your fear. You have a choice—faith or fear. That's the test.

Augustine: Choosing faith doesn't mean I won't die.

Chase: But it will affect how you experience your death, and therefore, your life. It's up to you.

Augustine: Why did you leave seminary school?

Chase: That test. You passed. I didn't.


Dialog 10: (3)

-House: How do you get an allergic reaction in a "clean room"? We've checked everything!

-Wilson: Maybe it's just divine will.

House: It's not my will.

Wilson: You do realize, that if you're wrong—about the big picture (God/heaven/hell…)—then you're going to burn, right?

House: What do you want me to do—just accept it, pack it in (give up)?

Wilson: Yeah. I want you to accept that sometimes patients die against all reason, and sometimes they get better against all reason.

House: No, they don't. We just don't know the reason.

Wilson: I think the nuns would agree with you on that.

House: We've looked everywhere for an allergen that could be causing this reaction, …except inside her.

Wilson: Maybe she's allergic to God. (Wilson leaves and House enters Augustine's room)

-Augustine: I want to check out, against medical advice. This illness is a test of my faith. If it is His will to take me, it doesn't matter where I am. I can accept that.

House: Does anybody believe anything you say? You're not accepting. You're running away, just like you always do. You ran away from the monastery [foster home] to get laid (to have sex). You ran away from the real world when getting laid didn't work out so good. Now things aren't working out again, so off you go.

Augustine: Why is it so difficult for you to believe in God?

House: What I have difficulty with is the whole concept of belief. Faith isn't based on logic and experience.

Augustine: I experience God on a daily basis, and the miracle of life all around—the miracle of birth, the miracle of love. He's always with me.

House: The miracle of love? You're over twice as likely to be killed by the person you love than by a stranger.

Augustine: Are you trying to talk me out of my faith?

House: You can have all the faith you want in spirits and the afterlife, heaven and hell. But when it comes to this world, don't be an idiot. 'Cause you can tell me that you put your faith in God to get you through the day, but when it comes time to cross the road, I know you look both ways.

Augustine: I don't believe that he is inside me and is going to save me from dieing. I believe he is inside me whether I live or die.

House: Then you might as well live. Don't check out of the hospital.

Augustine: When I was 15 and got pregnant in spite of birth control, I blamed God and hated him for ruining my life. But then I realized that you can't be angry with God and not believe in him at the same time. No one can.


Dialog 11: (3)

-House: The full body scan showed that you have an IUD inside (intra-uterine device—a type of birth control). The copper cross—a form of birth control pulled off the market in the '80s.

-Chase: So, you are allergic to copper.

House: Rare, but it happens. You had an abortion. The IUD must have been left in, embedded where it couldn't be detected. (House leaves)

Chase: So all we have to do is remove the IUD. Then the symptoms should subside.

-Augustine (looking at a CT picture): It's been there for 20 years. Dr. Chase, you told me your favorite passage. Would you like to hear mine? "Celebrate and be glad, because your brother was dead and is alive again." (Luke 15:32)

Chase: From the story of "the prodigal son" who wasted his father's money in a distant land, but one day came home. ("prodigal" = wasteful)

Augustine: He'll be waiting for you when you're ready.

Chase: We'll schedule your surgery for tomorrow.


Dialog 12: (3)

-Wilson: How's the sister?

-House: Heart rate is normal, kidneys are functioning. You know how it is with nuns: take out their IUDs and they bounce right back. Told you I didn't screw up.

Wilson: You screwed up.

House: I gave her 0.1cc of epinephrine.

Wilson: And if Cutty hadn't taken you off the case, you would have killed her. (after a pause) So, [do] you wanna come over for Christmas dinner?

House: You're Jewish. You don’t celebrate Christmas.

Wilson: Yeah. We'll call it Hanukkah dinner. What do you care? It's food. It's people.

House: No, thanks.

Wilson: Then maybe I'll come to your place.

House: Your wife doesn't mind being alone at Christmas?

Wilson: I’m a doctor. She's used to being alone…  (after a pause) I don't want to talk about it.

-Cutty (passes through the room): House, you did good with the nun. Congratulations.

House: Thank you.

Cutty: Merry Christmas, Dr. House, Dr. Wilson. (she leaves)

Wilson: Goodnight, Dr. Cutty.  (quietly to House) That was sweet.



1. Look at dialog 1. With your partner, try to explain the different views on "divine intervention" held by Dr. House, Sister Eucharist, and the other sisters.

2. Look at dialog 2. When should a hospital be required (by law) to report a doctor's mistakes or possible mistakes? In this show, Cutty wanted to report House's mistake, when (in the end) we learn that he hadn't made a mistake. How would such a report have affected his job or career?

3. Look at dialog 3. Is anyone infallible? How does, or how should, our common ability to make mistakes affect relationships with our friends, colleagues, patients, and strangers.

4. Look at dialog 4. Would you say you are agnostic, religious or atheistic? Which one of those terms describes most of the people in the world, and why? Explain or defend what you believe about "the big picture" (see dialog 10) to your partner.

5. Look at dialog 7. What makes someone's past "relevant" or "irrelevant"? Should the Mother Superior have told Dr. House about Augustine's abortion? Why or why not?

6. If you have access to it, read the story of the prodigal son (see dialog 11). Tell your partner what the story means, and what you think of the story. Why do you think this story remains popular and relevant after 2000 years?


Exercises: (choose one)

1. Have a debate or create a role play about malpractice. Should patients have an almost unlimited right to sue doctors because they make a mistake, or should there be some limits since "doctors are human, and all humans make mistakes"? What can be done to limit the mistakes that doctors make (what rules should there be about working hours and conditions, testing of doctors and patients, etc.). Remember that every extra medical test (to confirm diagnosis) costs a lot of money that the patient (or an insurance company) will have to cover.

2. Have a debate or create a role play about non-medical factors affecting medical treatment, such as doctors' mistakes, hypochondria, incomplete information from patients, the effect of some herbs or traditional medicines, and the role of faith or religious belief.

3. Instead of a creating a role play, write five to eight sentences with some of the phrases and medical terms in this lesson. When you finish, bring them to me so I can help you correct them.

4. Choose any of the dialogs and add five to ten extra sentences to it (either in the middle or by making it longer)


Notes: These dialogs have been changed for educational purposes. This isn’t a transcript of the show!

To understand some of the medical terms I looked at or

*I want my students to learn these terms

^My students have had these terms before—be sure you understand them

See our Website Standards and Use Policy regarding the sources of definitions used on this website.


This resource was created for our students under our understanding of "fair use" for educational resources. 

This page does not imply any consent from or relationship with the publisher(s) or producer(s). 

 2007 As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

 (see Website Standards and Use Policy)


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