'House' episode helps doctor diagnose rare cobalt poisoning

Yes, sometimes doctors use TV shows and Google in addition to textbooks and experience to sort out what's going on with their patients.

Actor Hugh Laurie played Dr. Gregory House on the TV show "House," which aired on Fox from 2004 to 2012. Fox

When a patient in Germany stumped his doctors with a strange combination of severe symptoms including heart failure, vision and hearing loss, acid reflux, and enlarged lymph nodes, Dr. Juergen Schaefer was called in to lend his expertise. Turns out the doc isn't only gainfully employed solving medical mysteries at the Center for Undiagnosed Diseases just outside Frankfurt -- he's also a fan of the TV show "House."

Schaefer had recently seen and lectured about an episode in which the fictional Dr. Gregory House sees a patient with the same symptoms. In the episode, the fictional patient had been on the wrong end of a botched hip replacement and was suffering from cobalt poisoning. Schaefer told The Associated Press that, thanks to the show's well-researched script writing, "After five minutes, I knew what was wrong."

Unfortunately for the real-life patient, who'd received a metal-on-plastic hip implant to replace a broken ceramic one back in November 2010, fragments of the not-totally-removed ceramic hip were actually grinding against the newer metal hip, causing cobalt to leak into his bloodstream. By May 2012, his condition was serious.

Schaefer and his medical team at Marburg University Clinic in Germany reported on the case this week in The Lancet, saying they referred the man back to his orthopedic clinic for a new ceramic hip. Fortunately for the patient, the real-life ending is at least a little Hollywood in nature -- his heart function improved and he hasn't dealt with more acid reflux or fevers, though he only slightly recovered his sight and hearing.

Schaefer may be a fan of "House," but he doesn't want to oversell its role in this case, either. A few minutes on Google, he said, and he'd have come up with the same diagnosis.

Whether that's more of a slam on the show or the patient's original doctors who'd been stumped for months, we'll let you decide.

 

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