Disclaimers: Thanks to the writers, producers and directors who made E! such a great show in the first place – I’m having a blast playing with it – but none of my play is intended to infringe on their rights! I’ve broken from tradition, here, and didn’t hurt my favorite paramedic – not even a little bit! Hope you’ll enjoy this anyway.
The last golden rays of the setting sun had long ago melted away when John Gage swung his Land Rover into the only vacant space in the parking lot. “Finally!” he muttered while pushing open the driver’s door. Several long strides took him to the back of the vehicle where he pulled open the rear door, exposing the worried countenance of his best friend, Roy DeSoto. “How’s he doing?”
“Better than I am. At least he’s relaxed enough that he’s not noticing how uncomfortable the ride was. Did you have to hit every bump on the road?”
Johnny’s amused grin didn’t quite erase the worried look on his face as he reached down to help his partner out of the Rover. “You should’ve seen the ones I missed.”
The two off-duty paramedics turned to help their injured friend from the back, the easy bantering a thin cover for their concern. Johnny studied the makeshift bandage they’d wrapped around Chet’s forearm, the white color permanently lost to a dark red. “Looks like you got the bleeding stopped.”
“Been keeping pressure on it since we left camp. And that was no easy task, considering the way you raced down the mountain.”
Johnny rolled his eyes skyward, but wisely kept silent. He knew it had been uncomfortable in the back of the Rover, but there had been no other choice. With Chet bleeding, and no emergency help close by, they’d done the only thing they could: headed for the closest hospital.
Looking down at the dark spots in the back of his vehicle, Johnny attempted to lighten the mood. “Geez, Kelly, hope you plan on cleaning this up.”
There was no reply from Chet, though he met Johnny’s gaze with a slight frown. He staggered slightly as they pulled him to a standing position, but dutifully stepped forward as the men started to walk across the parking lot.
The brightly lit “Emergency” sign drew them to the double glass doors, but in order to enter, they had to maneuver around a small group of men gathered there. The smell of cigarette smoke and stale booze greeted them as they passed, and the paramedics shared a look of disgust.
Inside, the scene wasn’t much better. The waiting room was filled to overflowing, and the triage nurse at the admitting desk was almost hidden behind a row of waiting customers.
“Guess we’d better join the line,” Johnny mumbled quietly.
Roy’s nod was confirmation, and the two men guided the injured man into place. Only then did Chet look up. “Where are we?” he slurred.
“We’re in the Emergency room, Chet.”
“Doesn’t look like it. Where’s Dixie?”
It was Roy’s turn to roll his eyes. “We’re not at Rampart, Chet. I know it seemed like a long ride, but it wasn’t that long.”
“Oh, yeah . . . okay.”
Johnny dropped his voice as he leaned behind Chet to whisper to Roy. “How much did he drink, anyway?”
“Couldn’t have been much. We didn’t fish very long after he walked back to camp. Maybe the shock of all this has made it worse.”
“I don’t know . . .”
The two men straightened up, each keeping a firm hand on their unstable friend. Roy had his left hand clasped around Chet’s upper arm, while continuing to hold the injured forearm in his right hand. It had already been several hours since the accident, but the man had lost a lot of blood. They’d been careful to take every precaution to keep him from going into shock, but Roy was not about to become lax now. “Hmmm . . . going to be needing some stitches here.”
Roy had noticed a nurse moving down the line, visually assessing the waiting patients, and sending the more serious cases into another room. Standing next to Johnny, now, she wore a frown as she glanced down at her clipboard.
“Looks like you may have a bit of a wait. Just stay in this line, and they’ll get your information.”
Without another glance, the nurse moved on to the new arrivals in line behind them.
“But . . .” Roy met Johnny’s gaze as the younger man’s jaw dropped in surprise.
“Can you believe that? Is that any way to run an admitting desk? Dixie would never…”
“Look, the line’s moving again,” Roy interrupted industriously. The last thing he wanted, at this point, was to listen to a classic Gage rant.
“Yeah, it’s about time.”
“We’re moving? Where’re we goin’, Gage?” asked Chet.
“Nowhere special, Chet. Just keeping up with the other passengers here.”
Kelly’s gaze moved slowly about the room as if he were trying to discern just exactly where they were and what was going on. An occasional stab of pain would cause his expression to darken, but overall, he was doing all right. Johnny couldn’t help but wonder, though, how bad Chet’s headache would be tomorrow.
First on one foot, then the other, Johnny tried his best to be patient. Of course, that virtue wasn’t one of his strong points anyway, but in all fairness, he was trying. It rankled, however, that anyone would have to endure this kind of wait for simple medical attention. He made a mental note to thank Dixie the next time they met. She sure did one helluva job.
Time seemed to be moving in slow motion for the LA County firemen. What had started out to be a simple, relaxing three day fishing trip, had quickly turned into some kind of nightmarish catastrophe like the ones in Chet Kelly’s favorite late-night horror flicks. Roy couldn’t help but wonder if this was some kind of evil setup that the Phantom had concocted, some morbid revenge on his favorite Pigeon. But then, since Kelly was the one with the three-inch gash in his arm, it didn’t seem likely.
Roy knew they didn’t have any choice other than to search out the nearest hospital, and in all fairness, this was a fairly large city and the hospital had a good reputation. The fact that the ER was currently undergoing a major remodel could be part of the problem, or maybe it was just that this was Saturday night. Still, it was clearly a bad situation, and was shaping up to be a very long night. That was going to make it doubly hard for the three vacationing men.
They’d just finished a busy shift that morning, one that hadn’t allowed them a night’s sleep. With plans prearranged and the Rover packed, they’d simply left directly from Carson that morning, making the five-hour drive to their destination. After setting up camp, they’d spent a few relaxing hours at the water’s edge before Chet had volunteered to go back to camp and start a fire. They’d quickly agreed, as they were looking forward to turning in early. Of course, that had changed drastically, and now all they had to look forward to was an evening spent waiting at the hospital.
The nurse’s insistence brought Roy back to the present, and with Johnny’s help, he guided Chet to the desk.
“Chet Kelly,” the fireman answered softly.
“What happened, Mr. Kelly?”
“Cut my arm.”
“Yes, it appears that you did,” she responded, frowning slightly. “Can you tell me how it happened?”
The nurse’s frown deepened as she received another short answer. It was obvious that she had little patience for an uncooperative patient. Her gaze turned towards the two men supporting the injured man. “Can one of you tell me what happened?”
“We were fishing at one of the mountain lakes, and Chet went back to the campsite to start a fire. By the time we got there, he’d cut his arm and was having a hard time controlling the bleeding,” Johnny explained.
Johnny was quick to answer, and Roy had the feeling that his partner had been biting his tongue in frustration as well.
“Looks like you did a pretty good job with this pressure bandage.”
“Hell yes, they . . . ’scuse me, ma’am.” Chet blushed faintly. “Heck yes, they did a good job; they’re LA’s finest, ya know.” The injured man’s head bobbed up and down several times, his gaze turning to first one friend and then the other. “They’re pretty good friends t’have in a pinch, too. Just don’t tell ‘em the Phantom told ya, ‘kay?” Chet finished in a hushed tone.
The nurse’s eyebrows arched in question, but she didn’t bother to offer a verbal reply. At least, not one intended for them to hear. However, her muffled comment “then they should’ve known better than to give you alcohol,” was not lost on Johnny.
“We didn’t give him any…”
“Bring him in here, and we’ll get his vitals.” She motioned the men toward the nearest doorway, oblivious to Johnny’s annoyance.
“Mr. Kelly, you can take a seat right there.” She moved past Johnny, just barely missing his foot. “Excuse me.”
With a curt nod, the younger man stepped aside, but his eyes clearly conveyed his frustration.
“Sir, why don’t you stand behind Mr. Kelly.” The nurse pointed at Roy. “And you can wait over there.”
Roy nodded, while Johnny mumbled something unintelligible. The younger man was clearly losing patience with the whole situation, but in all fairness, was trying to keep a firm hold on his temper. They were all tired, and edgy. Grateful that the nurse was taking hold of the situation, Roy hoped they would be on their way to getting Chet taken care of soon so they could get back to camp and some well deserved sleep.
As Chet settled into the seat, the nurse wrapped her fingers around his wrist, and nodded slightly as she counted the beats. After noting the numbers on a chart, she stepped around the chair to retrieve the BP cuff from the opposite counter. Her quick movements almost caused her to trip over Johnny’s feet as she performed her duties. “Excuse me, sir, would you mind stepping back out of the way.”
Johnny’s look of irritation was unmistakable, but he wordlessly stepped into the doorway, giving the nurse plenty of room to work.
“Well, your vital signs look good, Mr. Kelly.” She picked up Chet’s arm, carefully examining the bandage, but making no attempt to remove it or check the wound. “All right, then, you can go back to the waiting room. Some one will call you to the business area for your insurance information.”
“What? That’s it? You’re not going to check his arm, or do anything else for him?” exclaimed Johnny.
Roy wanted to throw his arms up in despair at his partner’s tone. An upset Johnny was all he needed to make this night a complete disaster. The nurse, however, was unperturbed. “Not at this time, sir. Once we get the proper information, he’ll be called back into the main Emergency Room, and one of the doctors will examine the wound.”
There was no opportunity to respond. The nurse pointed toward the doorway, even as she was walking back towards her desk. Shrugging his shoulders in acceptance, Roy reached down to help Chet from the chair.
“Where we goin’ now, Roy?” asked Chet.
“We’re going to find another chair for you, Chet.”
“But I like this one. Can’t I just stay here?”
Johnny carefully held Chet’s other arm, and the two men maneuvered their friend out of the cubicle and back into the crowded waiting room. Neither one bothered to answer Chet’s question, a fact he didn’t seem to notice.
“There’s several seats over here, Roy,” Johnny mumbled.
“Looks like we got the last ones.”
“Yeah. Lucky, aren’t we?”
The three seats were in a grouping just off the main entrance. The men were grateful to find them, and wasted no time in settling in. It was soon clear, however, that they didn’t need to be in any particular hurry. The admitting line they’d just exited had grown even longer, and the four business desks were continually filled.
Several minutes of silence passed before Roy noticed Kelly’s frown. “What’s wrong, Chet?”
“Ya think she was mad at me?”
The paramedics exchanged a glance before Roy questioned again. “Do I think ‘who” was mad?”
“That nurse. She sounded kinda angry.”
This time the other two men smiled behind the injured man’s back. Johnny found his voice first. “Heck, if you think ‘she’ sounded angry, just wait ‘til we get home, and Cap finds out about this.”
It was almost thirty minutes before one of the clerks called Chet’s name.
“I’ll help him get the forms filled out,” Roy offered. “You can hold our seats for us.”
“Sure. Sounds good to me.”
Roy draped his jacket across their seats as he and Chet stood up to leave. Johnny watched quietly as they made their way over to the receptionist’s desk. It would take a little while to do the paper work, but Johnny didn’t mind waiting alone. After all, it meant he wouldn’t have to deal with Chet for a while.
He was concerned for his friend, but that didn’t make him any less frustrated where Chet’s imbibing was concerned. Calming injured patients was part of his training, but dealing with an inebriated one wasn’t. Sure, there were times he had to do that while on duty, but this was a slightly different. His exasperation with Chet went a little deeper than with a stranger.
The fireman should’ve known better, should’ve used a little more common sense. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. Still, that was no excuse for Chet to be drinking alone, and on an empty stomach. There’d been a good reason for Roy and John to take Chet away for the weekend; this just wasn’t the way they’d expected to help their jilted friend.
“'Scuse me, sir, this seat taken?”
“Uhh, no, go ahead,” replied Johnny.
Johnny, who’d had been startled by the slurred interruption, suddenly found himself choking back his amusement. The stranger lowered himself into an empty chair across the corner to Johnny’s left. Dark, unruly hair stuck out from beneath a dirty baseball cap, while slightly lower, an untrimmed mustache and shaggy beard hid the man’s face. Clothed in a tattered army jacket and baggy pants, the stranger made quite an appearance.
He moved around at first, as if trying to get comfortable in the short-backed chair. Finally becoming quiet, he pulled the cap low over his eyes, and bowed his head.
People continued to move in and out of the waiting room, but no one spoke to Johnny as he waited. Occasionally, a set of double doors would swing open to the ER, and some tired looking nurse would call out a name. There would be a small flurry of activity as another new patient, along with a family member or friend, was ushered in; then things would return to normal. Of course, normal was a relative term. With the room full to capacity, the noise level itself had risen to a steady hum.
“We’re back.” Chet’s voice still held a hint of juvenile aggravation, but Johnny also detected a note of pain. The initial shock was wearing off, along with the accompanying adrenalin rush, not to mention the liberal dose of alcohol, and now his injury was making itself known. John hoped it wouldn’t be much longer before those double doors opened for his friend.
Roy and Johnny continued to exchange amused glances between them, while hoping that Chet wouldn’t catch on. All they needed was to have their friend cause a scene. Their neighbor to Johnny’s left was providing adequate amusement of his own.
Obviously a transient, the man was making the most of his unusual disguise. The deep pockets of his jacket soon revealed a two-way radio, fashioned something like a telephone receiver similar to the ones seen in the old war movies. After turning it back and forth in his hand, the man depressed a large button on the side several times before putting the unit up to his ear and cupping his free hand around the mouthpiece. There followed, a very one-sided conversation that almost had Johnny rolling on the floor for the absurdity of it. After assuring his imaginary ‘caller’ that he would be seen by a doctor very soon, the man calmly slipped the phone into his pocket.
Immediately, he pulled a transistor radio from his left pocket and inserted a small earpiece in place, before lying back in the chair. It would’ve been convincing, if not for the broken battery compartment at the bottom of the radio, confirming that the unit no longer worked. Unperturbed, the man simply raised his voice in a tuneless song, and proceeded to entertain all those within earshot. He quieted after several verses, and John thought maybe the man had gone to sleep, but with the start of another one-sided conversation, all hope was lost. There were several security guards who’d been in and out of the room, but none were in sight at the moment. Johnny leaned back nervously, trying to dismiss the thought that perhaps the lump in the man’s front pocket was an old army grenade.
“You think they’re ever gonna take me back there?”
Chet’s question startled Roy, and he sat up as he realized he’d been dozing. A quick glance at his watch showed that an hour had passed since they’d returned from the business desk. “Sure, Chet, just be patient.”
The fireman’s mumbled response was unintelligible, as he stared around the room.
Johnny remained silent, though alert, and Roy wished they could talk. But with Chet between them, any quiet conversation would be awkward. The ‘army’ man, as Roy had silently dubbed him, was quiet for now. Although he’d left his seat for a short time, he was back now. Seemingly harmless, Roy had to admit, the guy made him a little nervous.
“It’s been too long, you know. They aren’t gonna call my name.”
‘Yes they will, Chet. Just take it easy.”
Roy’s reassurances weren’t enough, and Chet was suddenly angry. “No, they’re not. And I’m not waiting around here anymore!”
Pushing himself abruptly from his seat, Chet stood and started unsteadily towards the door. Roy and John stared at each other in surprise before jumping up to follow him. Johnny caught up to him first. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“What the . . . Chet, we’re a four-hour drive from home. Now come sit back down.”
“No. Not waitin’ here anymore. .”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder at Roy, irritation plainly written on his face. But they were at the door before Roy spoke, his hand firmly planted on Chet’s good shoulder.
“You’re not going anywhere, Kelly. Now turn around and get back to your seat.”
Johnny almost did a double take. He could’ve sworn that Captain Stanley’s voice had just come out of Roy DeSoto’s mouth. Chet must’ve thought the same thing, as he mutely turned to stare at the older paramedic.
“Mmm . . . ‘kay.”
Head down, and one arm cradled in the other, Chet Kelly headed back to his seat. He didn’t acknowledge the two men beside him, not even when Johnny guided him into the chair.
Across his head, the two paramedics shared a look of relief. Now, if one of those nurses would just call Chet’s name . . .
The autumn chill was evidently taking a toll on the youngsters in the area, or maybe there was just one of those rampant viruses taking hold, now that school was back in session. Either way, the waiting room was full of sick children.
Roy didn’t seem to notice, or maybe he was just tuning the whole thing out. Johnny couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what happened when you actually had kids of your own. Then again, he didn’t think he could ever get used to a child sneezing on the floor, then swiping the offensive stain with his shoe. Staring at the boy’s father didn’t make him feel any better. He just shrugged and looked the other way.
Across the aisle, a bank of chairs cleared as another patient’s name was called. Johnny couldn’t help but envy the group, as they filed through the swinging doors into the emergency room. Why couldn’t it be them? All he wanted to do was lay down and sleep, somewhere, anywhere . . .even the back of the Rover seemed like an offer of welcome relief at this point. Instead, he leaned back in the seat, his dark head balanced on the narrow back of the chair as he studied the acoustical ceiling.
Instantly out of his seat, Johnny grinned widely at Roy who stood next to him. The only one not moving was their patient. “Come on, Chet. It’s your turn.”
“Huh? Yeah . . .okay.” His earlier outrage was gone, and Chet didn’t seem to be in any hurry to follow the waiting nurse.
Johnny, however, was tired of waiting. “Now, Kelly. Move it.” His tone was firm, but his grip was gentle as Johnny reached down to pull his friend from the chair.
Chet finally seemed to rouse himself enough to respond, and seeing the nurse in front of him, her clipboard gripped in both hands, he struggled to stand. “Ohhh . . .okay. Where we goin’ now?”
The nurse didn’t answer him, but directed her statement to Roy and Johnny instead. “I’m sorry. There’s only room for one of you to come with him.”
“I’ll stay here,” Johnny interjected immediately. His smile was thin, but sincere. He had no desire to spend the next hour dealing with Chet, and Roy’s answering smirk was evidence that his partner felt the same way.
“This way, gentlemen.”
Johnny stood and watched as his two friends disappeared through the familiar swinging doors. He briefly checked his watch, noting the exact time, sure that information would be important in the future. With an audible sigh, he turned back to his seat, unnerved to see that the guy in the army outfit was watching him closely.
The stack of frayed magazines on the small corner table had already held Johnny’s attention several times during the evening, but he quickly grabbed the top one again. With carefully concealed amusement, he peered over the top of the pages as he watched his neighbor. The man settled back into his own seat, now checking out the room around him, his hat pulled low over darkened eyes.
Flipping through the pages, Johnny finally found an article he hadn’t read yet, and sank deeper into the chair. This was turning out to be a very long night.
The tattered copy of Newsweek was back on the table, and Johnny had long ago stretched his tired legs out in front of him. There was no comfortable position in these straight and barely padded chairs, but at least he wasn’t standing. That seemed like a very real possibility at one point, but with the rotation of patients and families in and out of the ER, he’d at least been allowed to keep his chair.
The man in army camouflage had quieted, with only an occasional outburst of humming. Johnny had long suspected that the man had no reason to be there, other than a desire to find a warm and comfortable place to sit. That in itself seemed like an anomaly to John Gage. Who would “want” to get comfortable in a hospital waiting room? Then again, if the only option was a cold piece of ground under an overpass, then even an uncompromising chair would be welcomed.
Turning his head slightly to the right, Johnny watched his newest neighbors. They’d joined him almost half hour earlier, sitting in the seats that Roy and Chet had vacated, but other than a few polite words, had kept silent as they waited for their turn. Now, Johnny found himself slipping into paramedic mode as he watched the man in the wheelchair. A double amputee, the man was obviously in some distress, his skin covered with a light sheen of sweat. Though his breathing seemed okay, the man was clearly in pain.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Johnny finally offered.
“What? Oh, no. Thank you, though.” The woman laid her hand on her husband’s arm, in a gesture of reassurance. “They told us it wouldn’t be much longer.”
John nodded, and though he longed to ask questions, remained quiet. He couldn’t understand how the hospital could operate in such a way. Surely, even with the rush, the nurses could recognize someone in urgent need of care.
Ten minutes passed as, with eyes averted, Johnny continued to watch the couple. He could see that the woman’s efforts to calm the man were no longer having any affect, though she continued to speak to him in a hushed tone.
Suddenly, with one hand on his stomach, the patient leaned part way over, then straightened. In an instant, Johnny was out of his seat and kneeling next to the wheelchair, but the man was already slumped against his wife.
Practiced fingers encircled the man’s wrist, as Johnny counted the beats. He wanted to scream for attention, holler out for a nurse, but none of them were in sight at the moment. Besides, his first responsibility was to the patient, and that type of theatrics wouldn’t help anyone. Just as he’d decided to send the woman for help, two nurses stepped into view.
“We have him.” Deftly taking control of the wheelchair, the first nurse started to push the unconscious man towards the infamous doors, while the other carefully supported the man’s neck.
Before following them, the man’s wife turned to Johnny. “Thank you for trying to help,” she murmured.
“He’ll be okay.” Johnny knew that his reply was perfunctory, but the woman smiled faintly anyway.
And then, she too, was gone.
Settling back into his seat, Johnny realized that several people were staring at him curiously. Feeling oddly out of place, and in no mood to explain his actions, he turned to the little table, instead. Without looking, he grabbed the first publication he touched, and began to leaf through the pages of Ladies Home Journal.
‘Chet, you owe me one.’
“Feelings. Ohh, ohhh, ohhh, feelings . . .”
Johnny longed to throw his hands over his ears and run out to the Rover, but he owed it to Roy to stay put. The man to his left had evidently had enough of his lounging, and after making yet another call on his peculiar phone, had reverted back to his singing.
Though the man’s appearance was strange, and his actions nothing short of weird, Johnny suspected that the man was harmless enough. Still, his presence here was obviously disrupting to the patient’s waiting for care, and families waiting for word about loved ones.
‘Should I try to talk to him? Maybe he’d quiet down a little, if he realized . . .but I don’t really want to start a conversation with the guy. Geez, where are the security guards, anyway?’
One look over at the door answered Johnny’s silent question. The group of men loitering there were now involved in a deep discussion with the two armed guards.
‘Hmm, okay, maybe I can get one of the nurses to come talk to the guy. Yeah, like they’d have time to do that. They don’t even have time to help the patients around here.’
Studying the situation, Johnny was becoming more and more frustrated, and unsure of what steps to take. But one look at the young mother across the room, the one quietly rocking her sleeping baby, and he knew that he needed to do something. In fact, her pleading glance in his direction was the catalyst, as he rose from his chair. “Sir, do you have family here?”
“Uhh, yeah. Yeah, I know a guy.”
Johnny immediately dropped back into his seat as the security guard stepped past him and spoke to the man in fatigues. “Is that man here tonight?”
“Well, uhhh, I think he’s here.”
“What’s the man’s name?”
“Uhhh . . . Tom. Yeah, it’s Tom. He come in here to see a doctor.”
Trying to hide his interest, Johnny turned in his seat, as if studying the stack of magazines again, but every fiber of his being was focused on the strange show next to him. Though the man in fatigues was fighting for control, it was clear that he knew the jig was up. A nurse across the room was nodding her head, while answering questions from another guard, and Johnny suddenly knew he hadn’t been the only one keeping an eye on the transient. Waiting impatiently for the reply, he realized that the guard was now leaning down to stare into the man’s eyes.
“Your friend isn’t really here, is he?” stated the guard.
The stare was evidently one that couldn’t be defied. The transient turned his gaze towards the floor, and slowly shook his head. “Nahhh. I must’ve got mixed up.”
With no resistance, he glumly stood up and followed the security guard out the door. Johnny watched him walk away, almost laughing out loud while the strange little man put on one last show as he left. He seemed to be making faces at the guard in front of him, then turned to bow towards the crowd of onlookers left behind in the waiting room. Everyone remained silent until the outside door closed, then conversation broke out again. At least the man had provided a little amusement to a roomful of worried people. Maybe that was his intent in the first place. Johnny wasn’t sure, but he was glad that at least one more part of this strange evening was over.
Sitting up with a start, Johnny realized that he’d finally dozed off. He’d fought it for quite a while; trying everything he could think of to stave off the inevitable. But eventually, his tired body had taken over, and he’d drifted off to sleep.
Now, he found himself dazed and confused, unsure of where he was, or why. It only took a few seconds before he recognized the familiar faces of his waiting partners. Glancing down at his watch, he frowned as he realized that it had been over two hours since Roy and Chet had left. It was well past midnight, and with the slow movement of patients going in, he didn’t anticipate an end to this nightmare anytime soon.
Unwilling to call attention to himself by standing up and stretching, Johnny did his best to move into a more comfortable position in the straight backed chair. Two to three minutes of wasted effort left him with the same sore back and legs. Since there were no other diversions to choose from, Johnny finally returned to his earlier form of passing the time, people watching.
With very little effort, he’d managed, in the past several hours, to evaluate most of the waiting patients and their families. He could tell which ones were sick, and which ones were injured. He’d tallied up the number of couples with sick children, how many senior citizens were present, and exactly which of the group was inebriated. It was a boring past time, but he didn’t have much else to do.
Now, his focus settled on a heavy-set woman who’d joined the crowd an hour before. Even with the cool fall temperatures, she was dressed in short pants and some type of summer top. The woman next to her must’ve been related, as the two were carrying on a running conversation, leaning towards each other, and bursting into frequent bouts of giggling. At the same time, with a can of Coke in one hand and a magazine in the other, she attempted to keep watch over two children playing on the floor in front of her.
Though the one, a small boy of about four, was fairly quiet, the other youngster seemed full of energy. Johnny watched as the older boy, somewhere around the age of seven or eight, catapulted himself over the only empty chair in that section. Immediately, the boy dropped to the floor, and crawled under a small table that was full of children’s toys and books, the whole time making sounds mimicking various types of machinery. First an airplane, then a speeding truck, a motorcycle, a fine rendition of a tug boat, and finally back to the airplane again. Johnny knew that he wasn’t the only one in the room that wished the boy would calm down. It seemed that he wasn’t the one the family had come in for, yet the smaller boy didn’t look hurt or sick either.
Johnny continued to watch them, idly wondering which category he should add them to. Much to his surprise, he got his answer only minutes later.
The older boy suddenly stopped his wild gyrations, stared across the room at his mother, then promptly lost his dinner on the waiting room floor. Scooting forward on his chair, ready to jump up and assist at a moment’s notice, Johnny stopped in surprise as he watched the mini-drama play out.
While the two women were fully aware of what had happened, neither halted their conversation, but continued to expound on their latest topic. Though the boy was obviously not feeling well, he didn’t seem too upset by his transgression. Instead, he merely stepped over the offending mess and walked directly into the small bathroom at the end of the room. The little boy stayed where he was for a moment, then moved nearer to his mother, who’d finally decided that she should check on her oldest. Frowning at the little one, she stuck a large finger near his face and coolly instructed him to stay put near ‘auntie’ someone. Then she strode across the room, and loudly knocked on the bathroom door before being let in.
Meanwhile, the nearest witnesses were fidgeting in their seats, no one quite sure what to do about the situation. Several of the ones Johnny had tagged for the sick list were now turning away, their distress obvious. Just as he started to rise from his seat, if for nothing else than to find a janitor to help, the woman and her son returned from the restroom. With several paper towels in hand, she casually walked past the mess, and dropped the towels on top of her son’s indiscretion. Then, with a quiet humph, she pushed her youngest out of the way, and dropped back into her chair. Seconds later, she was involved in a jovial conversation with the gal next to her, as if nothing unpleasant had taken place. The two boys stood behind her chair, the older one leaning quietly against the backrest. Finally they were quiet, but Johnny didn’t think that anyone felt the happier for it.
Johnny made up his mind to get involved, certain that a nurse should at least be aware of the mess in the middle of the room. Once again, he pushed himself from his seat, only to stop in the middle of his journey. From a hallway somewhere past the nurse’s station, an older man walked slowly into the room, pushing a bucket before him, a mop jutting up from its metal hold. The janitor didn’t seem to notice the large crowd watching him perform his task. Instead, he moved his bucket into place, grabbed hold of the worn yellow-handled mop, and began to clean. Proficient in his work, the man was done and gone before Johnny had convinced himself that one of the nurses had witnessed the whole thing. If so, then why hadn’t she offered some assistance? It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate her call to the janitor. He just thought that someone should’ve paid a little more attention to the sick boy.
Not for the first time, in this long ordeal, Johnny found himself making mental notes of well-deserved thanks to give Dixie McCall.
The boys and their mother were gone, long ago having been called back into the emergency ward. Johnny no longer wondered where Chet and Roy were, or what was happening. In one small part of his tired brain, he wondered if they were even in the same state anymore.
Looking at his watch every fifteen minutes had grown old fast, and he’d decided that the magazines at his disposal were good for just that: disposal. At one point, he’d tried to start a conversation with another new visitor, a young man who replaced the army guy, but that hadn’t panned out. In fact, after a second look, Johnny had decided that this guy should be added to the ‘inebriated’ list.
After that, Johnny played a mental game with himself for awhile. Convinced that his aunt’s old adage ‘a watched pot never boils’ was true, he refused to look at his watch. Maybe that would make the guys come back faster. It didn’t work. When he finally gave in and looked down at his wrist, he realized that the big hand had done quite a dance with the little hand. It was almost 3:00 AM.
“Hey, Johnny. Johnny! You awake?”
Startled by the familiar voice, Johnny almost jumped up from his seat. “Roy? What’s wrong? Is Chet okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. Just restless, but they’ve given him something for the pain.”
“So, what are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be back in there with him?”
Johnny glanced down at his watch, as soon as his eyes were focused enough to see it. “What the . . . Roy, it’s after 4:00 AM!”
“I know, that’s why I’m out here. They said that you could come on back, since we’ve been waiting so long.”
“Oh yeah, really? Ohhh, okay.”
Johnny stood up, and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. Glancing around the room, he almost felt like he was saying goodbye. Heck, he’d spent enough time with these people. . . “Let’s go, Roy.”
Following his partner through the double doors, Johnny waved an imaginary farewell to the room in general. He was just glad to be out of there.
Around the corner, he found himself face-to-face with a very busy ER. This area was set up much different than Rampart. With a work table in the middle, several doctors and nurses were huddled over charts, quietly conferring about their patients. Around the outside edges of this large room, there were numerous small rooms, made private only by the simple curtain hung in front of each cubicle. Moving through this hectic arena, Johnny kept his sights on Roy as they crossed the busy room, went down another short hall, and ended up in a tiny room. It was much quieter here, not nearly as busy. Then again, Johnny wondered if it might too far from the public eye. “Do they even know he’s here, Roy?”
“Sure they do. Chet, how are you feeling?”
“mmm, okay . . ”
Chet hadn’t opened his eyes, only turning his head a little toward the familiar voice. It wasn’t until he heard the other voice that he finally pried one eye open and stared up at his friends.
“How’s it goin’?” Johnny asked.
“Hey, man. I’m ready to go home.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
Chet’s eyes slid closed again, and Johnny glanced at Roy worriedly.
“He’s all right. They gave him a little MS for the pain. Doctor’s supposed to be back in a few minutes to put the stitches in.”
“Ohhh . . .”
No one felt much like talking. It had been a long shift, followed by a long day, and an even longer night. Roy settled back tiredly into his chair, and Johnny followed suit in the adjoining hard vinyl seat. This time, he didn’t even bother to complain. His actions probably spoke volumes, yet in his mind, he knew that he’d been the lucky one. At least the waiting room seats had a little padding. Roy had been stuck back here in torture land. Johnny attempted to make an apology, but it was waved it off before he even started. And then the three men remained silent until the doctor returned, forty-five minutes later.
Had the physician been familiar with the two paramedics from LA County, he would’ve been able to tell from their body language, just how frustrated they truly were. Truth be known, he probably wouldn’t have cared anyway, seeing as how he was at the end of a twelve-hour shift himself. With few words exchanged, he went right to work on mending Chet Kelly’s injured arm. As soon as the stitching was completed, the young doctor checked over the chart, noting the IV’s and pain meds given, then signed for the patient’s release.
“There you go, sir,” the doctor stated to a bleary eyed Chet Kelly. “Keep that wound dry, and make sure you see your own doctor in a week. I don’t expect that you’ll have any problem, but I recommend that you take this antibiotic until then.” With a flourish, the physician tore the script off his pad, and handed it to Chet. “Any questions?”
“Okay, then. You can leave as soon as you’re ready.”
“Thanks for everything, Doc.”
“You’re welcome,” the physician answered, as he left the room.
Roy and Johnny looked at Chet, surprised at the clear and authoritative way their friend answered.
“He got a nap, remember?” Johnny muttered under his breath, while Roy, simply nodded.
The faintest streaks of pink graced the eastern sky when the three tired men emerged from the hospital. The white Land Rover was easily spotted in the near-empty parking lot, and they walked slowly towards it.
“Guess the rush is over,” Roy commented.
“About time,” Johnny mumbled in reply.
Chet remained quiet, his head hung low as he walked between his friends. Not until they were seated in the Rover, did he finally speak. “Hey, guys, I’m really sorry about all this. Don’t know what got into me.”
“Wendy!” Two voices chorused from the front seat.
Chet’s sheepish grin went unnoticed, but his thin reply did not. “Yeah, Wendy . . .”
“Well, what do we do now?” asked Roy
Johnny dropped his forehead onto the steering wheel for only a moment before answering Roy. “Saw a couple of motels at the edge of town. I could sure use some sleep before heading back to the campground.”
“Good idea. Wouldn’t be too smart to be driving up that mountain road as tired as we are.”
There was no comment from the rear of the vehicle, but the two paramedics took Chet’s silence as acquiescence. Johnny started the engine and put the Rover in gear, pulling slowly from the parking lot.
The interior light was faint, but Roy was able to make out a wide grin on his partner’s face. Curiosity peaked, he couldn’t resist. “What’s so funny?”
“Ahh, nuthin’ . . . just wondering how much the rooms are going to cost.”
“And that’s funny?”
“Well, yeah, sort of. After all, it’s Chet’s treat.”
The sound of a low groan, from the backseat, was lost in the echoing laughter.
Note: Many of the events in this story are true. I should know . . .I sat through a 6+ hour ER wait and got to witness them myself. However, on a more recent ER visit, I was happy to discover that things have improved immensely. Thank goodness!!!
Thanks to Kenda for the Beta read. And to those ‘vultures’ who keep circling until I get my stories finished. You know who you are, and you’re the best. J
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