With A Little Help From My Friends

By Jane

Less than one week til the party.  How am I going to get everything ready?

Joanne leaned over as she pulled the patchwork quilt across the sheets.  The morning light filtered through the shades behind her, casting a warm and cozy glow on the room.  But she had no time this morning to enjoy the scene or relax in the comfort of her quiet home.  Her mind was already far away from the view before her, and she found herself mentally ticking off a list of things to do. 

As she straightened from her task, Joanne stumbled as the familiar dizziness assaulted her.  Then grabbing at her chest upon feeling the now familiar pain, she mumbled quietly, “Oh, not again!”

Lowering herself quickly to the bed, she sat quietly as she waited for the pain to pass.  “What in the world is wrong with me?   I don’t have time to be sick.  There’s too much to do.” 

Remaining in her seated position, Joanne tried to take the slow even breaths that she knew in the past had helped to ease her discomfort.  As she sat there, her mind returned to its previous occupation, and once more she was lost in a list of duties she’d planned for herself.

Okay, I’ve got to get this room finished up, there’s at least ten batches of clothes waiting in the laundry room, I have to finish cleaning up all the mess from Christmas, there’s the grocery shopping to be done, I need to call Lisa about the school fundraiser, the menu hasn’t been planned for the party. . . and I promised Mr. Walters I wouldn’t be late to work this afternoon.

Joanne’s head drooped lower as the thought of her schedule weighed heavily on her mind.

How am I ever going to get everything done in time?  And why did I ever suggest having the New Year’s Eve party here this year. . . ok, ok, pull yourself together, Joanne, you’re not going to get anything done sitting here feeling sorry for yourself.  And Roy’s depending on you.

As she finished her gentle self-scolding, Joanne pulled herself from the bed, hurried out the door, and down the hall.  Working quickly in the kitchen, she put things in order and wiped the few remaining dishes.  Stepping into the laundry room, she hung a few items on hangers to dry, then started another batch.  Hurrying back towards the living room, with vacuum cleaner in hand, Joanne stopped quickly as she remembered a job unfinished.

Oh, no!  I promised Roy I’d get those payments mailed yesterday. . . and one of them is the power bill.  He’s going to kill me, especially after he offered to take care of it.

Flinging herself down at the desk, Joanne began to scribble out the appropriate checks and payment coupons, glancing occasionally at the clock as she raced against it.  Suddenly, she jumped as the phone rang. “Hello.”

“Hi, Jo.  Is everything alright?”

“Hi, Roy.  Of course everything is alright, why do you ask?”

“Well, you didn’t sound too good when you answered the phone.”

“What do you mean?  All I said was hello.  How could you tell if anything was wrong?”

“I don’t know, just the sound of your voice, I guess.  You sounded, well . . sort of upset – you still do.”

“Would you please stop trying to analyze me.  I’m just busy.  I have a million things to do and I have to be at work on time today.  The kids have to be picked up in about twenty minutes, so I really need to get going.”

“Okay, honey, sorry.  Just wanted to check in with you.  The guys are wondering what they’re supposed to bring.  What should I tell them?”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t even thought about the menu yet . . . just tell them I’ll call their wives later, or you can get back to them tomorrow.   There’s still some time before New Year’s Eve, you know.”

“Sure, okay.  Are you sure everything’s alright?  This party isn’t too much for you, is it?”

“Roy. . .  just relax and let me get back to work, here.  I’m okay.  The party will be okay! Everything is Okay!”

Joanne was almost hollering into the phone by the end of her sentence.  Roy was surprised at the tirade his simple question had initiated, but he kept his temper in check and answered her calmly. “I love you.”

“Bye.  I love you too.”

Joanne shook her head as she hung up the phone.  “Men!”

Back at the station, Roy stared into the now dead receiver.  What is wrong with her?  Hanging up the phone, he walked back to the table and sat down next to Johnny.

“Everything alright at home, partner?”

Roy shook his head, his expression a mixture of shock and bewilderment. “Yeah, I guess so.”

John Gage studied his partner intently.  Something seemed to be bothering his friend, and he wanted to offer his help.  Yet he knew that Roy would shrug off any attempt he might offer.  There were some things that were better left alone.  Still, the DeSotos were very important to the young man, and he wanted them to know he was there if they needed him. “Roy.  Roy!”

The senior paramedic looked up, startled to find his partner watching him closely. “Yeah.  What, Johnny?”

“Uh, well. .I just wanted you to know. . well, if you need to talk or anything. . .”

Roy grinned at his stammering partner. “No, Junior, I’m okay.  I was just thinking about how Joanne’s been acting lately.  She seems. . well, so different, not as focused or something.  And I don’t think she’s been feeling well, though she won’t admit it.  I know she’s not getting to bed until late, and I don’t think she’s eating right.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just this part-time job she has.  She seems to really like it, and I don’t want her to think I’m not supportive, but . . .she’s trying to do so much, and she won’t let anyone help her.”

“Maybe. . .”

Johnny never had a chance to finish his thought. The paramedics pushed back their chairs and raced towards the squad as the klaxons sounded.  Johnny made a mental note to continue this conversation at a later time, but as their busy shift continued, that time never came.

**********

“Kids, you know I don’t have time to wait.  You were supposed to meet me here fifteen minutes ago!  Mr. Walters will not be happy if I’m late again, and I still have to drive you all the way to Grandma’s house.  You know she needs you to help her today.”

Joanne started the car, and glancing quickly over her shoulder, pulled away from the curb.  She rubbed her hand angrily against the steering wheel as Chris fumbled with the radio dial.  “Chris!  Can we please have a little peace and quiet in here!”

Chris was startled to hear his mother’s tone of voice, and reached over to switch off his favorite song. “Sorry.”  He mumbled.  “Hey, Mom, is everything okay?”

“Yes, Christopher.  Everything is okay.  Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

A brooding silence settled over the three.  In the back, Jennifer scrunched further down in her seat as she listened to the exchange.  At twelve, she was old enough to recognize and evade her mother’s sharp tongue, and lately there had been plenty of that to go around.  Studying the back of the blond head in front of her, the young girl wondered what was bothering her mom.  The last few months had been very different around the DeSoto house, and everyone was growing weary of the constant strain.  It had started about the time her mother went back to work, and Jennifer had grown to hate Joanne’s venture into the world of working mothers.  She missed the warmth and gentleness that used to be her mother.

Finally, Joanne broke the stillness.

“I’m sorry, kids.  I know I haven’t been very easy to get along with these past few weeks.  There are just so many things happening lately, so many deadlines to meet.  Please try to be patient with me . . .”

Chris reached over and patted his mother’s arm.  “It’s okay, Mom.  We haven’t been much help to you since you started working.  We’ll try to do more around the house, won’t we, Jen?”

From the backseat, a weak “yeah,” was heard.

“I appreciate that, kids, but I don’t want my choices to change your lives.  I’ll get into a routine, and then it will be easier, you’ll see.”

Again a strained silence enveloped the car until finally Joanne pulled into her mother-in-law’s driveway. “Now be a help to your grandma today.  Remember what your father said, you’re here to lend her a hand, and that means doing everything she asks, without complaining.  The painters will be here in two days, and she has a lot of things to be sorted and moved.  I’ll pick you up after work.  Okay?”

“Yeah, Mom, we understand, no problem.”

“Jennifer?  Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, Mom, I heard you.  We’ll help Gram.”

Chris and Jen climbed out of the station wagon, and within minutes their mother was speeding away. 

“Wow, she’s really changed, hasn’t she, Chris?  And have you notice how tired she looks all the time?”

“Yeah.  I think we need to talk to Dad.  Something must be really wrong.”

*********

Joanne berated herself as she drove through the crowded streets of the city. Why am I always taking things out on Roy and the kids?  It’s not their fault I can’t keep things together.  What kind of wife and mother am I?  I can’t even keep the house going, let alone manage the rest of my life.  But I like this job, and Mr. Walters even suggested there might be a position for me full-time.  That would sure help out.  I don’t want Roy to think we can’t manage on his income, but a little extra money will help pay for all those extras I want the kids to have, like music lessons and sports camps.  I’ll just have to work harder to get a schedule I can follow.  If only a person didn’t have to sleep. . .

Chuckling to herself, Joanne parked the car and walked the few remaining steps into the print shop.  Made it!  And with five minutes to spare!

**********

Roy attempted to calm the kids as they clamored to be heard.  They’d been discussing this issue for over a half hour, and the consensus hadn’t changed, everyone was worried about Joanne.  Yet Roy was no closer to finding any answers on how to handle the situation.  It was obvious that Joanne was overextending herself, but how could he make her see that?

Every time he offered to help out, or take on an extra chore, she practically flew at him in denial of needing any assistance.  Now with Christmas just past and the New Year’s Eve party coming up, he knew the workload was even greater around the house.  Everyone from A shift had offered to bring something or help out in some way, but Joanne couldn’t seem to delegate any of the responsibilities.  With each offer, she simply replied with her standard:  “Don’t worry, I have everything covered.”

“Okay, kids.  I understand how upset you are, but right now the best thing we can do is try to find ways to help Mom out.  Don’t ask her what you can do, that’s not working.  Just look for things that need to be done, like picking up around the house, doing your chores without being asked ten times, things like that.  That’s all I know to do right now.”

Chris and Jennifer nodded at their father.

“Yeah, Dad, we can do that.  We’ll try to do better, but do you really think that will be enough to help Mom?”

“I don’t know Chris, but it’s a start.”

***********

The next day showed no change at the DeSoto home.  The kids tried to help out more, but other than their usual chores, Joanne wouldn’t find any other jobs for them to do.  Whenever Roy started on a project, she would jump in and insist she had plans to do that particular thing later in the day, or berate him for not doing things the way she wanted.  Finally, Roy threw his hands up in disgust. “Joanne, you’ve got to quit acting like you can do everything yourself.  You’re going to wear yourself out.  And for what?   Just to prove that you can do it?  You’re not Wonder Woman, and I don’t want you to be.  I just want the old Joanne back.  And I want you to be happy again.  If it’s the job that’s causing the problem, why don’t you quit?  We don’t really need the money that bad--”

“It’s not just the money, Roy--”

“Then why can’t you let me and the kids help you?  And why won’t you let the guys help out with the party?  No one expected you to do everything yourself.  Just let your family and friends help you.”

Tears pooled in Joanne’s tired blue eyes as she stared at her husband.  She’d failed.  Everything she’d tried so hard to do was falling apart at the seams.  No longer was she the competent wife and mother she strived to be.  Her husband was unhappy, the kids unsettled, and the house was a mess.  What else could go wrong?  Why couldn’t she get it together?  She knew what had to be done, why couldn’t she just do it right?   And now, on top of everything else, she was failing her husband’s co-workers. 

I can’t even get a simple party together.  What will Roy’s friends think?

But instead of confiding in Roy, letting him help or share in her dilemma, Joanne turned to him once more with anger in her voice. “Roy, please, just leave it alone.  I’ll take care of everything, like I’ve always done.  You’ll see.  The party will be a success.  Just trust me--”

“I do trust you, Joanne.  And this isn’t just about the party.  To hell with the party!  I’m worried about you, honey. . . you don’t have to do everything yourself.  Can’t you understand that I want you to take care of yourself, too?”

Leaning down, Joanne hugged Roy briefly, then brushed her lips across his cheek in an attempt to reassure him. “Roy, I’m fine.  It’s just taking me a little time to get adjusted to this new lifestyle.  But I can handle it, really!  Everything will work out, you’ll see.”

Hurrying away from his attempted embrace, Joanne nodded at him warmly as she picked up the laundry basket from the end of their bed, and hurried out to the kitchen and her waiting chores.   Once more, Roy stared after her in amazement.  His whispered entreaty seemed to echo off the walls of their room. “Joanne. . .”

**********

Another shift was underway, and once again the members of A-shift were insisting on helping their hosts prepare for the upcoming celebration.  Finally tired of their well- meaning pleas, Roy suggested their wives or significant others, phone Joanne personally.  

Hank Stanley was the first to agree. “You’re right, Roy.  I’ll have my wife give her a call right away.  They can work out the details.”

Hank hurried into his office, anxious to turn this situation over to the capable hands of his wife.  He’d sensed the uneasiness with which Roy approached this particular subject lately, and the captain wondered if the group’s agreement to let the DeSotos’ host the annual bash, had been a mistake.  But it had been months ago when these plans were set.  The whole thing seemed unusual to Hank.  Usually Joanne was agreeable and organized.  He secretly wondered what the problem was.

Within the hour, Joanne was answering the kitchen phone to find Kate Stanley on the other end.   There was a little friendly chitchat, but within minutes, Kate had come to the point of her call. “Joanne, you need to let us know what we can do to help you with this party.  I know how busy you are, especially now that you’re working.  Why don’t you let me have the party here?”

“No, Kate I have everything planned, and I know Roy was looking forward to hosting this year’s celebration.

“Well, then at least let me help you.  I could take care of the food.”

“No, I’ve got that covered, too.  But thanks so much for offering.”

The conversation continued in much the same vein, until finally even Kate had to admit defeat.  She could tell that Joanne was determined to handle this party alone. “Okay, Joanne.  I guess you have things in hand.  But if you think of anything I can do to help, please let me know!”

After hanging up the phone, Joanne slumped back against the counter and raised a trembling hand to wipe her forehead.

Now why did I do that?  I don’t really have things that organized, and she could’ve help prepare some of the food.  What in the world’s gotten into me?   What am I trying to prove?.

Picking up her shopping list from the counter, Joanne grabbed her purse and headed out the door.  Mr. Walters had asked her to come in for a few hours.  If everything went well, she’d have time to stop at the grocery store afterwards and still pick up the kids from their swim party by 4:00.   Climbing into the car, she didn’t hear the telephone ringing as she backed out of the garage and headed down the street.

Roy hung up the receiver and walked back towards the locker room.

**********

Late afternoon found Roy and John returning from another run.  It had been a long shift, and Roy was tired.  The constant strain at home was wearing him down, and he knew it was worse on his wife. 

“Hey, Partner, would you mind a quick detour?”

“No, Roy, what’ve you got in mind?”

“Well, we’re only about eight blocks from my place.  I just thought maybe we could swing in and check on things.”

“Sure, Pally, no problem.  But what’s up?  You’ve been pretty quiet all day.  Is there something wrong at home?”

“No, Junior.   There’s nothing wrong.   Well, except Joanne.  She’s still not acting like herself, and I’m a little worried about her.  I tried calling home a while ago, and no one answered.  They’re probably just out running errands, but I’d still feel better if I could just swing by on our way back to the station.”

“Okay, Roy. Let’s go!”

Roy pulled the squad into the driveway and looked around quietly as he climbed from the cab.  He looked over as Johnny shut the passenger door of the squad. “Well, her car’s here.”

At that moment, the front door flew open and a crying Jennifer launched herself at Roy.  It had been some time since his daughter had flung herself at him in such abandon, and Roy staggered at her assault. “Jen, honey, what’s wrong?”

“Mom . . . Mom’s sick or something!”  She can’t breathe and we don’t know what to do.  We were just going to call you when you drove up.”

Turning towards the squad, Roy began to gather the bio-phone and drug box.  “Johnny. . .”

“Yeah, Roy, I’ve got it.”

The senior paramedic nodded as he saw his partner pull out the oxygen tank.  Together, the three headed towards the house, Jennifer wiping her eyes on her sleeve as new tears continued to fall.

As they made their way through the front room, Roy called out for his wife. “Joanne!  Jo, where are you?”

“She’s in here, Dad.”

Roy quickened his pace as he recognized Chris’s voice coming from the kitchen.  Hurrying through the doorway, he stopped in shock at the sight of his wife sitting on the floor, her body slumped against the cabinets.  Joanne’s breathing was ragged and her eyes had a glassy look, as if she was looking around, not truly recognizing where she was. “Joanne, honey, what happened?”

There was no answer as she continued to move her head from side to side.  Her left hand clutched at her shirt as Roy grasped her right wrist to feel for her pulse.  His eyes watched her closely as Johnny sat the rest of the equipment down and reached for the HT.  He realized his partner was calling for an ambulance, but his focus remained on Joanne.

“Chris, do you know what happened?”

“I’m not sure, Dad.  We just got home a few minutes ago.  Mom seemed tired, but she kept saying she was okay, and she came in here to start dinner.   We heard a crash, like something being dropped, and when we got  here, she was leaning over the counter saying she was dizzy and couldn’t breathe.  I wouldn’t let her lay.  I hope that was right.”

“Yes, son, you did fine.”

Johnny glanced at his partner as he finished recording Joanne’s vital signs.

“Roy, her BP’s low, looks like she might go out on us.”

Joanne’s eyes continued to move about the room, as if trying to make sense of where she was or what was happening, but her movements were weaker, as if she was struggling to hang on.  Suddenly, her head lolled to the side as her body went limp.   A scream from the doorway brought Roy’s head up.

“Chris, get your sister out of here!   Just keep her in the living room, ok?”

The teenager grabbed his sister’s arm and propelled her out of the room as she struggled to see her mother.

“Mom!”

“It’s okay, Jen.  Dad and Uncle Johnny will take care of her.  She’s just passed out, is all.  She’ll be okay.”

Jennifer didn’t answer, but clung to her brother’s arm as he seated her on the couch.  More than anything, he wanted to return to the kitchen and help his father, but he knew he wouldn’t be allowed back in the room.  Right now, the only way he could help was to keep his sister calm, and from the looks of it, that would be a job in itself.   Jennifer continued to squeeze his arm as he settled down beside her.  Stroking her hand distractedly, Chris strained to hear what was happening in the next room.

Working together like the efficient team they were, Roy and Johnny were able to lay Joanne on the floor.  Roy gently smoothed her hair out of the way as he positioned the oxygen mask over his wife’s face.  Johnny watched his partner closely as he set up the bio-phone.

“Rampart, this is Rescue 51, do you read?”

“Rescue 51, this is Rampart, go ahead.”

“Rampart, we have a female, 35 years of age.  She has been complaining of dizziness, weakness and chest pains.  She is currently experiencing a syncopal episode.  Her vitals are:  BP 98/50,  pulse 110, respirations 28.  We are administering oxygen.”

“51, how long has the patient been unconscious?”

“Rampart, she’s only been out a couple minutes.  Looks like she’s starting to come around now.”

“51, can you send me a strip?”

“That’s affirmative, Rampart.”

Johnny worked quickly to set up the EKG, while Roy continued to monitor her BP.  “Joanne.  Jo, can you hear me?”

Her eyes fluttered open briefly, then closed for a moment before opening again.  Her voice, when she spoke, was thin and weak. “Roy. . .  what happened?”

“Everything’s gonna be alright, Jo.  You just passed out for a minute.  Now lie still, we’re just checking you out here; we wanna make sure you’re okay.”

Roy looked up as Johnny reached once more for the bio-phone.

“Rampart, we’re ready to send you a strip.  That’ll be on Lead II.”

“10-4, 51.”

Dr. Brackett stood quietly as he passed the ribbon of tape through his fingers.  He shook his head for a moment before contacting the paramedics.

“51, Start an IV with D5W-TKO.  Continue administering oxygen, and transport as soon as possible.”

“10-4.”

Roy grabbed the IV setup but Johnny reacted quickly, and pulled it deftly from Roy’s hands.  He knew it was hard enough for his partner to see his wife in this position, there was no way he’d let him start an IV on her.

“I’ll do it, Roy.”

A quick nod from his partner confirmed that Roy understood his intentions and appreciated his concern.  

**********

Joanne felt as if she was drifting in a fog.  The tightness in her chest was only a small part of her discomfort.  Every time she opened her eyes, the room seemed to tilt and reel about her, and it was only with extreme determination that she could keep her eyes open and focused on Roy’s face.  She knew now, that she was in her own kitchen, but what had happened?  There was something sharp poking in her arm, and when she did get up the courage to turn her head, she was surprised to see the tube winding above her arm to a bag held firmly in Johnny’s teeth. 

What have I done now?

A siren blared in the background and in minutes, her kitchen seemed overrun with people.  Dimly aware that these must be ambulance attendants, she wondered for a brief moment where Chris and Jennifer were.  But even that thought was lost when the men moved her from the floor onto a gurney.  She knew that Roy was trying to be gentle with her, could hear his constant commands to the others about being careful.  Narrowly opening her eyes, Joanne was touched to read the concern in Johnny’s eyes.  He was bent over her as he adjusted the IV in her arm.  Realizing that she was watching him, he bent down and whispered to her encouragingly. “You’re gonna be fine, Joanne.  We’re taking you to Rampart so they can check you over, but you’re gonna be fine.”

Joanne blinked her tears away, then looked up again to see Roy leaning over her.  He squeezed her hand warmly as she tried to speak.

“Kids?”

“The kids are fine, Jo.  They’re going next door to stay with Mrs. Peters for now.  Don’t worry about them.  They’re fine.”

Closing her eyes once more, Joanne let herself drift again, the grey fog swirling around her, the voices a distant buzzing sound she found easy to ignore.

Even as they moved the gurney past her children, Joanne’s eyes remained closed, and Jennifer shivered as she watched them load her mother into the waiting ambulance.  Roy was walking next to the gurney, his eyes never leaving his wife.  But Johnny saw the look on Jennifer’s face, and stopped next to her and Chris.  Setting the boxes on the ground, he reached out for them, and they moved together into his embrace. “She’s okay, kids.  Everything’s going to be okay.  Dr. Brackett wants her to come to the hospital for some tests, but we think she’s just been over-doing it.  You stay with Mrs. Peters, like your dad said, and we’ll call you as soon as we know something.”

“Can’t we come to the hospital with you?” 

“Not right now, Chris.  We’re still on duty, and we don’t know how long the tests will take.  You do what your dad told you for now, and we’ll take you to the hospital to see your mom as soon as we can.  I promise.”

“Okay, Uncle Johnny.  We’ll wait for you.”

“That’s my girl, Jenny Bean.”

Johnny squeezed their shoulders once more before releasing them and moving to the squad.  The ambulance was already pulling away from the driveway, and he hurried to follow it to Rampart.  Reaching for the radio, Johnny phoned in their situation to headquarters, asking to be temporarily removed from service.  He knew that, if possible, a replacement would be called in for Roy, but he would have to finish his shift before being allowed to return and fulfill his promise to the DeSoto children.

**********

The light above her seemed to burn itself into Joanne’s eyes, even with her lids closed.  She moved her head to the side, but still the light seemed to follow her.  So it was with some surprise that she suddenly realized the light was gone.  Taking a chance, Joanne opened her eyes in time to see the head nurse, Dixie McCall watching her.

“Welcome back.”

A thin smile was her answer, but that was enough for Roy, who was standing anxiously to the right of the gurney.  Seeing his wife awake and aware of her surroundings was a huge relief to the worried man.

“There’s someone here who’s been waiting to see you.” 

Dixie turned her head towards Roy, and Joanne followed Dixie’s lead to find her husband smiling at her.

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi, Roy.”

Her voice sounded thin and distant from under the oxygen mask, but nevertheless, Roy thought the sound of her voice was the best thing he’d ever heard.  He squatted down next to the gurney so that she could look directly into his eyes, and Dixie stepped away to give the couple a few minutes of privacy. “Boy, did you give me a scare.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s okay, honey, I’m just glad you’re alright.”

“Am I?  What happened?”

“Well, we’re not real sure yet.  Dr. Brackett’s ordered an EKG and a chest x-ray.  They’re also running a blood test right now.  He’ll be back in to talk with you in a little while.”

“Okay.”

Joanne’s breathing was easier now, but she seemed so weak.  Stroking her forehead gently, Roy whispered to her softly.  “Go ahead and sleep, Jo.”

“Roy. . .”

“Yes.”

“Will you still be here?  Don’t you have to go back to work?”

“I’ll be here for awhile, but if we get called out, I’ll have to go.  They’re trying to find a replacement for me, but with the holidays and all, they haven’t found anyone yet.  But I’ll be close by.  We’re going to stay here in between runs.  Johnny’s already okayed it with the Captain.”

Joanne nodded as her eyelids slid closed.  She was just too tired to fight it any longer. 

Roy grinned sadly at her reply.

“So. . tired . . .”

***********

Dr. Brackett stood at the counter as he studied the results of Joanne’s tests. “Just as I suspected.”

“What that, Kel?”

Looking up, Kelly Brackett grinned at his friend who’d just returned to work. “Hi, Joe.  How was your holiday?”

“Good, thanks.  Nice to get away, but it feels good to be back, too.  Now, what’ve you got?”

“Oh, I’ve got Joanne DeSoto in Treatment 3.  She collapsed at home, complaining of dizziness and chest pain.  I’ve run all the tests, but other than the sinus rhythm being a little fast, everything looks pretty good.  She’s dehydrated and her electrolytes are low, but basically, I think we’ve got a case of a busy woman not taking very good care of herself.   Do you see anything I’ve missed?”

Joe Early studied the results a moment before nodding thoughtfully. “No, Kel, I think you’re right.  Are you going to send her home or keep her here for observation?”

“I think I’ll keep her here overnight, let her get some rest while we rehydrate her.  I’ll probably release her tomorrow morning, then I think Roy has the next couple shifts off and he can keep an eye on her.

Joe nodded as he continued to look at the tests before him. “You just wonder, sometimes, don’t you?”

“What’s that, Joe?”

“Oh, about people.   They get so busy that they forget to take care of themselves, then they end up in a position where they can’t do anything.  If they would’ve just paced themselves a little better, took care of the important things to start with, they’d never end up in these kind of situations.”

Kel nodded his agreement.  There was nothing more he could add.  His friend had said it all, and he wondered at the irony of it as he strode down the hall to speak with the DeSotos.

**********

Johnny, true to his word, made the phone call to Chris and Jennifer as soon as Brackett  finished filling him in on Joanne’s condition.  There was no way to pick up the kids and bring them to see Joanne, Roy was still on duty as no replacement could be found.  But, in fact, it was probably better that she had the time to rest anyway.  So, after a few phone calls, Johnny had arranged for Kate Stanley to pick the kids up and take them to her house for the night. 

Roy sat quietly next to his wife’s bed.  He knew it was only a matter of time before he and his partner would be called out on another run.  But for the time being, he was relieved to be able to sit next to her, even if it was only to watch her sleep. 

Dr. Brackett had been very clear on his instructions.  Joanne was to slow down a little, and take better care of herself.  The episode she’d experienced today could’ve been far more serious, and Roy silently berated himself for not noticing his wife’s bad habits earlier.  Knowing what strange schedules they kept was no excuse.  He was a paramedic, and he should be more in tune to things like this. 

Holding her hand gently in his own, Roy stroked the tips of her fingers as he pondered the recent events.  What had gotten into his wife lately?  Why was she so determined to do it all?  Wasn’t she happy being at home, taking care of their children and being a wife and mother?  Did she really think they needed her job?  Or was it for herself?   He couldn’t imagine why she’d want to push herself so hard if it was unnecessary. 

Realizing that none of his questions would be answered until he could talk to Joanne herself, Roy tried to change his line of thinking.  Seeing Johnny open the door a crack and look in, gave him the opportunity he’d needed.   Johnny.  Now there was a thought.  Talk about good friends.  He’d really been there for the DeSotos today.  Everything from the excellent care he’d provided Joanne, to the encouragement he provided the kids, right down to the steadfast support he’d provided Roy in the hospital.   Roy couldn’t imagine having to go through something like this without a friend like Johnny around. 

Guess that’s why we call him a member of our family.  He really is a part of us.

Standing up and stretching, Roy looked down at his wife once more.  It was time to go and check on his kids.  Dixie had promised to check in on Joanne while he was gone, but he still hated to leave.  As he leaned over to kiss her cheek, Joanne’s eyes opened briefly.

“It’s okay, Roy.  I know you have to go for awhile.  I’ll just catch up on my rest while you’re gone.”

He smiled at her warmly as his wife immediately drifted back to sleep.

Out in the hall, Roy caught up with Johnny next to the nurse’s station. “Hey, Junior.  Let’s go call the kids.”

“No need, Partner.  It’s all taken care of.”

“What do you mean, all taken care of?  I need to make arrangements for them for tonight.  You know I won’t get off until tomorrow morning, and Joanne won’t be released until after I get off.  They can’t just stay there alone tonight, and Mrs. Peters has a family of her own to care for.”

“Like I said, Partner, it’s all been taken care of.  Cap’s wife is going over now to pick them up.  I talked to Chris and Mrs. Peters is helping them get some things together.  They’re going to spend the night at the Stanleys’ then she’ll drop them off at the Stokers’ tomorrow morning, where they’ll spend the day.  I’ll pick them up late tomorrow afternoon and take them out for pizza, then bring them home after supper.  That’ll give you a chance to get Joanne home and settled in.  Also gives you both a little time to get rested up.”

Roy shook his head at the thoughtfulness of his partner and friends.  “Wow, you did all that?  Thanks, Johnny, I really appreciate it.”

“Hey, no problem.  What are partners for?”     

Roy clapped Johnny on the back as they strode down the hall.  It was only a moment later when the HT came to life, summoning them to another rescue.  The two men grinned at each other as they sprinted for the door.

**********

Joanne was settled comfortably on the couch New Year’s Eve.  Everything had been quiet since Roy brought her home the day before.  Johnny had picked up Chris and Jennifer at the Stoker home just as he promised, then spent the evening treating them to pizza and arcade games.  They came home a happy, but tired group.  Judging from their treatment of her, Joanne was sure that their Uncle Johnny had explained the situation to them.  Warm hugs and quiet voices greeted her, but after a few minutes, they were hurrying off to bed.

Ever since then, the family had been close by whenever she needed something, making sure Joanne took it easy and got the rest the Dr. Brackett had prescribed.  Joanne chaffed a bit at the constant attention, yet she appreciated their presence.  Kate Stanley’s visit earlier in the day had also made her more aware of just how unnecessary this whole situation had been.  She thought back over part of their conversation.

“You know, Joanne, you have family and friends who care about you.  Why don’t you let them help you a little more?  Look what’s happened because you’ve tried to do too much by yourself.  You’ve ended up flat on your back, unable to do anything.  That’s not helping your family either.  And no one wants you to do this to yourself.  Think about how efficiently Johnny helped deal with your children, making all the arrangements for their care while you were in the hospital.  He was like a mother hen, checking in with everyone.  Let other people in, Joanne.  And don’t expect so much from yourself.  You’ll be a lot happier, and so will your family.  Remember that song?  With a Little Help From My Friends. . .”

Joanne grinned as she remembered the look on Kate’s face as she finished her admonition.  The lady was almost wagging a finger in Joanne’s face.  But she was right.  No one had asked Joanne to do all the things she was doing.  It was her idea to take the job, she was the one who volunteered at school, it had been her suggestion to put on the New Year’s Eve party by herself. . .  

Okay, okay, Joanne.  You had this coming.  Roy told you not to act like Wonder Woman.  So, now that you’ve learned the hard way, and ruined everybody’s holiday to boot. . .no, don’t go there.  That will just start the guilt thing again, and everyone’s told you not to worry about that.  There’s always more parties to be held.

Leaning back in the cushions of her couch, Joanne closed her eyes and let herself truly relax for the first time in a long while.  Leaning against the doorway where he’d been watching, Roy breathed a sigh of relief.  Already it seemed that Joanne, his Joanne, had returned.  And that in itself was enough to make Roy DeSoto glad to welcome in a new year.

*********

The DeSoto family looked up at the unexpected knocking on their front door.

“Now who in the world could that be?”

Roy’s eyes seemed to twinkle, just a bit, as he glanced over at Joanne and the kids.  He stretched as he stood up from his recliner and nonchalantly made his way across the room.  Opening the door, he winked at his partner as his family blinked in surprise.

The room was immediately filled with their friends from A-Shift.  The Stanleys, and Stokers, Chet and Marco with their respective dates hurried in carrying coolers and boxes filled with food.

“Surprise!”

The DeSotos’ stood in wonder as they realized what their friends had done.  Reaching for Kate as she hurried by, Joanne gave her a warm hug. “Thank you.  This is so wonderful.  I was so disappointed at the thought of not celebrating the New Year with all of you.”

“Oh, don’t thank me, young lady,” grinned Kate.  “Thank that crazy partner of your husband’s.  All we did was fix the food.  He’s the one who thought up this whole thing.”

Joanne looked over at Johnny as he directed the men through the house and into the kitchen, their arms laden with bundles.

“Hey, you, Junior.”

Johnny looked up in surprise.  Roy was the only one who ever called him that, and he cringed at the scolding he thought he was about to endure.  But the shining eyes that stared at him brought a warm glow to his heart.  Joanne was back to herself, and the teasing glint in her eyes was proof.  Now her finger crooked at him as she beckoned at him across the room.  Everyone had stopped as they watched him move slowly to her side.

“Yes, Mom. . .”

“Thank-you!”

Joanne laughed out loud at the relieved look on their friend’s face as she embraced him fondly.  Then she winked at her husband who was smiling at her lovingly.

“Thank-you, all!”

Kate Stanley watched from the doorway of the kitchen as the group broke out in laughter. 

“See, Joanne,” she whispered.  “With a little help from your friends. . .”

*****The End*****

Thank you to all of my friends, old and new alike.  Especially Kenda, Audrey and Becca, who’ve helped me get this story completed.  And that was no small task during this busy time of year!   You’re great!  Happy New Year!

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