Synopsis: What happened next for the episode Above and Beyond – Nearly.
Word Count: 19,930
Author’s Note: From the episode Above and Beyond – Nearly. This picks up at the point where Roy and Johnny have to make a free climb to rescue a climber who has fallen. Darkness is already starting to fall, and time is of the essence.
“Make sure you only have one victim to take out,” Cap said as his paramedics ran to get their gear. He saw the stunned glances they shot in his direction, only then becoming aware that he had said that last thought aloud. Bad enough to think it, but to say it? He always tried to keep his concerns to himself, but this time, his anxiety had got away from him. They were in a canyon, the light was fading and the man who needed help had fallen climbing these very cliffs. While he had the upmost respect for John and Roy’s climbing skills, presumably the man who had fallen had had some experience at climbing, too. These cliffs were not for beginners. Cap flung a prayer skyward, that his careless words wouldn’t somehow become reality.
It was no surprise that Johnny took the lead. He usually did when they were climbing. It wasn’t that Roy was inexperienced exactly; he was just less experienced than Johnny. Johnny was the resident mountain goat in the station. The others watched, calming the injured climber’s companion, waiting for the helicopter to arrive. They hated the inaction, preferring to have something to do. But in this case, all they could do was watch.
The first part of the climb was easy. The second part was much trickier, the cliff face being almost sheer. Johnny scaled it slowly, planting his feet firmly and clutching tiny handholds as tightly as possible. He gained a ledge and braced the rope to give Roy as much help as possible. Roy’s climb was quicker, as he had seen where Johnny had placed his hands and feet and he didn’t need as much time to find the hand and foot holds.
They paused for a breather as Johnny looked upwards. The next bit was very tricky. He glanced at Roy. “If you were leading and fell, I wouldn’t be able to hold you,” he mentioned.
It seemed an odd thing to say, but Roy understood the subtext perfectly; if I fall, let me go so you aren’t dragged down, too. He didn’t directly acknowledge what Johnny had said. The younger man knew perfectly well that Roy would not let go of the rope if he should fall and in that case, Roy would fall too. That wasn’t something Johnny could countenance and he had to give Roy the permission to let go of the rope and let the younger man fall. “Ready?” Roy asked and Johnny nodded. He reached for the outcropping of rock above his head.
He had climbed up several feet when the inevitable happened. Whether it was the failing light that caused him to misjudge his hand hold, or if a bit of rock crumbled when he put his weight on to it, they were never to know. One second Johnny was clinging to the rock face like some sort of spider and the next he let out a yell as he started to fall, tumbling down over the ledge where Roy was still standing. Roy braced himself, hanging on desperately to the rope, but even though he outweighed Johnny, the momentum was too great and he was pulled over the edge.
Luckily for Roy, he was already facing downhill and did not go down backwards. He didn’t really have much control over the fall – in fact, he had no control over the fall – but he managed to lie down so he sort of tobogganed down the hill, rather than tumbling head over heels the way Johnny was. Not that Roy could see his partner; not really. Clouds of dust rose from the dried out grass and obscured his partner, but Roy could tell by the way the rope twisted in his hands.
A wordless exclamation broke from Cap’s lips as Johnny fell. Had his careless words brought disaster crashing down on his paramedics? He started forwards at once, running towards them, although there was nothing he could do to stop the fall. He could just be there to pick up the pieces. Fear and guilt shortened his breath.
Johnny was lying in a tangled heap of limp limbs. He was partially on his side, his eyes closed and his helmet askew. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth and there was a patch of road rash on his cheek. Cap skidded to a halt at his side, eyes glued to Gage’s chest, trying to ascertain if the younger man was breathing. After a few panicked seconds, he realized he was. His eyes flew to the other man. “Roy?”
Roy had landed not far from Johnny and looked rather shaken, which was entirely understandable. He was covered in dust, but appeared to be unharmed. He blinked, trying to get his shaken nerves together. “I’m all right,” he declared, although he wasn’t sure as to the veracity of that statement. “Johnny?”
By now, Cap was crouching by the younger man. “Johnny?” he asked in his turn. There was no response. Johnny’s eyes remained heavily closed, his face slack. Cap’s heart sank. He reached for Johnny’s pulse, but Roy beat him to it.
“Somebody get the equipment,” he ordered and started a preliminary visual check. Like Cap, he spotted the bleeding nose and mouth and road rash. Gently, he removed the helmet and found a bump on the back of Johnny’s head. He ran his hands over the gangly limbs and found a definite break in his right forearm. Roy’s face grew bleak as he went on, for he thought Johnny’s pelvis might be broken, too. “We need another squad,” Roy told Cap.
“Already on the way,” Mike replied. He and Cap had both seen that Roy would not be in any fit state to do more climbing after a fall like that. While he might be well enough at the moment to look after Johnny, there was no way that he could try climbing or rappelling down from the top. “I’ve asked for a light truck, too,” he announced. “And an ambulance.”
“Good,” Cap approved. He knew he could always rely on Mike.
While Roy continued his examination, Cap looked around as he heard the chopper blades approaching. He wondered if it would be feasible to transport Johnny to hospital in the chopper and get it back to help rescue the other climber. Glancing up, he saw that it would be dark in no more than 10 minutes. Already, the light was fading dramatically. They would need the chopper to lift the other paramedics to the top of the cliff. They had already established that it would take a couple of hours to drive there. And with every minute that passed, the chances of the other climber surviving was diminishing. It was a ghastly mess.
Glancing up, Roy caught Cap’s attention. “Cap, what about the other climber? Johnny’s in a bad way…”
“How bad?” Cap asked, although the fact Johnny hadn’t yet regained consciousness was not a good sign.
“I think he’s broken his pelvis,” Roy replied. “His BP is really low; there could be internal bleeding.”
Cap’s heart sank even further. Those few careless words of his had brought this down on the younger paramedic. He wasn’t sure how he could live with the guilt. “Treat Johnny,” he ordered. “He’s accessible and the other man isn’t. You can’t rappel down to the climber alone – you’ll need another paramedic with you.” His words were drowned out for a moment as the helicopter landed further up the canyon. Mike headed over to talk to them. Dimly, Cap could hear a siren drawing closer. “The other paramedics will get the climber.”
Nodding in relief, Roy opened the biophone. The lazy whup-whup sound of the helicopter blades as it idled barely registered. “Rampart this is squad 51. How do you read?”
“Reading loud and clear 51,” Joe Early’s voice responded.
“Rampart, I have a paramedic, injured in a fall off a cliff. He is unconscious, has a bump on the back of his head, some road rash on his face and there is minor bleeding from his mouth and nose. His right forearm is broken and I suspect a broken pelvis. His right ankle is also fractured. Vitals are; BP 90/60, pulse 120 and respirations 20.”
“51, start an IV with Ringers Lactate, immobilize arm and ankle fractures and get him on a backboard. O2 at 10 liters. Transport immediately.”
Roy repeated the treatment back. “The ambulance is not here yet, Rampart,” he told the doctor.
“Transport as soon as it arrives,” Early responded. “If necessary, start another IV of normal saline. Repeat vitals in 5 minutes.”
“10-4, Rampart,” Roy replied. He reached for the IV set-up, his hands shaking. It was always scary treating your own partner, but even more so when the doctor clearly thought he was in serious danger, too.
The second paramedic unit arrived just moments before the ambulance. They were no sooner out of the vehicle than the injured climber’s companion let out a shout. “Don’t move!” he cried, his eyes fixed on the man high above them.
Everyone in the vicinity looked up. The light had faded a huge amount down in the canyon, but the upper slopes were still lit with the dying rays of the sun. The climber was getting shakily to his feet, clearly disoriented and in a bad way. His friend’s shouts didn’t seem to have reached him, but since the helicopter was still idling, and the squad and ambulance had had their sirens on, it was small wonder.
“He’ll be killed!” the friend cried. “Do something!”
“Where’s the light truck?” Stanley demanded, of no one in particular.
They watched as the man above them started to climb up the cliff above him – from where he had fallen in the first place. “You’ve got to do something!” the friend pleaded.
Making his decision, Cap turned to the helicopter pilot. “Can you get my men up there?” he asked.
“We can get them up, but we probably won’t be able to land,” the pilot replied honestly. “It’ll be dark any moment.”
“The light truck is a couple of minutes away,” Stoker reported, having checked with dispatch.
“In that case,” the pilot replied, “let’s go.” He ran to the chopper and the paramedics followed. Chet and Marco went with them in case man power was needed. They piled in and the craft took off. They followed its progress as the light truck entered the canyon.
Torn between staying to organize the light truck and going back to help Roy, Cap dithered uncharacteristically. Guilt was eating away at him for making that careless comment and bringing bad luck down on this rescue. He glanced up at the injured man, but he was all but invisible against the rock as the sun faded completely. “Mike, help Roy,” he commanded. He hurried over to the light truck to explain the situation, unable to face his paramedics at the moment.
Crossing back to 51’s paramedics, Mike beckoned to the ambulance attendants. “What do you need, Roy?”
“Can you get me the backboard and trauma box?” Roy asked. He had established the first IV and Johnny’s blood pressure had risen slightly. He was also groaning, which was reassuring but at the same time worrying, because that meant he was nearing consciousness and Roy hated to think of the amount of pain his friend would be in travelling down the bumpy unpaved road; he would be denied painkillers because of the head injury.
It didn’t take long to get the splints in place and Mike helped Roy roll Johnny onto the backboard. The injured man let out a fearsome cry as that was accomplished, his eyes fluttering open for a few moments, but there was no recognition in the dark eyes before they closed again. Roy supervised the move onto the gurney and then took Johnny’s BP again. It had dropped slightly. He resolved to give it a few minutes and check it again before starting on the journey to Rampart.
It was only as they were loading Johnny into the ambulance that Roy became aware of the drama going on above him. The light truck had all its wattage aimed at the cliff face, and above them, the chopper had set down on the top and the paramedics were making their way down to the injured climber, who appeared to have fallen again. With the severity of Johnny’s injuries, Roy had few hopes that the man above was in much better shape. He could only hope that they would get both men out alive – and keep them that way.
“Roy?” The quiet voice was almost lost under the oxygen mask and the noise from the tires as the ambulance bumped over the road. Yet somehow Roy heard it and leaned over, smiling down at his partner in as reassuring a manner as he could manage.
“Welcome back,” he smiled.
Johnny’s eyes flitted around, looking at his surroundings as best he could within the confines of the c-collar. “What happened?” he asked, again barely audibly.
“You fell,” Roy explained. Johnny looked perplexed, but didn’t ask anything else. His eyes closed tightly as he cried out in pain as they hit a deep pothole. He began groaning with every expelled breath, the sound telling Roy more clearly than words could have done the depths of his pain. At that moment, Roy would have given everything to be able to give Johnny the pain relief he so clearly needed, including his career. The only thing that stayed his hand was the knowledge that Johnny would never forgive him for throwing away his livelihood – ‘just’ for him.
Finally, the road beneath the wheels leveled out and the vehicle picked up speed, the siren going on. Roy took new vitals and saw that his partner’s blood pressure was dropping again. He quickly started the second IV and lifted the biophone to report it to Rampart.
“Rampart, this is squad 51.”
“Go ahead,” came the immediate reply.
“Rampart, the patient’s BP dropped, so I have started the second IV with normal saline. Vitals are as follows. BP 85/50, pulse 130 and thready, respirations 25 and labored. He is semi-conscious and in considerable pain.” Roy could hear his own voice shaking. He strove to steady it. “Our ETA is 15 minutes.”
“10-4, 51. Give a 500cc bolus of normal saline and take vitals again.” Roy could hear the concern in Joe Early’s voice. It wasn’t any comfort at all. He quickly gave the bolus and took Johnny’s vitals again.
“Rampart, his BP has come back up to 90/60.” It wasn’t great, but it was better. “There is some rigidity in the lower quadrants of his abdomen.” Roy knew that there was internal bleeding and hoped his friend was not hemorrhaging from the bone; that could be fatal.
“10-4, 51. Keep me updated.”
“Roger.” Roy looked down at his friend. Johnny appeared to be slightly more with it, but that was not necessarily a good thing right now. Roy fervently hoped that Johnny would not become nauseous, because that would be horribly painful for him, not just because of the retching, but because of the movement, too. If his pelvis was broken, every movement for the foreseeable future would be hell for him.
It was the longest 15 minutes of Roy’s life. Johnny’s blood pressure remained stable, which was good, kind of, but it would have been better if it had climbed. He groaned continually on each outward breath and Roy’s heart ached for the pain he must be in. They had been taught that a broken pelvis was the most painful injury there was and Roy could now believe that.
To say he was relieved when they pulled into Rampart was an understatement. At last Johnny would get the pain relief he needed. Roy jumped out of the ambulance and started to give his update. Both Dr Brackett and Dr Early were there, which was never a good sign. They listened intently as Roy spoke, but to the paramedic’s surprise, they didn’t stop at a treatment room, they headed straight to the elevator.
“He’s going to CT,” Dixie told him, catching up with them before the elevator doors opened. “Come and have a cup of coffee with me, Roy.”
“But…” Roy began to protest, but he got no further. Dixie had a strong grip on his arm and short of being rude and pulling away from her, there was nothing Roy could do. He had to watch Johnny disappearing into the elevator without him.
Exhaustion set in the moment he sat down. “What about our original victim?” Roy asked, looking at the cup of dark liquid that Dixie set down in front of him. “Have they got him?”
“He arrived a few minutes ago by air ambulance,” Dixie replied. “He’s in a bad way.”
As far as Roy was concerned, that wasn’t news. However, he didn’t push for anything else. His focus was Johnny. At the moment, he didn’t have the emotion capacity to deal with news of the other man. He forced his shaking hand to close around the handle of the mug.
Watching him taking a tentative sip, Dixie thought that she hadn’t needed to be told that Roy should be checked out, too. Just looking at him, she could see he was covered in dust, and he was moving more carefully than usual, although she would have taken bets that he was unaware of that. As soon as he had drunk the coffee, she was going to get him checked out.
The drive back to the station was quiet. Chet and Marco had exchanged a couple of words, expressing their hopes that Johnny was not as badly injured as Roy had feared, but they had lapsed into silence after that. Mike kept his eyes firmly on the road for the first part of the journey down, not relaxing until they had negotiated the twisting country road in one piece. As they picked up speed, he glanced sideways at Captain Stanley.
The older man had barely spoken since Johnny and Roy left in the ambulance. Everything he had said had been directly connected with the rescue they had been on and since the man on the cliff had chiefly been attended to by the second paramedic squad, there had been little enough for him to say.
He was definitely brooding, Mike decided and he couldn’t blame Cap for being upset over the accident. They were all upset. It seemed that Johnny was always the one who was getting it in the neck and it wasn’t fair. However, Mike had discovered early on that life wasn’t fair. He’d discovered it when his younger sister had died from leukemia when she was 11. After that, his mother had withdrawn into herself and his father had taken to drinking every evening away. It seemed there was no time or attention left for Mike and although he knew it wasn’t fair, he couldn’t find a way to change things. He couldn’t bring his sister back to life, however much he missed her and he couldn’t blame his parents for grieving and not knowing how to cope with the loss of a child. He simply had no idea how to tell them that he was hurting too, and so he resorted to silence, as that was when he got praise – for being a ‘good boy’. Childhood habits die hard and Mike was now a silent man a lot of the time.
But not all the time. There were times when you had to speak up and this was one of them. “Cap, this isn’t your fault,” he declared.
“I ill- wished them,” Cap sighed.
“We were all thinking that,” Mike assured him. “It didn’t ill-wish them. The world doesn’t work like that.” He was sure it didn’t although there were times when he thought someone or something ‘up there’ was watching for that moment firefighters sat down to eat or fell asleep to set the tones off. He knew it was superstitious nonsense, but sometimes — only sometimes — he believed it. This, however, was not one of those times. Not when he had to convince Cap that it was not his fault that Johnny and Roy fell, despite what he had said. “Those other guys had fallen on that climb, too, Cap.”
“I know,” Cap agreed. “And that is even more reason why I shouldn’t have said that aloud.” He rubbed a hand over his face. As Captain, he had responsibility for deploying his men where they were needed and that often required him to put them into harm’s way. It was never an easy decision to make, so why was it bothering him so much this time? As much as he hated to admit it, Hank Stanley was a superstitious man. All firefighters were, to some degree, but Cap firmly tried to keep his superstitious side hidden from his men.
“Cap!” Mike was getting exasperated. “You did not ill wish them!” He drew in a deep breath. Getting angry wouldn’t get through to his despondent boss. “They knew the risks,” he went on more calmly. “If Johnny had honestly thought they couldn’t climb up there, he would have said so and somehow they would have found another way.”
“We should have just waited for the helicopter,” Cap disagreed. “I was stupid to send them up there.”
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Mike argued. “We didn’t know for sure there would be a ‘copter free. Or the light truck for that matter. Look at the difficulty the other guys had getting down to the climber even with the helicopter. The other paramedics were pretty scraped up, according to what Chet said.”
Cap did not even glance back over his shoulder at his lineman, who was nodding in vigorous support to what Mike was saying. “I made a mistake,” Cap insisted. “And I ill wished them.” He swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment. He knew he would be seeing Johnny tumbling down off that cliff in his dreams for a long time. “It’s my fault Johnny is so badly hurt.”
Opening his mouth to say something else – although he didn’t know quite what – Mike was forestalled when Cap held his hand up. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Mike,” he said. “But I am at fault here and that’s the end of the story.”
Accepting the stricture for the moment, Mike resolved to himself that this was not the end of the story. One way or another, he would make Cap see that it was purely an accident.
The hum of the CT scanner seemed to take up residence in Johnny’s aching head. It reverberated through his bones and settled in his stomach, making him feel queasy. Dimly, he was aware of a voice talking to him, although no one was in sight. He was too out of it to realize that the voice was coming through a speaker. His belly hurt and his lower abdomen was screaming in agony. He had never felt such pain and wanted more than anything to pass out, but he couldn’t seem to manage it. Why hadn’t they given him something for pain? Where was Roy? Please, stop the world! I want to get off, he thought.
Suddenly, he was moving again and he couldn’t stop the cry that ripped from his throat. Cool air touched his skin and made him feel momentarily better, but it didn’t last. He was being lifted up and then was moving again and he swallowed desperately against nausea. He knew from past experience that opening his eyes at this point would be a bad move and he wasn’t totally sure his eyelids would obey his commands anyway. They seemed to be lead weighted at the moment.
There was blessed relief as he stopped moving for a moment, then his stomach swooped out from underneath him as he started going down. He recognized an elevator and wondered why nobody was talking to him. Perhaps they thought he was unconscious – or perhaps he simply wasn’t listening, so caught up was he in the total misery that engulfed his body.
Finally – at last! – they stopped and he felt a hand grasping his. He clutched back desperately. He was pretty sure it was Dixie and forced his eyes open and blinked against the brightness of the lights above. After a second, Dixie’s face swam into focus and he found a half-smile for her. “Dix,” he gasped. “Hurts.”
“I know,” she soothed. “Dr Brackett is getting you something for that right now.”
“Hurry,” he whimpered, not caring that he sounded weak and on the verge of tears. He was weak and on the verge of tears, but the pain was all encompassing and he really thought he would die if he didn’t get some relief soon.
The thought of death scared him and he clutched tighter to Dixie’s hand. “Am I … dying?” he panted, unaware of the bruises his grip would cause his friend.
“No!” Dixie declared vehemently. “Johnny, no, of course not.”
He was only partially reassured. “I’m hurt … bad,” he told her and it wasn’t a question.
“Yes, you are,” Dixie agreed. “And you’re going up to the OR any minute.” She forced a smile. “You’ll be fine,” she assured him.
“Johnny.” Dr Brackett’s deep voice on his other side made the paramedic glance over. The doctor looked grim, which was not entirely unusual, but wasn’t in the least reassuring at that moment. “Johnny, you’ve broken your pelvis,” Brackett told him gently. “We’re taking you up to surgery to fix it. We’ll set your broken arm then, too. Do you want to see Roy before you go?”
Surgery? Johnny wasn’t sure what to feel. He nodded as best he could with the collar on. “Doc – is it bad?” he croaked.
“It could be worse,” Brackett evaded. He didn’t say that the ‘worse’ he had in mind was that Johnny had died. It was a pretty serious injury and he thought that this might well be the end of Johnny’s career as a paramedic. “I’m going to give you something for pain now,” he went on before Johnny could ask any other questions that might warrant Brackett giving more truth than he was ready to do. “Roy will be here in a second.”
The morphine was a blessed relief. The pain ebbed away slowly, and Johnny’s thoughts went with it. He was aware of the people around him, but he drifted for a few minutes until Roy’s voice penetrated the drugged haze he was in. “Johnny?” Roy looked exhausted.
“I hope… you let me … go,” Johnny slurred.
“What kind of partner would I be if I did that?” Roy countered.
“Are you … hurt?” Johnny mumbled. He couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. The lead weights were back.
“I’m fine,” Roy replied.
“And you’re going to be checked out in a few minutes, Mister,” Dixie interjected in a teasing tone that didn’t fool either paramedic.
From somewhere, Johnny found a chuckle. “You tell him … Dix,” he smiled and slid into oblivion.
“I’m fine,” Roy protested fruitlessly.
“You fell off a cliff,” Mike Morton responded dryly. “People generally aren’t ‘fine’ after falling off a cliff.”
“I didn’t fall,” Roy corrected the young doctor with a great deal of dignity. “I was pulled.”
“I think you’re splitting hairs,” Morton told him, crossing his arms. “Either way, you came down the cliff a darned sight faster than you went up it.”
“I didn’t fall as far as Johnny did,” Roy mentioned, feeling suddenly guilty about that. “And I’m fine.”
“Well, I don’t think there’s anything broken,” Morton informed him, “but I’m going to get a couple of x-rays just to be on the safe side anyway.”
“What!” Roy spluttered indignantly. “I don’t need x-rays!”
“What is this, DeSoto?” Morton enquired. “Are you channeling your inner Gage here? You sound like he normally does. Have you been taking lessons?”
“Don’t start!” Roy warned. “I don’t need x-rays, I’m absolutely fine. All I want is to get out of here and go back to work.”
“You don’t get to go back to work unless I say so,” Morton reminded him. “Settle down, Roy. I know you’re worried about Gage, but behaving like him won’t get you out of here any quicker. I’ve had lots of practice dealing with him; you’ve got no chance.”
Slumping down, Roy capitulated. “All right, all right, get the pictures done. Then can I go back to work?”
“Maybe,” Morton hedged. “Once I’m sure you’re all right.” He quickly wrote out the x-rays he wanted and sent Roy to the x-ray department, more to keep him occupied than any other reason. When the paramedic returned clutching the packet of x-rays, Morton looked at them closely. “Nothing broken,” he announced and turned around to frown at Roy. “Where do you think you’re going?” Roy had jumped down from the table and was buttoning his shirt up.
“Back to work,” Roy announced, looking perplexed. “Why?”
“I’m not finished yet,” Morton said, with exaggerated patience. He had never seen Roy behave like Johnny before, but he supposed it might be an occupational hazard of spending so much time with him. “Sit down and it’ll be over before you know it.” He did indeed make short work of the physical exam and in the end, simply advised Roy to take it easy. “You’re pretty bruised,” he reminded the paramedic. “Aspirin should take care of it, but if it doesn’t, then come back.”
“Okay,” Roy agreed. “Can I go now?”
“Feel free,” Morton allowed. He rolled his eyes at the nurse in the room, who smiled back. Roy ignored them both, finishing dressing quickly and hurrying out of the room before Morton could change his mind again.
As Roy had expected, Dixie was at her desk. “What’s the news?” he asked.
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” she replied. “They could be quite a while, Roy. The other climber died a short time ago.” She watched him hang his head. “Roy, that isn’t your fault. The original fall had caused severe head injuries as well as internal ones. I’m afraid he would not have survived even if you and Johnny had been able to reach him on the first attempt. His attempt to climb out later was a reaction to the head injuries and only hastened the inevitable.”
“Johnny could still die, couldn’t he?” Roy asked quietly. “If he’s hemorrhaging from the bone, he could already be dead.”
“He’s not hemorrhaging from the bone,” Dixie replied. “He does have internal bleeding, but it’s not from the pelvic bones.” She sighed. “Yes, there is a chance that he could die. I won’t lie to you, Roy. But Kel is doing is damndest to make sure that doesn’t happen.” She patted Roy’s arm. “The rest of the crew is in the lounge.”
Taking the hint Roy walked slowly to the lounge. He was reluctant to see his crew mates, for reasons that he couldn’t quite fathom. Pushing the door open, he paused to look at his friends.
Mike, Marc and Chet were seated at the table nursing cups of coffee. There was a fourth cup poured for Cap, but he was standing at the window, gazing out sightlessly at the cars in the parking lot. His whole posture shouted ‘leave me alone’.
“Roy?” Mike’s question caught Cap attention and he turned to look at his senior paramedic. “How’s Johnny?”
“Still in surgery,” Roy replied. “He could be there for some time yet.”
“What about you?” Cap asked.
“I’m okay to go back to work,” Roy replied.
Nodding, Cap gestured. “Let’s go then. I can call in a replacement when we get back to the barn.”
Stunned, Roy just looked at him. “Right now?” he questioned. “Can’t I wait here for a while, just until you know…?”
“Roy, you need to get cleaned up and have something to eat,” Cap chided gently. “Maybe even get a little down time before Johnny’s replacement comes in. You can come back later.” Cap was sincere in his thinking, knowing that Roy would feel better for a shower and some food. But it was also that he didn’t want to linger at the hospital, didn’t want to take the risk that Johnny might die on the operating table while he was still there and could hear about it at once. His conscience was scraping itself raw over the thought he might have brought this catastrophe down upon his paramedics with a few careless words and the further away from the hospital he was the better he would like it. “We all need to eat something,” he added. “Come on. Dixie knows where to find us.” He shepherded his crew out, feeling a shamed sense of relief as they left the hospital environs.
The surgery took several hours and at the end of it, Dr Brackett felt totally exhausted. He had scrubbed in to help with the internal bleeding, which turned out to be a tear in the bowel. It was repaired and the whole peritoneal cavity thoroughly washed out with an antibiotic solution. The broken pelvis was secured with an external fixator and Johnny would be bed ridden for some considerable time. Pelvic fractures could take several months to heal properly, depending on the amount of muscle and nerve involvement.
Finally, Johnny was moved to recovery. He was getting blood and antibiotics, an oxygen mask obscured his face and a Foley catheter was in place. A sheet was discreetly arranged to protect his modesty. Once he had come around from the anesthetic, he would be transferred to a high dependency room, for his mobility would be severely limited. Because of his propensity for vomiting after anesthesia, Johnny had had a huge amount of anti emetics and Brackett had left orders to place an NG tube, should it become necessary. Once he was sure his patient was semi-comfortable, he went off to have a quick shower and then seek Roy out.
It came as something of a shock to discover the paramedic wasn’t waiting downstairs. “He went away?” Brackett repeated, stunned.
“I don’t think he was given a choice,” Dixie replied. “And to be honest, he needed to get cleaned up and eat something. Captain Stanley is much better at bullying him than I am.”
“Rubbish!” Brackett scoffed. “You’ve got the most winning ways I’ve ever met.” He tactfully did not say she bullied people; he liked living.
Smiling, Dixie said, “Well, Roy needed to be looked after and he was as well going back to the station as waiting here alone. The rest of the crew had to get back.”
“True,” Brackett agreed. “I’ll call him.”
“No need,” Dixie replied. “He’s on his way in here.” She glanced at her watch. “In fact…” She looked up and pointed at the door. “Speak of the devil,” she commented lightly as Roy came in, walking beside a gurney.
To Brackett and Dixie, who knew him so well, Roy looked strained, but he was smiling at his patient and talking calmly to them. He flicked only a glance in their direction before directing his attention back down at the gurney. He vanished into the treatment room. They waited. Less than five minutes later, Roy popped back out of the door and headed towards them.
“Well?” he demanded.
“So what is his prognosis?” Roy asked when Brackett finished talking. “Will he return to work?”
“Right now, I don’t know for sure,” Brackett replied, frowning, for he knew that Roy knew he couldn’t be definite at that moment. “It will depend on how Johnny recovers from the surgery, how the nerves and muscles are – a lot of things. You know that, Roy.”
“Yeah, I guess I do,” Roy agreed, sounding depressed. “I suppose I just want to know that he’ll be okay.”
“He is going to be okay,” Brackett replied. “But right now, we don’t know the extent of the nerve and muscle involvement.” He looked shrewdly at Roy. “You’re blaming yourself for not catching him, aren’t you?” he asked.
“No,” Roy replied defensively and not entirely convincingly. He tried to out-stare Brackett and failed.
With a sigh, Brackett crossed his arms and leaned against Dixie’s desk. “Roy, you know as well as I do that there is no way you could have caught Johnny unless you were tied off and from what you said, there was nowhere to tie off to. Anyway, for all Johnny is as slim as a whip, he’s still pretty solid as you are well aware from the times you’ve had to carry him out of places. Sudden force like that is always going to win out in that kind of situation.” Lecture over, Brackett put his hand on Roy’s shoulder. “Come on, Roy, even with me here. Why do you think you should have caught him?”
“I just… I dunno,” Roy admitted. “I just do.” He looked around as though looking for an answer, but the only thing he found was his temporary partner, who had brought the squad in. “I don’t know,” he concluded. “Doc, can I see him?”
“Let me check where he is,” Brackett agreed and lifted the phone, but at that moment, the HT beeped and Roy and his partner were toned out.
His brain felt furry. He knew it wasn’t really, but that was how it felt. That was always how his brain felt after an anesthetic. Johnny wondered vaguely how long it would be till he started puking, because he dreaded it. Bad enough to have had surgery without throwing up everything but his toenails afterwards. His hand crept slowly upwards to touch his nose and he was surprised not to encounter the dreaded NG tube, which was almost as bad as puking. Why someone couldn’t invent an anesthetic that didn’t make people puke was beyond Johnny’s ken.
“Take it easy,” a feminine voice chided gently as a hand caught his wrist. “You don’t want to blow that IV now, do you?”
Prying his eyelids apart, Johnny gazed at the young nurse. He didn’t know her, which was quite unusual. She must be new. He tried a smile, but could tell at once that it didn’t quite work. At that particular moment, he didn’t altogether mind. He wasn’t sure he was up for flirting. The chance that he might throw up on her tended to spoil his chances. Besides, he was too tired.
Recognizing that her patient was much more with it, the young nurse, Brenda, smiled at him. “How are you feeling?” she asked, letting go of his wrist. His right arm was encased in a cast and snuggled against his chest, held securely by a sling. “Are you in any pain?” She had surreptitiously taken his pulse while holding his wrist.
“No,” Johnny mumbled, feeling as though his mouth was rather furry, too. Now that his eyes were open, he glanced around. The recovery room. He’d been there before. He moved his gaze down over his body and stared in horror at the external fixator on his pelvis. “What the hell…?” he began and tried to sit up for a closer look.
His body rebelled at once, pain screaming up his back and down his legs and through his body, concentrating in his lower abdomen. A raw scream passed his lips, a sound that he had no control over at all. He had never felt pain like it and he began to go into shock, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest, his breath coming in short gasps and his skin cold and clammy. He thought he was going to pass out.
Luckily, his nurse was right on the ball. She acted at once and when Johnny regained control of his emotions, he found he was tipped ever so slightly head down on the bed and a blanket was tucked warmly around him. He could feel that the amount of oxygen he was getting had been increased. Dr Brackett was also standing there.
“Hey,” he smiled. “Feeling a bit better?”
“A bit,” Johnny allowed. He craned his neck to look down his body again, but the blanket obscured what he wanted to see. “Tell me I imagined that?” he croaked.
“I’m afraid not,” Brackett replied regretfully. He gradually raised the head of the bed so that Johnny was supine again. “You broke your pelvis in that fall.”
For several long seconds, Johnny just looked at Brackett, his mind refusing to take the words in. Then the realization sank in and he reached for the blanket with his left hand. Before he could throw if off, Brackett caught his wrist. “Easy!” he warned. “You’ve got multiple IVs in there. You’ve got to be careful.” The last thing Brackett wanted to do was restrain Johnny’s wrist and leave him totally helpless, but if he threatened the IVs, then that was exactly what the doctor would do.
“I want to see,” Johnny complained and Brackett carefully removed the blanket and sheet.
Gazing down at his nude body, Johnny noted the bruises and scrapes almost without seeing them. His attention strayed briefly to the heavy cast on his right ankle, but he was more concerned with the fixator frame screwed to his lower abdomen. While he had seen the frames before, never had he dreamed that he would end up with one. “How long will I be in this?” he asked, his voice still hoarse.
“It depends on how well the bones heal,” Brackett evaded.
But that was one hawk that was never going to fly. “How long?” Johnny demanded, his voice suddenly stronger as he got angry.
“A couple of months,” Brackett reluctantly replied. He watched the news sink in. Johnny was an experienced paramedic. He knew the ramifications of the doctor’s words; he would be bed bound for two months, with all the associated problems that would entail – bed sores, muscle wastage, extreme boredom and months of physical therapy. Johnny suddenly went green and Brackett grabbed the emesis basin and beckoned to Brenda.
Vomiting was even worse than Johnny had anticipated. Involuntary tears leaked from his eyes at the pain. He kept his eyes closed as the nurse cleaned him up, unwilling to look her in the face. “Johnny, I’m going to place the NG tube,” Brackett told him.
“No!” Johnny had had enough already. He tried to fight, but Brackett was ready for him and he found himself restrained while Brackett fed the tube through his nose. Defeated, Johnny swallowed it down, gagging as it touched the back of his throat, but he didn’t vomit this time. It was soon taped into place, but Brackett did not trust him not to pull the tube back out and left his arm restrained.
Pain was now wakening in Johnny’s body as his muscles all tensed to fight off the attention he was getting. He groaned, unaware that he had done so. Brackett had anticipated that, too, and something was injected into his IV and he found himself floating away.
It was a great relief to give in to oblivion.
It was the middle of the night before Roy got back to Rampart and he knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to see his friend then and neither Dixie, Brackett nor Early was on duty to pave the way for him, so he had to bite the bullet and go back to the barn.
Lying awake on his bunk, listening to the silence in the station, Roy wondered what it was about this injury that seemed so different. Johnny had been hurt before, and hurt badly. Usually, they had stayed at the hospital until they had to leave, and Roy stayed until a replacement could be found. This time, it had all happened so quickly. Johnny had barely been in the ER before he was whisked away to surgery and the crew had gone straight back to quarters.
Turning over, and failing to find a comfortable position, Roy thought some more about the scene at the hospital. For some reason, Cap had been very ill at ease. In fact, he had hardly said two words since then and Roy thought those words had simply been something as mundane as ‘pass the salt’. All right, he allowed himself, that was three words, but as he thought about it more seriously, he realized that Cap had isolated himself from the crew the moment they arrived back from the rescue. He had said nothing about finishing any undone chores (of which there were none as it happened) or even suggested that the meal should be made, since it was well past supper time. He had said nothing at all, just gone into his office and closed the door.
They all knew he had an accident report to make out and that he hated doing them. But still… Roy wondered why he hadn’t seen this earlier. What was wrong with Cap? Why was he behaving so oddly? He hadn’t even been the one to ask Roy how Johnny was when they returned from the hospital the first time. That had been Chet, although Cap had been there, his face grim at the news. They had all been pretty subdued, Roy allowed. Perhaps Cap was just tired and worried. That must be it. Comforting himself with that thought, Roy finally managed to drift off to sleep.
A couple of bunks over, Captain Stanley lay on his back studying the ceiling. He had not slept a wink all night as guilt ate at his mind.
Morning brought a resumption of misery for Johnny. He woke to find himself still restrained and was furious when the nurse told him she had no orders to have him released and then calmly assured him that Dr Brackett would probably do his rounds in a couple of hours and he had best contain himself in patience until then. It wasn’t the tone to take with the paramedic at the best of times and this wasn’t the best of times.
“I’m not a prisoner!” he yelled. “You have no right to restrain me!”
“Calm down, Mr. Gage,” the nurse told him patronizingly, thinking that it was quite understandable for Dr Brackett to have restrained him, given his show of temper. “You’ll do yourself an injury.”
“I’ve already done myself an injury and I want you to take this cuff off now!” Johnny tugged uselessly against the leather, making the side of the bed rattle violently. “Get it off!” Shouting made his headache worse and shaking the bed made his pelvis hurt badly, but right at that moment, Johnny didn’t care. It was bad enough to be confined to bed by injury, but to be made totally helpless as well was beyond the pale.
“Mr. Gage!” the nurse remonstrated. “Behave!”
“Get out!” Johnny shouted. “Get out of my sight!” He glared at her, panting from his exertions. The pain was actually getting rather bad now and he wanted some relief from it, but he was not going to ask that nurse for a single thing. “Go on! If you’re not going to help me then get out and don’t come back!”
It was into this inauspicious scene that Roy walked. He didn’t know what was wrong with Johnny, but he reacted protectively, instinctively crossing to his side to stand between Johnny and the nurse, who was now almost as angry as her patient. “Johnny?” He took in his friend at a glance and immediately started to unbuckle the cuff.
“Leave that alone!” The nurse had a voice like a whip. “I’ll have to get Dr Brackett if you touch that again.”
“I think you should get Dr Brackett even if I wasn’t going to touch it again,” Roy told her, his voice cold. He pulled the cuff free and gently rubbed Johnny’s wrist where it was red. He glanced at the nurse, who was hovering uncertainly. “Either you get him here or I will,” Roy went on. “And you won’t like it if I do,” he promised. He was relieved when the nurse turned on her heel and left. He turned his attention back to Johnny, trying to keep his eyes away from the ghastly sight of the fixator. “Is that better?” he asked.
“Yes, thanks,” Johnny replied. He sounded completely exhausted. He was also looking ashamed of himself. It wasn’t in his nature to be angry like that, but he had found it frightening to be so utterly helpless and to get no sympathy.
“How’re you feeling?” Roy asked as Johnny’s eyes squeezed shut.
“I’m in agony,” Johnny admitted. He wanted to move to ease his position, but every twitch of his muscles sent spasms of pain through his abdomen. He felt lousy, too, and his headache was throbbing painfully above his right eye. “Roy…”
“I’ll get you something,” Roy promised. He turned towards the door with the intention of bringing the nurse and the whole drug cabinet if necessary, but it wasn’t. He all but collided with Dr Brackett in the doorway and the doctor looked as though he was on the warpath. Roy stepped aside.
“Johnny?” Brackett was frowning. “Are you all right?” He picked up Johnny’s left wrist and looked at the fading red mark, gently probing it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for the nurse to leave you in the cuff. You were just rather out of it last night and who can blame you?”
“Doc, I’m hurtin’,” Johnny complained.
“I’ve got your meds here,” Brackett soothed and shot the contents of the syringe into the IV. He watched Johnny closely to make sure they were working. Once his friend’s face relaxed, he leaned on the side of the bed. “Johnny, I’m going to give you a pain pump for the first few days, just until everything settles down a bit.”
Nodding, Johnny swallowed past the tube in his throat. “When do I get rid of this?” he asked, pointing to his nose.
“Have you eaten anything?” Brackett asked. Johnny shook his head. He hadn’t seen food since he’d come in yesterday and his stomach growled gently, now that he was thinking about eating. “All right, we’ll start you on a liquid diet and see how you do. If you can keep it down, we’ll give you something solid for lunch and after that, I might pull it, okay?”
“Guess so,” Johnny mumbled and Roy could see his partner was growing drowsy as the drug coursed through his veins. “When do I get rid of that?” he enquired, pointing down his body.
“Not for a while,” Brackett reminded him. “I’ll see you later, Johnny.” He headed off out the door.
Belatedly becoming aware that Roy was still there and he hadn’t even really said hello, Johnny forced his eyes open when they wanted to drift close and squinted at his partner. Dark circles lurked under the blue eyes and they were also a bit bloodshot. Everything shouted of lack of sleep. “Busy night?” he slurred.
Aware of how awful he looked, Roy took the out he was offered and nodded. “Didn’t sleep much,” he admitted, the implication being that the squad had been busy. It was easier than trying to explain why he was so worried, because he wasn’t entirely certain what was making him so anxious, apart from the obvious – Johnny’s injury.
“Geez, Roy, go home and sleep,” Johnny urged. “You didn’t need to come here to see me.” He was more than grateful that Roy had come. “But thanks,” he added.
“I’m glad I did come,” Roy returned and smiled. “Since you were in trouble again.” However, he could see that Johnny would soon be asleep again and he was feeling much more relaxed now. “I’ll come back later,” he promised. “The others will be in later too.”
“Thanks, Roy,” Johnny repeated, “for everything.” He was slumbering before Roy had left the room.
When Roy returned later after a good sleep, all the other members of the crew were there.
Slightly perplexed about that, Roy said nothing, just moved to greet his friend. He thought Johnny didn’t look so good and he still had the NG tube, which was not a good sign. Still, Roy didn’t know how much he had told the other guys, so resolved to wait to find out what was going on. Chet was holding the floor, laying forth in great style, telling Johnny some unlikely story. He kept assuring Gage that he was telling the truth, but Johnny didn’t look as though he was taken in at all. Roy had missed the beginning of the story, so when the punch line came he laughed politely, although he didn’t think it was that funny.
While Chet, Marco and Johnny talked about Chet’s story, Mike drew Roy aside. “Have you spoken to Cap?” he asked.
“No, I slept all morning after I got home,” Roy replied. “Why?”
“He said he was going to be here before us, but Johnny hasn’t seen him.” Mike looked worried. Roy began to feel faintly anxious, too.
“Johnny was asleep when I left,” he remembered. “So Cap could easily have been and gone without him realizing.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Mike admitted. “That’s most likely it.”
“What are you two whispering about over there?” Chet asked suspiciously.
“We’re just planning our next big prank,” Mike replied, straight faced. There was nobody could play a straight man like Mike. “We’re going to get a chief next time one comes to the station and we’re going to blame the Phantom. With his reputation, everyone will believe us, too.”
“You wouldn’t!” Chet blustered. He was never sure if Mike was winding him up or not, and this was not the kind of prank to call his bluff on. Chet’s reputation as a prankster was well known through the county.
“Wouldn’t I?” Mike met Chet’s gaze steadily. He had the best poke face of the bunch and used it to great effect. Chet began to look very anxious indeed.
“Mike… “Chet whined.
Smiling, Roy moved over to Johnny’s side. “I gather lunch didn’t sit too well?” he asked sympathetically.
“I dunno,” Johnny replied. “I didn’t get as far as lunch. Breakfast did me in when I got it.” The thin, clear broth he had been given might have been appetizing warm, although that was debatable, but it was utterly revolting cold and Johnny had barfed it back up. He didn’t want to tell Roy how painful vomiting had been.
“What does Dr Brackett say?” Roy asked.
“Dunno that either,” Johnny admitted. “I haven’t seen him, either.”
“Either?” Roy questioned.
“Cap was supposed to come to see me, but I haven’t seen him,” Johnny explained. “Do you think he’s okay?”
“You were asleep when I left,” Roy reminded him. “Cap could have come in when you were sleeping. And there is a chance he was called in to do cover. Who knows? I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” He smiled. “Cap will come.”
“I guess you’re right,” Johnny agreed. He was looking pale and tired now and Roy saw him reach for the pump and press it. After a couple of moments, the strain started to ease out of his face again.
“Do you want anything?” Roy asked.
“Some real food, this thing off me and the tube out of my nose,” Johnny replied.
“Well, I can see what I can do about food,” Roy offered. “And if the food is okay, perhaps I can do something about the tube, too.” He indicated to the guys to stay a bit longer while he went down to the canteen and brought back some of the soup they had on offer. It was warm, smelt good and actually tasted not bad, too. Johnny sipped carefully, finding it difficult to get the angle right and not spill down himself. The head of his bed was slightly raised, but not really far enough for comfortable eating. Roy was reluctant to change the angle in case he caused problems with the pelvic injury.
While Johnny was eating, the others went home. Roy stayed and they talked together quietly and after a while, when the soup seemed to be staying down, Roy called down to the ER and asked Dr Brackett to come up. He arrived a while later and was glad to be able to remove the NG tube.
“You’re a bit warm, Johnny,” he commented. “I’ll have the nurses take some blood. I might need to change your antibiotics.”
“You think I have an infection?” Johnny asked. “Oh man!”
“It’s almost impossible to do major abdominal surgery on the bowel and not get an infection,” Brackett commented. “But because we know it’s likely to happen, we keep an eye out for it. Don’t worry, Johnny, we’ll do everything we can to stop it going any further.”
“Thanks,” Johnny mumbled. He had thought he’d taken a step forward getting the NG tube pulled, but now it seemed as though he was about to take several steps backwards.
He was dozing when the door to his room opened that evening. Dragging open his eyes, Johnny was delighted to see Cap, but his delight turned to concern when he saw how bad his superior officer looked. “Hello, John,” Cap said quietly, sitting down.
“Cap, are you all right?” Johnny asked.
“I’m fine,” Cap replied, but he was anything but convincing. He looked very tired, with dark circles under his eyes. “More to the point how are you?”
“Well, I’ve got the NG tube out,” Johnny replied doubtfully. “But I might be developing an infection.” He unconsciously touched the fingers of his casted right arm to the spot on his left arm where the nurse – a much nicer one than had spoken to him that morning – had drawn blood. “Cap, are you sure you’re all right?” Johnny asked.
That brought a smile to Cap’s face. Johnny could always be relied upon to be more concerned about others than about himself. “I’m fine,” he assured his paramedic again. “I just had a bad headache today and I didn’t sleep well last night worrying about you.”
“About me?” Johnny echoed, stunned. “Oh, Cap. It was my own fault I fell…”
“No, it was an accident,” Cap replied. “John, believe me, I’ve thought about this a lot. I shouldn’t have said what I did to you just before you started that climb, because I put the idea of falling into your mind. But we should have known that that climb would be next to impossible. Those other two guys had already had an accident on that cliff face. I shouldn’t have sent you up there. It was my decision and my responsibility and I’m really sorry. You’re in that bed because I misjudged the call, never mind my ill-wishing.”
“Cap, you didn’t ill-wish us,” Johnny chided. “You didn’t want us to fall. It was my fault. The handhold I had at that point wasn’t secure enough and I should have known better than to transfer my weight to it. I should have looked harder for another hold.”
“Do you think there was one?” Cap asked.
“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted.
“It was an accident,” Cap repeated. “I’ve come to realize over today that I should have called for the light truck as soon as we arrived and had the helicopter take you guys up to the top. I should never have opted for a free climb. My fault.”
“Is that what you put in the report?” Johnny asked. He had never seen Cap so down.
“Of course,” Cap replied. “What did you want me to say? That it was your fault? I gave the order and you did the best you could to follow it. So that makes it my responsibility.”
“Cap, hindsight is always 20/20,” Johnny reminded him. “The climb was a difficult one, but not impossible.”
“John, you’re very kind,” Cap smiled. “But I made the decision and I have to live with it.” He studied the younger man. “You look tired, so I won’t stay. I’m a bit tired myself. You get better and I’ll see you soon.” He rose and sketched a quick goodbye.
There was nothing Johnny could do to stop him going. He was unhappy with the way the visit had gone and wished he had found the words to tell Cap that it wasn’t his fault. He just hoped that the brass would not blame Cap.
Sighing, Johnny tried to find a more comfortable position. He failed and fell into a restless sleep, unaware that his temperature was starting to climb.
“Cap has taken a couple of days of personal leave,” Roy told Johnny the following afternoon. “I don’t know who we’re going to get to cover next shift yet.”
“Hope it’s not Captain Hook,” Johnny mumbled. Hookraider was universally disliked by the entire department. He didn’t have much time for paramedics, either. Johnny’s antibiotic had been changed that morning to something stronger, but he hadn’t noticed any improvement yet. He still felt lousy and was glad that only Roy had come in to visit. Roy didn’t mind if he was silent. Johnny had also been placed onto a special mattress that morning that helped prevent bed sores. Moving had been agonizing and he was still drowsy from the extra painkillers he’d received.
“You and me both,” Roy smiled. “Me more so than you, I imagine.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Johnny retorted. “If its Hook, you’ll be in here moaning at me. Who’s gonna be your partner?”
“Gil Robinson,” Roy replied. They had helped train Gil.
“That’s not too bad,” Johnny allowed. “He knows what he’s doing.”
“That’s what I thought,” Roy agreed. “At least it’s not Brice.”
“I’m sorry you’re gonna be stuck with a lot of temporary partners,” Johnny said remorsefully. He didn’t voice the fear that now had permanent residence in his brain – that he would never again ride in the squad with Roy.
But Roy knew his partner. “You’ll be back,” he predicted confidently. “I know you will.”
From somewhere, Johnny found a smile for Roy, but he was still afraid.
Despite the fall in temperature, Johnny felt utterly wretched for the next few days as the antibiotic didn’t agree with him. His appetite dwindled and Dr Brackett was forced to threaten him with extra feedings via tube if he didn’t make more effort with his meals. While he sympathized with his patient’s lack of appetite, not eating was going to be very detrimental to his long-term health. Fighting the infection required large amounts of calories and healing bones needed good nutrients, too.
His many visitors did their best to keep his spirits up, but by the end of the first week in hospital, Johnny was thoroughly down. Roy was a faithful visitor, although this time he had not brought the children in, as hospital rules forbade youngsters in high dependency, and it was an on-going battle to keep Johnny’s dignity intact. While a pajama jacket was viable, nothing much else was and the sheets and blankets had a decided tendency to slide to the floor, leaving him exposed in all his glory. Johnny was beginning to see a perverse sort of humor in the situation.
The one person Johnny did not see was Cap. Roy told him that Cap was back on duty and the brass were not blaming anyone for the accident, agreeing with Johnny that Cap had had no other option available to him when he sent the paramedics up the cliff. Waiting for the helicopter and light truck to arrive would have endangered the man on the cliff even further.
“It seems they got that far through luck,” Roy explained to Johnny about 10 days after the accident. “They didn’t climb up at the point we did, they started further over and moved diagonally across the face. Then the lead man fell and his friend wasn’t even roped to him. He managed to get himself down and raise the alarm, but the injured man had already been up there about four hours before we arrived.”
“Poor guy,” Johnny sighed.
“It was one of their first climbs,” Roy went on. “And they hadn’t told anyone where they were going or what time they expected to be back. Talk about leaving things to luck! They could both have died up there and no one would ever have known where they had gone.”
While Johnny often did not tell his friends exactly where he was going to be hiking or camping, he always made sure that a ranger had his itinerary when he got there, just so that if he was late returning, someone would know where to look for him.
“It’s a pity we don’t have light weight phones to carry around with us,” he commented thoughtfully. “Imagine having a phone in your pocket. You’d always be able to call for help.”
“And how would they work?” the practical Roy asked. “You can’t have it attached to a cable. Maybe by radio? But they’d have to set up an awful lot more radio towers and isn’t there a limit to the number of frequencies you can use?”
“Well, I don’t know anything about how phones work!” Johnny objected, sounding more like himself than he had for a couple of days. “I was just making a suggestion. You know. Maybe we could invent communicators like they use in Star Trek,” he suggested. One of the few TV channels he received in the hospital room was showing all the Star Trek shows and Johnny had got hooked. It relieved the boredom.
“It’s called science fiction for a reason,” Roy reminded him. “More fiction than science.”
Making at face at Roy’s practicality, Johnny retorted, “But it’s a neat idea. And I’d love to be able to ‘beam’ from place to place. Just think how quick we’d get to rescues.”
“Neat idea or not, we don’t have those things.” Sometimes, Roy wondered what it would be like to let his imagination soar. When Johnny went off on one of his flights of fancy, Roy would feel decidedly staid and earth-bound for his imagination did not fly like that. Yet he also knew that, for Johnny, his presence allowed his partner those free-flying moments, for he could rely on Roy to be there waiting for him when he fluttered back to earth if his wings failed him.
“Why hasn’t Cap come in to see me?” Johnny asked plaintively. “Is he all right?”
“He seems to be all right,” Roy replied. “He’s quieter than usual, keeps to the office a bit more. He hasn’t spoken to me much at all,” he admitted. “I’m a bit worried about him.”
“What does Mike say?” Johnny asked. Whenever the engineer had been in, the others had also been there and Johnny didn’t want to ask Mike questions in front of Chet, but his boss’s silence was worrying him.
“Nothing, as usual,” Roy admitted. “I haven’t had the chance to get him alone, but we all know something is up. Chet is even behaving.”
“Wow, that is serious,” Johnny agreed and by mutual non-spoken agreement, they changed the subject.
But neither of them stopped worrying.
Three days later, the door to Johnny’s hospital room opened. He looked up expectantly. Over the last 13 days, he had become less reliant on the pain medication and consequently slept less and was bored more. He was devouring novels at a great rate, watching hours of TV and was hooked on several soaps, after years of scoffing at them. He was told that he was healing well, but he was still facing more weeks in the fixator. In the meantime, he had his special mattress that seemed to be working to prevent bed sores, the physical therapists came and did passive range of motion exercises with him, which hurt like the dickens but were keeping his muscles from atrophying. Things were going quite well – except Johnny still had not seen Cap and worry was eating him alive. Was it something he had done that was stopping Cap coming? The others had reported that Cap was still quiet, but beginning to come around. That just made Johnny even more anxious.
So as the door to his room opened, he dragged his eyes up from the novel he was reading and waited to see which department was coming to torture him now. Were the nurses coming to examine his butt again? Was the physical therapist really due back this soon, or had they forgotten to introduce him to some new exercise that was vitally important to his well-being? He was a bit tired that afternoon, but couldn’t manage to drop off to sleep when he wanted to. His head nodded over his book, but the moment he tried to sleep, his eyes stubbornly stayed open. He wasn’t in the mood for another hospital staff member.
But the man who stood sheepishly in the doorway was none of those people. “Hello, John,” he offered quietly.
“Cap!” Johnny was delighted to see him, although anxiety caused his stomach to contract and butterflies to take flight through his gut. What exactly had Cap come to say to him? “Sit down,” Johnny encouraged. He wanted to squirm where he sat, although such a movement was beyond him, but his anxiety was urging him to pace the floor and quelling the urge was difficult.
Slowly, Cap crossed the room and sat diffidently in the plastic chair that Roy swore was designed for aliens, not humans. For a long moment, Cap’s head was bowed, then he looked up. “I’ve been here so many times when you were asleep,” he began. “And my courage let me down and I left before you woke. But I’m here now and I want to apologize for letting you down, John. I should never have sent you up that cliff.”
“Cap, it was an accident!” Johnny protested.
“It’s kind of you to say so,” Cap responded. “But I’ve thought this through and I think I’m going to resign. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a captain.” He gave a grim smile. “I didn’t want you to think it was your fault if you heard it from someone else. It’s my decision.”
“Cap, what happened to me was an accident,” Johnny repeated vehemently. “You can’t resign because of that. If I had thought climbing that cliff was impossible, I would have said so and you can bet your bottom dollar that Roy would have said it before me!” He was speaking the truth. If Roy had thought the climb was impossible, not just difficult, he would have spoken up and they would have had to think of alternative means of getting to the injured man.
“All the same, I’ve decided what I’m going to do,” Cap replied. “I’ll tell the others next shift and turn in my resignation after that. Get well soon, John.” He patted the paramedic gently on his shoulder and left as Johnny was trying to summon the words to convince him to not only stay in the hospital room, but in his job.
Frustration swept over the injured man and he swung his good arm widely, knocking his water jug and glass to the floor, with his book landing in the puddle. He reached for something else to throw, but there was nothing handy and stretching just sent bolts of pain shooting through his pelvis. Johnny wanted to rip the hated fixator from his body and reached down to grab it. The lightest touch was agony, but he might have persisted in trying to rip it off if the nurse had not come in to see what the noise was. She became the unwitting target for Johnny’s rage, grief, guilt and frustration and summoned Dr Brackett, who prescribed a sedative that sent the unhappy patient into a drugged sleep for several hours.
Fighting fires was pretty much all Hank Stanley had known for the majority of his married life. The thought of giving it all up caused him immense pain. He had always prided himself on his quick decisions, his concern for his men’s lives and his ability to sum up a situation at a glance. That was why he couldn’t forgive himself for this lapse that had possibly cost one man his career. It seemed there was no alternative but to give up before he actually killed someone.
He had thought talking to John would relieve his mind, but it hadn’t. Thoughts crowded in from all sides, pushing at him, threatening to distract him from the task at hand – driving back home to tell his wife that he was shortly going to be unemployed and he had no idea what kind of job he should apply for, or even if he would succeed in getting another job of any description. He wasn’t over the hill by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t as young as he once was either. His future, which had always seemed pretty secure, suddenly looked as bleak as a desert.
Forcing the thoughts away, Hank concentrated on his driving. He was a good driver and took pride in that fact. He had loved driving an engine and often envied Mike Stoker that task. There was something thrilling about driving that big rig with the sirens on. He gave a rueful smile. But how could he deny Mike that pleasure?
The lights up ahead were changing from green to amber. Hank slowed his speed, putting his foot lightly on the brake. He wasn’t going to make those lights before they turned red and he was in no way an ‘amber gambler’. He had attended too many accidents to risk that.
Unfortunately for Hank, the driver behind did not have the same idea. He gunned his heavy pick-up truck to beat the lights and ploughed right into the back of Hank’s much lighter-weight car. Hank’s car shot forward into the intersection.
It was the last thing Hank remembered.
It seemed incredible, but the firefighters who attended the accident did not know Captain Stanley. To them, he was just another unfortunate victim of a traffic accident. They were as kind and considerate as they were to every other victim, but his identity was unknown until he was in the ER. Mike Morton, leaning over his patient, recognized 51’s A shift captain. “Captain Stanley?”
During his extrication and the trip in, Hank had been semi-conscious, responding to pain but not yet to verbal commands. However, he was now feeling the benefits of the fluids he had received and his eyes fluttered open at the sound of his name. “What?” he mumbled, wincing against the pain in his head and the bright lights above him. He had occasionally been a patient during his career and always wondered why they kept the lights aimed at the eyes of the poor unfortunate person on the exam table.
“Can you tell me where it hurts?” Morton asked, although he suspected the question Hank could answer more easily would be ‘can you tell me where it doesn’t hurt?’
“My head,” Stanley mumbled. It was difficult to sort past his headache to feel what the rest of his body was telling him, but he made the effort. “My leg,” he gasped. “My ribs.” He was finding it difficult to catch his breath.
“All right,” Morton replied. “I want you to stay awake for me.”
“Okay,” Stanley agreed, although he wanted nothing more than to sleep, where the pain would not reach him.
Beckoning to the nurse, Morton said, “I need x-ray here, stat. Then I want you to tell Dixie to phone Mrs. Stanley and let her know and also notify the fire department. Get ortho down here, too. If Dr Brackett is available, I want him here. I think he might have a pneumothorax.” He inserted the ends of his stethoscope into his ears and listened to Stanley’s chest once more. Breath sounds were definitely diminished on the left. It also looked as though Stanley had broken his left thigh.
Dr Brackett and x-ray dead-heated in the door, so Brackett gracefully gave them the win. The necessary pictures only took a few minutes, then he and Morton headed back into the room and a few moments later, Brackett was injecting local anesthetic into Hank’s side in preparation for the chest tube.
Insertion of the tube was never nice, despite being numbed up, for the drugs did not remove the feeling of pressure, but the relief when the tube was in place was worth the discomfort, Hank decided. He was still in a lot of pain, but feeling more with it every minute. His x-ray pictures arrived quickly, and he was finally given a shot for pain.
“Hank?” Brackett was leaning over him.
“Yeah,” Hank responded, squinting against the light. By then, he had sorted out that he was wearing a cervical collar and was strapped to a backboard and was beginning to feel really frightened.
“Glad to see you’re with us,” Brackett smiled. “Hank, you’ve got a broken leg, broken ribs and a severe concussion. I’m afraid you’re going to be with us for a while, because you’re going to need your leg reduced in surgery.”
It took several moments for the words to really sink in and the fear he felt increased. “Is my … career… over?” he asked, forgetting that he had been going to resign.
“I can’t say for certain,” Brackett replied. “But the break is not as severe as it might be. We’ll stabilize your ribs, too. You’re going to be off work for quite a while, I’m afraid.”
“Oh.” It seemed fitting that he should end his career like this – he wondered if Johnny was feeling the same amount of fear that he was and guessed the answer was yes.
“Your wife will be here soon,” Brackett comforted. “Meanwhile, let’s get you off that backboard. You’ll be going to theatre shortly.” He hoped Mrs. Stanley would arrive quickly, as Hank could not wait more than about 10 or 15 minutes more. There was a serious risk of blood loss with a broken thigh.
Fortunately, Mrs. Stanley did arrive just before they had to head up to the OR. She was calm while talking to her husband, but burst into floods of tears as he was rolled away. Dixie took her to the doctor’s lounge and made her drink some strong, sweet, coffee and after a while, she calmed down.
“He’d just been here visiting John,” Mrs. Stanley sighed over her cup. “Does anyone know what happened?” She had been watching her husband since Johnny’s accident and knew that he was blaming himself. She hoped and prayed that he hadn’t deliberately driven into that intersection. She didn’t think he would do so, but…
“From what the paramedics learned from the police at the scene,” Dixie replied, “he was hit from behind by a much heavier vehicle and pushed into the intersection. He wasn’t to blame at all.” She didn’t tell Mrs. Stanley that the driver who had hit Hank had also been brought into Rampart, less badly injured and blaming Hank for braking at a changing light. Who could fathom that one? The cop who had accompanied him, for he was under arrest, looked utterly disgusted at such unbelievable thinking. The worst thing was it wasn’t entirely unusual.
Mike Stoker was the first to arrive from 51’s crew. Chief Houts had been there for a while by then. Roy was next to arrive followed shortly afterwards by Marco and Chet. The only one of the crew who did not know about the accident was Johnny and Brackett had advised them not to tell him until they had to. He would only stress out at being unable to join them in their vigil and that would do his own recovery no favors.
“Roy! I didn’t expect to see you today,” Johnny cried as his partner came into the room. Roy had had long-standing plans for that day, and Johnny had insisted he had kept them. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m not pleased to see you, ‘cos I am.” Even as the happy words gushed out, Johnny became aware that Roy was looking unusually somber. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Cap,” Roy replied.
“He was only here a couple of hours ago,” Johnny countered quickly, not wanting to hear what he feared Roy was going to say. “He…” He was unable to go on.
“He had an accident on his way home,” Roy went on and Johnny’s gut contracted.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Johnny asked dully.
“No!” Roy cried. “No! He’s just come through surgery for a broken thigh. He’s going to be all right, Johnny, he is.” He hurried over to stand close to his partner. “Johnny, he’s going to be all right.”
“Surgery,” Johnny echoed. “Why didn’t you tell me before this?”
“Dr Brackett wouldn’t let us, because he didn’t want you getting upset.” Roy sat down. “We were downstairs with Mrs. Stanley and we didn’t want you alone up here worrying. That wouldn’t have done you any good.”
“But I can worry now, huh?” Johnny commented cynically. “When I’m still not going to be able to see him!” Of all the awful indignities that Johnny had had to endure since breaking his pelvis, this one suddenly seemed like the worst of all. A broken thigh was a serious, life-threatening condition. Cap was going to be laid up for a long time. Johnny wouldn’t be able to go and see him and Cap wouldn’t be able to visit Johnny. What chance would he have of talking the Cap out of resigning now?
“Dr Brackett decided to keep the number of firefighters in the building to one place,” Roy replied cryptically.
“What?” Johnny was so busy thinking about what he couldn’t do that he didn’t understand Roy’s comment. “What are you talking about, Roy?”
“Cap,” Roy explained. “He’s going to be your roomie.”
Suddenly, things didn’t seem so bleak.
It was a long, impatient wait of a few hours before Cap was moved from Recovery into the same room as Johnny. By then, all of A shift had moved to Johnny’s room and Mrs. Stanley had come with them. She fussed and cooed over Johnny, which he lapped up, even as he wondered at her kindness in thinking of him when her husband had had surgery.
It was clear that Hank was still quite groggy and out of it. Johnny could sympathize with that, as he had real problems shaking off anesthesia. He always seemed to sleep for hours afterwards, if the nurses would let him. Quite often, they had to waken him regularly, as he often had a concussion, too, or that’s how it seemed to him. On the rare occasions he didn’t have to be wakened regularly, he seemed to recover more easily when he was allowed to sleep it off, which meant less vomiting and less distress. He knew which scenario he preferred.
Apart from the rods in his leg, Hank looked not too bad. His face was rather bruised and he was pale and he had a line of stitches across his forehead. Dr Brackett and the nurses supervised his transfer to the bed and once he was settled and Mrs. Stanley was seated at his side, holding his hand through the railing, the others took their leave to allow them some privacy.
Instantly, Johnny felt embarrassed. The nurses hadn’t pulled the privacy curtain between the beds and Johnny did not want to be a witness to anything Mrs. Stanley might do or say that was private. He grabbed up the nearest book and desperately buried his head in it. He tried to keep his attention on the words, but every now and then would sneak a peek at the couple on the other side of the room.
Luckily, Mrs. Stanley was too busy trying to hold on to her shredding composure to worry about Johnny and what he might be thinking. She kept her grip on Hank’s hand, her thumb stroking little circles on the back of it, but she didn’t trust her voice to speak for fear of breaking down into wild sobbing and she also didn’t want to disturb Hank. With a head injury, she knew he would be getting precious little time to rest for the first 24 hours.
It was very odd to look across and see his captain in the next bed. Mrs. Stanley had gone home at the end of visiting hours. The nurses had come in regularly to waken Cap and he had responded to them enough to make them go away and promptly gone back to sleep. Johnny had never seen Cap in the hospital before and it was rather uncomfortable to see him there now. Although Johnny knew, of course, that Cap was a human being just like the rest of them, he still held the older man in a good deal of awe and a huge amount of respect.
For the last 13 days, Johnny had been worrying about his chances of getting back to work as a paramedic. Now he found himself worrying about what on earth he could say to Cap when the other man woke up. He could sympathize with his predicament, for Johnny had broken his leg about a year after Hank joined the station and could remember how awful it had been to be in traction. He supposed comparing traction torture might keep them talking for about 10 minutes.
Once more, Johnny tried to lose himself in his book, but he wasn’t able to concentrate. He really wanted to get up out of bed, cross the few steps between the beds and check Hank’s condition for himself. He felt really quite agitated and put it down to stress. After all, it wasn’t every day that your boss landed up in hospital in the same room as you!
He was quite pleased to see Dr Brackett arriving. “Aren’t you here awful late, Doc?” he asked, knowing that Brackett had been on duty when Hank had first been brought in.
Smiling wryly, Brackett nodded. “It’s one of the joys of being in charge,” he replied. “I get to cover shifts when others call in sick.” He looked at Johnny. The lights had been turned down for the night a while ago, yet in the dim lighting of the room, Johnny looked wide awake. “Why are you still up?” he asked.
“Dunno, really,” Johnny replied, glancing over at Hank once more. “Guess I’m worried about Cap. I just can’t seem to settle.”
Taking that news in, Brackett nodded. He walked over to Hank first and woke him, giving him a quick check over, seeing that he was quicker to orient himself and just as quick to fall back to sleep. He was still on substantial doses of painkillers. Satisfied that Hank was all right, Brackett crossed over to Johnny.
“He’ll be fine, you know,” he remarked as he took Johnny’s wrist. Johnny’s pulse was quick and hard, his skin hot and dry. “Like you, it’ll just take time.” He smiled as he picked up Johnny’s chart. At the last vitals check, the nurse hadn’t reported anything unusual. However, Brackett was definitely picking up signs of a fever and he wondered what he could be. “Johnny, how are you feeling? Apart from the fact you can’t settle.”
“I dunno,” Johnny admitted. “A bit achy and out of sorts and … I dunno.” He leaned back against the pillow and sighed. “Am I sick?”
“You could be,” Brackett agreed. “I’m going to get you something for that fever you have and order a few tests.” He had a sudden thought. “How are you getting on without the Foley?” He had ordered that the Foley be pulled sometime that day to give Johnny a bit more normality and because an in-dwelling catheter had more chance of causing an infection. It also allowed them to make sure that the pelvic fractures had not affected the sensitivity of the bladder.
“Without?” Johnny queried. “Doc, it’s still there.” He said it in a martyred tone, for he hated being catheterized. Now that it was mentioned, he did feel an increased burning sensation between his legs and told Brackett so.
Biting back his anger, Brackett looked at the bag of urine. It was unusually dark and he suspected at once that he had found the source of the infection. He knew that many of the nurses preferred to have the patients catheterized all the time, as it was less work for them to empty the bags periodically, rather than have to go to the patient when they needed to pee. It had, long ago, even been standard procedure to catheterize regardless of need, but he and many of his colleagues had fought against that and he had thought it had been eliminated in the hospital.
“Johnny, I’m going to get this catheter pulled and fresh one put in for just another day or two,” he told his friend. “I’m going to put you back on IV fluids and push them through quickly.”
“I’ve got a UTI?” Johnny asked incredulously.
“It looks like it,” Brackett agreed. “I’m also going to hang some IV antibiotics to try and get on top of this right away.”
“Oh, man,” Johnny complained unhappily. He had only got rid of the IV port a few days ago, and now he needed another one.
Giving a sympathetic smile, Brackett went off to find a nurse and get the supplies he needed. They were soon back and Johnny gritted his teeth as the Foley was pulled, then a fresh one reinserted. It hurt. It hurt a lot. The urge to squirm away from the discomfort was overwhelming, but he had learned over the last 13 days that moving was a really, really, bad idea.
Before too long, he was hooked up to IV fluids, which were soon flooding into his vein at a high rate. Shortly after that, a broad spectrum antibiotic was piggybacked in and he was given a pain shot, something for his fever and a mild sedative to help him get off to sleep.
As he drifted away, finally, he reflected there was something in 13 being unlucky for some.
Someone was being awfully noisy, Hank Stanley thought as a clatter woke him. He opened his eyes to bark at Kelly for being a klutz, but was startled to see a nurse there, plonking a tray down on an over-bed table. What the hell? he thought. A nurse? Why am I…ouch!!!!
Actually, ouch was not the first word that sprang to his mind, but since it escaped from his control, he was quite pleased that he managed to subvert it to a simple ‘ouch’. The nurse gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’ll be back shortly with your medication,” she promised. “I’ve just got a few more trays to give out.” She hurried out of the door.
“Don’t try to sit up,” advised a familiar voice from beside him. “Use the bed controls and do it slowly.”
Blinking in confusion at Johnny, for he still hadn’t quite remembered what had happened to him, Cap fumbled for the bed controls, biting back a curse at the tangle of IV tubing, and slowly sat up a bit.
He was glad of John’s advice, for sitting up hurt. He looked down at his leg, which hurt the most, and saw that he was in traction. “Oh no,” he mumbled. “I’d hoped it was all a bad dream.”
“I know that feeling,” Johnny agreed – with feeling. He had wakened feeling truly awful and the smell of his breakfast was enough to put him off tasting it. He wondered how long it would be before Brackett was up here berating him if he didn’t eat anything. Not long, he suspected, even if they had to contact him at home.
The harried nurse dashed back into the room, injected something into Hank’s IV port and dashed back out. Hank was rather bemused, but after a moment, he realized that the pain level was diminishing. He pulled the tray towards him and started to eat.
He was almost half was through his when he came to the realization that there was none of the usual noisy chewing he associated with Johnny Gage. Turning his head, Hank regarded his youngest paramedic, who was sitting half-propped up, gloomily contemplating the contents of his tray. “Aren’t you going to eat any of that?” he asked, after swallowing. He still harbored a vague hope that setting Johnny a good example in table manners would work wonders.
“I don’t know,” Johnny admitted. Uncovering the food had been a mistake, he knew. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. If he ate, there was a growing likelihood that he would barf. Barfing in this condition was a bad, bad idea. If he didn’t eat, Brackett would have his head on a platter. It was a toss-up which scenario was scarier. And a third notion had just popped into his head. If he asked the nurse for something for nausea, by the time it was approved and arrived and was administered, the food would be cold and everyone knew that hospital food was best eaten hot – there was marginally less chance of it poisoning you that way and it might even taste of something if you were very lucky. Anyway, there was no way he was eating his breakfast cold, and that would bring the Wrath of Brackett down on his head.
“Why don’t you know?” Stanley asked. “Either you are or you aren’t.” He took a large bite of toast. His breakfast was bland, in keeping with someone who had had a head injury and concussion – oatmeal and toast. Johnny had bacon and scrambled egg and it smelt good to Hank.
“I’m not,” Johnny stated and dropped the lid back down over the meal. The scrambled eggs had been the decider. He loved eggs in all shapes and forms – he especially loved fried eggs with runny yokes – but the scrambled eggs looked as though they would be no fun whichever way they went, down or back up. He pushed the tray away so the smell receded, too.
“John, you’ve got to eat something,” Cap chided in his command tone. He stared at the mutinous face that turned towards him and winced. He’d forgotten for a moment that he wasn’t Johnny’s captain any more.
Sighing, Johnny broke the eye contact and looked away. He hated disappointing Cap. “I just feel sick,” he complained.
“Why didn’t you say something to the nurse?” Cap asked, exasperated. He pressed the bell to summon her.
“Cos now I’ll get into trouble all around!” Johnny moaned. “The nurse’ll tell Brackett and he’ll be bugged that I didn’t eat and she’ll be bugged I didn’t tell her I wasn’t feeling good and didn’t eat.” He sighed heavily. “Of course, I could eat it and barf it back up and then I’ll get into trouble for not saying I felt sick and I’ll feel worse because barfing ain’t funny with this Mecanno set screwed onto your body.”
Blinking, Hank thought round and about that for a few moments. He thought there might be some logic in there, which scared him, because he thought he might know what Johnny meant. He was quite grateful he didn’t feel sick, although thinking about it had certainly put him off the remnants of his breakfast. “Why are you feeling sick?” he asked. “I thought you told me you are getting better.”
“I thought I was,” Johnny gloomily responded. “But now I seem to have a UTI caused by a catheter and I’m on fluids and antibiotics and between them and the infection, I feel lousy.” He was perilously close to whining, but he was feeling really depressed about the new infection, just when it seemed he might be making some progress.
“Oh,” Hank replied. He wondered if he would have to face similar problems and fervently hoped not. And yet… he didn’t know anything about how badly his leg was broken and it had to be pretty bad to be in traction. And he didn’t know anything about traction either, apart from the fact John had been in traction that time and… “What?” he asked distractedly as John’s voice pierced his self-absorption.
“I asked if you were all right, Cap?” Johnny repeated. “You’ve gone an awfully funny color.” So funny in fact that Johnny was beginning to feel even queasier. What if Cap barfed? He’d likely copy him, feeling as he did right now. In fact, the more he thought of barfing…
The nurse hurried in. Johnny had never seen her move at a normal pace; she was always hurrying. “Yes?” she asked.
“I feel sick,” Johnny replied mordantly.
“Me, too,” Cap agreed, pushing away the revolting remains of his breakfast. Had he really thought it tasted nice?
It was quite stunning the speed the nurse could move at when faced with the prospect of two bed-ridden patients threatening to puke. She snatched up emesis basins and thrust them at the men, standing in between the beds, poised on the balls of her feet, ready to assist whichever one required her assistance first. She also summoned help. “MARGIE!!!” she bellowed at the top of her not inconsiderable lungs.
That was the clincher. The sound awakened Cap’s so-far dormant headache and he let go. The nurse, Linda, turned to him, but the moment her back was turned, she heard Johnny following his captain’s lead.
Where the hell was Margie?
When the crew of 51 arrived that afternoon, they were mildly dreading the visit. Was Cap still going to be sane after being trapped in a room with Johnny and no hope of escape? Cap’s patience was legendary, but it still had its limits, as Chet could attest.
They weren’t expecting to come in and find both men looking exceptionally pale and wan and Mrs. Stanley hovering helplessly between the two of them. “Come in,” she beckoned, welcoming the respite of company that wasn’t feeling desperately sorry for itself. “Thank goodness you’re here!” she exclaimed. “I am just dying for a cup of coffee.” She dropped a perfunctory kiss on Hank’s head and headed out of the door.
Slightly taken aback, both by the appearance of their colleagues and Mrs. Stanley’s behavior, the men entered and watched her leave. They exchanged glances, none of them quite sure what to say. It was Chet who said it in the end – of course. “What’s the matter with you two?” he asked. “Here you are, waited on hand and foot by pretty nurses and you both look as miserable as sin.”
“Shut up, Chet,” Johnny and Cap chorused.
When Johnny was in that kind of mood, Roy knew he wouldn’t get a straight answer out of him without knowing all the facts first. So he helped himself to Johnny’s chart and read it, replaced it and did the same with Cap’s. The other men just waited, knowing he would enlighten them.
“So you’ve got another infection,” Roy told Johnny. “And no doubt you think your career is over and you’ll never get over this and it’s all your own fault anyway.” His stunned partner blinked at this lack of sympathy. Roy turned to Cap. “And you’re suffering from a normal reaction to a concussion and no doubt thinking that your career is over and Johnny being laid up here with another infection is entirely your fault. Correct?” His tone would have cut through steel. Cap blinked.
“I suppose so,” Johnny mumbled. He hated when Roy saw right through him.
“From the looks of your chart, the antibiotics are working already,” Roy informed him. “So stop being such a martyr. I know you were sick this morning and that it hurts like hell, but according to the chart, you’re getting something for that and should be able to eat something light for your evening meal.”
“According to Brackett, I’d better eat something,” Johnny muttered, still feeling the sting of the physician’s tongue from earlier.
“Good!” Roy declared. He swung round to face Cap again. “I see from your chart that you were sick, too. It happens with a concussion and apparently your symptoms are dying down already. You should be able to eat lightly tomorrow. I don’t doubt Dr Brackett chewed you out, too, and the nurses, I expect, but it still wasn’t your fault that Johnny had an accident and it wasn’t your fault that you had a car accident and it wasn’t some sort of punishment.”
Wow! You could have heard a pin drop in that room. Cap was gazing at Roy with an open mouth. Mike, Marco and Chet were looking anywhere but at each other. Johnny made a sound that suggested he was choking, but nobody looked to make sure his airway was clear. None of them had ever heard Roy speaking that way.
The silence seemed to stretch into infinity, but in reality, it probably only lasted seconds. Then Cap’s mouth snapped audibly shut. How had Roy read his thoughts like that? Had he been talking in his sleep and Gage had somehow overheard and reported it?
Now that he had their attention, Roy softened his stance. “I can only imagine how miserable it must have been for you both,” he admitted. “Johnny your temperature is completely normal with the medication and only rises a tiny bit when you’re due more. Cap, you’ve been in a funk since Johnny’s accident, but perhaps now you’ll realize that it wasn’t anything you said or did that caused it. Accidents happen.” He gestured to Cap’s leg. “Your injury is going to keep you out for a good while, but it’s not career threatening. Johnny has a long road back, too, but at least now you can encourage one another.” He looked between them and saw that they had been serious more than long enough. Both men had something to think about. It was time to lighten the moment. “And at least when Johnny bitches to you about the physical therapist, you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about,” he offered. After a moment, Cap laughed.
“I guess you’re right,” he admitted, although right about exactly what was anyone’s guess. Still, it was enough to allow normal talk to break out, although Cap and Johnny were still slightly quieter than usual.
When Mrs. Stanley returned, she wondered how on earth the men had managed to improve the atmosphere so much.
By next morning, both Johnny and Cap were feeling a bit better. Johnny was thrilled when Brackett came and removed the Foley and even more thrilled when he discovered that his bladder sensitivity seemed to be as good as ever. He reflected wryly that he had never thought peeing into a bottle in bed while lying half on his back with a broken pelvis could be a positive thing. How wrong could he be?
There hadn’t been much in the way of conversation. Cap was still on pretty strong painkillers and tended to fall asleep easily. Johnny tried to be quiet and concentrate on reading his book, but he really wanted to ask Cap if he was honestly going to resign. The question had been bugging him since Cap had visited a couple of days before. With his captain as a captive audience, Johnny had thought he would be able to speak to him about it quite easily, but was finding reality completely different. For a start, Cap was in the early days of recovery from a broken leg and a concussion. While his memory seemed to be perfectly intact, apart from the accident that had landed him in hospital, Johnny didn’t want to tackle him about it only to find that Cap didn’t remember the conversation and was still set on resigning. Yet his own impatience made him want to come right out and demand an answer, so he could start talking Cap into staying. It was a thorny dilemma.
It didn’t improve over the next few days, either. Cap was making a good recovery from the concussion, staying awake more as his painkillers were reduced and even willing to indulge in conversation on occasion. But Johnny still wasn’t able to bring up the topic that was consuming his mind more and more with each passing hour and day.
They had been rooming together for about a week when Cap heaved a big sigh. “All right, Gage,” he ordered, “spit it out!”
“What?” Johnny asked nervously, for he sensed the time had come for the ‘talk’ he had wanted now for a long time. He wasn’t so sure why he had wanted it now.
“Whatever it is that’s on your mind, making you sigh every ten seconds and glance at me out from under your hair.” Cap crossed his arms. “You’re driving me nuts, so let’s just get whatever it is out in the open, shall we? That way, maybe you’ll give me some peace.”
As was often the case when he was put on the spot, Johnny’s well-rehearsed words vanished from his mind and he was unable to put a coherent sentence together for a moment. “Well, you see… it’s kinda… um …”
“Spit it out,” Stanley ordered once more.
“Are you gonna resign, Cap?” Johnny demanded.
There was a long silence and Johnny wished he’d kept his mouth shut, quite forgetting it wasn’t anything he had said that had alerted Cap to Johnny’s desire to speak, but rather his actions. The sighing was the least of it. The looks he had been shooting at Cap when he assumed the older man was sleeping, or reading, or watching TV were only too obvious to his commanding officer, who was accustomed to Gage’s body language. There was also the almost-squirming he had been doing – for actual squirming was still beyond him – that had accompanied the looking. It all signaled to Stanley that Gage had something on his mind and it was driving him up the wall with frustration and it concerned his boss.
There was a long sigh. “Right now, I dunno,” Cap replied honestly. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back. It will depend on how well my leg heals.”
“I know that one,” Gage agreed in a melancholy voice. He was assured that his pelvis was healing beautifully and faster than expected, but that was no comfort at the moment. He had months of rehab ahead of him while he learned to walk again.
There was silence again for a while as both men thought gloomy thoughts. Then Cap stirred. “But do you know what?” he asked.
“What?” Johnny replied, although he knew it was a rhetorical question.
“I’ve just realized that I really want to get back to work,” Cap replied, his tone revealing his own surprise at the revelation. “Now that I’m not there, I can see a bit what my life would be like without it and I don’t want to have to live that life right now. I want to get back to work, back to being a fire captain, maybe moving on to be a chief one day – who knows? But right now, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I’ll be back at 51 as soon as I possibly can be.”
Listening, Johnny was awed at Cap’s determination. He himself was going through a period where he felt like he would never be able to go back to work. He had recently begun passive motion exercises on his cast arm and it sometimes hurt so badly it was all he could do not to punch out his therapist. Cap’s presence had moderated his behavior and the therapist was finding him more cooperative than she had been led to believe he would be.
“John? What do you say?” Cap was looking at him expectantly and Johnny realized he had missed something.
“Say to what?” he ventured.
“To us working together to make sure we both get back to work. I’ll encourage you and you encourage me.” Cap had found Johnny’s intimate knowledge of hospital life very useful. “What do you say?”
To know that Cap was not thinking of resigning was balm in and of itself. Johnny knew he had a hard road ahead of him, but so had Cap. A lot of the things that one did, the other would have to do something similar, too. Even having congenial company had made this hospital stay easier for Johnny. He looked over at Cap and smiled.
It was seldom that easy. Both men were frustrated at being cooped up and boredom often ruled the room. Cap couldn’t abide soap operas and although Johnny claimed he wasn’t that keen on them, he had been quietly getting hooked. Cap also had no patience for the endless cartoons that Johnny seemed to watch first thing in the morning and there wasn’t a 24 hour news station, which would have suited Cap down to the ground. Johnny didn’t want to read the books Cap’s wife kindly brought in and Cap didn’t want to read the majority of the books Johnny was devouring. They bickered.
They bickered in a good natured way for the most part, but they still bickered, on and on, endlessly. It made for short visits from their friends because it was boring to listen to them. Although Johnny had had much more practice at it than Cap, it was still difficult for them to listen to their shift mates talking about the fires and rescues they had been involved in. Cap in particular was learning how difficult it was to hear about someone else commanding his men. While he knew that, in theory, all the captains in the department were competent, they all knew that some captains were less competent than others. So far, 51 had not had any of those men subbing at the station, and he fervently hoped that if they did, he wouldn’t hear about it until afterwards, when he knew all his men were safe.
Worrying about his men was one thing when he was right there on scene and could do things that would help keep them safe, or go to their rescue should things go wrong. That kind of worry was slightly alleviated by action and adrenalin. Lying in a hospital bed worrying when they were on shift was very debilitating and Cap was beginning to sink into one of the periods of mild depression that often struck patients who were accustomed to being active and were then suddenly rendered inactive. In an effort to occupy his mind, Mrs. Stanley suggested he should look at the material for the chief’s exam, getting a head start on some studying for when the time came that he wanted to become a chief.
It turned out to be a good move. Johnny was interested in it, too, and they spent hours talking about how it differed from the captain’s exam and the paramedic’s exams and the rescue training. Johnny had no great desire to become an engineer. He had great respect for the men who looked after the engines, for without them, firefighters would be reduced to fighting fires with buckets, but he was far too much action-oriented to want to stand by the engine all the time.
“If you want to become a captain, you’ll need to study the working of the engine and become competent in that,” Cap reminded his paramedic during one discussion.
“Oh I know that,” Johnny agreed. “I just don’t want to be an engineer all the time, like Mike. He’s really great at what he does, but that’s not for me. Too tame.”
“Captains don’t rush into burning buildings all that often,” Cap reminded him.
“No, but you’re organizing everything,” Johnny replied. “You get your rush making sure that everything is thought of, that the men are in the right place, that everyone has the gear they need and that nobody gets hurt if it’s possible to avoid it.”
There was a long silence. Johnny looked at Cap, a growing apprehension in his stomach. They had avoided talking about the accidents that had placed them there in that room together and Johnny suddenly felt as if the elephant they had shoved into the cupboard had just burst out and was sprawled on the floor. He hadn’t meant to bring the subject up. He was well aware that it was taboo. For a moment, he wondered if he was going to be sick. “Cap…” he ventured softly, not sure what he was going to say.
“I knew you blamed me,” Cap interrupted, his voice quiet and the animation fleeing from his face. “I can’t fault you for that.”
“I don’t blame you!” Johnny cried passionately. “Cap, accidents happen! Look at what happened to you! Was that your fault? No – it was the idiot driving behind you. You had no control over the situation.” Johnny paused to take a breath and gather his thoughts. He knew that if he didn’t find the right words this time, Cap might well follow through on his original threat and resign, his feelings to the contrary lately notwithstanding. He realized that Cap had buried his feelings, not acknowledged them.
“Cap, I was doing a free climb up a rock face. I know you’ve never climbed seriously, so let me tell you about free climbs. They are the most risky types of climbs. They are also the highest adrenalin rush, because they are so risky. You aren’t tied off to anything that can stop you falling. In a normal climb, you pause every so often and hammer a piton into the face and tie off to it, so if anything happens, you can only fall so far. In free climbing, that isn’t the case. You know that you could fall to your death at any moment.” He paused again and looked at Cap. He appeared to be listening.
“I’ve done a lot of free climbing, before I joined the department. I was a stupid, snot-nosed kid who took too many risks,” he admitted. “You’re probably thinking nothing’s changed,” he added wryly. “And I had some falls. What made this one different is the position I was in when the handhold failed. I probably wouldn’t have fallen as far and been as badly hurt if I hadn’t bounced off the first ledge. I hit the edge and it just bounced me right over. After all, apart from cuts and bruises, Roy was all right. That was partly because I pulled him over, rather than him falling from a height, but also because he didn’t bounce. I think the bounce, and the landing from the bounce, did all the damage.” He sighed regretfully. “It would have been one hell of a good climb if I’d managed it,” he mused.
It was true; Cap had never done any climbing that involved rocks. He had never had to, because before 51, he had always been stationed in the city, as opposed to the outskirts where he was now. As Captain, he was seldom required to climb. He had never felt the exhilaration that Johnny and Roy both experienced when climbing and although he knew it was risky doing a free climb, he had never quite appreciated the full risks. “Were you afraid?” he asked.
For a moment, Johnny thought about that. “Let me ask you a question,” he proposed. “Are you afraid when you send us into burning buildings?”
At once, Cap could see what Johnny was getting at. “Yes and no,” he admitted. “I know I have to do it, so the fear is under control and not really admitted. If I did admit to it, I couldn’t do this job.” He shivered. “I think about it after it’s all over.”
“Climbing is like that,” Johnny agreed. “Rescue work is like that. Part of it is training, of course, but you learn to control your fear, not let your fear control you. We weren’t afraid to climb that cliff, Cap.”
“But those looks you gave me…” Cap murmured, still horrified by his words as they left him.
“We didn’t realize that you worried about us that much,” Johnny admitted. “That was all. Just like when I told Roy half way up that if he was leading and fell I wouldn’t be able to hold him, I didn’t mean that I thought we’d fall. I was just letting him know it was all right to let me go if something did happen. I was absolving him from guilt.”
“Did it work?” Cap asked, a twinkle in his eye and amusement in his voice. They both knew what Roy was like for feeling guilty!
“From the scuttlebutt I heard,” Johnny reported in a confidential tone, “Dr Brackett chewed him out big time at the nurses’ station downstairs.” He smiled as Cap laughed aloud. “Cap, if my handhold hadn’t broken away, we’d have made that climb, easy-peasy.”
“Hardly easy-peasy,” Cap countered. But he was beginning to believe what Johnny had told him and his spirit was a lot lighter.
“Of course it was easy-peasy,” Johnny objected. “This is me talking – 51’s mountain goat!” He smiled. “Maybe then we’d have deserved those commendations.” He was referring to the commendations he and Roy had received for bravery above and beyond the call of duty – on a run neither of them could remember nor find in the logs. It turned out it was a typing error and they should have been given to men at station 15.
“That would have been above and beyond – definitely,” Cap declared. He smiled. “Thanks, John. Thanks for putting my mind at rest.”
“All in a day’s service,” Johnny joked, relieved that the elephant had just walked out of the door.
They healed together over the months that followed. Cap returned to work sooner than Johnny, his therapy taking less time, given that his injury was less severe. Johnny suffered quite a bit of pain as he painstakingly learned to walk again, for the muscles in his pelvis had been badly damaged and the enforced rest needed to heal the bones hadn’t done the muscles any good. However, eight months after the accident, Johnny walked back into Station 51 a whole man again.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t visited the station during his recuperation, because he had, several times. But this time was different; he was returning to the job he loved.
They were all waiting for him. There was a cake and C shift stayed to celebrate his return, too. It was like coming home. He changed quickly into his uniform after they had all had a slice of cake and cup of coffee and smiled at Roy as he tapped Smokey’s nose on his poster, his good luck charm. They headed out into the bay for roll call and the start of their shift.
They had hardly lined up when the tones went off. “Station 51…”
They ran for their vehicles as Cap acknowledged the call. “Station 51 KMG 365.” He handed the slip of paper to Roy, who handed if off to Johnny and Cap winked at him.
All was right in the world.
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