Synopsis: A tight-space rescue take a dangerous turn.
Genre: Action / Drama
Word Count: 10,104
It had been a long morning already and lunch was still some time away. A shower of rain at the start of rush hour had caused total chaos on the 405, reducing the heavy traffic to a standstill as the firefighters worked to clear the resulting collisions. There had been several victims and some fatalities. For paramedic John Gage, it was a busy start to his regular shift after completing overtime at 16s.
“You okay?” Roy DeSoto asked, for the umpteenth time.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Johnny answered impatiently. Physically, he was fine. The cut on his hand was minor and hadn’t required stitches. Dixie had put a dressing on it and warned him to keep an eye on it, but that was it. But Johnny knew what Roy was really asking. He had been the one travelling in with a seriously injured child who had gone sour. Despite all that Johnny could do, the child had been declared dead on arrival at Rampart. Johnny was heart-sick and didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m fine,” he repeated, for good measure. It seemed an insult that the sun was now shining brightly.
“Okay,” Roy replied, but his tone told Johnny that he wasn’t convinced by the assurances and would be keeping a close eye on the younger man. Roy thought that the dark circles under Johnny’s eyes, caused by a busy night, had grown darker since they left Rampart. It was illogical, he knew, but that was how he felt.
On his side of the squad, Johnny stifled a sigh. He knew he was tired; he felt even more tired after that last run, but he wasn’t so exhausted that he couldn’t do his job. He just didn’t want to talk about the last run. Eventually, yes, but not right now. He glanced down at the bandage on his hand and a memory surfaced of another bandage on that hand after he caught it on a nail, chasing a purse-snatcher. This bandage was more discreet. Johnny leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment.
The squad had backed into the station, but it hadn’t stopped moving when the tones went off. “Station 51, woman down, St Andrews Church, West Street. Time out 11.55.”
“KMG 365,” Captain Stanley acknowledged as he scribbled the address on a piece of paper. He passed a copy through the window to Roy and then crossed in front of the squad to get into the engine.
“A church,” Johnny mused. “Is this a normal time for a service?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Roy replied.
“Gee, I hope it’s not someone fainted at a funeral,” Johnny went on, mentally psyching himself up for the run. “Take the next left, Roy. That would be horrible – the minister trying to get on with the service and us coming barging in.”
“We’ll find out when we get there,” Roy replied. He could see the church just up ahead and pulled into the long curving drive. It was almost devoid of other cars, which ruled out a funeral. He had to admit he was glad of that. Like Johnny, he thought it would be very uncomfortable to have to treat someone during a service.
As they gathered their gear from the squad, Cap joined them. “Might as well see what the situation is before we all come in,” he opined and the others nodded. He grabbed the oxygen from Roy and led the way through the impressive double doors of the church.
The interior was cool and shadowy after the brightness outside and they looked around the foyer for a moment letting their eyes adjust before spotting the door that they assumed led into the sanctuary. Again, Cap led the way and as they entered the church, a young woman looked up and waved. “Hurry!” she called. “Over here.” She pointed to the side of the church behind the pulpit and disappeared from sight.
Confused, but expecting all to become obvious as they drew nearer, they hurried down the central aisle and headed to the side – and stopped. There was no apparent sign of anyone. “Hello?” Stanley called.
The girl’s head popped out of a space that they hadn’t noticed. “In here!” she urged and vanished again.
Putting everything down, Johnny went over to the space and discovered that it led in behind the organ pipes. The open door was camouflaged by the paneling and led into what at first sight appeared to simply be darkness. Taking another step closer, Johnny realized that the girl had gone amongst the organ pipes themselves. There was a light further in, but it didn’t give much in the way of illumination. “It’s gonna be a pretty tight fit,” Johnny told his colleagues. “I’ll go in and see what we’ve got.” He took his helmet off and handed it to Roy.
It was a tight fit. Johnny wove his way over and under pipes. The whole area was dusty and dirty and cobwebby. He wondered what on earth someone was doing back there. Cleaning? It didn’t seem likely.
At last, he reached the girl’s side and saw at once what the problem was. An older woman was lying on the ground between the pipes and various large pieces of wood that presumably made up the innards of the organ. She had clearly fallen some distance, but the thing that concerned Johnny most was the large brass … thing… that protruded from her right thigh.
Immediately, Johnny dropped down beside her. “My name’s Johnny,” he told her. “I’m a paramedic. What happened here?” As he spoke, he felt for her pulse.
“I’m Karen, and I was cone tuning the reeds and I was stretching for the smallest one, and I lost my footing.” The woman was pale, not surprisingly. Johnny hadn’t the faintest idea what she had just said, but it seemed lucid enough.
“How far did you fall?” he asked, hoping that this time he would understand what she said to him.
“From up there,” she responded, wincing as she pointed upwards. “You can see my tools are still there.” Squinting, Johnny could just about make out something lying on a beam about 6 feet or so above them.
“Where do you hurt, Karen?” Johnny asked.
“My back is sore and my right arm and my leg, obviously,” she replied, trying to smile. “I don’t think anything is broken, but I’m sore.”
“All right,” Johnny nodded. “Karen, just try to lie still and I’ll be back in a moment.” He smiled. “We’ll get you fixed up in no time.” He turned and carefully climbed his way back to Roy and Cap, looking at the access as he went. He straightened thankfully as he began to tell them the story.
“She’s fallen about 6 feet and there’s something in her leg,” he began. “She’s lying on her right side and says her back, right arm and leg are sore. Her pulse is fast, but not horrendously so. The biggest problem is going to be access. There’s no direct route to get her out, although it might be possible to relay her on a backboard if we were all in there. There’s very little room. I’ll take the drug box in, Roy, and you can relay to Rampart for me when I’ve got vitals. Once we know what the hospital wants to do, we can see where we go from there.” Johnny looked from Cap to Roy to see their reactions.
“All right,” Cap agreed. “I’ll come and have a look and see what we can do.” He turned away and lifted the HT to his lips. “Mike, can you get the backboard in here?” Johnny vaguely heard the acknowledgement as he climbed back into the pipe space with the drug box.
Kneeling back beside his patient, Johnny took her vital signs, which were quite good, all things considered. He relayed them to Roy and began to feel down her arms and legs. She winced several times, biting her lip as she did so. Johnny thought she might have a fracture in her arm. The biggest problem was going to be the leg. The brass … thing … was piercing the front of her thigh as she lay on her right side. As Johnny felt carefully around it, he realized it was piercing the floor, too.
“Karen, this … thing … in your leg,” he began. “How long is it?”
Craning her neck to look, Karen asked, “Why?”
“I don’t want to alarm you, but it’s stuck in the floor,” Johnny replied. “I need to know how much of it there is that I can’t see under your leg so that we can decide how to get it out.”
“Well, it’s the middle sized coning tool,” Karen said, as though that meant anything to Johnny. She squinted down at her leg again, while Johnny tried to prevent her moving. “It’s just the very tip. I could pull it…”
“No!” Johnny exclaimed, putting his hand on her leg to stop her. “We’ll have to cut…”
“No!” she exclaimed in her turn. “Do you know how much coning tools cost? You’re not cutting it and that’s final!”
“We’d give you something for the pain before we started,” Johnny assured Karen.
“And are you going to pay to replace the tool?” Karen demanded. “I’m telling you, you are not cutting that tool. I don’t care what you say. I’m quite happy to pull my leg up and take the responsibility for what happens.”
“It doesn’t matter if you do or not,” Johnny retorted. “If you pull that out and it’s in your femoral artery, you will die. So you die and I get left carrying the can either way.”
“What’s the hold up, Johnny?” Roy called. He was waiting for Johnny to say he was ready for the hand saw they were going to use to free Karen. Rampart had authorized something for the pain.
“Karen doesn’t want us to cut the tool,” Johnny called back. “Hold on. Karen…”
“Look, I’ll show you. Bring the toolkit down to me and I’ll show you.” Karen put a hand on Johnny’s arm. It was shaking slightly. “Please.” Tears sparkled in her eyes and Johnny realized how close she was to breaking down.
“All right. Hold on.” He patted her hand. “Roy, could you come and sit with Karen for a minute? I’ll explain when you get here.”
“Cap, could you mind the phone?” Roy asked and headed into the labyrinth of pipes and beams.
Quickly, Johnny explained his mission. Roy looked dubiously upwards, but agreed. Anything to get this impasse to an end and get this lady to hospital where she belonged. “Just be careful,” he reminded his partner.
“I’m always careful,” Johnny grinned and stretched up to grab the beam above his head.
The climb would not have been difficult outside in good light. In the murky dimness, however, with the poor lighting from below, it proved quite tricky. Shadows that looked substantial vanished beneath his questing fingers and Johnny was more than glad to arrive at the tiny platform where Karen’s tools lay. They were stored in a pouch and Johnny wrapped it up carefully and tucked it into the front of his shirt before beginning his return journey.
This was even trickier. The light was now in his line of sight when he looked down and he had to rely on feel to get safely from beam to beam. Roy watched him with his heart in his mouth. A few times, he thought Johnny had lost his grip and would come crashing down on top of them. However, his partner arrived dirty and dusty, but all in one piece. He flashed a grin at Roy as he put down the pouch of tools.
“Look,” Karen said, and extracted one of them. It was long and gracefully tapering, with a bulbous end for holding, narrowing down to the pointed tip. They were, as Johnny could attest, solid and heavy. “This one is only fractionally longer.” She held it beside her leg and Johnny at once saw what she meant.
“Roy…” Johnny turned to his partner and saw that Roy was already with him.
“I’ll let Brackett know and then you can go ahead and extract it. Stabilize her leg first, though.”
“Got it,” Johnny nodded and reached for the gauze, packing it carefully around the coning tool to prevent it moving too much. He would wrap the whole area in gauze when the tool was free of the floor.
“Brackett authorizes 5mg MS,” Roy called to him a moment later. “And says be careful.”
“Sheesh, you’d think I was a klutz,” Johnny muttered. Karen laughed. Johnny grinned too and gave her the medication into the IV he had set up previously.
Once the drug had begun to work, Johnny reached cautiously under Karen’s leg and felt for the tip of the tool. It was there, slick with blood and difficult to grasp, as it was so small. The tool was preventing much bleeding from Karen’s leg, but there was still enough to remind Johnny, should he need it, to be careful.
Finally, he had a good grasp and he looked at his patient. “So what do you use these … things…. for?” he asked.
“Tuning the organ!” Karen giggled, and as she laughed, Johnny pulled the tip free.
It required more of a tug than Johnny had anticipated, but Karen had barely time to gasp before he was smoothly wrapping her leg with gauze. “Free!” he called. “I need the backboard and we need to get Karen out of here.”
Getting the backboard in was tricky but doable. The difficulty was going to be in getting it out with Karen on it. Cap strategically placed his men in the pipe space as best he could. Roy and Johnny were jockeying for position in the narrow space that Karen lay in.
“Cap, can’t we just cut some of these pipes?” Chet asked, as he struggled to stand upright in the small space he had been allocated.
“No!” Karen called. “These pipes make the organ work. If you cut any of them, I would be stuck in here for months repairing and replacing them!”
“Chet, you twit!” Cap chided. “The lady is quite right.” He had been monitoring the situation with Karen and knew that Johnny and Roy were worried about her and wanted her out. The last thing she needed was Chet making suggestions that sounded eminently sensible but were upsetting to her.
At length, they were ready to relay. Johnny was at Karen’s head. Roy would supervise the move from man to man. Cap was waiting at the door to get the backboard onto the gurney.
“Johnny,” Karen ventured, just before she was moved. “Could you get the rest of my tools out to Amy? Please?” She was strapped down, her head held still by a collar and she was finding the whole idea of moving while like that quite daunting.
“Of course I will,” Johnny replied. “Roy will go in the ambulance with you and I’ll get your tools to Amy.” He gave her a reassuring grin, while reflecting he hadn’t even noticed when Amy, the assistant, had left the enclosed space. “What does Amy do to help you?” he asked, as he waited for the signal from Roy.
“She holds the keys, of course,” Karen replied and Johnny wondered why she needed someone to hold her keys. Didn’t she have a purse, like most women, or a pocket?
“Of course,” he agreed but his doubts must have crept into his voice.
“The keys on the organ – the notes,” Karen called back to him as she began moving.
“I see,” Johnny replied. That did make sense, he supposed. He looked around them at all the pipes of different lengths and thicknesses and wondered how on earth Karen knew how to tune them. He had never thought about organs needing tuning – he never thought about organs at all!
The light in the pipe recess came from a single bulb and Karen’s head light. Neither gave really adequate light. Johnny remembered his promise and began to climb up to the platform where Karen had left her tools. He was more confident of the climb this time, having done it once. He reached the platform and began gathering the items together.
There was a screwdriver with a very long handle and even longer shaft, some cotton wool balls (which had him scratching his head) a piece of leather, some small bits of iron, a soldering iron and a couple of knives. Johnny had no idea why she would need such a variety of tools and resolved to ask her if he got the chance. He was just putting the last of the knives – a long handled knife with a long blade with a sharp angle at the top – into the backpack he had found there when Chet called up, “Karen’s out.”
“Thanks, Chet,” Johnny replied and moved his foot to look down and see for himself. He happened to hit a part of the beam that had suffered rather badly from woodworm and it crumbled beneath his foot and he found himself falling.
Wildly, Johnny reached out for something to stop his fall and yanked his right shoulder straight out of its socket. His body crashed into a support beam on the other side of the narrow climbing space, throwing him back across it to bounce off another beam before he plunged the last few feet to the floor, where he landed on his left side and the knife stabbed him in the stomach.
The crashing and yelling – for Johnny let out a yell that would have roused the dead as he fell – made Marco stop his progress in climbing out of the pipe space, Mike turn back and Cap, who was a good bit further away, rush back to see what was going on. Chet had let out a yell as his shift-mate hurtled to the floor and was now struggling to climb over the beams and pipes that separated them to see how badly Johnny was hurt.
“What is it?” Cap called, leaning in beside Mike to see if he could see.
“Cap, get Roy!” Chet called, his voice as scared as Cap had ever heard it. “Quick!”
“I’m on it,” Mike said and ran up the aisle in the hopes of catching the ambulance before it left the scene. But he was too late. The ambulance attendants had been impatiently waiting for Karen’s extraction and were anxious to get her to Rampart. It was already pulling out of the drive.
There was no time to waste, Mike thought, and ran to the engine. He grabbed the mic. “LA this is Engine 51. Respond another squad and ambulance to our location. We have a Code I.” He barely heard the acknowledgement as he ran back towards the church, pausing only long enough to snatch up the trauma box and oxygen that Roy had left sitting by the door for Johnny to put away.
There was no need to tell Cap what he had done, for Mike knew that he would have heard the broadcast over the HT. Mike just hoped that Roy had not taken an HT with him and was blissfully ignorant of Johnny’s mishap. Amy, Karen’s assistant, was standing in the pew where they had left their jackets and purses and was looking towards the pipe space with a horrified look on her face.
Seeing the items Mike had brought with him, Cap nodded approval. Mike could always be relied upon in a crisis. He lifted the HT to his lips as his engineer began to squeeze into the narrow space with the few medical supplies they had. “LA, this is Engine 51. Please set up a relay to Rampart hospital.” We’ve done this before, he thought. How I hoped I would never have to do this again.
“How is he?”Mike asked, as he reached Chet and Marco, both of who were crouching by Johnny.
“He’s bleeding,” Chet replied and a moan from Johnny drew Mike’s attention to the injured man. He was surprised his friend was conscious.
“State the … obvious,” Johnny gasped.
“Put the oxygen on him,” Mike instructed. “How much, Johnny?”
“Six liters,” Johnny gasped. “Stabilize… the… knife.” He was chalk white and wished he could pass out and so miss the pain he was in. Passing out from pain always sounded good in books but frequently didn’t happen in real life. He knew that if he didn’t get prompt attention soon, he could well pass out from blood loss and could easily die. “Lots … of … gauze,” he added, just in case they had forgotten.
Looking utterly sick, Chet wrapped gauze around Johnny’s slender waist, securing the knife in position. Marco set up the oxygen. There was nothing they could do for Johnny’s dislocated shoulder, but Marco noticed a trickle of blood from a cut near Johnny’s hairline and they bandaged that, too. Thereafter, there was little they could do.
“Vitals,” Johnny whispered. “Monitor.”
“Good thinking,” Mike praised him. “Cap is speaking to Rampart and we can relay the vitals to them and they can up-date whatever squad is coming.”
“Not… Brice,” Johnny wheezed, trying to make his friends laugh. They had to laugh – he knew that if they didn’t, he really might be dying.
Bless him, Mike laughed. “No promises, pal,” he joked and glanced at Cap. Where was that squad!
The phoning ringing in the base unit was answered by a student nurse. “Miss McCall, the fire department is on the phone.”
“Thanks,” Dixie replied as she took the receiver. “Nurse McCall speaking.” She listened in growing disbelief. “Hold on one moment.” She covered the receiver and turned to Dr Brackett, who was monitoring a call. “Kel, its Engine 51 on relay. It sounds urgent.”
Frowning, Kel took the phone. “Squad 51 is on the way in now, with that woman who was stabbed by … something. I wonder…” He cut himself off. “This is Dr Brackett, go ahead.”
A patch through relay from an HT could be quite patchy, but this time, the connection was crystal clear. “This is Hank Stanley. We’re at the church and Johnny has had a fall. He fell about 6 feet or so and has been stabbed in the stomach by a knife. At the moment, we have no paramedic, although another squad is on the way. We have him on 6 liters of O2 and have stabilized the knife. It appears that he has a dislocated shoulder and a head injury, although it doesn’t appear serious. Vitals that we have are pulse 130 and respirations 25 and shallow. We have no BP at this time.”
For several long moments, Brackett could think of nothing to say. “Is Johnny conscious?” he asked and Dixie’s eyes flew to his face.
“Yes,” Stanley replied. “He’s pretty inaccessible, doc. He’s fallen inside the pipe space where the organ tuner lady had fallen.”
“How far away is the nearest squad?” Brackett asked. It might be quicker for Roy to simply jump back into the ambulance and return to the church to treat Johnny.
“ETA is about 2 minutes,” Stanley replied.
“10-4, 51,” Brackett sighed. “Try and keep Johnny awake if you can and get the responding squad to contact me as soon as possible.”
“Roger,” Stanley said. “51 out.”
Slowly, Brackett hung the phone up and turned to face Dixie. “Johnny has had a fall and is seriously injured,” he reported. “Meet Roy at the door and alert him. There will be a squad there by the time he gets here, so he can wait by the base station if he wants.” Brackett’s lips twitched. “I just hope they are able to get Johnny out quickly and get him here. Get Mike or Joe to cover the victim Roy is bringing in. I want to be here.”
“That bad?” Dixie asked.
“He’s had a fall and been stabbed in the stomach,” Brackett replied. His eyes met Dixie’s. “That bad.”
The waiting seemed endless. Chet talked relentlessly, trying to keep Johnny awake. For his part, Johnny wished Chet would just shut up and leave him alone, but couldn’t say so for a couple of reasons. First of all, he didn’t have the breath and second because he knew that Chet felt scared and helpless and was trying his best to help. The pain was relentless and Johnny could feel the sweat beading on his brow and tricking down his torso. If he had had enough breath, he would have screamed.
A sudden bustle at the small door of the pipe space announced the arrival of Squad 32. Johnny knew most of the paramedics working in the county, some better than others, and he tried to smile at Fred Docherty and Pete Williams. Neither man noticed; all their concentration on the knife and getting into a position where they could work on Johnny.
“Hey, Gage,” Williams said, by way of greeting. “How’d this happen?” He knew already but wanted to hear Johnny’s version of the story to gauge how serious the head injury was.
“Beam crumbled… beneath my foot,” Johnny gasped. “Fell. Shoulder is out. Been… stabbed.”
“Anything else?” Docherty enquired.
“No…” Johnny replied, uncertainly. “Got a bit… banged up… on the way… down.”
“Sure looks that way,” Docherty agreed. “Let’s get some vitals here.” He wrapped the BP cuff around Johnny’s arm. Williams put a c-collar around his neck.
“Rampart, this is Squad 32, how do you read?” Williams asked, glancing at the vitals his partner had given him.
“Go ahead, 32,” Brackett replied.
“Rampart, we have a 28 year old paramedic, victim of a fall,” Williams began.
“I’ve been expecting your call, 32,” Brackett interrupted. “Go ahead with vitals; we know the circumstances.”
Slightly non-plussed, Williams glanced down at Johnny. “Boy, you’re popular today, Gage,” he teased before returning his attention to the biophone. “Vitals are as follows. BP 90/60, respirations 25 and shallow, pulse 130. The patient is awake, aware and oriented with full memory of the accident. He has been stabbed in the stomach by a knife penetrating to approx 1 ½ inches. The knife has been stabilized. There has been some moderate bleeding, but it is under control at this time. There is a superficial head wound which has had some bleeding. The right shoulder is dislocated. We are immobilizing at this time. The victim is lying on his left side in a narrow space He is in considerable pain. Extraction will be tricky, Rampart.”
“Use full spinal precautions,” Brackett instructed, looking at Roy’s white face. “Start an IV with Ringers and transport as soon as possible. Updates on vitals every 5 minutes or sooner if things change. Tell me when he is extracted.”
“Roger, Rampart,” Williams acknowledged and repeated the instructions back. Docherty reached for the IV set up and Williams lifted his head to request a backboard, only to see it being brought to him, and the men of Engine 51 getting into position. “I like the service I’m getting here,” he commented. “I hadn’t even said I needed that yet.”
His joking fell flat. “We knew you’d need it and we’ve just finished rescuing someone from this very spot,” Mike reported quietly.
“Right,” Williams replied, sobering. “We have a head start in knowing how to get Gage here out.”
“But it won’t… be easy,” Johnny gasped. A groan escaped from behind his teeth. He had known that he wouldn’t be allowed pain relief because of the head injury but that didn’t make it any easier to bear. “Do it,” he begged.
Working as quickly as they could in the restricted space, the backboard was slipped into place and the straps fastened. Johnny was considerably heavier than the small, slight, Karen had been and the paramedics had to work hard to get the backboard lifted and they appreciated the help that Mike and Chet gave them. Williams took the biophone and drug box out first and prepared to take Gage’s vitals once he was in the body of the church. The others started the slow, difficult process of maneuvering the backboard carefully around the pipes.
They were as careful as possible, but it was inevitable that Johnny would get bumped around. He tried valiantly to suppress his cries, but was unable to keep them all back. The swaying around, odd lighting and the bump on the head had another consequence that Johnny had not anticipated – nausea. He swallowed desperately, knowing that if he vomited while on his back, unable to turn his head, he would aspirate. As he finally felt himself lowered he called, “Sick.”
Williams had one end of the board and Cap had the other and both reacted immediately. Williams put his end down as he turned it and grabbed the oxygen mask from Johnny’s face as he began to heave. He was not a moment too soon. As the spasm abated, Williams gestured to Cap to turn the board over, but that was the last straw for Johnny, he slid into the waiting darkness.
“I don’t believe it,” Roy muttered but it was clear from the look on his face that he did believe what he was being told. “How?”
“We don’t know that,” Brackett replied. “We just know that Johnny fell and has been stabbed in the stomach.”
Stunned by the news, Roy shook his head. “He had already brought the coning tools down,” he explained, although Brackett had no idea what Roy was talking about. “How could he have been stabbed?”
“I guess we’ll find out,” Brackett replied and patted him consolingly on the shoulder. He turned his attention to Williams’ update on Johnny’s vitals.
“Rampart, Squad 32. The victim has been extricated. He vomited and is now unconscious, but has not aspirated. Vitals are as follows. BP 100/70, respirations 24 and pulse 110.”
“Transport immediately, 32,” Brackett instructed. “Dix, I want x-ray waiting in treatment 3 and an OR on standby. Have some O neg ready and draw blood to type and cross match as soon as he gets here.”
There was nothing now to do except wait and that was the hardest thing of all. Roy fiddled with the HT in his hands, worrying about Johnny and wondering how on earth his partner came to fall. For all that Johnny could be a klutz on the ground, he was generally as sure-footed as a mountain goat when he was climbing. Roy remembered the dark pipe space and shuddered to think of falling into that narrow space.
“Roy.” Dixie had clearly said his name more than once and was looking at him with some concern. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Roy replied. “Or I will be when I know Johnny’s going to be all right.” He bit his lip. “He … might not make it this time, might he?”
“We don’t know that, Roy,” Dixie reminded him, although she feared the worst, too. “And help was there almost at once. Your guys did what they could and that probably saved Johnny’s life.”
“They must feel awful, too,” Roy murmured. He glanced up as a gurney came in the doors, but it wasn’t Johnny. Roy felt light-headed with tension and wondered if he would be sick.
Next moment, the doors opened and 32s came in with Johnny. Roy automatically followed them into treatment 3, but he didn’t hear Williams update Brackett on the vitals; all his attention was fixed on the long handle and blade that protruded obscenely from his best friend’s stomach.
Without conscious volition, Roy found himself walking to Johnny’s side and looking down at his friend. Johnny was conscious, his face pale and clammy under the oxygen mask. Uncaring of who might be watching, Roy reached for his partner’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Hang in there,” he ordered.
The distressed dark eyes locked with Roy’s blue ones and Johnny murmured, “With both hands.” He tried to smile but it didn’t work. He winced as Dixie drew blood and then Roy was being pulled away to let x-ray get the pictures they needed to send Johnny to the OR.
“He’s shocky, but we really can’t wait too much longer,” Brackett was saying as Roy joined him at the base station. Brackett’s audience, Dr Joe Early, nodded gravely.
“Push some fluids and get him into the OR,” Early agreed. He glanced at Roy. “How are you doing?” he asked.
The kind words pushed Roy over the edge and suddenly he wasn’t doing too well at all. He staggered and Early caught his arm, pushing him to sit on Dixie’s stool, his head between his knees. A few moments later, a cup of cold water was placed in his hand and he sipped gratefully. “I’m okay now,” he assured them as he sat up cautiously. The world, thankfully, stayed in place.
“Are you ready to come back in with me?” Brackett asked. He looked concerned. Johnny had no family in the immediate area and Brackett knew the relationship between the two men was important to both of them. Roy’s presence helped Johnny, there was no doubt.
“I’m ready,” Roy agreed. He downed the end of the water and felt much better. He hopped off the stool and followed Brackett into the room where Johnny lay.
Deciding to keep Roy busy, Brackett got the paramedic to hook another bag of fluid to Johnny’s IV and push it through. Once it was running, Roy returned to Johnny’s side. “Hey, won’t be long now,” he promised.
“It… hurts,” Johnny moaned. He writhed as much as he was able, trying to escape the pain that seemed to be spreading from his abdomen through his whole body. “Roy… can’t … take it … much … longer.”
“Johnny, I’m going to give you something more for the pain right now,” Brackett promised. “Then we’ll get you up to surgery and get that shoulder sorted out, too.”
“I … had … something?” Johnny asked, sounding surprised. He didn’t remember it.
“Just after you came in,” came the answer. Johnny looked to Roy, who nodded, although he had no recollection of it either. Moments later, Johnny felt something cold entering his arm via the IV. It trickled up to somewhere about his elbow when he lost track of the sensation. Moments after that, there was a warmth spreading through his body, relaxing the muscles. His eyes drooped closed and his heart rate slowed slightly. Roy relaxed too, glad his partner’s pain was under control for the moment.
The door opened and Dixie came in with the packet of x-rays. Thanking her, Brackett quickly clipped them to the light box and began to study them closely. “Unbelievable, but there are no broken bones,” he reported. “The head injury looks superficial, but I suspect he has a mild concussion. Ribs are intact, but bruised, as I knew already. His back is fine, but bruised. There’s nothing unexpected in the shoulder. Hmm.”
“Hmm?” Roy repeated anxiously.
“Hmm,” Brackett confirmed. “All right. The knife is in quite deep, but it looks as though, by some miracle, our friend there has escaped major damage. There was no spleen to worry about, of course, but somehow it seems to have missed every major organ – liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bowel…” He peered more closely. “It might have damaged his appendix, though.” He straightened. “All right.” He began to slide the x-rays back into their envelope. “Dix, let the OR know I’m on the way. Roy, I’ll let you know as soon as I know something.” He dropped the pack of x-rays on Johnny’s legs and shouted for orderlies.
With one last look at his friend, Roy allowed himself to be led outside and to the doctors’ lounge, where he would now have to wait again.
Time was extremely elastic, Roy thought. When you were simply waiting, it dragged on and on and the hands of the clock seemed to stick on place. When you were busy, or enjoying yourself, time flew past as though on wings.
He was musing on this conundrum when the door to the lounge opened and Cap came in. “How is he, Roy?” he asked.
“In surgery,” Roy replied. “The x-rays seemed … hopeful,” he went on. “Dr Brackett said it seems as though the knife hasn’t hit anything vital, but until they get in there, he won’t be sure.”
“Well, that’s good news,” Cap ventured. He had feared he would arrive at the hospital and find that his paramedic had not survived the journey. “Any broken bones?”
“No,” Roy answered, pleased to be able to give a definitive answer to something. “Johnny’s just badly bruised.”
Nodding, Cap felt relief. Johnny had somehow dodged the bullet again. “Roy, Dwyer is coming in to cover Johnny’s shift. He’ll meet you here in about an hour or so. You can wait here as long as you make yourself available.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Roy replied, gratefully.
“Phone me as soon as you know anything. The squad is outside.” Cap sketched a goodbye and left. He hated to leave Roy waiting alone, but the station was still in service. The rest of the crew needed to eat and they had to be available for any call that came their way. Life still went on and their jobs were vital. At least he could give the rest of his crew the good news so far.
“This is not as straight forward as it looked,” Brackett commented. He wasn’t addressing his remark to anyone in particular, just everyone in general.
“What’s wrong, Kel?” asked Paul Jones, the orthopedic surgeon who was standing by to relocate Johnny’s shoulder.
“The x-ray looked as though the knife had missed all Johnny’s vital organs. His appendix was nicked – I thought it might be – but there’s bleeding somewhere and I can’t find it.” Brackett sighed. “Suction.” He reached for the scalpel. “I’m going to have to enlarge the incision.” He glanced at the nurse. “I need more blood.”
“Right away, doctor,” she replied and moved to the phone to make the call.
Taking a deep breath, Kel enlarged the incision he had made. The nurse moved the suction wand in and cleared the cavity. It was difficult to see and Kel had to enlarge the incision a little more. The blood loss wasn’t huge, but it was steady and it was obvious that the bleeding was not going to stop by itself. He indicated more suction and saw – well, he wasn’t sure. Gently, he felt around and his sensitive fingers felt the liver had been nicked and that blood rich organ was bleeding quietly and efficiently into Johnny’s abdominal cavity. “Got it,” he breathed and set about finding the injury visually and assessing it. He found the source and began working on it. A few sutures and he was able to stop the bleeding. That done, he turned his attention to the appendix and soon had that removed. His next move was to thoroughly wash out the abdominal cavity with antibiotics and then he had one last check for other lacerations but found none. “Sutures,” he ordered and began closing. “He’s all yours in a minute, Paul,” he added.
“Excellent,” Paul responded and cracked his knuckles.
“Yeah yeah,” Kel chuckled. “We all know you’re muscle-bound!”
“Good thing, too,” Paul jibed back. “How long has this shoulder been out while you guddled around his insides?”
“Guddled?” Kel echoed. “Is that a new word you’ve just made up? Because it doesn’t sound very complimentary.”
“No, it’s not and no it isn’t,” Paul replied and Kel paused in his stitching to look at his colleague for further explanation of his cryptic remark. “No, it isn’t a new word I’ve just made up and no it isn’t complimentary. My Scottish grandmother used it and it usually means you’re making a bit of a mess.”
“Well, thank you so much for the compliment,” Kel retorted, sounding put out, but Paul knew him well enough to catch the twinkle in his eye.
“You’re quite welcome,” he grinned.
As the nurse put a bandage over Johnny’s incision, Paul moved in to reset the shoulder. As he had said, it had been out for quite a while and the longer a shoulder was dislocated, the harder it was to put back in place because the muscles tightened up. However, Paul had a lot of experience and before long, the satisfying pop of the shoulder going back echoed through the OR. A post-reduction x-ray was taken and everything looked fine. The shoulder was secured in an immobilizer and Johnny was moved to recovery.
The nightmare resumed for Johnny when he regained consciousness. He was very sensitive to anesthetic at the best of times and this was no exception. He began vomiting almost as soon as he woke and the retching was horribly painful for the wound on his abdomen, never mind his shoulder. Anti-emetics didn’t help and Brackett was forced to place an NG tube. That did finally settle things and at last, almost 2 hours after Johnny came out of surgery, Brackett was able to supervise his moving to a room and go and tell Roy what was happening.
It had been an agonizing wait for Roy. He and Dwyer had had a couple of runs and each time had returned to Rampart to wait. Dixie had told him that Johnny had made it through surgery after their first run, but had nothing further to tell him after the second run. Dwyer had forced Roy to go with him to the cafeteria for something to eat and had prodded Roy into choking down a few mouthfuls.
They had barely finished when the tones went off and they knew at once that this was a big fire. Roy waved at Dixie as they hurried out of the door and Dixie hoped that they would not have a rush of business from the paramedics that night.
At the fire, Roy and Dwyer met with Cap and got their assignments. The warehouse that was burning had been abandoned and was due for demolition. There was no chance of anyone going in to do a sweep in case there were homeless people sleeping there, for the blaze was far too intense. The paramedics were given a line and set to work beside Chet and Marco.
It took four hours to knock down the last of the flames. By then, Roy and Dwyer were treating firefighters for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, but for such a large structure fire, there was remarkably little for them to do. Of the five crews that responded to the fire, three were staying on to make sure it didn’t flare up again and to work on clean up. Station 51 was allowed to go.
“How’s Johnny?” Mike asked, as the paramedics climbed wearily into the squad.
“Out of surgery is all I can tell you,” Roy replied. He was covered with soot and grime and looked done in. “I’ll let you know when we get back to the barn.”
“Roy, you can’t go to the hospital looking like that,” Cap protested.
“Cap, I need to see him,” Roy explained. “I won’t be able to rest until I do. We won’t be there long.”
“If I know Dixie, you’re right there,” Cap agreed. “All right, Roy but don’t stay. You are still available, although we’ve got an hour or so to get cleaned up.” He gestured to the others. “Let’s get back and we might be able to get some sleep.”
“Sorry, Charlie,” Roy apologized as he drove them back to Rampart. “I didn’t ask you if you minded.”
“I don’t mind, Roy,” Dwyer assured him. “I understand.”
The ER was quiet when they went in. It was fully dark by now and the staff had changed over at some point. Dixie was not at the desk, but Kel Brackett was there, in civilian clothes, clearly on the point of going home. “Roy! Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Roy replied. “What about Johnny?”
“Come into my office,” Brackett said and led the way. Dwyer went into the lounge to get some coffee.
“There was some unexpected bleeding when I went in,” Brackett explained as soon as Roy was seated. “There was a small laceration on his liver, which I got sutured. I removed his appendix and washed out the whole area thoroughly. I’ve started him on antibiotics, but to be honest, Roy, I fully expect him to start an infection. The knife was not clean and was in there for longer than I liked, and of course, Johnny doesn’t have a spleen. Paul Jones put his shoulder back and I don’t expect any trouble there. Obviously, it will take a while to heal and he may need physical therapy on it, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.” Brackett drew a deep breath. “Johnny had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and I had to place an NG tube. I’ve sedated him so that he can get some rest. He is still getting blood products, but I expect him to make a full recovery.”
“Thanks, doc,” Roy breathed. “Can I see him?”
“Two minutes, Roy and no more,” Brackett agreed. “Come on, I’ll come up with you. Dixie has been sitting with him and its time she went home, too.” He glanced sideways at the paramedic as they entered the elevator. “Bad fire?”
“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “But there weren’t any serious injuries.” He was beginning to feel exhaustion creeping over him. He knew he needed a shower badly and then some serious sleep. He hoped that he would get some. It had been a long day already and there were still several hours of the shift left.
Johnny’s room was dim. Johnny himself was lying quietly on his back, his eyes heavily closed. He was pale, but looked somehow better than he had the last time Roy saw him. He was on oxygen and the NG tube was taped to his nose. Blood products and a couple of bags of clear fluids dripped into his arm. Dixie was sitting by his side. She smiled warmly at Roy and withdrew to the door to give him some privacy.
“Hey,” Roy said softly, knowing that Johnny couldn’t hear him. He put his hand on Johnny’s uninjured arm and felt the underlying warmth of his skin. “I’ll be back to see you tomorrow,” he added. “You’ll be feeling better by then.”
“Let’s go, Roy,” Brackett said. “You need your rest and so does Johnny.”
“He’s warm, doc,” Roy told him.
“I know, but we’re watching it. Come on, Roy. You need to get cleaned up and try and get some sleep. I don’t want to see you back here before tomorrow afternoon. And yes, I know; if there’s any change, we will let you know.”
It was a good thing that Johnny hadn’t been awake the previous night to hear Roy tell him he’d be feeling better by the next afternoon. It wasn’t true. He had developed a raging fever to go along with the infection that had developed in his surgical incision. That morning the NG tube had been pulled, but Johnny had been unable to keep anything down and so it had been replaced. He was too weak to move himself, even if he hadn’t been tethered to the wall and had one arm out of commission.
“Hey,” Roy said, leaning over the bed. He was horrified by Johnny’s appearance.
“Hey,” Johnny breathed. His breathing was fast, fogging the oxygen mask. His eyes were dulled, sunken into his head and ringed with dark circles. His hair clung to his damp forehead.
“Looks like you don’t feel too good, huh?” Roy remarked. He smiled. “I thought I told you to be careful?”
“That was… before,” Johnny breathed, a spark appearing in his eyes.
“So what did happen?” Roy asked. “Do you remember?”
Nodding, Johnny took a deep breath. “I put my … foot down… and the … beam crumbled.” He screwed up his nose. “Not my … fault.”
“Not unless you’re putting on weight at last,” Roy jibed. “It would only be fair if you did.” He patted his middle self-consciously. He had noticed a slight tightening in the waistband of his pants.
“In your … dreams,” Johnny scoffed. He sank back, exhausted by the banter.
“Here.” Roy held out a cup with water in it and Johnny sipped gratefully. “You were lucky, my friend,” he went on, sitting down by the bed.
“Mmmm,” Johnny agreed. He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about it much more. He was almost due some more painkillers and he hoped they would put him to sleep again. He just wanted to sleep until he woke up feeling human again.
“Hey, Johnny, hi, Roy,” Brackett said, entering the room. “How’re you doing, Johnny? I hear you’ve got an infection going.”
“I feel … lousy,” Johnny replied, which was enough to alarm both Brackett and Roy. Johnny seldom admitted feeling ill.
“As bad as that?” Brackett queried, clearly taken aback. He picked up the chart and began to read it. “I see you’ve only been allowed sips of water this last hour. Has the sickness abated yet?” Johnny nodded. “All right. If you can continue to keep fluid down, I’ll see about pulling the NG tube this evening. Your temp has been hovering at about 101 all day with Tylenol, but creeping up about a degree just before you are due the next dose. I think I might change your antibiotic; this one clearly isn’t hitting the bugs in your system. Just try and relax, Johnny. We’ll do everything we can to get you well as soon as we can.” He patted the paramedic on the shoulder before he left.
As Johnny was so obviously tired, Roy took command of the conversation, telling Johnny about the big fire the evening before and how the fire investigator thought it was arson, before regaling him with stories about his children. Johnny listened, nodding or grunting at appropriate places. Roy knew he would have to cut the visit short so that his partner could rest.
A few minutes later, the nurse came in with the new antibiotic and changed it out with the old one. She then produced a syringe from her pocket and shot its contents smoothly into the IV port. As the drug began to course through his system, Roy saw Johnny relax slowly.
“I’m going to get going,” he offered, “and let you get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Roy,” Johnny slurred. He felt warm sleep wash over him.
The phone rang in Roy’s house that evening. “Roy, he’s taken a turn for the worse,” Brackett said urgently. “I think you should come down.”
“I’ll be right there,” Roy promised and hastily told Joanne what was going on before he ran from the house and jumped into the car.
Watching him roar away, Joanne said a prayer for their friend before going and ringing Hank Stanley to let him know the latest.
Visiting hours were over and the hospital was quiet apart from staff moving around, settling the patients for the night. There was bustle coming from Johnny’s room and when Roy went in, he saw that cooling blankets had been placed on his partner. Johnny’s eyes were closed and his body was limp. “Doc?” he questioned, going over to Brackett.
“It’s all right, Roy, I sedated him,” Brackett explained. “He wasn’t getting any rest, with the fever climbing and he needs rest to let his body fight this infection.”
“What’s happened that he’s become so ill?” Roy asked.
Drawing Roy away from the bed, Brackett glanced back at the sleeping paramedic. “I think it’s partly the new antibiotic. I tried something much stronger, in the hopes that we would get a handle on this infection before things got too bad. It turns out to have been too strong for him, so we’ve switched to something else. The infection is serious, however. Johnny is gravely ill. I still hope to pull him through, but the next few hours are going to be critical. That’s why I called you.”
Stricken, Roy looked at Johnny. When he was ill, the other man somehow contrived to look even younger than he actually was. Johnny was not a child, but he had a boyish enthusiasm that he brought to all aspects of his life and that made him seem younger than his years a lot of the time and there was an underlying vulnerability that moved Roy immensely. He loved Johnny like the brother he had never had.
“I’ll just call Joanne and let her know I won’t be home,” Roy stated. He patted his friend’s arm. “I’ll be right back,” he promised.
Roy thought he had been there for about an hour. Johnny had been fairly quiet, the sedative allowing him to get some much needed rest. The nurses had been bustling in and out, checking his vitals, monitoring the urine output and keeping an eye on his temperature. Roy had kept himself occupied by rinsing out a washcloth in cool water and placing it on Johnny’s forehead.
“Roy.” The low voice from the door startled Roy and he turned to see Cap standing there.
“Hey.” Roy got to his feet and went over to the door. “What are you doing here, Cap?”
“Joanne phoned me,” Cap replied. “She said they had called you in. How’s John doing?”
“He’s pretty sick,” Roy answered. He explained what Dr Brackett had said to him. “I’m going to stay,” he concluded unnecessarily.
“Want me to call in a replacement for you for next shift?” Cap asked.
“Can I let you know tomorrow?” Roy asked, after a momentary hesitation.
“Of course, pal,” Cap agreed. “Just don’t leave it too late, okay?” He patted the senior paramedic on the shoulder. “I’ll head off for home now, but don’t hesitate to call me. I want to know about any change.”
“All right,” Roy promised. He watched as Cap walked over to Johnny’s bed and bent over, saying a few quiet words that Roy could not catch. He could see the concern on Cap’s face. “Night, Cap,” he said, as his boss paused at the door.
“Night, Roy,” Cap replied. He glanced at the still figure on the bed one more time before leaving. He had seen Johnny sick before, but there was something about him this time… Cap was not normally a praying man, but as he drove home, he prayed for his crewman.
For some time, Johnny continued to sleep quietly, but after a few hours, he began to get restless, moving around, wincing painfully even in his sleep. Roy summoned the nurses, who gave him some more pain medication and for a while, all was calm again.
About 3 am, Johnny woke from a restless doze. His eyes were dulled with fever and fatigue, but he was lucid. “Hey,” he panted, seeing Roy. “What’re …you … doing here?”
“Probably keeping you out of trouble,” Roy teased gently and was rewarded by a quirk of Johnny’s mouth. “Brackett said you weren’t too good, so I came down to see for myself.”
“You don’t … have ta … stay,” Johnny offered. He felt awful, his mouth dry, his body aching all over. His shoulder was sore and his abdomen burned. “I’m … sick,” he mentioned, wonderingly.
“Sure are,” Roy agreed, keeping his tone steady. “You got new antibiotics that didn’t agree with you, so Brackett changed them to something else. You should start feeling better real soon.”
“Is the … infection … worse?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know,” Roy replied, honestly. “I know it’s pretty serious, though.” He smiled. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep?”
“Can’t,” Johnny complained. He was exhausted but knew he could not sleep. He didn’t want to be sedated again, either. He shivered. “I’m cold,” he mumbled.
The cooling blankets were still going full blast and the machinery keeping them going was making the room unpleasantly warm as far as Roy was concerned. He knew it wasn’t unusual for patients with a fever to feel cold, but nonetheless, he retrieved the thermometer to check his partner’s temperature. It was down almost a whole degree.
“You’re still running a temp,” Roy told him, as he put the thermometer away, “but it’s starting to come down. Would you like a drink?”
“Yeah,” Johnny breathed. He sipped slowly from the straw, the cool water feeling wonderful in his parched mouth. He rested with his eyes closed for a few minutes before he plucked up the courage to ask the question that whirled around his mind. “Roy… am I … gonna … die?”
“Johnny, no!” Roy cried. “Of course not! What made you think that?”
“You’re here… in the middle… of the night,” he replied. “I feel… lousy. Don’t remember… the last time… I felt this … bad. Monkey virus?” he suggested.
“Only you can answer that,” Roy replied. “You were really ill then. We all thought you and Brackett were going to die then. You were pretty sick when you got hit by that car, too.” Roy would never forget that night as he watched over his badly injured partner without any drugs to give him for the pain. When the car had hit Johnny, Roy had thought his partner was a goner. He blinked to banish the memories. “You’ve had a tough time of it, Johnny,” he went on. “But I don’t think you’re going to die. The new antibiotic seems to be doing the trick.” He smiled. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep? Would you like something else for pain?”
“All right,” Johnny agreed listlessly. “Will you … still be here … when I wake up?”
“I’ll be here,” Roy promised as he pressed the call button. He watched as the nurse quickly took vitals and then gave Johnny his pain medication. Once Johnny was asleep again, she gave him a sedative to help him rest.
“Why don’t you stretch out on the other bed?” she suggested to Roy. “No one’s going to be using it and it sure beats sleeping in that chair.”
“Thanks, I think I will,” Roy agreed. His back had been protesting against the uncomfortable plastic chair for a few hours now. He felt he could relax slightly now that Johnny seemed to be getting better. He lay down and was asleep in moments.
Several times between then and daylight, Roy woke from sleep to check on Johnny. His partner’s temperature fluctuated slightly for a few hours but the downward trend was continuing. When Roy was wakened by the arrival of breakfast, he saw that the cooling blankets had been removed. Johnny looked indefinably better, although he was still pale and his eyes were deeply circled.
Johnny woke naturally when Brackett came in to do rounds. He winced regularly as Brackett prodded his incision, but seemed less sore than the previous day.
“Looking good, Johnny,” Brackett told him as he taped down a fresh dressing. “The antibiotics are doing their job at last. Your temp is normal and the incision is less inflamed. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve run … a marathon,” Johnny replied. “But better than I did.”
“You get some more sleep and later on we’ll see how you get on with a liquid diet. If that stays down, we’ll progress to soft foods and hopefully by tomorrow you’ll be eating normally again.” He made a notation on the chart. “We should be able to start cutting back on pain meds tomorrow, too.”
“When can I go home?” Johnny asked and Brackett exchanged a broad grin with Roy. That was always a good sign!
“We’ll see how you get on, but it’ll be a few more days yet,” Brackett warned him. “Meantime, get some rest.”
“Told you,” Roy mentioned quietly after Brackett left.
“I believed you,” Johnny replied.
“Liar!” Roy laughed.
It was a further 6 weeks before Johnny was allowed to go back to work. Although he wouldn’t have admitted it on pain of death and had pestered Brackett to allow him back sooner, Johnny was glad of the time to recover. The infection had left him weakened and it took some time to get his full strength back.
On his first morning back, he opened his locker and found – not much to his surprise – a toy organ, complete with a set of homemade pipes. Johnny rolled his eyes. “I suppose it’s a better hobby than collecting barbed wire,” he remarked. “Chet!” he called, going to find his friend. “You’ve left your birthday present in my locker…”