Summary: Johnny’s in the hospital and he remembers a Christmas from his childhood.
The in and out movement of each breath added to the throbbing of Johnny’s fractured ribs. With wrapped hands pressed against starched white sheets, Johnny shifted his body, desperate to easy the discomfort of his aching muscles. Raising his arm slowly, he began pushing buttons on the remote flipping from channel to channel on the television set mounted on the wall, until he found something of interest. Finally settling on a station, he watched Walter Cronkite regale the day’s events on the evening news.
Laying his head back against the flattened pillow, he closed his eyes, instantly aware of his pounding heartbeat in his ears and the radiating pain coursing through his skull. One cough then another brought a hand to his mouth and one across his chest, raising his upper body off the bed with each expulsion of air. Concentrating on the in and out of his breathing the coughing subsided. Slowly Johnny lowered his shoulders resting his head gently against the pillow; exhausted he closed his eyes again, willing his body to sleep.
Dozing off, Johnny’s mind drifted to the structure fire earlier that day.
Crackling timbers symphonically merged with the roaring fire burning through the two-story home. Rising heat quickened Johnny’s pace as he crawled through the small bedroom. Grey-white smoke danced like an early morning fog over a quiet lake making visibility impossible without his flashlight in hand. The narrow beam of light distorted through the smoke filled room causing the furnishings to look distant and ominous. A second beam of light crisscrossed the room in sync with Johnny’s beam. Snapping and creaking with each movement of his hands and knees across the floor added to the rush he felt while working his way through the room. Johnny bumped the side of a bed frame; his hand patted one over the other searching for the missing woman. Reaching the top of the bed, he felt the right calf of his victim settled inside her covers.
“Hey Roy, I found her. She’s on the bed,” Johnny yelled through his air mask. Removing his glove, he rested his hand on the elderly woman’s abdomen, relieved she was still breathing; then reaching for her neck his thin fingers felt the slight beating of blood as it pulsed through the carotid artery. “And she’s alive!”
“Be right there, Johnny,” responded Roy, navigating through the room using Johnny’s voice as a guide.
Removing his helmet and pulling the mask off, Johnny angled the breathing apparatus over woman’s face, hoping it would stabilize her labored breathing. Tears formed and the urge to cough followed; the smell of burning upholstery, plaster, and wood made his stomach churn with each intake of air. Vibrating floorboard against his aching knees told him Roy was close.
“What have you got, Johnny?” Roy shouted from the far end of the bed.
“Elderly woman with labored breathing and possible heat stroke. Roy we’ve got to get out of here now! It’s damn hot in here!” Johnny hollered as he wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his glove hand before repositioning his air mask and placing his helmet back on his head.
With covers in tow, Johnny pulled the woman’s legs towards him, grabbing her right wrist he brought her to a sitting position and covered her completely; he leaned forward letting her body drape his shoulder. Left hand planted on the bed for balance, Johnny bit by bit got to his feet and headed for the window.
Roy moved quickly to the window ahead of Johnny trying to establish the best means of escape. The heat in the room was intense as he broke the window, sending particles of glass to the brushes below.
“Cap, over here, we found the woman” Roy shouted through the lifted air mask.
“Marco, ladder now!” Commanded Captain Stanley.
Chet repositioned himself to compensate for the loss of his anchorman, while Marco ran at top speed towards the engine. Grabbing the ladder from the side of the truck, he turned it crossways and headed for the open window, noticing the second engine company arrive on the scene.
“Roy, ladder’s on its way, hold tight,” yelled the captain turning to see Marco racing towards him with ladder in hand.
Roy repositioned his air mask; he turned to notice Johnny coming towards him with the victim over his shoulder. A loud thump from the ladder hitting the edge of the sill shifted Roy’s attention back to the activity outside.
“Roy, we’ve got to get out of here. It’s going to flash,” hollered Johnny now standing next to Roy.
“I know, Johnny. I know,” the urgency evident in Roy’s voice.
Carefully but quickly moving one leg then another outside the interior of the burning structure, Roy found the security of the rung of the ladder. Slowly he descend the ladder enough to receive the precious cargo Johnny carried over his right shoulder.
Standing in front of the window, back to Roy, Johnny proceeded to lower the unconscious woman to her feet. Balancing her with his arms around her waist, Johnny walked around her and gently laid the front of her body over Roy’s shoulder.
“Got her Roy?”
Adjusting to the added weight, Roy gradually moved down the ladder to the ground below him. Johnny watched Roy grow farther away from him, until he saw one boot touch the ground. Swinging a leg out the window onto the third rung from the top, he proceeded to exit the burning structure. The hissing and snapping of fire consuming the home caught his attention. Thunder rumbled through the structure sending fire and super heated air towards him. A split second decision caused Johnny to leap from the ladder as fire burst through the window incinerating the wooden frame and propelling him several feet from the burning structure.
The ground came suddenly as Johnny hit the lawn with a thud. Every joint in his body seemed to pop with the sudden stop. Blackness enveloped him but not before thoughts of how sore he would be from his latest rash decision.
“ JOHNNY!” Yelled Roy as he, Cap and Marco watched in horror as Johnny dropped to the ground just steps from where Marco was holding the ladder.
“LA, this is Engine 51, respond a second squad and ambulance to our location.” Cap relayed to the Dispatcher.
Rushing towards the unconscious paramedic, Marco reached him first with Chet quick in tow with hose in hand.
“We’ve got to cool him off, Marco,” said Chet while spraying Johnny with the hose. Stream rolled of the bunker coat, dissipating the heat. Chet headed back to the broken window on the first floor, opened the valve of the hose, and continued his assault on the fire. Slowly Cap and Marco lifted the air mask off Johnny’s face One strap then another was gently removed from around his shoulder and the tank was place just to the side of the Captain.
“Let’s roll him and open his bunker coat. He’s got to be hot. So on three we roll him,” commanded Captain Stanley.
“Ok, Cap,” replied Marco
“1..2..3” Cap said as he and Marco carefully rolled Johnny onto his back.
Dropping to his knees, Marco touched Johnny’s carotid artery for a pulse, unaware he was holding his breath. He found a rapid pulse. Exhaling, Marco notices Captain Stanley on Johnny’s left side, watching as Cap’s head dropped forward with the realization that Johnny saved himself from serious burns and possible death. One by one, Cap unlatched Johnny’s coat and opened it up. Heat radiated off Johnny’s flushed skin and redness appeared around his face and ears from his exposure to the flashover.
Roy felt bile race to his throat hearing Johnny hit the ground. Torn between the woman who lay unconscious and his motionless partner, facedown on the manicured lawn a few yards away, he didn’t hear Mike Stoker walk up behind him and set the needed equipment near him.
“Here you go, Roy,” said Mike in a firm but quiet voice as he placed a hand on Roy’s shoulder for assurance. “Johnny’ll be ok.”
Glancing up Roy saw Marco running towards him.
“Roy, Johnny’s got a pulse but he’s having some trouble breathing. I can get his vitals for you?” Marco asked in hopes of doing something to help Johnny.
“Yeah Marco, that would be great.” Reaching into the drug box, Roy pulled out a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, handing them to Marco.
“Garcias” responded Marco as gave Roy an assuring smile before grabbing the O2 tank turning and running towards Johnny and Captain Stanley.
Roy gave one last look towards his partner then picked up the biophone, laid it flat and opened the case that connected him to Rampart General, while Mike placed a mask over the woman’s nose and month and began administering oxygen. Taking the woman’s wrist, Roy checked her pulse, taking the bp cuff he wrapped it around her, inflated it, and began checking the woman’s blood pressure. Gently he laid his right hand on her abdomen and counted her respirations.
“Rampart this is Squad 51, how do you read?” Roy said, focusing on the victim in his care and the response from the other end of the line.
“51 this is Rampart go ahead,” responded Doctor Brackett through the biophone.
“Rampart, we have two victims. First victim is female approximately age 60 suffering from smoke inhalation. Vitals are bp is 110/70. Pulse is 90, respiration are 30. Victim has yet to regain consciousness. Stand by for vitals on victim two. Be advised, victim two is Johnny.
"10-4 51, we'll stand by."
Marco arrived back at Johnny’s side, knelt beside him and placed the mask over his nose and month before setting the O2. With Cap’s help, Marco carefully reached inside the sleeve of Johnny’s coat and proceeded to remove his right arm. Once free, he placed the bp cuff on the upper part of the arm and inflated it, while Captain Stanley checked Johnny’s pulse and respiration. Looking at his watch, Cap shook his head in frustration.
“Where’s that second squad and ambulance?” Cap said under his breath.
“They’ll be here, Cap,” Marco replied, drawing Cap’s attention to the realization that he had voiced his thoughts aloud. “Cap I’ll going to give Roy, Johnny’s vitals.”
Getting up, Marco swiftly walked the distance to Roy’s location near the squad. Roy was busy establishing an IV and readying his patient from her trip to the hospital. The first ambulance had just arrived and the attendants waited while he completed his assigned task. When done, Roy helped load her onto the gurney.
“Roy, I’ve got Johnny’s vitals,” said Marco as Roy finished with the elderly woman.
“Ok, uh..how is he?” Asked Roy.
“Still unconscious but holding his own,” replied Marco.
With a nod, Roy walked to the biophone and reestablished contact with the hospital.
“Rampart, this is 51,” Roy said as Marco wrote down the vitals for him to relay to the hospital. Finishing his task, Marco headed back to Johnny.
“Go ahead 51,” responded Dr. Brackett
“Rampart vital signs for Johnny are B/P is 95/65, pulse is 120, respirations are 28. He was blown from a ladder during a flashover...he fell about 15 feet. Hold for further information.”
"10-4 51, we're standing by."
Faint sounds of sirens in the distance were music to the Captain’s ears as he knelt next to his injured paramedic. The strong smell of smoke and crackling of the burning structure seem distance to him as he watched the rhythmic movement of Johnny’s chest inhaling and exhaling. A low groan drew the Captain’s attention to his injured crewmates face. Eyes flickered and slight movement of his head alerted Cap that Johnny was coming too.
“John..John can you hear me?” Cap asked in hopes Johnny would respond to his voice. “Come on John, open your eyes.”
Johnny struggled with unwilling eyelids yet a distant voice penetrated his darkness demanding an action he was unable to comply with at the moment. In the recesses of his mind, awareness of a throbbing headache and stabbing pain in his chest brought consciousness quicker than the commanding voice.
"Cap...Cap ...hurts...my hands...burn...hurts...to
DeSoto heard his partner's pleas for help, but knew his first priority was his victim. He reassured himself that Cap and shift mates would take care of his best friend.
Marco firmly held Johnny’s legs, while Cap his shoulder, in an effect to calm the injured paramedic, Captain Stanley spoke in a soothing voice.
"John...Johnny, calm down, you have to stay still, Roy's fine. He's with the
victim right now. He’ll be here when the other squad arrives. Now just relax and breathe easy,”
Blinking a few times to clear his vision, Johnny began to calm down as he became more alert. Releasing their hold on Johnny, Cap remained at his side while Marco went to assist Roy.
"Ca..p?...the woman, …alright?...un...unconscious, she was...unconscious..."
"Yeah Johnny, she’s fine, Roy’s taking care of her and we're gonna get you both to Rampart as soon as possible."
Johnny’s vision cleared enough to see Captain Stanley kneeling next to him. “Cap..What…happened?”
“You were blown out the window, Johnny. Can you tell me where it hurts?” Cap evaluated the expression and movement of the paramedic in hopes of gaining valuable information on the seriousness of his injuries.
“My head…My chest…my back… hurts Cap...it really...hurts...” Each word a strain for Johnny to communicate.
“Take care Pal, help is on the way.” Cap gently touching his paramedic’s arm as he saw Roy running towards them with equipment in hand and Marco close in tow.
Johnny slowly closed his eyes as the darkness enveloped him.
Sitting the equipment down, Roy began to assess Johnny’s injuries as Marco opened the biophone for transmission ion to Rampart General.
“Johnny, it’s Roy.”
“R..oy… You ‘k…Woman…” Johnny struggled to breathe through the pain in his chest.
I’m fine Johnny and so is the woman. Brice and Bellingham are taking care of her right now,” replied Roy while running his hand up one leg and down the other, checking for possible fractures.
With the stethoscope, Roy carefully listened to the inhale and exhale of his partner’s lungs. Once finished, he pulled out his penlight and checked pupil dilation, looking for a clue of a serious head injury. Rechecking Johnny’s bp, pulse and respiration, he contacted Rampart with his findings.
“Rampart, this is 51?”
“Go ahead 51,” responded Dr. Brackett.
“Rampart, victim number two, Johnny is conscious. He’s complaining of pain in the chest, back and head…he is also complaining of some difficulty breathing, and we have him on 15 liters of O2. He has slight burns to his hands, and we have irrigated them with normal saline and are dressing them now."
"10-4 51, check vitals again in transit, keep him on the oxygen, and
transport as soon as possible. What's your ETA, 51?"
"10-4 Rampart. Our ETA is 15 minutes.
With the help of Cap and Marco, Roy placed Johnny on a backboard. Gently, Roy slid a C-collar around Johnny’ neck and fastened it security in place. Carefully the three of them lifted him on to the gurney and rolled him into the ambulance.
Startled awake by the static sound coming from the television, Johnny flipped through the TV channels trying to find something of interest. Ads for Christmas toys and gifts covered the airwaves as the holiday loomed near. Suddenly, a commercial for UNICEF caught his attention. There on the television was Audrey Hepburn pleading with people to help needy children have a better life. The small Ethiopian child with his Kwashiorkor swollen belly stared at him with eyes old beyond his years. Gazing at the screen, Johnny vividly remembered another little boy whose hopes and dreams rested in the generosity of people he didn’t know.
Arctic winds blew swiftly across the plains causing ocean waves of heavy snow to rise and fall over the vastness of the land, making each step the small boy took a marathon effort. Bundled in a worn woolen coat, his scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and face warded off the icy chill stinging his cheeks. He pulled his black stocking cap down until it touched the top of his brow, revealing only his chocolate brown eyes. The wiry child made his way to the tiny weathered house, mitten covered hand reached for the doorknob and gave it a hasty turn, while the other covered hand held firmly to his books. Quickly he opened the door, rushed in and shut it with his backside hoping to keep the cold from drifting into the small structure. Setting his schoolbooks on the wooden table, he proceeded to remove his winter attire.
“Johnny is that you?” called his mother from the bedroom.
“It’s me, Mama,” he replied, rubbing his hands together in an effort to get the circulation back in his tiny hands.
“How was your day?” His mother asked, walking into the living area of the home.
Her slender face and body gave her a youthful appearance, yet her deep brown eyes showed a harsh reality of reservation life. A long single black braid extended down her back reaching the base of her tailbone, pig tailing just below the braid line.
“Ok, got an A in spelling,” Johnny said proudly, while stuffing his cap and scarf in the coat sleeve and mittens into the thread-barren pockets before placing the coat on a nail near the door.
“That’s great. Now how about getting your school work done before it’s too dark to see,” said his mother as she walked to the far end of the room that held the family kitchen. Placing a triangular folded cotton towel around her midsection, she began preparing the evening meal.
The small home with its dark wooden walls consisted of one large rectangular room with a small cooking area that contained a wood burning stove, wash sink and icebox. There was a small bedroom to the left of the eating area. A square wooden table worked as counter top and eating-place. Lined neatly on each side were wood framed chairs tattered with age. On the other end of the home a couch sat against one wall, draped with a calico star quilt made by Johnny’s grandmother, while a fruit crate acted as a coffee table. A large hand-made Indian blanket covered the slab floor giving the small home warmth and color. In the corner on the opposite wall sat an old rocker. A large weatherworn blanket draped window, a small table and chair contained Johnny’s schoolbooks that beckoned his attention.
“Ok, Mama,” answered Johnny, heading for the small table. Seating himself in the chair, he took a clothespin from the corner of the table and pinned the blanket back, light instantly illuminated his small working area. Opening his tablet, he began to work on the last few math problems he hadn’t completed in class. When he finished, he flipped the paper to a fresh piece, and began to write a letter to Santa, which his teacher had promised to mail when he returned to school the next day:
Hi, again. How are you? I’m good. What do you do when you’re not taking presents to kids? When I’m not in school, I help out my Papa and Grandfather with chores. I went to the Powwow this past summer and danced but I didn’t win. I did have fun though. If you’re not busy next August you ought to come. It’s a lot of fun. Santa can you say hi to my sister Molly in heaven, I really miss her. My Mama and Papa are sad this year cause she’s not here, and Mama cries a lot when she doesn’t know I’m listening at night. If you could make Mama and Papa not sad for Christmas that would be the best present for me. And Santa thanks. Tell Misses Clause Hi and Merry Christmas from me.
Johnny hit the off switch on the remote; the TV screen suddenly went blank as silence filled the room. Lying in a stiff white-sheeted bed, he pondered the lost memory of his youth. He didn’t really see himself as the boy in the UNICEF commercial, but what about it had made him journey back to his childhood on the reservation? He wasn’t sure. Although his family had struggled, he rarely went to sleep hungry and always had a place to stay. Slowly he leaned over and opened the nightstand drawer to see if Dixie had placed his small personal items inside. Looking in the drawer, Johnny saw that she have neatly laid his effects where he could easily reach them, running his fingers over the pocketknife before closing the drawer. Putting his arm above his head, Johnny closed his eyes, drifting back to a memory distanced by place and time.
Christmas morning had brought a fresh blanket of snow on the open prairie. Johnny stretched his arms above his head, and shifted in his bedroll allowing his feet to touch the cold slab floor for just an instant. Quickly he put them under the warmth of the handmade quilt. Wrapped tightly around him was the quilt his mama had made him last Christmas. The heat from his cocoon made him reluctant to venture beyond his bedroll, yet responsibilities beckoned him to the kitchen area of the small home.
The sounds of his mother working in the kitchen, and the smell of fry bread and coffee, made his stomach grumble with anticipation of the morning meal. Getting up slowly, allowing his body to adjust to the temperature difference in the room, Johnny dressed and made his way to the kitchen area of the house. Without a word, he walked to the small cabinet next to the sink and lifted the curtain. He retrieved four small plates; four bowls three cups, and a glass. After placing each item on the wooden table, he opened the drawer of the cabinet and pulled out flatware for the morning meal.
“Merry Christmas, Johnny,” said his Mama as she placed the last of the fry bread on a plate, while awaiting her husband and father arrival from the morning chores outside.
“Merry Christmas, Mama,” responded Johnny as he finished setting the table.
Turning to another cabinet in the small space, she pulled out a box of cereal and placed it towards the center of the table. From the icebox, she picked up a pitcher of milk she’d made up the night before from the powered milk commodities they’d received from the government each month. No sooner had she finished her task, before two male voices drifted from the cold outdoors into the warm cocoon of the home.
“Something smells good daughter,” said Grandfather with a crooked smile across his face as he removed his coat and gloves, placing them on the nail by the front door. His long slim body, once tall in his youth was now bent with age, and he slowly moved to the comfort of the couch.
“I would agree,” replied Samuel Gage. A tall, well-built man with short black hair and deep brown eyes that glistened with boyish mischief, he walked over to his wife, placing his cold hands on her checks while gently kissing her lips.
“Thank you. Hope you’re hungry,” Replied Dora Gage shaking her head at her husband’s playful affection, as she poured coffee into each cup on the table.
Each member of the family sat in their appointed seats and began passing food to each other. Small talk was made while all ate their fill. When they finished, Johnny cleared the table and the dishes washed and put away. Johnny quickly strolled over to the couch and sat on the far end near the door. His bare feet barely touching the floor, as he squirming from side to side and hands fidgeting with loose threads from the quilt that draped the couch, Johnny impatiently waited for his gifts. Next to him sat his Grandfather, a leather faced, toothless man, who only wore his false teeth on special occasion. Reaching over Johnny, Grandfather grabbed his cup, pulled his teeth out and inserted them in his mouth. A clicking sound resonated as he adjusted the fit.
Retrieving a small plain wrapped package, Johnny’s father walked over to his son and placed the little gift in his hands. Looking up, Johnny saw dark eyes of pride focused on him. Warmth washed through him that no arctic air could dissipate.
“This is for you, son,” Samuel Gage said while looking down at his young son.
“Thank you, papa” responded Johnny still focused on the eyes of his father.
Tearing the brown paper from the gift, Johnny held up a pocketknife that had once been his father’s. The gleam in his eyes conveyed the pleasure the gift gave him as his fingers glided over the wood texture of the pocketknife.
“Papa, thank you,” Johnny smiled still rubbing the outside of the knife, knowing it was a special gift passed down to another generation of Gage men.
Soon all the gifts were opened. A scarf for Johnny’s mother, a hand made flannel shirt for his father by his mother, and denture cream and cigarettes for his Grandfather. After cleaning up the brown paper from the floor, Johnny’s father carried it to the coal-burning stove and placed the paper inside. Still holding his pocketknife Johnny looked up to see his mother holding a like new winter coat. The coat had come from the Catholic Church on the reservation. People from places Johnny had only heard about had sent gifts of clothes, shoes, toys and other items for the Indian people living on the reservation.
“Mama, Papa… this coat’s great. Thanks,” said Johnny as he took it from his mother and put it on.
The coat was blue and gold with its Los Angeles Rams emblem, and even though the sleeves the fell beyond his fingertips, it made him feel twice the size of his small frame. Turning around to give everyone a view, Johnny strolled over to his mother and gave her a hug.
“I love you, Mama and Merry Christmas,” he whispered. “Can I go outside and play till lunch?”
“Sure, but bundle up. It’s very cold out there,” replied his mother smiling warmly at her only son and child.
“Thanks Mama,” Johnny said with glee, as he took off his new coat. He replaced it with his old one, adding gloves, scarf, boots and his hat before heading out the door to play in the Christmas snow. Glancing back, he saw his parents holding one another, a smile evident on their faces. Smiles Johnny hadn’t seen since his sister Molly had died of meningitis on Christmas Eve the year before. To Johnny Santa had truly delivered his Christmas wish. His parents were happy even if it only was for Christmas day.
Slowly Johnny reached over the railing of his hospital bed. Grabbing the draw handle on the nightstand, he opened it and pulled out the pocketknife his father had given him that Christmas. Caressing it between his thumb and fingers, he smiled. Leaning over, he laid it in the drawer and closed it. Relaxing in the bed for the night, Johnny drifted off to sleep, a smile on his face as he remembered the best Christmas ever.
Author notes: The Dear Santa letter was written by a little girl who lives on one of the Reservations here in the United States.
This story didn’t attempted to identify Johnny’s Tribal Nation or Reservation because no matter the Reservation the conditions remain nearly same on all of them.
Finally, I would like to thank Jackie and Joan for beta reading the story. Sherry for her wealth of ideas and medical information that were added to this story and her beta reading of the story as well. For Linda who listened to countless ideas as the story took shape. I would also like to thank Rose for keeping me on track and just for being a great listener.
"Emergency!" and its characters are © Mark VII Productions. All rights reserved. No infringement on any copyrights or trademarks is intended or should be inferred.
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