By Audrey W.
John Gage sat in a chair in Captain Stanley’s office, as his partner Roy DeSoto wrote down their latest runs in the log book. It was early afternoon and already the paramedics had been on three responses. Though only one of those was an involved rescue, the men were glad to have some down time. Most of the calls the past few shifts involved incidents caused by heated tempers due to a shortage of gasoline and long lines at the pumps as people desperately tried to keep fuel in their cars.
“This is kind of turning out like our last shift,” Johnny commented. “I hope it changes course so we can get some decent sleep tonight.”
Roy kept writing as he answered. “I know what you mean. I’ve got a lot to do around the house and I kind of want to get started as soon as I get off tomorrow. But it seems like the longer this gas shortage goes, the shorter people’s nerves get. I don’t see things getting any easier for awhile.”
“Well, I can still hope they do. I finally got that nurse, Karen Sanders, to go on a date with me. We’re going out to breakfast tomorrow before she starts her shift.”
“I thought you were going up to San Francisco to see your aunt.”
“I was. I postponed that when Karen said yes.”
Roy nodded in understanding. He knew he’d have done the same thing back when he was dating Joanne.
With the log book caught up, the paramedics stood and headed for the dayroom. They no sooner got into the apparatus bay when the klaxons sounded.
“Squad 51, man injured, 2206 North Hill Street, two two zero six North Hill Street, time out 14:04.”
Roy quickly jotted down the information and acknowledged the call at the podium as Johnny trotted around to the passenger side of the squad and climbed in. Roy handed him the slip of paper with the information on it as he got in on the driver’s side. Lights and siren going, Roy drove the squad into the street.
William Clancy sat in the break room of Danby’s Gas and Go, a make shift ice pack on his jaw. The man sighed, not wanting to believe that after what would be classified as the most creative drive in history through the Carson area to arrive at a station that actually still had gas and shorter lines than most, he would end up in need of paramedics after all.
The eighty-year-old man had grown afraid of dying in recent years and often added to a list of things he’d either never or rarely do again so as not to take any chances. That list included not making left turns or driving across railroad tracks whenever avoidable, often going a couple of miles out of his way to not do so.
It was this type of avoidance that led to a recent minor car accident when on an unfamiliar route, he got confused at an intersection and made a sudden move into a left turn lane and sideswiped another car. The fire department was dispatched to the scene and thus William developed an acquaintance with paramedics Roy DeSoto and John Gage. Another minor accident a couple of weeks later, and a scare with chest pains a few days after that had the paramedics and William on a first name basis with one another.
Now William sat wondering if his recently found friends would be the ones to come to his aid once again. He didn’t think he was seriously hurt and had wanted to leave after being punched in the jaw by an irate man who didn’t like the idea of William cleaning his own windshield after filling up the car. But an employee of the station wouldn’t allow it. The manager agreed.
I hope it’s them.
After carefully and patiently navigating past the waiting cars in line at the gas station, Roy brought the squad to a stop near the corner of the building where an officer was talking to a young man sitting in the back seat of the police car, the door open. An employee of Danby’s Gas and Go was standing near the front doors of the station, but stepped forward as Johnny and Roy got out of their truck.
“Boy, is it good to see you guys. The old man wanted to leave after it happened, but we wouldn’t let him. Neither would the cop.” He motioned with his head at the police officer.
Johnny grabbed the biophone out of an open compartment and turned to look at the man. “What happened?”
“An old man filled up his car and started to clean his windshield.” He shrugged. “The guy behind him didn’t like the idea of waiting any longer. . .hauled off and punched him in the mouth. Nearly knocked him down. He’s inside now.”
Roy shook his head. Nothing surprised him anymore. The two paramedics followed as the employee led them to the victim.
As they entered the break room, Gage and DeSoto saw a familiar face. “William?” Johnny questioned in surprise.
The elderly man gave a small wave with his free hand, a look of defeat on his face. He moved the icepack aside to reveal a swollen lower lip, blood evident on the cold cloth.
The paramedics quickly went over to the man, and began to render their aid. Gage gingerly palpated Williams jaw, checking for any indication of a fracture. Luckily it didn’t appear to be the case. “You must have good bones if the hit was as hard as they say.”
“It wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
“You didn’t almost fall down?” Roy asked.
William shook his head. “I may have staggered a few steps, but more because it surprised me. Maybe moving back as he hit me saved me from a break.”
“He did a good number on your lip, though,” Johnny said. “You might’ve cut it on your dentures.”
“I’m lucky he didn’t knock ‘em down my throat, eh?”
Johnny picked up the biophone receiver. “Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”
“Loud and clear, 51. Go ahead,” came Kel Brackett’s response.
The paramedic relayed the information on William which included a slightly elevated blood pressure reading, a bruise near his mouth, and a split lip that wouldn’t stop bleeding.
“Bring him in, 51,” Brackett instructed. “We’ll stitch up his lip and I want to make sure his blood pressure returns to normal.”
As they took the elderly man out of the station on a stretcher, Johnny remarked, “If I were you, I’d take a vacation and get away from the city for awhile. Maybe take a week in Hawaii or somethin’ where people are more laid back.”
William shook his head and doing his best to talk with an increasingly swollen and sore lip, he explained.
“I’d have to take a plane to get there, and I can’t do that.”
Johnny and Roy exchanged a glance with one another, curious as to why. Before either had to ask, William went on with his answer.
“It may be the pilot’s time to go while I'm flying with him .”
Roy shook his head, while Gage tried another suggestion.
"Well, what about a boat? You could take a boat ride over there.”
“No, no boats. It may be the captain’s time to go, or someone else’s on board.”
“I’d suggest a train, but you obviously can’t take one of those to get there,” the younger paramedic snickered.
As they exited the building, William remarked, “Wouldn’t matter. I won’t ride on a train.”
Roy cracked a slight grin. “Might be the engineer’s time?”
“Or a passenger’s, or even someone crossing the tracks.”
Johnny smiled and shrugged at his partner as they lifted the stretcher into the ambulance. People sure get funny in old age.
As they rode along in the ambulance, William tapped Johnny’s hand and once again made an effort to talk by asking if they’d cross any railroad tracks on the way to Rampart.
“I don’t think so. . .but don’t worry. We’ll be okay.”
Gage was met with a skeptical look. “You and these ambulance guys may save lives, but that doesn’t mean you’re infallible.”
Johnny couldn’t help but smile again. The man had a point. He patted William’s left shoulder. “Just take it easy. We’ll get there in one piece.” Gage was glad they were going without lights and siren, and at a normal speed. Somehow he felt it made them less of a potential target since some people still tended to ignore the sounds of emergency vehicles.
Once they arrived at Rampart, William was left in the care of Doctor Brackett. It was reassuring to the patient since he’d been in to see the doctor before. The less William needed to adapt to as change, the better he felt.
A week later, William was out and about in his yellow Rambler, his windshield in desperate need of a cleaning. After his recent encounter with the angry motorist at Danby’s Gas and Go, the elderly man was reluctant to take the time to clean it. And he didn’t like the price of gas at the full-service lanes where the attendants did all the work for patrons.
As he pulled off a side street and onto a main road, William suddenly heard the screeching of tires, followed by the crunch of metal as a red Pacer shot past him and crashed. The elderly man hadn’t seen the other car before he’d made his turn. He sighed as he watched the angry driver, a young woman, approach his car.
Maybe John was right. Maybe I do need to get away from the city. I just hope she doesn’t hit me.
It wasn’t long after the woman had gotten out of her vehicle that two police officers in one squad car arrived on the scene. Shortly thereafter came a rescue squad belonging to the fire department.
William and the driver of the Pacer were standing near the yellow Rambler talking to one of the policemen when the squad pulled up to the scene. The elderly man sighed in relief when he saw who’d been dispatched to the accident.
John and Roy.
“Oh no, look. . .” John Gage said as he pointed ahead.
His partner, Roy DeSoto, was driving the squad to the location of their latest run, and noticed right away what Johnny was bringing his attention to. A small yellow Rambler sat in the middle of the street two blocks ahead. A red Ford Pinto was nearby, it’s damaged nose up against a telephone pole. A patrol car was parked on the side of the street with its lights flashing. One of the officers was directing the little bit of traffic there was around the yellow car; his partner was on the other side of the vehicle with a gray-haired man and a young woman.
“It’s William,” Johnny commented. “It has to be him.”
“I think you’re right. Wonder what happened this time?”
Johnny shrugged as Roy brought the squad to a stop at the scene. “I guess we’re about to find out.” The two men got out of their truck and waved to the apparently uninjured man as they approached on foot.
“What happened?” Gage asked.
Officer Vince Howard and William answered simultaneously, though each giving a different answer.
“I’m not sure. I’m still sorting it out.”/ “She came out of nowhere and just ran right into that pole.”
“You pulled out in front of me,” the young woman next to the men argued.
The paramedics could guess what Vince was dealing with and why he had yet to sort it out.
“Are either of you hurt?” Roy asked.
“I am. Sort of,” the woman said. She rubbed at her left shoulder. “Right here. . .it’s already getting stiff.”
Roy walked over to her and led her toward the squad, where he had her sit on the bumper. He then began to examine her shoulder. William quickly stepped over to Johnny and made a comment under his breath. “You know she’s gonna try to sue me. Just watch.”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll be okay.” He gave the elderly man a quick once over glance. “You sure you didn’t get hurt?”
William nodded. “But maybe I should act hurt and counter sue.”
“Oh, I doubt there’ll be a need for that.”
“. . .he pulled out and started to make a left turn. . .” the lady’s words filtered over to the dark-haired paramedic and old man as Vince interviewed her about the accident while Roy continued to work.
“Left turn?” William exclaimed. “Left turn?”
“Hey, calm down,” Johnny soothed, worried about the man getting too upset. “You’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story.”
“Yeah, but I don’t even make left turns anymore ‘less I have to. And I live that way, remember?” He said, pointing to the right.
Johnny smiled. “Yeah? Don’t like left turns, huh?”
William shook his head. “Remember, there’re a lot of things I don’t like anymore. Not just left turns and railroad tracks, but I won’t cross any bridges either. And I sure as hell am not gonna take a chance on pulling out in front of any oncoming cars. If it isn’t clear by a long shot, I’m not moving.”
This time Johnny didn’t smile. What had seemed funny to him before now was sadder. William was afraid of doing so many things because of what could happen to him in the process. He’d noticed some of this attitude in other elderly folks they’d treated over the past few years, but none to this degree.
Johnny nudged William in the right arm when he noticed Vince now walking toward them. “Looks like you’ll get a chance to tell your side of the story now.”
“Alright, Mr. . . .”
“Mr. Williams?” Vince began to write the name down.
“No. First name is William. Last name is Clancy. C-l-a-n-c-y.”
Vince exchanged a glance with Johnny, then addressed the old man. “William Clancy. Got it. Now, can you tell me what happened, Mr. Clancy?”
“Yes,” the man nodded. “I came to a stop at the intersection. I looked both ways to make sure it was clear. I had a red light, but everyone knows you can make a right turn on red. So I pulled out to make my turn . . .a right turn. . . to go home because that’s the direction I live in and I’m not turnin’ left ‘less I absolutely have to. I get into the street and this car comes out of nowhere, goes right past me and slams into that pole.” He pointed to the telephone pole with the red car against it. “Then that lady gets out and runs over to me while I’m still in my car and says I got in her way. . . made her lose control and wreck.”
“Mmm hmmm.” Vince jotted down the information. “Well, sir, judging by the skid marks, I’d say she did have to take evasive action to miss hitting you. And by design of the intersection, I’d say there’s no way she could just ‘come out of nowhere’.” He glanced at Johnny one more time before delivering the news to William. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to site you for failure to yield.”
“But. . .”
“William,” Johnny said to get the man’s attention. “William. It’s okay. You’ll just get a ticket and your insurance company can pay for the repairs to her car.”
“But I’ve only had one ticket in my life and that was a few weeks ago.”
“The accident with the motorcycle driver,” Johnny nodded knowingly. “Well, as bad as it seems, just be glad no one got seriously hurt in any of the accidents.”
“But I didn’t see her. I know the street was clear. I double checked both ways.”
“Maybe it’s time to let someone else do the driving for you.”
William looked down at the ground, then up at Johnny. “John, would you want to be dependent on someone chauffeuring you around everywhere?”
“No, can’t say that I would.” He thought about mentioning that he did get chauffeured around more or less while Roy drove the squad, but he knew that was entirely different.
William shook his head. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Johnny, you ready to go?” Roy asked as he came up to the two men. “Nancy’s just going to have her own doctor check out her shoulder.”
“What’s the outcome?” Roy wondered.
William looked at the senior paramedic with sorrowful eyes. “Another ticket for me. Your partner suggested I get someone to drive me around.”
“Might not be a bad idea. Think of how relaxing it would be to just be able to look at the scenery and not worry about traffic so much.”
“Yeah, but what if it’s the chauffeur’s time to--”
“Go,” Johnny finished. “I suppose a public bus is out of the question.”
“Won’t step foot on one.”
“You know, William, not everyone is going around with a bulls eye on their back.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “You’ve made it this far okay.”
William sighed. “It’s just not the same anymore. I know my time’s close. . .I guess I just don’t want it to get here too soon.”
The paramedics exchanged glances, not sure what else to say.
“Well, let us know how you’re doin’, okay, William?”
“Sure, John. I will.”
“Hope next time we see you, it’s under better conditions,” Roy added.
The men started for their squad.
“You think he’ll be okay, Roy?”
“I think he will. I’d say overall he knows it’s about time to give up his driver’s license. His eyesight’s apparently not what it used to be.”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder. “He sure is afraid of doin’ a lot of things. I hope I don’t get like that when I’m older.”
Roy grinned. “Somehow, I can see you still rappelling down hillsides when you’re ninety. . .”
“Well, I don’t wanna be afraid to live, that’s for sure.”
“I’m not so sure that’s what William’s problem is.”
Johnny looked at Roy as the other man got in on the driver’s side of the squad.
He’s right. This isn’t about being afraid to live. . .
The next two weeks went by without incident for William Clancy. Johnny and Roy hadn’t been dispatched to nor heard from their elderly friend since the accident with the red Ford Pinto, which both paramedics took as a good sign.
“Maybe he’s got someone driving him around after all,” Johnny stated as the two men discussed William between runs one day.
Roy eyed his partner sitting across the table in the dayroom. “You miss the guy too, huh?”
“Yeah, I do. I mean, I’m glad we haven’t seen ‘im since the only time we did was when something was wrong. But, I do miss the ol’ guy.”
“We could always give him a call or maybe stop by and see him on a day off.”
Johnny sat forward. “You know, I think that would be a good idea. What about goin’ over there tomorrow?”
“Well, I can’t do it that soon. I promised Joanne we could take the kids to Disneyland tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I guess I can’t either. I’m taking Karen Sanders to Santa Barbara for the day.”
“We could still call him.”
“Let’s do it next shift, then we can find out what would be a good day and time to stop by and see ‘im.”
That agreed upon, the paramedics headed out to the back lot to play basket ball with the engine crew.
The following shift started off as busy. Before roll call was even completed, the tones sounded.
“Squad 51, possible heart attack victim, 2012 West Sycamore Street, two zero one two West Sycamore Street, cross street Waylin, time out 08:03.”
Johnny and Roy exchanged worried glances as they rushed to the squad.
“That’s William’s address,” Gage stated as he trotted to the passenger side door.
“I know. I hope it’s another false alarm.” Roy took the slip of paper with the information on it from the captain as he climbed in the truck.
Although the distance from the station to the elderly man’s house was only a few miles, it seemed three times as long to the paramedics. Neither said much along the way as each kept his fears to himself.
Johnny and Roy gathered their equipment from the squad and hurried toward the front door of William Clancy’s home. As the paramedics got to the first step leading to the porch, the door flung open, revealing his very distraught middle-aged daughter.
“Oh thank God you’re here! He’s not breathing!”
Gage skipped the next step, Roy right along side him, as they immediately registered the urgency of the situation. Rushing into the home, Johnny glanced at the woman.
“Where is he?”
“This way. . .in the bathroom.” She quickly escorted them through the livingroom and down a hallway at the other end of the room.
“How long ago did he quit breathing?” Roy asked as they hurried through the house.
“I . . . I’m not sure. I was on my way to meet you and my daughter called out. . .maybe just over a minute or two. . .?”
The paramedics stepped into the bathroom and immediately knelt down beside William who was lying on the tile floor along side the tub. His twenty-five-year-old granddaughter moved out of the way and stood in a corner by her mother. Johnny confirmed there was no sign of breaths as he also checked for a carotid. He shook his head. “There’s no pulse.” He quickly went to work performing CPR on the boxer short clad man while Roy set up the defibrillator and scope.
“C’mon, William. . .c’mon.”
Within seconds the equipment was ready. Johnny stopped chest compressions to allow Roy to place the gel treated paddles on William’s chest. “Flatline.”
Johnny pressed the button on the defibrillator and the unit charged up to 400 watts. “Clear!” He watched as his partner attempted to shock the elderly man’s heart into action. Roy again held the paddles on William’s chest. The straight line remained.
Johnny recharged the unit and did a few chest compressions until the 400 watts was reached. He then sat up straight and pulled his hands away. “Clear!”
Once again Roy sent an electrical charge through the William’s chest.
“Oh my God!” The woman behind them cried, hugging her daughter. “Please don’t let him die! He’s afraid of dying. . .please. . .please. . .” she wept.
Also in tears, the daughter tried to comfort her mother. She watched in horror as her grandfather continued to appear lifeless.
Roy set up the biophone and contacted help while Johnny resumed CPR.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51.” A brief pause, then once again, “Rampart, Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51,” came Brackett’s reply.
“Rampart, we have an apparent heart attack victim, a male approximately eighty-years-old.” DeSoto looked over his shoulder to check on the upset women behind him, then quietly gave the next bit of information to the doctor, “There’s no pulse and the victim is not breathing on his own. We defibrillated him twice at 400 watts, no conversion. Johnny’s giving him CPR now.”
“51, insert an esophageal airway and start an IV D5W TKO. Administer 1 amp bicarb and continue CPR.”
“10-4, Rampart. Esophageal airway, IV D5W TKO, and administer 1 amp bicarb. Continue CPR.”
Johnny nodded, indicating he copied what the doctor had instructed. He and Roy did as they were instructed.
“Good ventilation,” Johnny remarked as he listened to William’s lungs.
Roy picked up the receiver of the biophone again. “Rampart, airway’s in, we started the IV and administered bicarb. We’ve got good ventilation, but we’re still unable to get a rhythm.”
“51, defibrillate again.”
When the flatline continued after another shock, Roy immediately alerted Brackett. “No conversion, Rampart.”
“Give 1 to 10,000 epinephrine IV, and continue CPR.”
Again the paramedics did as instructed, desperately hoping they could save their friend. They tuned out the sobs from William’s daughter and granddaughter as they worked fervently on the man. Soon they were rewarded for their efforts.
“Rampart, we’ve got a rhythm,” Roy reported while Johnny patched the victim in so doctor Brackett could monitor how the elderly man was doing now.
Kel Brackett examined the EKG strip coming through at the base station. All indication was the patient looked to be okay. He pressed the transmit button.
“51, continue monitoring the victim and bring him in ASAP.”
“10-4, Rampart,” came the reply.
“They almost lost one.”
Dixie McCall was standing nearby. She nodded, a solemn expression on her face. “There’re a few people who can thank those two for another chance at life.”
Relieved to have gotten William back from clinical death, Johnny hurried alongside the stretcher as they headed out of the house. Nearing the front door, he noticed a few pictures up on the wall in the entry way. They were of both the mother and daughter, some including William in much better days. A very big smile was on his face in one shot as he held a big fish to one side on a line. Johnny hoped the man would somehow see those kind of days again.
At least we got him back.
The paramedic knew anything could happen on the way to or at Rampart. But optimism couldn’t hurt.
Roy helped to set the equipment in the back of the ambulance as Johnny climbed in with William. Once all were situated, the senior paramedic closed the rear doors, giving them two slaps to indicate they were secure. He trotted to the squad as the ambulance pulled away.
“Thank you,” the daughter said, wiping tears from her eyes. Her mother had gone in the front of the ambulance. “If we’d lost him. . .”
“It’s okay. That’s what we’re here for. Are you okay to drive?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine.”
Roy nodded and climbed in the squad. Turning on the siren, he pulled into the street and followed along the route the ambulance had taken.
Johnny checked the drip of the IV, then noticed the elderly man’s eyes were open and looking directly at him. Being familiar with the patient, the paramedic gave a reassuring smile.
“Well, hi there, William.”
The eyes carried a bewildered and wary expression that wasn’t lost on the fireman.
“It’s me . . . John Gage. Do you remember? I’m a paramedic with the LA County Fire Department.” He forced a crooked grin, then turned serious when his patient seemed didn’t respond well. “You had some trouble with your heart, so we’re taking you in to Rampart General Hospital. Just take it easy.”
William closed his eyes, a tear trickling down from the corner of his right eye and into his white hair.
Johnny took notice and patted the man’s left hand in reassurance. “Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be okay.” The paramedic hoped he was right.
Johnny trotted alongside the stretcher as William was wheeled down the corridor and toward a treatment room where Dixie was directing them to go. The man’s daughter was right behind.
“Is my father going to be okay?”
Johnny and the ambulance attendants glanced at her as they pushed the stretcher through the doorway. “He’s gonna be in the best possible care,” Gage reassured.
“Ma’am, you’ll have to wait out here,” Dixie explained. She reached out to guide the woman to the waiting area.
Johnny and two orderlies transferred William to the examination table, and both Brackett and Early were on hand to take charge of the situation.
“No change in vitals,” Johnny explained as he watched the doctors go to work. “He regained consciousness in route. He seems pretty disoriented.”
Brackett looked up as Early and a nurse hooked William up to their monitoring equipment.
“You guys did a great job, Johnny. You got him back.”
The paramedic smiled. “Thanks, Doc.” Gage noticed William was once again staring at him. He gave a small wave to the patient. “You’ve got the two best doctors in the hospital. You’ll be fine.”
The nurse handed the squad’s scope back to Gage and the dark-haired man left the room. He met up with Roy in the corridor.
“How’s he doing?”
“Okay. He regained consciousness in route.” Johnny glanced around at the nurses and doctors bustling about, then brought his attention back to Roy. “He appeared confused about what’s going on, but I think he’ll do okay. I hope so.”
“Yeah, me too.” Roy motioned toward the waiting room with his head. “He’s got two worried people who care about him very much.”
Johnny glanced across to where several people sat waiting for other patients or to see a doctor. He noticed the two women from the call both looking toward the treatment rooms, distraught expressions on their faces.
“You know, we should’ve called him. . .”
Roy nodded in agreement. He was about to suggest they talk to the daughter and granddaughter, but the paramedics were toned out via the Handie Talkie before anymore could be said.
Two calls and a few hours later, Johnny and Roy found themselves at Rampart, bringing in another victim. Once they had the injured lady in Doctor Morton’s care, they sought out Dixie McCall, Kel Brackett or Joe Early for an update on William.
The first person they met into was Dixie. She was just returning to her desk after running an errand.
“Well, what can I do for you two?”
“Supplies,” Johnny said, handing her a list they’d made out. He watched her as she turned to open a cabinet. “How’s William Clancy doing?”
Dixie glanced over her shoulder. “He’s in ICU, but so far he’s doing okay, other than being exhausted. If he makes it through the next couple of days with no complications, he’ll be in a regular room after then.”
“Well, you know he’s got a good chance thanks to you two.”
Johnny and Roy exchanged a glance and smiled. They had to admit, outcomes like this made the job even more worthwhile.
Dixie handed Gage the supply list to sign as the paramedic pulled his pen out of his shirt pocket. “We’ll probably check back on William if we’re in later tonight.”
“Okay. Betty should be on then, but she can get the information for you.”
Johnny picked up the supplies. “Good deal. See ya, Dix.”
“Yeah, see ya,” Roy added.
“Bye, guys.” The head nurse smiled as she watched them walk away. The paramedics’ genuine concern for the victims they helped was admirable.
When Johnny and Roy made a stop at Rampart in the early morning, they couldn’t find anyone to give an update on William. The two paramedics headed up to ICU to ask someone there. When they stepped off the elevator on that floor, Johnny noticed William’s daughter and granddaughter coming toward them. Both were in tears, their eyes slightly puffy.
The mother saw the questioning looks on both paramedics’ faces. She shook her head slightly, then glanced down at the floor.
Johnny looked from her to the granddaughter and back to the mother, as Roy spoke.
“He was supposed to be doing so well. . .what happened?”
The mother swallowed hard, her puffy eyes growing redder as they teared again. She brought her gaze up to meet theirs. “He. . .he knew. He knew something was wrong.”
“Whataya mean?” Johnny asked. “They said--”
“He just knew it was his time. . .to go. It was just. . .his time.”
“William told you that?”
The mother nodded as she fiddled with a piece of paper in her hands. “In this note. He said we. . .Oh God. I told him I was sorry,” she said, her voice just above a whisper and cracking.
“Sorry?” Roy wondered.
The granddaughter spoke up as the mother handed the paper to Roy. “You know Grandpa was afraid of dying.” Her lower lip trembled as she tried to keep her composure to explain. “And now . . .because of us. . .he did it. . .twice.” She stood sobbing a moment before telling the paramedics, “he just died a few minutes ago. His heart gave out.”
Johnny just stared at the room where some unfamiliar doctors were now exiting. Brackett and Early hadn’t come on duty yet.
Roy read the note, his throat tightening. Why did you let them save me? Now I’m going to have to die again. He then passed the paper on to his partner.
“He was so afraid of dying, I thought we were doing the right thing by calling you,” the mother said, wiping at the tears now running down her cheeks. “I never gave this thought.”
Johnny couldn’t hide the solemn expression on his face as he read the words William had managed to scribble.
Roy didn’t know what to say.
“It’s not your fault. You guys did what you had to do. We didn’t know he’d feel this way.”
DeSoto nodded. “You’re right. It’s just. . .” He waited for his partner to jump in, but Gage remained silent. The senior paramedic looked at Johnny and could see he was in no mood to say much of anything. The younger man’s jaw was set, his eyes watery. “We’d better go. . .it’s about time to get off duty.”
The women thanked them again as Johnny gave back the note, the last words from William. The men started for the elevator. “You okay?” Roy wondered.
Johnny stood beside him as they waited for the elevator to arrive. “I don’ know, Roy.”
“You do know she was right. . .we just did our job. What we were supposed to do.”
The younger man didn’t answer, but rather just stepped into the elevator when the automatic doors opened. Roy kept silent as they rode down to the ER. Neither paramedic looked for any of the familiar faces on the lower floor as they made their way through the somewhat busy corridor toward the exit and their squad. Instead they tried to get out of the building unnoticed.
Once out in the squad, the partners sat in the cab of the truck, still neither saying a word. Roy started to insert the key in the ignition when Johnny finally broke the silence.
“What are we supposed to do?”
Roy sat back, the key still in his hand and shook his head. “There’s nothing we can do. Our job is to save lives. We can’t just let someone go.”
“But he didn’t wanna be saved. We didn’t do this for him. . .we thought we were. But really it wasn’t.” Johnny paused a moment to keep his composure. “We did it for his family and us. . .. The look he had in the ambulance. I shoulda’ known something more was going on. He wasn’t where he wanted to be, Roy. I was so. . .”
“You were so what? You were doing what we both were trained to do. . .keep the victim calm and reassured.”
“Yeah, but I was so sure we were doin’ the right thing, I never stopped to think he may not want our help.” He looked intently at Roy. “Did it ever cross your mind with him? I mean this time?”
DeSoto shook his head. “No.”
Johnny sat in thought, the frown never leaving his face. “I’m tryin’ to think what we could’ve done differently if we’da’ known. But I can’t see us doing it any other way. I know I would’ve told him the same thing as I did before. That it was gonna be okay. . .I would’ve figured he was just scared. Ah, hell, Roy. He was! He was scared. You said it a couple of weeks ago. All those things William avoided were because he feared death, not life. So he finally faced it. . .almost had it over with. . .and we basically said, ‘no, you’re gonna have to do this all over again later.’”
The two men sat in thought knowing that they couldn’t take this experience and change anything they normally did. Their job was saving lives, and they’d have to erase any doubts they might carry with them. The quiet was interrupted by dispatch.
“Squad 51, man down, 1430 Valley View Road, one four three zero Valley View Road, time out 07:32.”
Roy started the engine while Johnny picked up the mic. “10-4.”
The squad pulled away from Rampart, lights and siren on.
A few days later Johnny and Roy stood among the mourners in the graveyard as Amazing Grace was played on the bag pipes. After a brief ceremony that followed, the two friends headed toward Johnny’s Land Rover across the way.
As soon as they’d gotten off duty the morning William Clancy died, both men were anxious to get home to people important to them, Roy to his family; Johnny to call his aunt. The sudden and unexpected loss of a friend was a reminder that tomorrows weren’t always a guarantee.
The two paramedics decided they weren’t going to miss paying their last respects to the older gentleman who’d inadvertently given them a reminder of how fragile life could be. Gage and DeSoto had to admit they’d gotten complacent on it lately despite what they saw from day to day.
As he walked across the velvety green grass, Johnny cracked a slight crooked grin, sadness still in his eyes. “You know, I’m gonna think of William every time I drive across a railroad track or over a bridge . . .or even when I make a left turn.”
The partners walked the rest of the way to the Land Rover in silence, each holding a favorite memory of the elderly man in his thoughts.
Thanks to Jill H. for the beta read. Any mistakes, medical or otherwise, are mine.
This is dedicated to my grandfather who passed away on September 24th, 1982. He was quite a memorable character and although we found it humorous in how he avoided so many things in life because it might be someone else’s time to go, in reality it was kind of sad. Until he asked my aunts why they let the paramedics save him when he’d had a heart attack and basically died, I’d never given it thought that anyone would feel that way. It was harder to lose him more so than any other relative so far, mainly because he feared death so much.
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