The character Laverne was created by Preston Wood for the episode ‘Propinquity’. No copyright infringement is intended in the use of her in this story. Her added characteristics are my own interpretation of the character and do not necessarily reflect what he had in mind.
By Audrey W.
Well, three down and too many to go, John Gage thought to himself as he finished tacking up parts of a red paper streamer to the ceiling. He got off the three-step ladder he was using and moved it over to do the next loop.
Although it was only December 22nd, the paramedic’s neighbor Laverne Martin was having a Christmas party in her apartment that evening and he’d offered a few days prior to help with the decorating when the time came. So far he was off to a good start, but the up and down motion on the step ladder gave him an uncharacteristic feeling of light-headedness.
Johnny grabbed the streamer where he’d be tacking it next, and stepped up on the ladder, only to find himself in need of closing his eyes. The room had begun to waver slightly.
Man. . .
When he opened them again and everything appeared normal, he carefully got to the third step and pulled a thumbtack out of a package that was secured to a denim belt loop on his jeans. Moving his head slowly, he looked up to see where he was placing the end of the fourth loop and beginning of the fifth.
Dressed in blue polyester bellbottom slacks, a peasant style white blouse and with oversized plastic rollers in her brown hair, Laverne came out of her kitchen with a lit cigarette in her hand, just missing Johnny’s brief pause.
“Between the two deli trays I picked up this morning and my own food I already had, I’ve only got enough room in the refrigerator for the chip dip and two cartons of beer. Do you think I can put the two bottles of wine in your refrigerator to chill?”
Gage made sure the thumbtack was secure and slowly stepped down off the ladder, grateful this time he didn’t feel light-headed. “Sure,” he shrugged. “No problem.”
Laverne and Johnny were close friends, though they’d never dated. She was more like a quirky sister, coming to him when problems arose, including occasional arguments with her boyfriend Larry Brock. The two were so comfortable with each other that it didn’t bother Laverne to have Johnny see her at her worst and he didn’t think anything of her catching him just in boxer shorts at times. He’d given her a spare key to his place so that she could come in any time of the day or night if need be. The only time he’d encountered a problem was when his partner, Roy DeSoto, had stayed over and Laverne, Larry and Larry’s sister Kim barged in, catching Roy in a chair bed in his underwear. It had taken a few days to get Roy to forgive him for the awkward disruption.
Laverne blew out a puff of smoke after taking a drag on her cigarette and smiled. “Thanks, John. You’re a sweetheart.”
Johnny smiled slightly and went back to the task at hand as Laverne walked over to a console stereo across the room. He scooted the step ladder over and leaned down to get the next section of streamer, immediately regretting doing it quickly when another wave of light-headedness washed over him.
Maybe I just need to eat something. . .
He glanced at his watch. It had been four hours since he’d eaten anything substantial. All he’d had before coming over to Laverne’s were some pieces of hard candy from a large glass jar of them his aunt had given him at Thanksgiving.
Though it rarely bothered him at work to go long periods without eating, he attributed that to the adrenaline rush rescue calls often brought on. It was easy to forget he was hungry. But the work he was doing now was tedious.
I’ll grab a bite as soon as I get one of the streamers up.
Involved in putting a Christmas album on the turntable, holding her cigarette away with two fingers so as to keep it from touching the record, once again Laverne missed seeing her friend’s reaction when he’d leaned over. She instead hummed Jingle Bells as she placed the needle on the record with her free hand. Soon Perry Como’s voice singing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ filled the room.
By the time Laverne turned around, Johnny had recovered from his wooziness and was already back up on the step ladder, his full attention on getting the next thumbtack in place.
Laverne took another drag on the cigarette as she watched Johnny slowly step off the ladder.
“Don’t worry, it’s a short drop,” she teased.
The dark-haired paramedic glanced over with a puzzled expression, which prodded Laverne to explain.
“You looked like you were afraid you were gonna miss a step and fall.”
He let out a small laugh. “Sometimes the smaller ones can hurt more than the big ones.”
“I guess you’d know in your line of work.” She walked over to an ashtray that was on an end table near her couch and snubbed out the butt of her cigarette. “Need help?”
Johnny gave it a few seconds of thought. He didn’t want to make her assist with the chore, but it would go a lot faster with two working on it, which also meant he’d be able to eat sooner. And not having to get up and down the ladder would probably solve his light-headedness.
“Sure. The more the merrier,” he said with a grin.
“Okay. Just let me take the wine to your place, and I’ll be right back to help.”
“Sounds like a good deal to me.”
As Laverne went into the kitchen a moment, Johnny eyed the already well-decorated livingroom. There was an artificial green tree in one corner with more than enough ornaments, multicolored lights and gobs of tinsel on it; more multicolored lights trimmed the inside edges of a window-sized opening in the wall that served as a pass-through between a snack bar and the kitchen; a Santa scene throw was over the back of the couch; a four-foot-tall plastic light-up Santa stood in another corner of the room; a Christmas wreath with three gold bells and a huge red bow at the bottom was hung on the inside of the front door; and a manger scene was set up on top of the side of the console stereo that didn’t open.
His gaze slowly traveled up to the few loops of streamers he’d already secured in place. It was going to take them awhile to get the added décor up considering Laverne planned on each streamer going from one corner of the room to another across from it. First the red at one angle and then the green streamer at another, with the two colors crossing in the middle.
I don’t know why she thinks she needs to add anything to the rest of her decorations for the party. . .
Even the idea of the professionally done deli trays for the party snacks had surprised him. Laverne was more of a ‘slap a piece of ham and cheese on a cracker and call it an hors d’oeusvre’ type.
He smiled slightly as she came back into the room and headed for the front door, the two bottles of wine in her hands.
“If you want anything to eat, help yourself.”
Johnny nodded. “I will after we get this first streamer up.” He watched as she headed for the door. “Aren’t wreaths supposed to go on the outside of a home?”
“Yeah, but then I’d only see it when I’m coming or going. So I figured, what the heck. . .I’d put it on the inside this year.”
“Good point.” Though he still didn’t think he’d ever do it that way, it did make sense in a ‘Laverne’ sort of way.
Once she was gone, he again eyed the plump roll of narrow red crepe paper still on the floor.
“Well, it’s not gonna hang itself . . .”
With a sigh, he went back to work, grateful that taking it slow for the moment seemed to solve his lightheadedness, with only a slight wave of it now and then.
Later in the evening, Johnny found himself wishing he were in bed instead of mulling around a crowded apartment with a beer in his hand and trying to be sociable. Even a chance to chat with a beautiful young model that’d recently moved into the building couldn’t keep him enthused. Try as he might, he just couldn’t get the holiday feeling going. Though he hadn’t had anymore dizzy spells since earlier in the day, he wasn’t feeling very well overall.
“. . .so we’re doing the shoot over again if you want to stop by Millers’ Department Store tomorrow,” the blonde model was saying as Johnny’s attention returned to the conversation.
With a loud sigh, she explained in a slightly annoyed tone, “I said we’re doing the shoot over again tomorrow at Millers’ Department Store and you can drop by if you want.”
“Oh! Sorry. . .But I can’t anyway. I. . .uh. . .I gotta work tomorrow.”
“That’s too bad. Maybe another time.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Johnny shrugged.
Normally he’d have been very disappointed to miss out and jumped at the chance for a later date. But at the moment he didn’t care. Man, what a bad time to feel lousy. . .
Sensing his disinterest, the model wandered off to talk with some of the other guests while Johnny looked for a place to set down his beer before making an escape to his own apartment and bed.
After placing it in the kitchen sink, he went back into the livingroom and tracked down Laverne. She was just returning after having gone to get her pack of cigarettes from her purse in another room.
“I. . .uh. . .I’d better be going.”
The brown-haired hostess looked at a clock just above them on the wall. “I guess 9:00 is late when you havfta work the next day, huh?”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, morning comes fast, that’s for sure.”
“Well, thanks again for all the help and for coming.” She gave him a kiss on the right cheek, then wiped at the red lipstick mark she’d left behind. “I guess you don’t want that on there,” she commented. Looking at him closer, Laverne suddenly noticed the paramedic appeared more tired than usual. “Are you okay? You look kinda . . .well, I’m not gonna beat around the bush. . .crappy.”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, yeah, I’m okay.”
“Well, get a good night’s sleep. You look like you need it.”
“Don’t worry, I plan on doing just that.”
She watched with curiosity and concern as he slipped past a few guests, his head down as he made his way to the door. Though she knew he had to get up early for work in the morning, it wasn’t John’s style to leave a party so soon. Normally he would push the time, being used to some short nights during his duty hours. Plus he always seemed to have plenty of energy to keep him going.
Maybe he’s just worn down from working around the holidays . . .
Just as he’d gotten outside of Laverne’s apartment, Johnny was hit with another wave of dizziness. He leaned against the wall with his eyes averted to the floor until the feeling passed, then slowly walked with his gaze still down and his left hand on the wall for added support as he made his way to his own apartment a few doors down.
Once inside, he sat on the couch, his forehead resting on his hands, elbows on knees. It was during this quiet moment that he realized his throat was starting to feel scratchy.
Johnny let his hands drop as he slowly sat up straight and looked over at the nearly empty glass jar of candies on a nearby end table. They’d been useful in soothing an off-and-on sore throat throughout much of the month when the cough syrup he’d had on hand wasn’t enough; thus why he’d gone through as much candy as he had. Normally it would have lasted him months.
He leaned over and lifted the glass lid, then reached in and grabbed two. Popping them in his mouth, he sucked on the candies, already feeling the soothing relief.
Man, this all better pass by morning. . .
It wasn’t long before the dark-haired paramedic found himself clad in light blue boxer shorts and lying in bed after taking more cold medicine, hopes of feeling more his usual self after a night’s rest.
The following morning Johnny awoke to the sound of the alarm clock buzzer in a darkened room. With his head still on the pillow and eyes closed, he blindly reached over and hit the snooze button.
A few minutes later, the alarm sounded again. This time Johnny opened his eyes as he reached for the clock and turned off the offending sound.
Knowing he had to be at work in just over an hour, Johnny pushed back the covers as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The paramedic immediately grabbed the edge of the mattress with both hands when he felt like he had just gotten on some sort of amusement park ride.
The sun was just starting to come up, so only a slight hint of light filtered in through a crack between the curtains. But from what he could make out of his room in the darkness, it looked to be slowly spinning around him. The dizziness was much like he’d experienced the day before, only intensified greatly, this time bringing on a slight bout of nausea.
Johnny shut his eyes, keeping them closed as he sat unmoving till the feeling eventually passed. When he opened them again, his surroundings stayed in place, though he figured any sudden movement on his part and the awkward sensation could return.
The paramedic slowly got to his feet and started to step away from the bed when he once again felt dizzy. Swallowing hard due to more nausea, Johnny sat back down on the bed with a groan.
Man, I can’t go to work like this. . .
He recalled a time when he’d stayed on duty despite not feeling well after unknowingly contracting a virus from a monkey. Gage had nearly paid a high price for his misjudgment of being able to stay on the job when he’d fallen off a scaffold after passing out from the illness. Had it not been for his safety belt being clipped to the rail, he would have plummeted several stories to the ground below.
Noting the time, it was too early to call Hank Stanley, the captain in charge of his shift. Hank wouldn’t be at the station until at least 7:00 and it was only 6:43. There was always the option of calling headquarters.
It’d give a quicker heads up to needing a replacement.
He gave it a few more seconds thought before deciding to wait and speak to the captain directly. Somehow it always seemed more appropriate to handle these kind of things through him.
Fifteen minutes shouldn’t make much difference. . .
With that settled, he slowly eased himself to a lying down position and kept his eyes fixed to the face of the clock as he waited for the time to pass. Both lying down and having his attention focused on one thing seemed to help him to feel less nauseous.
I hope it’s only a twenty-four-hour bug.
“Is there anything you need?” Hank Stanley asked the ill paramedic after being filled in on the situation. The captain was one to always show concern for his crew members when one of them was injured or not feeling well. And being that Johnny lived alone, he knew his wife would be more than willing to run an errand for Gage if needed.
“Nah, I’m just gonna get some rest.”
“Okay, pal. But if you do think of anything, just call.”
“Okay, thanks, Cap.”
“Just take good care of yourself. You don’t wanna be sick for Christmas.”
Ah man. . . that’s right. . .Christmas is only two days away. . . “I will. I hope it’s gone by then. I’m supposed to go to Roy’s. Hey, let’im know I’m still hoping to make it.”
“I sure will.”
After bringing the conversation to an end, Johnny reached over and placed the telephone receiver back in its cradle then slowly and carefully rolled onto his back on the mattress.
So far so good. . .
He put his left forearm across his eyes and hoped he’d be able to fall asleep again.
After just over thirty minutes of dozing, the dark-haired paramedic was fully awake again and feeling a little better; that is until he decided to try sitting up.
“Oh man,” he groaned as he ran a hand through his hair, his other hand holding firmly to the mattress for support. Though he’d moved cautiously, he still was overcome with a feeling like the room was in motion after he’d stopped. The nausea was so intense, he wasn’t even sure he would be able to keep from getting sick at his stomach. Johnny could feel the familiar burning sensation in the back of his throat and he swallowed convulsively. He once again closed his eyes, but it didn’t help like before; instead it made the nausea worse.
I hope I make it to the bathroom before I throw up. . .
Remembering how it had helped the night before, Johnny kept his eyes averted to the floor just in front of himself as he very methodically made his way across the room, one slow step at a time.
Man, I’ve never felt like this even when I’ve *had* the flu. . .
One thing he could be grateful for. His throat was dry, but it didn’t feel sore like it had the night before.
He placed his right hand on the doorframe of the bedroom as he stepped into the small hallway. Now all he had to do was get across to the bathroom. Unfortunately, he looked up to eye his destination, catching his error too late. He had no choice but to hurry before there’d be a mess to clean up off the floor.
Still on his feet, Johnny stayed leaning over the toilet bowl, waiting to see if he was going to vomit again. The paramedic hoped he’d gotten it out of his system. After spitting into the commode a couple more times, he stepped to the sink on shaky legs and splashed his face with cold water, rinsing his mouth out with some of the cool liquid he’d cupped in his hands as well.
After a few minutes of resting with his hands on the counter, he returned to the bedroom, using the same strategy of keeping his focus on the floor. Only this time he was sure to take a bucket that he’d had in the bathroom with him to set beside the bed.
If I *do* get sick again, I don’t wanna hafta try runnin’.
But when he lay down, expecting to feel okay, the dizziness and nausea returned and hung around till he was upright again. Johnny was baffled.
Now I can’t lay *down*? I don’t *believe* this. . .
Giving in, Gage put a white t-shirt and grey sweat pants on, then took his time getting to the livingroom where he could at least have the TV on as long as he was going to be up. Once again, he was sure to bring the bucket with him just in case.
He thought about folding out the chair bed that was still in his livingroom. But the thought of dealing with it turned his stomach even more. He’d tried it out after Roy claimed that it was so uncomfortable, and though he’d never admit it to his partner, Roy had been right on the money with his comments; the chair was the worst.
As he slowly took a seat on the couch, Gage muttered, “All I want for Christmas is a recliner.”
A couple of hours later Johnny was frustrated when the tendency for dizziness and nausea hadn’t subsided. He’d managed to make a trip to the kitchen for a drink of water, but still hadn’t felt up to eating anything. After getting settled on the couch again, the door to his apartment suddenly opened and for the first time Johnny realized he hadn’t ever locked it. Instinctively, he turned his head to see who had come in and immediately berated himself when the room spun wildly out of control. He barely caught sight of Laverne with three gift boxes in her arms before his head was over the bucket and the water he’d drank was hitting the bottom of it.
Laverne dropped the packages and hurried over to her friend. “John!”
The only response she got was a low groan.
“I thought you were on duty,” she said as she reached out and felt his forehead. He didn’t feel feverish at all. “What’s wrong?”
“How long have you been like this? Do you need a doctor? Should I call the fire department?”
She questioned him so rapidly, he figured if the movement from a couple of minutes earlier hadn’t made him dizzy, her words certainly would’ve anyway.
What to answer first. . .
He decided to prevent the last suggestion before addressing the others. “No, don’t call,” he commented with a wave of his left hand, his head still over the bucket. “It started yesterday kinda, but more so this morning.”
“Well, I’m taking you to a doctor.”
“No, I’ll be okay.”
“I know you will, because you’re going to a doctor if I have to carry you down to the car.”
Johnny slowly moved his gaze to look at his friend. He couldn’t help but crack a slight grin despite his misery. Laverne was still in her pink flowered flannel pajamas, robe and pink fuzzy slippers. Her hair was loosely pinned up on her head. “Like that?”
The woman eyed herself, then sighed. “Okay, after I get dressed, we’re going. No argument.”
Johnny noticed the boxes on the floor at the same time Laverne saw him looking. “I was going to leave them here for a surprise. Larry wants to go to his parents’ house in Fresno on Christmas Eve and spend the night, so I wanted to leave your presents from us for you.”
Laverne nodded. “It’ll be fun. It’s not the first time I’ve met them, you know. We really get along great and Kim wants to come, too, so it’ll be like we’re one big happy family. Except, don’t tell Larry I said that or he may change his mind, ya know? I mean he likes that I get along with his parents, it’s just that we’ve never thought of us as a ‘couple’ in the family sort of way and--”
She interrupted herself and raised an eyebrow at the paramedic. “Oh I get it. Sorry, but it’s not going to work. You aren’t gonna make me forget you need to see a doctor by switching the subject.”
Johnny sighed. He knew he was soon going to be on his way to Rampart General Hospital whether he wanted to go or not. When Laverne got set on plan, it was as if her idea was written in stone; a trait that had led to many of her and Larry’s arguments.
After getting changed and returning to Johnny’s apartment, Laverne helped him to his feet. She’d already emptied the contents of the bucket into his toilet, a disgusted expression on her face as she’d done so. Now with a brown corduroy jacket on and the handle of the empty container in his left hand, Johnny made his way to the door with Laverne next to him to the right.
She noticed his gaze locked on the floor as they went. “Can you look up at all?”
“Hmm mm. If I’m looking down, it seems to keep the dizziness away.”
“Okay, well, I’ll do my best to guide you to the car. You know, if I’da gone outside and seen that your Land Rover was still here, I’d’ve been in to check on you a lot sooner. But you should’ve called me. I mean, what if you were dying?”
“I’m not dying.”
“Maybe not this time, but what about the next? You know I’ll look out for you. But I can’t if you don’t ask.”
Johnny just kept his concentration on putting one foot in front of the other. When they’d made it down the inside set of stairs and out into the parking lot, the bright sun made him cringe. He doubted it was to do with his problem, but more so from being inside all morning.
Laverne was too set on getting to her car to notice. When they reached the vehicle, Johnny suddenly had second thoughts. Though he’d never ridden with his neighbor before, he had heard Larry define Laverne’s driving as ‘scary’ at best during another of their arguments. Did he really want to get into a car with a driver like that? Did he have a choice? He half glanced to the side where she was standing and figured, no, not really; the answer fit both questions.
Once the two were situated in the silver Ford Thunderbird, Johnny kept his eyes averted to the floor of the car, the bucket in his lap. Laverne gave one more look at the container, secretly hoping it would remain empty. She made the sign of the cross over her chest before pulling out of her parking space.
The front end of the car was very long and gave the feeling of the vehicle being what some termed a ‘boat’ to describe one its size. It was quite a change from the Volkswagen Beetle Laverne had previously owned. Thus going around corners was an experience in itself, Johnny was quick to learn, the first clue being in the wide sweeping turn she made to get them onto the street from the parking lot. Thankfully no cars were in the outer lane when she did it, although Johnny thought he was going to lose his stomach right then. The burning sensation returned in the back of his throat, but he desperately swallowed convulsively again in an effort to keep from vomiting.
There can’t be anything left to come up, he thought to himself.
Though he could’ve looked at the ride to Rampart as the worst possible, he did know he had one thing to be thankful for. Laverne’s car was an automatic. A driver like her using a manual transmission would’ve finished him off for sure.
“How’re you doing? You hanging in there?” Laverne asked as she made the third sudden change across two lanes, starting a round of beeping horns when she cut it close in front of other cars to get to a left turn lane. A cigarette in her hand, she tapped it on the ashtray to get rid of some excess ashes.
Johnny just moved the bucket up closer to his face and barely nodded.
He didn’t want to admit he was sick again.
“Well, we should be there soon,” she said before taking another puff of her cigarette. “Unless we hit a lot of red lights.”
Johnny didn’t reply. He knew she was doing her best to get him to Rampart in a timely manner. He figured riding in anyone’s car would’ve been rough. But her quick lane changes and wide turns weren’t helping him much. He had already told her the cigarette smoke was okay. If it relaxed her while driving, all the better. Most of it was going out through a small opening at the top of her window anyway.
When Laverne finally came to a sudden stop in front of the emergency entrance at Rampart, Johnny lost his battle of keeping his stomach intact. Though there was barely much to come up, he put his face inside the bucket and vomited. He then groaned as a few dry heaves followed.
Laverne looked at him in concern as she snuffed her cigarette out in the ashtray, then pushed it shut. She quickly got out of the car and hurried around to the passenger side. Johnny hadn’t even opened his door.
She tapped on the window. “I’ll be right back.” After getting a slight hint of a nod from her ill passenger, Laverne rushed inside to get help and a wheel chair.
Johnny sat on an exam table in Treatment Room Three, his eyes closed as Doctor Morton asked him questions while a nurse checked his vitals. An IV was in his left arm, its purpose to replace some of the fluids he’d lost from being ill.
Morton. . .why’d it hafta be Morton Laverne ran into?
“You said this just came on out of the blue?”
“More or less. I mean, I felt it a little yesterday, but this morning it was real sudden. I sat up in bed and it felt like the room was spinning around me.”
With his eyes shut, he didn’t see the nurse motion for the doctor’s attention. Johnny continued on, “I have felt like a cold might be coming on at times throughout the month; you know, like a sore throat. But it never seemed to take hold.”
Half listening, Morton remarked, “Your blood pressure’s rather high. It’s150 over 95.”
“What?” Johnny’s eyes opened as he quickly turned his head, regretting it when his surroundings appeared to be once again spinning. Mike Morton and the nurse both grabbed for him at the same time he grasped the exam table with both hands in a desperate attempt to stabilize himself.
For a third time, Gage found himself swallowing convulsively to try to keep from vomiting. The nurse let go of his right arm and rushed for an emesis basin in case, but luckily for all three of them, it wasn’t needed.
When the worst of the latest bout had cleared, Johnny squeaked out, “That high?”
“That can’t be right.”
“We’ll take it on the other arm and see what we get.” He directed the nurse to go ahead while he continued the examination. “Have you been under an unusual amount of stress?”
“No. I mean, we’ve been busy the past few shifts, but it’s been stuff we handle all the time.”
“Any history of high blood pressure in the family?”
Ignoring the cuff tightening on his right arm, Johnny answered, “No. Not at all. Doc, how can it just start for no reason? Man, I’m healthy. I’ve got no reason to have high blood pressure.”
“Well, remember, we don’t exactly know when it started for sure. Very often a person can have high blood pressure with no symptoms. They don’t find out till it’s checked like this.”
“But as many times as I’ve been in here as a patient. . .” he trailed off. “Well, it hasn’t been that many, but you know what I mean. It’s always read good unless I was really sick or injured pretty bad.
Morton gave it thought, his arms folded across his chest as he rubbed at his chin. “You mentioned you’ve been fighting a cold.”
“Did you take anything for it?”
The paramedic shrugged. “Cold medicine. And I had these candies that I sucked on to sooth my throat.”
“Uh huh. Licorice candies my aunt gave me at Thanksgiving.”
Morton’s face registered recognition. “I think I may know what’s causing your problem, but we’ll need to run some blood tests first to see if I’m on the right track. In the meantime, I’m going to have you admitted for observation.” Before Johnny could protest, he added, “At least until tomorrow morning, just so we can keep your condition closely monitored.” Seeing the miserable expression on his patient’s face, he made one more comment. “It’s for your own good.”
“I know. It’s just that I’m supposed to be at Roy’s for Christmas.”
“Don’t worry. You still will be as long as it’s okay with him,” he teased.
Johnny just made a sour face and waited as the nurse next took a sample of his blood.
High blood pressure . . .ah man. . .
After 25 milligrams of Hydrochlorothiazide were given to him to lower his blood pressure and he was officially admitted to Rampart, Johnny and Laverne waited for Doctor Morton to come up to the room with news of the lab results. Though she still had to get set for her Christmas venture to Fresno, Laverne didn’t want to leave her friend until they’d gotten some sort of news.
Johnny hadn’t enjoyed the trip up to his room on the second floor. The medication hadn’t completely resolved his situation at the time, and even being able to stay upright in a wheel chair instead of lying on a gurney hadn’t helped. The forward motion and then the ride on the elevator had finally made him sick at his stomach again.
Sitting in a chair beside his bed, Laverne eyed the paramedic.
“You look a little better,” she commented. “Not much, but at least you don’t look any worse.”
The paramedic snorted in a slight laugh. “I’ll take that as good news.”
“I’m sorry if my driving made you sick earlier.”
Though he knew it was true her style of driving had made it a tough ride from the time they pulled out into the street, Johnny didn’t want to hurt her feelings; after all, she’d done him an enormous favor she didn’t have to do. His smile turned to one of reassurance as he answered, “Nah, it was my fault for looking out the window before we were stopped.”
“If you say so, but Larry is always complaining about my driving, you know. Says I got my license out of a Cracker Jack box.”
Johnny didn’t remind her he knew about the subject all too well since some of the arguments or playful teasing over it occurred in his apartment. But before he could make any sort of comment, the conversation was interrupted when the door opened part way and Dixie peeked inside.
“Well, I’d heard you’d come to see us,” she said as she opened the door the remainder of the way and stepped inside, walking toward the bed. “I would’ve checked in on you sooner, but I’ve been helping Joe with a couple of patients downstairs. How’re you feeling?”
For the moment he was just grateful his surroundings were staying put. But he wasn’t sure how much she knew about his condition, leaving his answer as, “Okay, I guess. Did Morton tell you what’s going on?”
The head nurse nodded. “I have to admit, I’m surprised. I just never thought you’d be one to have high blood pressure.”
“Me neither,” he agreed. “I don’t get it at all and it’s buggin’ the heck out of me, Dix.”
“I’d say wait until you hear back on the lab tests before you worry too much. Stress may only add to the problem. I see you don’t have to wait it out alone anyway,” she remarked, glancing at Laverne.
Johnny motioned slightly with his left hand. “This is my neighbor, Laverne Martin.” He then went on to introduce Dixie. “My favorite nurse, Dixie McCall.”
“Nice to meet you, Laverne.”
Dixie looked at Johnny and gave a warm smile. “By the way, it’s common knowledge people in the medical profession make the worst patients as a rule. They don’t like to wait for tests to be done and they’ll deny up and down they even need help to begin with.”
“Boy, that fits him to a ‘T’,” Laverne put in, drawing a look of disapproval from Johnny.
It was then the door to the room once again opened, this time revealing Mike Morton with some papers in his hands. He glanced at the two women, then brought his attention to Gage.
“I believe we may have our answer.”
“What is it, Doc?”
“Well, the tests showed that there’s a high level of glycyrrhizin in your system.”
Laverne, Johnny and Dixie looked at Mike Morton, none sure what he knew that they didn’t.
“What is it?” Gage asked.
“It’s an ingredient in some cold medicines. It comes from licorice root. But you’d have to take quite a bit to get the level you have in your system. However, licorice candies and that together might do it.”
Still getting puzzled looks, he continued.
“Since licorice is the source of glycyrrhetinic acid, there’s speculation that it can have an affect on the function of adrenal glands, thus causing high blood pressure. Depending on how much a person consumes each day, the blood pressure could rise within a couple of weeks. However, sometimes it may take a month or so. It’s another form of secondary high blood pressure. I’ve been reading up on the subject recently,” he added with a smug grin. “Coincidently, I needed the information for this case.”
“But if licorice can do this, how come I don’t have any symptoms?” Laverne wondered. “I must eat three or four sticks of red licorice every couple of days. But I’ve never been sick like John.”
“Red licorice isn’t the real deal. In fact,” Morton continued, “it actually doesn’t have any licorice in it at all.”
“I’m impressed, Mike,” Dixie stated.
The doctor shrugged. “Like I said, it’s a coincidence, but it sure came at the right time.”
Johnny sat astounded. Licorice. I can’t believe it. . . But he had to admit it was good news. Or at least he thought so. “So if I stop the intake of licorice and glycyrrhetinic acid. . . .”
“Your bp should naturally return to normal before long.”
The paramedic was quiet as he continued to digest the information for a few seconds before asking, “So I can go home today after all?”
Morton shook his head. “Noooo. . .oooh noo. I said it’s speculation that licorice is the culprit and anyway. . .we still don’t know for sure that’s your problem.”
“But if it’s in my blood stream. . .”
Laverne looked at Dixie and nodded knowingly when the head nurse sighed. John Gage certainly wasn’t the best patient a doctor could ask for.
“Gage, you’re staying,” Mike stated firmly. “And that’s all there is to it. I want to see what your bp is reading tomorrow morning before we try giving you another dose of Hydrochlorothiazide; if you have to go on the medication for longer to stabilize your bp, then we’ll monitor it until we get you on the necessary dosage. However, if the licorice is the answer, then you won’t have to worry about it once the level returns to normal permanently.”
“Can’t I just check in tomorrow? I haven’t had any vertigo since I’ve been up here.”
“You won’t with the medication. But I know the trip up here made you sick.”
Johnny glanced at Laverne, then Dixie. When he realized he wasn’t going to get any help from them in the matter, he sighed and addressed Morton. “I’m not gonna talk you out of this, am I. . .”
The doctor again shook his head. “Now, when’s the last time you had any cold medicine or licorice candy?”
“Last night. And I had both.”
“We may not see much of a change for a couple of days then.”
Johnny’s mouth opened in protest, but he quickly closed it again when he recalled that with the medication, he’d be symptom free. It wouldn’t matter if it took a few days for his blood pressure to return to normal. I just hope it does. . .the licorice has *gotta* be the cause. . . .it just *has* to be.
While the dark-haired paramedic was processing his own thoughts, Morton continued on with more conditions Johnny would have to meet. “Until your bp reads normal several times consecutively, you’re going to need to check it twice a day, preferably in the morning and late afternoon. At work, DeSoto can do it. When you’re off duty, come in to see us. If you experience any dizziness while on duty, I’m sure I don’t have to instruct you to tell your partner right away and to avoid any climbing.”
Johnny nodded. “Okay, you got it.”
“Great, now that we have that settled, I’ve got to get back to the ER where I’m really needed,” he teased. As Morton headed for the door, Johnny frowned.
Just when I’m prepared to stand my ground against him, he gets a better bedside manner and knows what he’s talkin’ about. . .
A short time later, Dixie had returned to her duties downstairs, and Laverne was just getting ready to leave. Standing beside the bed, she asked, “You’re sure you feel better?”
“Yeah, see?” He moved his head from side to side and up and down. “No dizziness, no nausea. I’m fine. I still think Morton should just let me leave now.”
She shook her head. “No offense, but I’m glad I’m not your doctor.”
The paramedic feigned a hurt look, “Hey. . .”
Just then the door opened again, only this time it was Roy interrupting the conversation. The senior paramedic couldn’t hide the red flush of his cheeks when he saw Laverne. He instinctively looked around for Larry and Kim.
“Uh. . .hi. . .” he said to his partner, then stepped in, still feeling awkward with a near-stranger around who’d practically been standing over him as he laid on the chair bed under the covers in his underwear, hoping no one would notice. After a quick glance and weak nod of recognition in Laverne’s direction, Roy directed his attention back to Johnny. “How’re you feeling?” Can’t be feeling as uncomfortable as I am right now, he thought to himself as he took one more quick glance at Laverne.
“Better. Much better, for now anyway. Man, it’s been rough.”
“So I heard. High blood pressure, huh?”
“Yeah, probably from licorice of all things.”
Roy nodded. “Dixie filled me in. At least that would be an easy fix.”
“Believe me; I’m hoping that’s all it is.” Johnny noted Roy’s seemingly uneasy reaction to Laverne.
“Roy, you remember my neighbor Laverne, don’t ya?” Before his friend could answer, he nodded toward him for Laverne’s benefit. “This is my partner, Roy DeSoto.”
“Oh, right. The chair bed pioneer.”
Roy blanched at the reference while Johnny grinned.
Laverne eyed the older man up and down. “You look a lot different in uniform.”
“Maybe it’s the fact he’s standing up this time,” Johnny remarked. The look he got from his partner in return had him wondering if he might need to use the call button for a little reinforcement. But much to his relief, Roy recognized the intended humor and went along with the flow of the conversation, trying to make the best of a somewhat awkward situation and remain polite to Laverne.
“Uh. . .yeah. . .I guess I do.”
“You know, I don’t think anyone has slept in that chair bed since; have they, John?”
“Hmm mm. And if you ask Roy, no one ever has.”
“With a knowing grin, he answered, “You’ve got that right.”
Laverne glanced at her watch. “Well, I’d better be going. We’ll probably be gone by the time you get out of here, so I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas now.” She leaned over and gave him a peck on the left cheek. With no make-up on this time, there was no lipstick mark left behind.
“Merry Christmas,” Johnny said as she pulled back. “And thanks again.”
“Sure. Just get well and stay away from licorice,” she added as she headed for the door. “Merry Christmas, Roy.”
“Merry Christmas.” After she was gone, he turned to Johnny. “She’s all right when she’s not barging in on a guy who’s trying to get some sleep.”
“Just don’t ever ride with her if you’ve got a queasy stomach.” Switching the subject he asked, “How’re things at the station?”
“Not bad. It’s been a slow shift, so really we’ve just been wondering about you.”
Johnny gave a small grin. “Yeah?”
Roy nodded. “No one wants to see you sick at the holidays. Speaking of which, I understand you’ll still be able to make it over for Christmas Day.”
“Morton guaranteed it. . .in so many words. . .”
“Great. And don’t worry. You won’t find a single piece of licorice anywhere in the house unless you raid the medicine cabinet.”
“Ha. Not a chance.”
Even though both men were often annoyed with the way he handled things, they had to admit Morton had given them some very interesting information.
Christmas Day, Johnny was at Roy’s as planned after stopping at Rampart to have his blood pressure checked. Like before, Morton had requested he not take the Hydrochlorothiazide beforehand as long as he didn’t feel dizzy, so an accurate reading could be taken. Johnny was pleased to hear that the numbers had indeed gone down, though they were still a bit higher than usual. He was glad they at least were letting the later reading slide since it was the holiday.
As Johnny walked into the livingroom after being greeted at the door by Roy, he filled his partner in.
“Morton says he’s sure now that it was the licorice. And he lowered the dose of Hydrochlorothiazide. I should only need to take it another day or two at the most and he cleared me for duty.”
“Well, at least we’ll know now in case we ever run into this out in the field some time.”
“Believe me, it’ll be one of the first questions I ask.”
The two men went on to help Roy’s son Chris set up his new Hot Wheels track before relaxing as they watched TV. Roy sat on the couch while Johnny kicked back in a recliner.
“Man, is this new?” Gage asked after a few minutes.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact it is. And it’s yours. . . .if you promise to get rid of that chair bed of yours.”
Roy grinned. “I’m sure you’ve tried it by now. I know you. You probably were in it not long after I said how bad it was. And if so, you’d have to agree.”
Johnny gave a sheepish grin. “Yeah, I was and yeah it is. In fact I was thinking of getting myself a recliner for Christmas.”
“Well, now you won’t have to."
"But don't you want it? I mean, it's yours, isn't it?"
"No, the guys went in on it for you. Ours is still in good shape. I just moved it into another room for now."
The younger man ran his hands along the arms of the chair. "Man, this is really nice."
"And I’ll bet it’s a lot easier to fall asleep in than your other chair.”
“Roy, any chair would be easier to fall asleep in. You were right; that thing snaps back!”
Later in the evening, Johnny was ready to head for home. As Joanne took the children up to bed, Roy walked to the door with his friend.
“I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”
“Man, it’s gonna feel good to be back, even if I was only gone a day. It seems longer since we had the extra time off.”
“We can get the new chair over to your place after we get off the next morning.”
“Good deal.” Johnny started down the sidewalk when Roy’s words stopped him.
“So are you going to help us decorate next week for our New Years party?”
“On one condition,” he said turning around. “Someone else puts up any streamers.”
“Deal. And you can invite Laverne and her boyfriend and his sister if you want.”
“You want fireworks too, huh?” Johnny kidded.
With Christmas having turned out well, and New Years plans settled, the dark-haired paramedic climbed into his Land Rover. He was grateful to be ending the holiday in better health than he’d expected after his latest trip to Rampart, and very wealthy in friendship.
This was *inspired* when I had to drive my husband to the clinic when he had vertigo very bad and it turned out to be high blood pressure. He’d only ridden with me once years ago when we first got married. I only made him throw up once during the trip. <G> My thanks to him in being a good sport and letting me use this situation sort of (although his was/is nothing to do with licorice). Though high blood pressure can cause other symptoms, I just used his.
I don’t know when it was actually discovered that licorice can cause high blood pressure, but for story purposes it was just being discovered back then. Though I researched it on the net, most of the portrayal in the story is not fact and should not be viewed as that. It simply spawned an idea for a fictional story strictly for entertainment. I also don’t know if Hydrochlorothiazide was in use in the 1970’s, but for story purposes, it was. :o)
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