By Audrey W.
“There’s the house,” John Gage said, pointing in the direction of a one-story beige home as he and his partner neared it. The paint job on the ranch-style structure was clearly aged and weathered; chips and cracks on the surface visible even from a distance. It was a contrast to the neighboring homes that were very nicely kept up.
Roy DeSoto pulled their red squad up along side the curb and the two paramedics quickly climbed out.
They weren’t sure why they were dispatched to the address. The call had been reported as an unknown type rescue. Gage and DeSoto could only hope what ever it was, it would all turn out okay, for them and the occupants of the residence.
Shelley Frangle came running from behind the house when she heard men’s voices faintly from the front yard. The helmeted uniformed men, one carrying an orange case and a black tackle type box, the other a similar black box, were almost up to the front porch of her house.
“Over here!” The middle-aged woman yelled as she waved frantically. “He’s this way!”
The paramedics briefly glanced at one another, then trotted in her direction.
“You’ve gotta get to him from the back,” she said as she led them along the side of the house.
“Can you tell us more about the situation? Is he an adult, child? What happened?” The lighter-haired one asked.
“Adult. He’s a plumber. The name on his shirt was ‘Carl’. The water pipes have been making a noise and I’m a widow. . .I don’t have a husband to do stuff around the house. So I called for a plumber to check them out. He was doing just that when he yelled for me to call for help. He couldn’t move.”
“How long has he been in there?” The other questioned.
“I don’t know. . .maybe thirty-five, forty-five minutes?”
“Do you know if he’s injured?”
She shook her head. “No. . .no, I asked right away if he was hurt and he didn’t answer. Strange, isn’t it? It’s like all of a sudden he wouldn’t say a word.”
The paramedics exchanged glances again.
“Wouldn’t or couldn’t?” The dark-haired one mumbled to his partner.
The threesome came to a stop just over a few yards beyond the corner on the backside of the house. As the paramedics assessed the situation, she took notice of the names on their tags. The dark-haired man was J Gage, the other R DeSoto.
“Is this the only way in?” Gage asked, pointing to a rather small rectangle opening in the concrete block base. It led to the crawlspace under the floor joists of the home. A wooden-framed screen the same size as the opening was propped up against the blocks beside it. The hole was just large enough for an average built adult male to get through on his stomach.
She nodded. “Yes. Can you just go in and get him out?”
Gage set down the black box he’d been carrying and took off his helmet, roughly placing it near the box. He peered into the hole after getting down on his hands and knees as Roy set down the other equipment.
“Well, I see ‘em. . .his flashlight’s on. He’s way down at the other end of the house.”
“Carl!” He yelled, hoping to get a response from the man in the distance. “Carl, it’s the fire department!”
No sound in return had Shelley’s expression grow more concerned.
Gage tried again.
“Carl! Can you hear me?”
“Yeah. . .” Came a rather faint reply. “Get me. . .outta here. . .”
“Are you injured at all?”
There was no response to the question.
John glanced up at Roy. “Hand me a light, I’m goin’ in.”
“Okay. In the meantime, I’ll request an engine respond to our location. If we can’t get him out this way, we’re gonna need their assistance.”
“Right. And I’ll let ya know if I need your help in there before they get here.”
Roy grabbed the handie talkie that had been hooked on his belt as the younger man crawled through the opening on his belly, the large black flashlight from one of their boxes in his right hand.
As soon as he was under, Gage got a better view of Carl with his own light beam shining toward the plumber. John noted a tool box that sat open and unused beside him.
The man looked frightened as he lay on his stomach motionless, his head off the ground. Though it was cool on the dirt surface under the home, it looked as if his hair was wet from sweat.
His gaze shifted to the paramedic, but he still didn’t say anything.
The radio call to dispatch completed, Roy squatted down near the hole. Shelley remained quiet, a worried look on her face as the paramedics did their job.
“Engine 51’s on the way. How does it look under there?”
“I’m not sure, yet! I’ll let ya know here in a minute!”
Roy stood up, then glanced to the left at the base of the house. It was about seventy feet in length, which was average. Johnny was going to have quite a crawl to reach the victim and bring him out. That was if Carl could manage under his own power.
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted when he saw something sticking up out of the ground against the wall.
“Is that what I think it is?” Roy asked as he trotted down a couple of yards away.
Shelley followed him and gasped when they got to the item in question. “Oh my.”
There, leading into a two inch round hole up against the home was the partial shed skin of a snake, approximately two feet of the tail end showing. Roy gently pulled it out and by the time he had the whole thing free and clear, he was holding about a three-foot long piece of fragile skin, complete with the eyes impression and mouth as well.
Another look at the hole and where it obviously led, it didn’t take but a second to figure out what it meant.
He ran to the opening his partner had gone through and squatted down. With his attention still on the thin skin, he hollered inside, “Johnny, I think we may have a problem!”
John moved forward on his hands and knees, but didn’t get beyond twenty feet when he noticed some movement in the shadows out of his peripheral vision to the right. He swiftly shifted his gaze in that direction.
You gotta be kiddin’ me.
It was then he heard his partner yell, “Johnny, I think we may have a problem!”
Being he was looking at one, he wondered what more there was since Roy’s warning came from outside.
Roy gave a quick look at the fragile snake skin dangling from his right hand, then informed Gage what he was referring.
“Looks like some kind of snake shed on its way under the house. There’s a hole out here it apparently made to help slough off the skin!”
Well, that explains why there’s some kind of snake in here! John thought to himself.
He kept his attention on the reptile that was about two and a half feet away. The snake raised up partially as it moved its head one direction, then another, all the while flicking its tongue in search.
Outside, Roy tried to get more information from Shelley
“You haven’t seen this thing around before at all?”
She shook her head. “No. Not any snakes.”
“Do you know of anyone in the area who might’ve owned one? Maybe a neighborhood boy who had one for a pet?”
“Not anyone I know.”
He just nodded in response to her answer. After all, he couldn’t expect her to be up on what everyone around her was involved with.
Now Johnny stayed unmoving as he kept a watchful eye on the snake that had come slightly closer. It was tan and brown with light grey, almost white, spots along its back. A large black triangle was on the head just above its eyes. The snake was about two inches around and certainly long enough.
He wished he knew something about it, like how dangerous its bite might be. He knew any sudden moves on his part and he’d likely get that answer through experience. Snakes could see their prey as an infrared image in the dark, so any sudden motion would surely alert it.
He wondered if Carl already had part of the answer about the bite. If the plumber had already been bitten, he was going to have to take a chance and move to help him immediately. Time could still be of the essence. Johnny slowly turned his head to facing Carl again.
“Carl,” he whispered loudly. “Carl, I need to know. Did the snake bite you?”
Carl nervously shook his head ‘no’.
“Phobia. . .of snakes,” he finally managed to call out.
Well, that was good news. It didn’t get him out of his predicament, but it did give him time. It also answered the question as to why Carl was stuck. The man was frozen in fear even though the threat wasn’t immediate. He’d seen that kind of reaction before with a couple of other victims they’d encountered over time.
Roy remained squatted just outside the access hole, waiting for word from John on Carl and the situation.
He wished he could be under the house as well to help out, but knew that for now it was better one of them be with the biophone for an immediate connection to Rampart. Once the engine arrived, they’d have other options.
“Just stay put,” John directed Carl, though more out of habit than actually needing to advise him. It was obvious the scared man wasn’t going to budge an inch.
With as little movement and as few words as possible, John informed Roy over his shoulder that he was with the snake and that Carl was okay.
Roy sat back on his heels and chewed his lower lip in concern. How much of a danger was his partner now in? Was the snake venomous?
The engine crew couldn’t get there soon enough.
Don’t move, Gage thought to himself. Just don’t move.
He caught a quick glimpse of Carl’s expression in the beam of his flashlight again. The plumber was wide-eyed at the paramedic’s current predicament. Johnny wondered what his own face must look like at the moment. Although he tried to display calmness on the outside, inside he was more than a little uncomfortable, and he was sure some of that anxiety had to be showing through.
I hope the snake’s not sensing it. . .
He exhaled slowly after letting go of the breath he wasn’t aware at first he’d been holding. He was more than ready to end his close encounter with the reptile. It wasn’t any nearer yet, but had slithered to the side before lying still again, its tongue still at work.
“What’re you going to do if the snake bites your partner?” Shelley asked.
“Get him out as soon as possible.”
“Wouldn’t you have to worry about getting bit, too?”
Roy was about to answer when he heard the welcome sound of sirens. Engine 51 had arrived.
John watched as the snake once again was on the move. It slithered just slightly closer to his feet, but enough that he knew for sure now he’d better not move so much as an inch. A simple sneeze could make him a bite victim.
As the situation seemed to be growing tenser underneath, an unaware Roy hurried around the corner of the house. He waved for the engine crew to come his way.
“Back here, Cap!”
Maybe it was the power of suggestion or just the dirty enclosed space irritating his nose. Whichever the case, it didn’t really matter. Fact was, that thought about one sneeze was about to become a reality.
John crinkled up his nose in an effort to stop the response, but it was to no avail.
He felt his legs and body move slightly with the reaction, and unfortunately, that wasn’t all he felt.
“Where’s the victim trapped, Roy?” Captain Stanley asked when he and the rest of the engine crew had met up with the paramedic.
Roy explained the situation about Carl and the snake, and that Gage was still under the house with both.
“Any idea what kind of snake it is?”
Roy shook his head. “I can only go by the markings on the shed skin I found, and they don’t look like anything familiar.”
Just like DeSoto, the captain had to wonder how dangerous of a predicament Gage was in.
John knew he was about to get the answer about the snake in a way he’d really hoped to avoid. He’d felt the pain of the quick bite as soon as the fangs punctured through his trousers and into his right calf.
He tried to keep himself calm so as not to increase his heart rate. If the now retreating reptile was poisonous, that would certainly facilitate the travel of the venom and possibly decrease his chances of survival.
Roy and the others came up on the access hole, where Shelley was still waiting. Roy quickly introduced her to the captain while he squatted just outside the hole and leaned toward it.
“Roy!” Gage yelled over his shoulder in response. “I’m comin’ out!”
DeSoto looked up at Hank.
“I guess we could’ve handled this rescue on our own after all.”
“Well, you never know. Better to have too much help than not enough.”
Roy sure couldn’t argue with that.
Before he slowly backed out, Gage looked toward Carl. With the snake now out of sight, hopefully he’d no longer be so strongly affected.
“Look, I can’t afford to go in any further. I’ve gotta get out an’ get help as soon as possible. I don’ know what kind of snake that was for sure.”
“I’m gonna need you to come this way on your own and follow me out. You gonna be okay to do that?”
“Yeah” he said with another nod. “Yeah, I will. I’ll do it.”
“Okay. Just take it easy, alright?”
Again a nod.
With that taken care of, Gage carefully crawled backward, moving as little as possible otherwise, his gaze over his right shoulder as he did so.
As he reached the access hole, he heard Carl yell, “Hey, I’m really sorry. If I hadn’t been a chicken, you wouldn’t’ve been in this spot.”
“It’s okay, man. It’s okay.”
John really hoped it would be.
Roy and the others had expected to see Carl come out from under the house before, if not immediately after, Gage had made his way clear. But before anyone could ask when he didn’t do either, they had the explanation from the dark-haired paramedic, who’d just slid out backwards on his stomach.
“He’s on his way out. Chet, can ya look in and make sure he’s still alright?”
After a quick nod and reaction from the fireman, Gage moved further from the hole to allow Kelly room, then added, “Roy, I got bit by the snake.”
Roy and the captain didn’t even take time to exchange concerned glances. The men immediately sprang into action, knowing exactly what each should do.
John glanced at his partner who was checking his blood pressure for a second time after adjusting the flow of the IV he’d inserted.
“I wish we knew what. . . kinda snake it was.”
“They’ll have a herpetologist at Rampart to examine the shed skin.”
Gage nodded slightly. He gritted his teeth against the immense pain in his leg, which had a tourniquet in place above the wound to help stop or slow the travel of venom, in the event there was any.
Captain Stanley looked at the two from where he’d relayed information from DeSoto to Doctor Brackett at Rampart via the biophone. He had only been their captain for a few years, but they’d become like family early on.
His brief thoughts were suddenly interrupted when Marco came around the corner of the house with the ambulance crew.
“Victim is now ready to be transported,” Captain Stanley informed Brackett.
“10-4, 51. Keep us posted if there’s any changes along the way.”
With John now being whisked away toward the front yard and waiting ambulance, Roy walking at a fast pace beside him, the captain ordered, “Chet, you drive the squad to Rampart. We’ll meet you there. Take that snake skin with you to give ‘um.”
“You got it!”
He quickly trotted in the direction of the others, a yellow plastic Tupperware container Shelley had given them to put the snake skin in to protect it from damage in his right hand.
The captain turned to face Shelley and Carl after the latter issued yet another apology.
“I feel so stupid,” the plumber added. “I wish I could’ve handled the situation better.”
Stanley gave a pat on the apologetic man’s shoulder before addressing Shelley.
“So ma’am, you’re going to get someone out here to see about removing that snake, if it’s still here?”
“You better believe I am. I’m also going to warn the neighbors to be on the look out for it until someone does.”
“Great. Sounds like a plan. Good luck.”
He turned to leave with his remaining crew when he heard her add, “Oh, and keep the Tupperware I gave you for the snake skin. I don’t want it back.”
The captain gave a nod over his shoulder, an amused smile on his face he couldn’t hide.
John lightly tapped his partner on the arm. An alarmed DeSoto relaxed slightly when he heard the other just question, “How many snake bites. . . is one guy supposed ta take?”
The reference was to a rattlesnake bite he’d endured while out on a rescue just over a year earlier. The bite had been a grade four and nearly killed him when the venom immediately entered a vien. Roy had already gone with a few victims from a vehicle accident to Rampart via a helicopter and though he had the engine crew still with him, Gage had been in a situation where he had to treat himself in the field. To complicate matters further, there was no ambulance at the scene, thus he’d been transported on the hose bed of Engine 51.
“Hopefully this’ll be your last one. I don’t like the wait and see of it, myself.”
DeSoto’s attempt to add a little levity to the situation was often their way of coping with certain situations others may not be able to find a light side to.
“Oh thanks,” the younger paramedic jokingly shot back, his voice with an edge of pain to it.
“At least you have me and an ambulance this time.”
Gage rolled his eyes, then noticed the concerned expression on his partner’s face as he contacted Rampart again to let them know thus far there hadn’t been any significant changes in his charge’s condition, positive nor negative. That meant either the snake wasn’t venomous, it was and administered a dry bite or that perhaps the venom hadn’t gotten directly into a vein this time, thus slow to cause damage.
All joking aside, neither knew exactly what they were facing.
Chet took a quick glance at the container on the seat of the squad. His thoughts trailed to the downed paramedic in the ambulance not far ahead.
He knew DeSoto was one of the best paramedics in the fire department, thus Gage was in good hands. Still, he couldn’t help but worry about his colleague, not knowing anything about the snake the skin in his possession belonged to.
He also had to wonder, were there any lingering effects from the rattlesnake bite they weren’t aware of that could make this one worse? Had Roy or John thought of that as well and just not said anything?
He shook his head, shoving those thoughts away.
You’d better be okay, Johnny.
“In three,” Dixie instructed as John was rushed down the corridor of Rampart’s ER. She opened the door to the treatment room, allowing them to go inside without pause.
Doctor Brackett was already in the room waiting, along with another man Roy didn’t recognize. Chet had followed in behind with the container he’d been put in charge of.
Brackett immediately looked toward Chet.
“The skin in there?”
The man with Brackett quickly stepped over to him. “I’ll take that.”
As he accepted it from Chet and headed for the door, he said to the doctor, “I’ll give you as much information as I can as soon as possible.”
“Whata we do in the meantime?” Roy wondered, his gaze on his obviously miserable partner. John’s eyes were open to slits, a grimace on his face.
“As much as we can.”
To Roy that meant more of the same; not a whole lot. It wasn’t very reassuring. He hoped the herpetologist would be back very soon with an answer they all wanted to hear.
Captain Stanley watched out the windshield of the engine while Mike Stoker drove the crew of three to Rampart.
He thought back to when they’d transported Gage to the hospital on the back of their rig, on the hose bed. Though the youngest of his men had been in more certain danger the other time, the not knowing what kind of update they’d get at Rampart made this trip just as tough.
Would John’s life be in the balance again? Would he have gotten help in time? What kind of antivenin would he need, if any at all, and was it accessible at the hospital or could there be an anxious period of waiting?
As they neared their destination, he found himself sending a brief prayer in silence.
Chet waited anxiously outside the treatment room, wanting to be the first to intercept the herpetologist when he returned. The curly haired fireman turned his head to the left when he heard familiar voices approaching from the direction of the ER entrance. The rest of the engine crew had arrived.
“How’s John?” Captain Stanley asked before he’d quite reached his waiting crewman.
“So far no change, Cap.”
He no sooner got the words out when the herpetologist came into view from the other direction.
Chet felt his stomach knot up in anticipation, “Here comes our answer.” As the man neared, he called out, “Is it good news?”
The man shook his head. “But it could be worse.”
He pushed open the door to the examination room while the others stood as still as statues as they each processed the statement.
Chet suddenly turned and followed behind.
When Kelly got into the exam room, the specialist was already in the process of informing Brackett.
“. . .the spotted trimorphodon biscutatus. Otherwise known as the spotted western lyre snake. It resides down in Mexico, so it had to have been brought across the border by someone. It’s mildly venomous, but life threatening if enough venom is administered. Otherwise, the concern is that it can inflict nerve damage if not treated promptly. I’ve already got a couple of vials of antivenin on their way from another lab.”
That explained why Gage’s condition was so slow to change. He evidently was one of the ‘fortunate’ ones, not enough venom in his system to be an immediate threat to his life. It also had become apparent that his previous close call hadn’t made him any more vulnerable now.
“Gage sure knows how to find snakes,” Mike commented as he, the captain and Marco continued to wait just outside the room.
“Yeah, and in the most inconvenient places,” Captain Stanley agreed.
Marco was about to offer his take when the door opened, revealing Chet. He stepped out and filled them in, not quite in as much detail as the specialist had the others. Some of the words used had already escaped him.
Once Chet was done, the captain sighed.
“Well, I’m going in to talk to Roy and John. Mike, in the meantime make us available. All we can do now is carry on and wait. But at least we know it’s not as serious as last time.”
They were all grateful for that.
Roy glanced up from his still-hurting partner when the captain entered the exam room. He watched as the senior officer stepped over to them.
“Headquarters is arranging a temporary partner for you,” he quietly explained to DeSoto. “He may be there by the time you get back to the station.”
Roy nodded slightly. He then returned his attention to the dark-haired paramedic whose eyes were open and pain-filled.
“Well, hang in there. I’ll be back to check on you.”
“Maybe I’ll be . . .better company then.”
Dixie answered the ringing phone that was on a wall, while the men briefly talked with Brackett and the specialist. After a few words of acknowledgment, she replaced the receiver in its cradle, at the same time turning to face the others.
“That’s the lab. The antivenin arrived.”
The doctor and herpetologist both excused themselves and hurried out.
“You’re gonna be okay, Pal,” the captain assured after a quick look at his watch. It hadn’t really been all that long since the bite occurred. Time seemed to be on their side.
Roy stepped into the ER at Rampart as soon as the automatic doors opened, a handie talkie radio in his right hand so he could still hear dispatch calls. He was anxious for a possible update on his recovering partner.
It had only been a few hours since the incident that landed Gage in the hospital and though he’d called earlier to get one update, the answer then had been ‘no significant changes’. That was good news in the sense John hadn’t gotten worse, Roy just hoped an improvement was underway.
When Roy didn’t see his temporary partner anywhere as he came into the main corridor of the ER, he figured he was probably still with the asthma victim he’d come in with. It was a little boy who was very scared at the thought of an ambulance ride, thus the other paramedic had assured the four-year-old youth he would stay with him as long as he could. The promise had seemed to do the trick in easing some of the fear.
As Roy approached the desk at the base station, Dixie looked up from where she’d been filling out some paper work and smiled.
“I know someone’s who going to be very glad to see you.”
“Can I take it from your smile he’s doing better?”
“Yes, he’ll still need to be under observation here for a couple of days, but he’s made remarkable improvement just in the last hour.”
It was Roy’s turn to display a happy face. As he headed for Gage’s room on the second floor, Dixie told him, “I’ll let your other partner know where you are as soon as he comes out.”
“Thanks,” he called out over his left shoulder.
She watched, still smiling, as he got on the elevator at the end of the corridor.
A couple of days later Roy and Chet were on the elevator together, on their way to pick up their crewmate and friend.
“It’s sure gonna be great to have Johnny back with us,” Chet said as the doors opened to the second floor.
“I take it you’ve been lining up some ideas for pranks around the station?”
The mustached fireman shook his head. “Nah, I figure the guy’s been through enough for now. Besides, the delay’ll give me more time to think of some really good ones.”
“I can hardly wait,” Roy said with a roll of his eyes, his tone sarcastic.
Roy opened the door, revealing their shiftmate already dressed in the denim jeans and yellow button up shirt he’d brought over for him. Roy had already dropped Gage’s dirty uniform off at the cleaners for him the day before.
John stood by the bed, more than ready to leave.
“It’s about time,” he said, glancing at his watch. “What took ya so long?”
“So long?” Chet shot a look of disbelief to Roy, then back to John, “We’re only a few minutes behind.”
“After you’ve been stuck in here a few days, a few minutes feels like hours.”
“Well, we aren’t going anywhere till the nurse gets here with a wheel chair,” Roy reminded him. “Don’t forget, it’s mandatory.”
“Ah man. . .”
“And your chariot is here now.”
The two firemen turned around to see Dixie just inside the doorway with the needed chair. John looked on from where he still stood beside the bed.
“I’m fine, Dix. Do I really hafta do this?”
“Hospital policy,” she said with a grin and nod. “You know that.”
He stepped past the others with a frown as he took his seat. He knew Dixie was right, but it just seemed unnecessary.
Roy and Chet followed them out of the room. As they approached the elevator, Chet stated, “Hey, by the way, we heard that Carl the plumber might be changing jobs.”
Gage looked up from his seat. “Yeah?”
“He’s considering going into TV repairs,” Roy added.
Chet gave it a moments more thought. “I wonder how long it’ll be till you get a call to get a snake out of one of those?”
Dixie, Roy and John called out in unison, “Chet!”
This story was inspired years ago when we found a snakeskin sticking up from under our house. We tend to have snakes living under there and our sheds. The snake in the story is fictional. There is no such snake in existence. I put spots and black markings on a picture of a bullsnake coming out from under our house. J