Fresh Air?

By Audrey W.  




John Gage came into the dayroom of Station 51, whistling a cheery tune. He headed straight for the stove where a pot of recently brewed coffee still sat partially full. Leaning against the counter, his partner Roy DeSoto handed him a cup as he stepped past.


“You certainly sound happy this morning.”


“Oh I am. I am,” Johnny answered as he poured some of the dark brew into his cup. He turned around and stood beside Roy, backside against the counter and facing the engine crew seated at the table. “I couldn’t be happier.”


“Who is it this time?” Mike Stoker asked.


Johnny finished his sip of coffee, then explained, “It’s not a ‘who’, Mikey. Nope, not a who at all. It’s a ‘what’.”


“Okay, I’ll bite,” Chet said. The curly haired fireman just wanted to move the conversation along. “What is it?”


“It’s National ‘Let it Go Day’,” Johnny announced. “Soo. . .I’m letting everything that’s ever bothered me go.”


Marco looked from the dark-haired paramedic to Chet. After a few seconds he remarked, “He’s still here.”


Johnny snorted a laugh while his partner grinned.


“Good one, Marco.”


Then something on the wall caught Johnny’s attention. He set his cup on the counter, and walked over to the white plastic contraption mounted on the wall near the bulletin board.


“Hey, what’s this?”


“Oh, that’s from Marco’s mother.”


Gage looked at Roy as he ended his reply, then shifted his gaze to the Hispanic fireman. “Oh yeah?”


With a nod, Marco explained, “That’s right. She said when she brought that lunch over to us Tuesday, the station smelled stale. We needed fresher air in here, so she had me bring three in.” He pointed to two packages still unopened in front of him. “Mike and I only got that one up, but these are for the dorm and latrine. They’re those new fresheners.”


“New?” Johnny asked as he looked underneath and at the sides of it. 


“Yeah.” As Marco continued Johnny peered inside the top and sniffed. “You know they--”


“Aaaahhh!” Gage jumped back. “Oh man,” he coughed as he wiped at his nose.


“. . .spray automatically every five minutes,” the fireman finished.


Johnny knew that now. He’d gotten a nose full of the chemical. He cleared his throat, then coughed again. A sour expression followed as he swiped at his nose once more.


“Are you okay?” Roy wondered.


“Yeah. . .just got some of the stuff up my nose. And a little in my mouth,” he sputtered. “Kinda went down my throat, too,” he commented as he went to the sink to grab a glass of water to rinse his mouth out. 


“I guess the air freshener’s on the ‘just let it go’ kick too,” Chet snickered.


Johnny shot him a sour look. “Hardy har.”


“I’m sorry, Johnny.”


“It’s okay, Marco. It’s not your fault.” He sniffed, then took a swig of the water and swished the liquid around before spitting it out. “Man.” The dark-haired paramedic shook his head and coughed again, then repeated the rinse and spit.


“He’s right,” Mike put in. “He’s the one who got directly over the thing.”


The remark brought a frown to Gage’s face. The engineer didn’t have to be so quick to agree with him. His facial expression gave away his thoughts.


“Careful, John. It’s ‘let it go’ day, remember?” Chet grinned at the eye roll he got in return.


A few minutes later, the klaxons sounded and the squad was dispatched out on a rescue in which a man had been bitten by a dog. Johnny quickly set the glass he’d been holding in the sink and trotted behind his partner toward the apparatus bay. Captain Stanley was already at the podium outside the dayroom, acknowledging the call.


Once they were set, Roy drove the squad into the street.





“Left at Rosewood and Thirty-Fifth Avenue” Johnny directed after they’d been traveling for a few minutes. “That’ll put us a block from the address.” The sentence ended in a sniff. Along with a slightly stuffy nose, his throat burned somewhat from the lingering freshener he’d inhaled. But he figured it should clear up shortly once he breathed in enough clean air.


Roy turned at the next intersection, unaware his partner was still feeling the effects of the little mishap.




When they arrived at the scene, they were met at the curb by a woman in her early thirties. As she led them toward the one-story house, she explained, “It’s my husband Mark. He was trying to get our older dog to share her food with the new puppy we got. Unfortunately, she didn’t appreciate him being close to her dish.” She opened the front door and as they entered added, “You’d think one bite and he’d give up. But not my husband; he got bit twice before he backed off. And I’m not so sure he’s really given up.


“I guess he doesn’t know it’s ‘let it go’ day,” Roy remarked to Gage.


“Apparently, neither does the dog.”


“Is your dog up to date on her vaccinations?” Roy wondered.


“Yes, she had her three-year rabies shot about two years ago.”


The young woman guided them to the kitchen, where Mark was sitting at the table with a damp dish towel in one hand. His shoulder length brown hair was tied back in a ponytail and the paramedics could see the grimace on his face while he looked at the wound on his right hand. A policeman was leaning against the kitchen counter, talking to him. 


After giving a brief greeting to the familiar officer, Bob, Johnny followed behind Roy as they made their way over to Mark. The younger paramedic sniffed again and rubbed at his eyes, then absently scratched at his throat.


Roy set the drug box on the table, then immediately took a look at the bite on Mark’s hand.


“She got you pretty good here.”


“Yeah. Luckily my leg’s not in the same shape. She just nipped me there. Carla thought I was crazy to get near our dog again after that, but man, it’s not like Shelley actually bit me the first time.”


“She did so bite you on the leg,” Carla insisted.




The man was in shorts and it was easy to see the other injury. He was right, there was evidence she’d given him a warning to stay way, but it hadn’t broken the skin.


Johnny cleared his throat and scratched once more at his neck. He squatted down a couple of feet away from the table and set up the biophone, then rubbed the back of his left hand across his eyes, sniffing in the process.


“Where’s the dog now?” Roy asked.


“Outside. Without her dish.” He watched as Roy sprayed antiseptic on the two punctures.  


“Well, at least we know you don’t have to worry about the dog being rabid. You’re lucky there.”


“That’s what I was telling him,” Bob put in.


“When was your last Tetanus shot?” Roy wondered.


“Um. . .fifteen. . . twenty years ago. . .?” he shrugged.


The paramedics exchanged a brief knowing glance.


“Rampart this is Squad 51, how do you read me?” Johnny sounded nasally now, which re-drew attention from his partner. But it wasn’t the sound of Gage’s voice that was the concern.


With a longer look, Roy noticed a red blotchy patch of skin on the younger man’s neck. He wanted to examine it closer, as there appeared to be raised bumps within the irritation. But it would have to wait until they were done with Mark.


“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read me?”


“Read you loud and clear, 51. Go ahead.”


It was Mike Morton. Not Johnny’s favorite doctor to deal with, but at least he wasn’t the patient this time. Once with a strained shoulder muscle he had been and wasn’t exactly pleased with the doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation for time off. Nor was he happy when Morton referred to him as being ‘soft’ because of the injury. 


“Rampart, we have a male victim, age __”


“Thirty-two,” both Carla and Mark responded.


“Age thirty-two.” He sniffed, and again he rubbed at his neck and eyes with his free hand.  “He was bitten by a dog on the right hand. The animal is a family pet and is current on her vaccinations so there’s no risk of rabies. However the teeth did puncture the skin and there’s bruising around the site. Vital signs are__” He glanced at Roy.


“BP 120/90, pulse 70, respirations 18.”


Johnny repeated the information to Morton.


“51, when was the victim’s last Tetanus shot?”


“Fifteen to. . . twenty years ago, Rampart.” He was surprised he’d had to catch a breath midway through his reply. No one else seemed to notice, more than likely because it was where a pause might be expected.


“Okay, 51, apply antiseptic spray and wrap the wound with sterile gauze. His vitals are normal, but bring him in. He’s gonna need a Tetanus.”


“10-4, Rampart.” Johnny held the phone device down near his inner right knee as he purposefully breathed in and out, noting it was rapidly becoming more difficult. He furrowed his brow.


What the. . .


“Do I really need to go to the hospital?”


“Yes, you. . .do.” The last word was separated from the other two by a wheeze.


Gage let the biophone transmitter drop to the floor and he leaned forward, his right elbow braced on his knee. His shoulders heaved with each breath, a wheezing sound still accompanying the effort.    


“What’s wrong with him, man?” Mark wondered, while Carla and the policeman looked on with increasing concern.  


Roy shook his head. “I don’t know.” He reached out and placed a hand on his partner’s left shoulder. “Johnny?”


The younger paramedic looked up. His eyes were slightly puffy and watery. The red blotchy skin on his neck now obviously included hives. His mouth agape, only another wheeze came out. Suddenly his face registered a look of alarm.


Roy sprang into action and was immediately at Johnny’s side. He glanced up at Bob, who’d darted over as well. “Can you get the oxygen from the squad?”


The officer had helped them in enough situations; he knew where the equipment was located. With just a nod, he dashed out.


“Take it easy,” DeSoto said as he quickly helped his partner to lie down on the kitchen floor. Mark was out of his chair and assisting with his good hand as well.


As soon as Johnny was set, Roy grabbed the biophone transmitter and pressed the talk button.


“Rampart, Squad 51.”


“Go ahead, 51,” came Morton’s response.


“Rampart we have a second victim; male, age twenty-six, with an apparent allergic reaction. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, affected eyes and an inflamed rash on the neck. Stand by for vital signs.”


“10-4, 51. Any idea what the victim is allergic to?”


“Rampart, the victim received a direct dose of air freshener in the face several minutes ago. If I had to guess, I’d say that’s the cause. There hasn’t been anything else out of the ordinary.”


“51, did you say ‘air__ freshener’?”


“Affirmative, Rampart.”


“10-4, 51. Administer 10 liters of O2 and get me a set of vitals.”




Mark and Carla looked on, still stunned with the new development, as Roy worked to get Johnny’s vital signs. He was relieved that at least he was still able to breathe on his own, though clearly each breath remained a struggle.


“Hang in there.”


The police officer arrived with the oxygen just as Roy finished jotting down Gage’s pulse. The dark-blond paramedic placed the mask over his partner’s nose and mouth, and adjusted the flow of oxygen while he directed, “Give Rampart these vitals while I get a bp reading.”




Bob did as requested while Roy placed the bp cuff on Johnny’s left arm.


“Did I hear you right? Did you say it was air freshener?” Carla asked.


“That’s right.”


“Wow, that must’ve been some strong stuff!”


“Honey, he’s busy. Leave ‘um alone.”


“I was just wondering,” she groused.


Johnny tried to scratch at the irritation on his neck, but Roy pushed his hand away.


“Try not to touch it. It’ll only make it worse.” He was sure Johnny knew that, but an itchy rash would be hard for anyone to leave alone. 


The younger paramedic’s eyelids were more swollen than they had been less than two minutes earlier. That worried Roy, as he wondered if his airways were reacting as quickly. 


“BP is 100/80.”


The officer repeated the reading over the line, then watched as Roy readied the IV he was certain would be recommended.


Just as expected, Morton ordered an IV of normal saline and antihistamines.


Roy glanced at Carla as he reached for a sterile wipe. “Why don’t you go out front and wait for the ambulance. It should be here any time now.”




She glanced over her shoulder in concern before leaving the room.


Roy just hoped the ambulance would get there very soon.




Johnny waited for the familiar stick in his arm when he felt Roy swab down a small patch of skin. He wasn’t fond of needles, but anything was better than the feeling of suffocating. His eyes and neck both itched intensely; it took all the concentration he had to keep his hands from going to either.


The oxygen flow was helping his breathing some, but with his airways still compromised, he couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs. Johnny reached out with one hand and lightly grasped Roy’s right arm. He just needed another reassurance.




Roy looked at his partner’s face when he felt Johnny’s hand on his arm. He’d just gotten the IV set.


“I’ve got the antihistamines in. You should be breathing easier real soon.”


Gage’s hand released its hold. The fear in his eyes subsided.




Just as Roy had said, Johnny soon felt the effect from the drugs and his airways were clearing, making it much easier to breathe. His neck and eyes were still itchy, but those were the least of his concerns.


The younger paramedic took slow and steady breaths, grateful for the steady flow of oxygen.




Carla returned with the ambulance crew right after Roy had contacted Rampart on the biophone for an update.


“51, is the ambulance on scene yet?”


“10-4, Rampart. It just arrived.”


“Transport both victims as soon as possible.”




“Johnny’ll need the stretcher,” Roy directed as he closed up the biophone.  Bob helped the ambulance crew lift the ill paramedic while Roy told Mark, “You’ll be on the bench seat beside me, okay?”


“Sure, man. What ever you say.”


Roy quickly and efficiently wrapped Mark’s hand with sterile gauze, then walked along with he and Carla while Johnny was wheeled ahead of them. Once at the ambulance, the senior paramedic placed the necessary supply boxes and the biophone in the back of the vehicle, then helped to lift the stretcher. Mark climbed in next.


“You can follow behind us if you want,” Roy explained to Carla. “Your husband shouldn’t be at the hospital long.”




She headed to the house to get her purse and keys while Roy got into the ambulance.


The police officer would have to stay with the squad until someone from the fire department came to drive it to Rampart. A couple of personnel from the maintenance garage were dispatched out, one for Squad 51 and another to follow behind it to the hospital so the first would have a ride back.




Now that he wasn’t struggling to take a breath, although the itchiness of his eyes and neck hadn’t improved much, Johnny could form more coherent thoughts. His mind drifted to what had taken place.  He couldn’t believe that one direct shot of air freshener had nearly taken him out. Marco’s mom had intended to do them a big favor and it certainly took a turn for the worse.


Marco’s mom. . .man, how’s she gonna feel? And what about Marco? Man. . .


He knew the fireman would have a guilt trip over this.


“Roy. . .”  Johnny lifted his right hand slightly. His voice muffled under the oxygen mask, he continued when he had his partner’s attention. “Tell Marco. . .s’okay.”


The fact Johnny was more concerned about Marco than himself didn’t surprise Roy. Any of the crew would’ve been thinking the same way.  They each had a tendency to put the others first in a crisis, large or small, then downplay their concern later when everything turned out all right.




By the time they arrived at Rampart, Johnny’s itchy, watery eyes were less so, though they appeared tired and slightly swollen. The rash on his neck was still evident, especially where he’d scratched at the hives. But it no longer itched near as much either. The dark haired paramedic’s breathing remained improved, the oxygen doing its job.


Roy helped Mark out to a waiting nurse with a wheelchair they’d requested ahead of time since they’d needed the stretcher for Johnny. He then helped to get Gage out. Both patients were taken inside where they were greeted by Morton.


“I’m afraid they’re both going to have to go in Three together. We’re really backed up and it’s the only open room.”


As he was wheeled into the treatment room, Johnny saw Mike Morton look down with a shake of the head.


“You know, Gage, I’m about to the point where I figure if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s going to happen to you.”


Johnny frowned once the doctor was out of view and wouldn’t see. He then looked up at Roy.


“Relax,” the older man assured. “His bedside manners improve every day.”


Gage shook his head slightly. He was gonna have to put up with Morton, like it or not.


Maybe he’ll be better since Mark’s here too.


But a few minutes and a wisecrack about the direct shot of air freshener later brought about a different thought.


Maybe not. . .




The following shift, Johnny was back on duty and ready for an onslaught of smart remarks about his air freshener encounter.  But instead, he was greeted with sincere welcomes. And the air freshener that had been mounted was removed since no one was sure what a small dose of it would do to Johnny. Something in it certainly didn’t agree with the paramedic.


It wasn’t until later in the morning when the men were each reading different sections of the newspaper that the subject came up once again.


“Hey, here’s something you won’t believe,” Marco said as he laid the paper down and pointed to a small paragraph in a column. “Look what it says.”


Mike and Chet eyed the piece first, then pushed it across the table for Roy and Johnny to see. The younger paramedic looked warily at their grinning faces before reading out loud:


“And remember to stop and smell the roses today. Literally. After all, it’s National Celebration of the Senses Day.”


Johnny glanced at the others and shook his head.


“Not one word,” he warned. “Don’t anybody say one__word.”




Thanks to Jill Hargan for the inspiration! :o)


Automatic air fresheners weren’t around in the 1970s, but for story purposes they were. Isn’t fiction great? :o)




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