Heads, I Lose



By Audrey W.



Johnny opened the refrigerator in the DeSotos’ kitchen and took out a carton of colored Easter eggs. Roy and Joanne had asked him to come over Easter morning, while they were at church with the kids. Johnny was to hide the eggs in the back yard. A big ham dinner later in the afternoon was in the deal for Gage.


With the eggs carefully placed in a bowl, Johnny opened the back screen door and stepped out onto the patio. It was an exceptionally warm day for the time of year, and even with the awning over the patio, Johnny could feel the warmth of the outdoors.


Gage stared out into the grassy yard, trying to get ideas where to hide the twelve eggs. A large Maple tree was in the left rear corner. There was a swing set in the middle and a shed in the right corner.


Johnny decided to start at the tree and work his way over to the shed.




After Johnny had finished at the tree, an egg sat perched up on the crease of a lower branch. Another was down on the ground near the trunk. Continuing on to the swing set, he set an egg by one of the front poles and another next to a rear pole. Also one egg was hidden in the glider swing between the floorboard cracks. The slats were close enough together to hold the egg safely in place. Johnny stuck an egg under the slide that was attached to the swing set, before going on to the next hiding spot.


With six eggs left to hide, Gage studied the yard for remaining hiding spots. Grinning at his own cleverness, he put an egg under the shed in a tiny hole. If anyone looked directly at the hole, it was easy to see. Just glancing at the shed, however, the egg remained more hidden.


Next, Johnny stuck an egg in a nearby wheelbarrow, and another on the ground at the right front corner of the shed. With just three eggs left, Gage looked at his watch.




Roy and his family were due back by 12:00 and Johnny wanted to be relaxing in the house like nothing was up, before they pulled into the driveway.


Johnny hurried over towards the chain link fence that lined the yard. There was small shrubbery growing along the fence in spots. As he quickly stepped over to the fence, Johnny heard a familiar sound; one he had hoped he would never hear again. Alarm setting in, he stepped back, when he caught sight of the neighbor kids playing with the rattle off of a rattlesnake. Taking a deep breath, Johnny stood still a moment to compose himself. Memories of the time he had been bitten by a rattlesnake while on a call, had him shaky.


The paramedic stepped back over near the shrubbery. Taking an egg out of the bowl, he squatted down and placed it in the grass, just under the plant. His hand bumped against an object in the grass and a slight motion caught his eye, as he felt a sharp pain in his right hand. Johnny quickly pulled his hand back and looked in horror at what was attached with a firm grip.


Oh man! Just the head?


Johnny had heard that a rattlesnake head could bite and inject venom, even after it had been off of the snake for awhile. His grandfather had taught him never to touch one. The head should be buried, as it wouldn’t die before sundown. Now here he was, with a head of a rattlesnake someone else had carelessly tossed in Roy’s yard, biting his hand. Gage grabbed the head near the severed area. By luck, reflex, or for whatever reason, it released. He watched it drop back to the ground, bouncing slightly in the grass. Johnny backed away from the area. A quick glance over the fence at the kids still playing with the snake rattle told him what had most likely happened. He’d be sure and tell them the dangers of tossing snake parts in neighbors’ yards. For now, Johnny knew he needed to get paramedics and an ambulance to his aid.




The DeSotos walked to their station wagon after getting out of church. Roy took note of the time before he unlocked the doors. It was 11:35. If they ran into traffic on the way home, Johnny should have plenty of time to hide the eggs in the back yard. If it was smooth driving all the way home, they might get there too early. For once, Roy hoped for a traffic jam along the way.


As the kids climbed in, a friend of Joanne’s came running towards the car.


“Joanne! I need to ask you about the Girl Scouts’ meeting tomorrow!”


“Do we have time for me to talk with her about this?” Joanne asked Roy before her friend was at the car.


Roy nodded. “Sure. The more time Johnny has, the better.”


Joanne smiled and greeted her friend before the woman started asking questions.




Although Johnny felt the urge to rush into the house, he knew that moving at a slow pace was better. The less exertion, the slower the venom would travel through his system. Not having anything close by to use as a tourniquet, he needed to slow down his movements as much as possible.


The paramedic hoped that maybe it had been a dry bite this time, but the pain in his hand told him otherwise. He could feel a continuous burning sensation and the tissue around the fang marks was all ready swelling and discolored. If he had the right equipment available, Johnny figured he could make a couple of incisions in the bite and try to get some of the venom out. But the paramedic knew using just any knife or sharp object, and then sucking on the wound by mouth, could cause a serious secondary infection later. He had enough of a problem as it was.


Johnny held his hand down near his hip as he walked steadily towards the house. It was strange how all of a sudden Roy’s yard seemed huge.


As he made it to the patio, Gage felt relief. The back door wasn’t far from reach and he knew the telephone was right inside in the kitchen. Johnny reached out with his left hand and opened the screen door. As he stepped inside, he grabbed for the telephone receiver on the wall.


“No dial tone?”


Johnny leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. The pain in his hand was severe and he had a feeling the rest of the symptoms from the venom weren’t going to be far behind.


Man, either the phone’s out of order or off the hook somewhere in the house.


The next option was driving himself to Rampart or getting the kids next door to help. As quick as the venom seemed to be taking effect, and remembering how fast he faded last time, Johnny figured driving wasn’t a good idea. As far as the neighbor kids went, if he felt like he could walk all the way back out to the fence, he would. But not only would the extra motion speed up the effects of the venom, he also already lacked the energy to give it a try. He looked at his watch. Less than 10 minutes and Roy should be home. Johnny felt bad that this would ruin the Easter egg hunt for Chris and Jennifer, but he would be sure to make it up to them later. If I’m still alive




Roy glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was 11:50 and they were almost home. Joanne’s friend had only delayed them a few minutes and traffic had been a breeze.


The two kids were busy chattering in the back seat, trying to decide who had gotten the best Easter surprises earlier in the morning and what candy they were going to eat first when they got home.


Roy tapped Joanne on the hand to get her attention. When she looked over, he made sure the children were still heavily involved in their conversation before he said anything. Seeing that they were, Roy spoke quietly.


“What do you say we take a detour and give Johnny some extra time?”


Joanne noted the time on the clock. If they went straight home, they would arrive exactly at noon. If Johnny took longer than planned, things wouldn’t work out right.


“Okay,” Joanne whispered, nodding. “Let’s give him until 12:30.”


Roy made a left turn at the next intersection to take them off course. Chris and Jennifer were both still too wrapped up in their own conversation to notice.





Johnny was feeling weaker. He had sat down in an easy chair in the livingroom to wait for the DeSotos to come home. When he stood up after several minutes to look out the window at the street in front of the house, a woozy feeling came over him. The familiar metallic taste in his mouth, and the increased difficulty in breathing, told Johnny he needed medical attention fast. Now laying on the couch, Gage looked at his watch. It took a few seconds for him to focus, but once the face became clear, he could see it was already 12:20.


Where’s Roy? I hope nothing happened to him and the family.


While he still was focused on his watch, Johnny did a quick check of his respirations and pulse.


“Respirations . . .18. . .pulse. . .90,” the paramedic said between breaths to no one. Lying still, Johnny stared at his surroundings. His mouth was numb and his eyelids felt heavy. It was becoming increasingly difficult to stay awake. Johnny closed his eyes and gave in to the drowsiness.




Roy pulled onto their street at 12:25. He had to grin when he saw Johnny’s Land Rover parked in the distance in front of their house. It was nice of his partner to take the extra time to come over and hide the Easter eggs for the kids to hunt.


Chris gazed through the windshield from the back seat. “Why is Johnny’s car at our house, dad?”


“I don’t know,” Roy teased. “What do you think, Jennifer?  You have a guess?”


“I think he brought us more candy!” Jennifer squealed.


“Like you need anymore,” Joanne said, grinning. “I guess we’ll all just have to see when we get to the house.” She winked at Roy.




Johnny tried to fight his way back to consciousness.  He was aware of sweat on his body, but he felt chilled at the same time. He shivered slightly, as he fought to open his eyes to look around. But Johnny was once again succumbing to the drowsiness. The paramedic drifted back to a deeper level of unconsciousness.





“Hey, Junior what’s up?” Roy called out opening the front door. As soon as he saw Johnny on the couch, Roy ran over to see if everything was okay. One look at his partner and the older paramedic knew something was seriously wrong. His family stood nearby in shock.


“Jo, call the fire department and an ambulance!”


“I’m on it!”


The kids stood watching as their dad began to assess Johnny’s condition.


Johnny. . .Johnny! Can you hear me?” Roy tried to elicit a response from his friend, but it was to no avail. The younger man was out.


“Johnny, c’mon. I need to know what’s wrong!” Roy lifted the younger paramedic’s right hand to check his pulse. He stared in disbelief at the swelling and discoloration. Two bite marks were on the side of Johnny’s hand.


Joanne was already back in the livingroom and running up the stairs. “Roy, I forgot we had the phone in our bedroom off the hook this morning. I’ll call from there!”


“Why’d you guys do that, mom?” Chris wondered.


Blushing slightly, Joanne answered as she got to the top of the stairs.


“The day we think you’re ready to know, your dad will explain it to you, Chris!”


If he hadn’t been so concerned about his partner, Roy probably would’ve vowed revenge on his wife for that comment.


This looks like a snakebite. But where. . .? In our backyard? A snake?


“Dad, what’s wrong with Johnny’s hand?”


Jennifer punched her brother in the arm. “Dummy, dad was with us! How would he know?” She turned a worried expression back to her father. “Is he gonna be okay, Daddy?”


“I hope so.” Roy was checking Johnny’s respirations. “But I don’t want you two to go anywhere near the backyard until I have a chance to check it out,” he said firmly.


“The back yard?” Chris screwed up his face in puzzlement. “Why not? What’s up, Dad?”


“Just trust me for now. Stay out of the back yard ‘til I say you can go out there.”


“But- -”


“Johnny was supposed to be out there hiding Easter eggs for you two to find,” Roy snapped. “Odds are he encountered a snake in the process.”


“In our yard?” Chris shook his head. “No way, Dad!”


“Well, I know he wouldn’t have come over here like this. Johnny can be a nut at times, but he knows about this kind of danger first hand. He’s been through it before.”


“Wow! I wonder how big the snake is?


“Christopher!” Joanne scolded, as she came down the steps. “Forget the snake and think about Johnny.”


“Why don’t you two go upstairs,” Roy suggested to the kids. Chris seemed to be taking the experience okay, but Jennifer looked scared and like she was ready to cry. “Johnny’ll be on his way to Rampart soon, anyway.”


“Okay,” Chris said, not sounding pleased. He took the hand of his six-year-old sister and led her up the steps. “We’ll play Tip It, okay, Jen?”


Jennifer looked back at Johnny one more time before agreeing. She knew her dad and brother wanted to get her mind off of what was really going on. Johnny was close to dying if he didn’t get care soon.




“The ambulance and paramedics are on their way, Roy.”


“Thanks, Jo.” Roy sighed. “There’s nothing I can do for him. Damn it. This is twice I haven’t been around to help him when he’s been bit. In fact, it’s our stupid moves with the telephone and taking longer to come home, that could cost him his life. I’m sure he tried to call for help, or figured we’d be here soon.”


Joanne rubbed Roy’s back. “Don’t beat yourself up. What are the odds a snake. . .a rattlesnake . . .would be in our yard? I still don’t believe it.”


Sirens of the approaching emergency vehicles could be heard outside in the distance.


“When they get here, let them in, okay?” Roy said, getting to his feet. “I’m gonna take a look in the yard.”


Roy, what if it’s still there?”


“The paramedics will be handy.”


“That’s not very funny, you know,” Joanne admonished.


“It’ll give me a warning if I get too close. Don’t worry.”





Walking through the yard, Roy couldn’t see or hear anything strange. He did notice the eggs had been placed around in various hiding spots. Then he saw the bowl on the ground, with the two eggs beside it. Roy walked over to the items and bent down. Another small item caught his eye.


A rattlesnake head?


He reached to pick it up, when he suddenly remembered what Johnny had once told him.


 ‘A rattler doesn’t die easy. You can shoot it, beat it, even decapitate it, and the thing can still bite. Since the venom sacks are in the head and the bite may last longer, it can be even more serious than a live snakebite.’ 


Roy felt a shiver go down his spine. Could the snake head have really bitten his partner? And if so, why would Johnny pick it up, knowing what he did? The older paramedic hoped Gage would be alive later to fill him in.




Joanne stood back and watched the paramedics work on Johnny.


“Rampart, this is squad 110, how do you read?”


“110, we read you loud and clear,” Brackett replied. “Go ahead.”


“Rampart, we have a male, 26 years of age, appears to have been bitten by a rattlesnake.”


“110, do you have the vitals? And do you know how long ago the bite occurred?”


“Affirmative on vitals, Rampart. BP 110/60, pulse 95, respirations 16. The tissue around the bite area is swollen and discolored. Victim is unconscious. No sure time on when it happened. The victim was alone.”


Roy was back in the house, and heard the transmission. He stepped into the livingroom.


“Tell Brackett, it was a severed snake head that bit Johnny.”


“A what?”


“A severed rattlesnake head. It’s in the back yard.” Roy saw the look of horror on his wife’s face, but he didn’t have the words to reassure her this new information didn’t matter. The fact was, it mattered a lot. A severed head wouldn’t regulate the venom in a bite like a live snake would.


After passing the word on to Rampart, the paramedics from 110 waited for instructions.


“Okay, get him on an IV with Ringers Lactate and bring him in now! If the ambulance isn’t there, bring him in on the back of the squad. He might’ve gotten an exceptionally dangerous level of venom from the bite, if the head hung on and didn’t release right away.”


“IV Ringers Lactate and transporting immediately, Rampart. The ambulance is at scene.”


“10-4, 110. We’ll be waiting for you.”


The paramedics acted quickly to get Gage taken care of.  Once Johnny was set, Roy and Joanne followed the stretcher with their friend on it. As Johnny was loaded into the ambulance, Roy climbed in.


“Uh uh, DeSoto. You’re off duty.”


Roy looked the paramedic from 110 directly in the eyes.


“I wasn’t there when he got bit last time and nearly died. I almost did it again today. In fact it’s my fault he didn’t get help sooner. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let him out of my sight now.”


Knowing it was more important to get Gage to Rampart than argue procedure with Roy, the ambulance door was closed and the vehicle pulled away from the curb.




The ambulance backed up to the emergency entrance. The doors of the emergency vehicle opened and Roy jumped out, helping to lower the stretcher with Johnny on it. It was a familiar scene for everyone, as the unconscious paramedic was wheeled down to Treatment Room 3. When the door to the room was opened, Brackett turned around and was stunned.


“The snakebite victim is Johnny?”


An ambulance attendant, and both paramedics from 110 were lifting the unconscious man onto the exam table.


“Yep,” one of the paramedics answered. “I hope he beats it again.”


Roy stared at his partner on the table, as Brackett began to examine the man.


“At least we know he can handle the antivenin,” Kel said, thankful they wouldn’t have to wait for a skin test again. He examined Johnny’s right hand. “Did you bring the head in, Roy?”


DeSoto felt like he was in a nightmare. He couldn’t believe this was happening to Johnny again. He shook off the feeling to answer.  “No. But it was a Diamondback. No doubt at all.”


“Why’d he pick it up?”


Roy shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure he did.” He looked at his friend as the anti venom was given through the IV. “I hope he makes it to tell us.”


“Well, we’ll know the prognosis in a little while. If the antivenin doesn’t work quick enough, we may need to increase the amount. We’ll do what ever it takes, Roy. ” Kel glanced down at the unconscious paramedic. “You know, much longer without medical help, he might not have made it this far.”


“I know.”


“Do you need us, Doctor Brackett?” A paramedic from 110 asked.


“No, you guys can go. Thanks.”


“Sure.” The medic gave Roy a sympathetic look. “Let us know how he is later, Roy.”


DeSoto nodded.


Brackett turned to the nurse assisting him. “Betty, I need arterial blood gases; also look in his file for blood type and get a cross-match. Just as a precaution,” he quickly added for Roy’s benefit. “We’ll get a complete blood count, hemoglobin, platelet count. Plus let’s check the clotting and retraction times.”


Betty acknowledged with a nod and went to work on the requests right away.


“What are his chances, Doc?”


“Don’t ask for odds now, Roy. I’m afraid they wouldn’t be what you want to hear.” Kel stepped over and gave the older paramedic a reassuring pat on the back. “This is one of the hardest parts about being a doctor. We can’t perform miracles even when we know that’s what we would like to do. It’s a waiting game, again, Roy. That’s all I can tell you. A lot of it depends on Johnny.”


 Roy nodded solemnly. He prayed this wasn’t going to be an Easter to remember for all the wrong reasons.




Later in the afternoon, Brackett approached Roy in the lounge. The senior paramedic had refused to leave until he knew if Johnny’s condition was going to improve or deteriorate. Joanne had been supportive and told Roy to call as soon as he knew anything.


“Johnny’s taken a step in the right direction,” Brackett said, smiling. “The antivenin did its job. He’ll be out for awhile. He’s very weak. But his vitals are getting closer to normal range.”


 Roy slumped back on the couch and closed his eyes.


Thank you, God.


Opening his eyes, he looked at the doctor.


“Can I go see him?”


“Yes. But don’t expect a two-sided conversation.”


“I won’t. How long will he be in here?”


Brackett folded his arms across his chest. “Well, we’ll need to keep up with a few routine tests for two or three days. Things like checking his urine for blood, and doing daily blood counts, hemoglobin, platelet count.”


“I can’t believe Johnny beat another serious bite. I’d better call the guys at 110. They wanted to know how he did.”


Kel motioned towards the phone. “Be our guest.”




Roy slowly walked into the darkened room. As expected, Johnny looked like he had been through an ordeal. Roy stepped closer and watched as the younger man remained asleep.


“I’m sorry, Junior. If Joanne and I had any idea something like this could go wrong, we would’ve been home a lot sooner. Believe me, if I could take this morning back and change a few things, I would do it in a heart beat.”


Johnny continued to sleep, unaware of his visitor.


Roy continued his one-sided conversation, hoping at some level of consciousness, his partner would hear. “We’ll have an Easter dinner together.  It’ll be late, but you can bet we won’t have it without you. Joanne already agreed.” He fidgeted nervously with his hands. “Um. Jo found out what happened. The neighbor on the right of us brought a rattler home from the desert. He took it out in his back yard and pinned it down with a shovel so he could get the rattle off. When he was done, he wanted to kill it, so he cut the head off and had his sons toss it out using the shovel. They threw the head in our yard, thinking it was dead. The snake body was still in their yard. The police have already been there to talk to them. It won’t happen again.”


Roy couldn’t tell if Johnny heard any of what he said or not. But he would tell him again, if Gage wanted to know later. It had helped the older man to have an explanation, as aggravating as it was.


“Get lots of rest, partner. I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m sure.”


The sound of Johnny’s steady breathing was all Roy got in return.




Two weeks later, Johnny was back visiting at Roy’s house. The dark-haired paramedic had made a full recovery from the snakebite, although the fang marks were still evident on his hand, among the faded yellow bruising that remained.


It was a Sunday again, and the DeSotos were making good on their promise to Johnny of a belated Easter ham dinner. While Joanne was busy in the kitchen, Roy and Johnny sat out on the patio watching the kids play in the yard.


“So, did the kids ever get to hunt for the eggs I hid?” Johnny asked.


“No. By the time any of us felt up to going in the backyard, the eggs were. . .uh. . .you know.”






Johnny looked at Roy and cocked an eyebrow. “All that I went through was for nothin’?”


Roy shook his head. “No. You taught my kids more about snakes than I could’ve in a lifetime of lectures. It’ll probably save their lives one day.”


“I hope so.” Gage paused in thought, before continuing with a tone of curiosity. “Hey, whatever became of the snake head, anyway?”


“Don’t worry. It’s gone. I buried it deep in the ground.”


“It’s good to know your yard is safe now, huh? And your neighbors know better than to throw certain things over the fence.”


“You can say that again,” Roy said, smiling. “Hopefully you’re as safe here as you are in your own apartment.”


Just then, Jennifer came running up to the men, holding out a chocolate bunny ear she had been saving for Johnny.


“Here!” She offered, as she shoved it in Gage’s face.


The paramedic jumped back, his chair tipping over as he fell back with it. Roy looked first at his surprised daughter, then at his prone partner, who was just realizing he was on the ground.


“You okay?” Roy asked, offering a hand to help Johnny up. “What was that all about, anyway?”


“I’m fine,” Gage mumbled, waving Roy’s hand away. “I’m allergic to chocolate.  But I guess with everything else that happened, I over reacted to her hand movement.” Johnny gave Jennifer a crooked grin, then brushed some dirt off his jeans, as he got to his feet.


“You were saying, Roy?”


“I don’t think there is a safe place for you. How’d you make it to 26?”


“Ha ha.”


Joanne calling them to dinner interrupted the conversation.


“You ready to eat, Junior?” Roy asked.


“Am I ever, Pally.


The two friends followed the kids into the house. As he sat down at the dining room table with the DeSotos, Johnny knew he was nothing short of lucky to be alive to have this time with them. It was an Easter holiday none of them would ever forget.




Thanks for the betas, Kenda and Jane! Also to Carol D., for pointing out a couple of things I missed.  And a big thanks to Nancy for the snake in Roy’s yard conversation. This one’s for you!


 *Author's note: In keeping with the 1970’s, I used references to tourniquets and incisions. However, it's since been discovered they aren't such a good idea. To learn more about the dos and don'ts of snakebites, here is a good link to check out. http://wellness.ucdavis.edu/safety_info/poison_prevention/poison_book/rattlesnake_bites.html#which