By Audrey W.
John Gage sat down on his bunk in the dorm room at Station 51 and eyed the clock on the wall. It was only three hours into the paramedic’s duty on A-shift and he already felt tired and sluggish.
He’d tried to reason why he’d feel so crappy so early. But so far he could only think of why he shouldn’t.
Yesterday I was fine and I slept good last night. A full eight hours, in fact. I felt great when I got up and the first hour or so here.
No one had mentioned to him that he looked particularly tired, so he had to guess it didn’t show. He ran his right hand through his hair and then rested his right elbow on his knee, his chin on the palm of his hand. The dark-haired medic let out a sigh.
Man, I’m draggin’.
The door to the room opened and his partner Roy DeSoto peeked inside.
“Cap wants us all in the dayroom for a briefing.”
“Sure,” he answered as he pushed off the bed and got to his feet.
Roy waited till Johnny made it to the door and had a hold of it before he let go. The two walked across the apparatus bay in front of the engine and squad.
“What’s this about again?”
Slightly ahead in step, Roy answered, “Those new policies on store fires headquarters sent down. You know, after 36 nearly lost two engine crew members last week in that hardware store fire.”
“Oh. . ,right.”
“Don’t tell me you already forgot what he said at roll call this morning.”
“Nah. . .I was just thinkin’ about somethin’ else is all. That’s all.”
“Well, you’d better keep your mind on this now.”
The two entered the dayroom and took a seat in a couple of chairs that faced away from the table and toward a blackboard on the end wall opposite the kitchen area.
Captain Hank Stanley nodded at the paramedics in greeting. He then smiled and clapped his hands together. “Are we set then?”
After assorted ‘yes sirs’ and ‘yeahs’, he began by pointing to an area on a diagram where the latest mishap occurred.
Johnny only half heard the captain’s voice a short time into the meeting. He just seemed to feel worse as the minutes passed. By the time the briefing was over, he not only felt tired, but achy as well. He was about to mention it to Roy when the tones sounded, sending the station out to a house fire.
Johnny climbed in the passenger seat of the squad and put on his helmet, noting how it even hurt to place that on head. He let the strap hang loosely with hopes that would help. Roy handed him the slip of paper with the call information on it.
Soon the men were on their way to the scene, lights flashing and siren blaring.
Man, that thing’s loud, Johnny thought to himself. He rolled up his window, which earned a quick glance from Roy who shrugged it off.
Roy brought the squad to a stop at the curb in front of the home where flames were evident through a couple of downstairs windows. Before he and Johnny even had a chance to move, a woman in her sixties was beside the truck. Her face etched in fear, she grabbed the handle and yanked Johnny’s door open, then tugged on his right arm.
“Please! You’ve gotta save him!”
Roy scrambled out of the squad as he heard his partner try to calm the woman down. He was to the other side in an instant. She let go of Gage and whipped around to face Roy.
“My husband’s in there!” She motioned toward the burning home. “He went in to get our money. All our life’s savings is in the house! But he hasn’t come back out!”
Hank radioed for a second engine and joined the others just in time to hear the woman’s explanation.
“John, Roy, get your gear. I’ll have Chet and Marco cover you with the hose while you do a search.” He turned to the lady. “Where did you keep the money?”
She returned a helpless look. “All over the house. Ronald didn’t want to lose it all if a burglar was to break in. So we had it hidden in several places.”
The news only brought a frown to the firemen’s faces. The victim could be anywhere.
“Do a sweep of the place, but make it quick.”
“Right,” Roy answered.
With their turnout coats on and SCBA gear in place, he and Johnny raced for the front of the house, putting on their air masks and helmets in the process. Once at the entrance, they checked for indications for a potential flash if the door was opened. When it appeared safe, they headed inside, Chet and Marco right behind them with the hose, their SCBA gear in use as well.
“You take the second floor, I’ll look around down here,” Roy directed, his voice muffled through the mask.
Johnny nodded and ran for the staircase. So far the fire was only at one end of the house, thus their main worry for the immediate moment was the increasing smoke that made it difficult to see.
Chet and Marco kept the hose trained on the flames downstairs in hopes of at the very least keeping them from spreading while the paramedics conducted the quick search. Once another unit was on scene, they’d have help in knocking down the fire.
Flashlight in hand, Johnny came out of the first room upstairs and headed for the next after putting a large ‘x’ on the door of the room he’d checked. Adrenaline kept his energy level high, thus making it easier to bear the weight of the turnout coat and air tank on his back, and move quicker than he had all morning.
But the growing heat inside the structure was still taking its toll. Johnny paused a second after completing his search of the second room and briefly leaned against the doorframe before continuing on. He now had to get down on his hands and knees, and crawl as more smoke filled the upstairs.
“Ronald! Hello? Ronald! You up here?” he called out with a muffled voice. He’d tried earlier, but no one had answered. Suddenly someone grabbed his right foot. Johnny looked over his left shoulder and saw one of his crewmates right behind him, though he couldn’t make out who in the dark haze.
“Roy found the guy, he should have him out by now. 18’s on the fire with us.”
It was Chet. Johnny just nodded and followed him down and out. As soon as they reached the outdoors, he pushed his helmet off and removed his air mask. The heat built up under his heavy coat and other gear was nearly unbearable. He sucked in the cooler fresh air, which also felt good on his sweaty skin. Johnny trotted to where Roy had the victim laid out on the ground near the squad. He stumbled slightly just before he reached his partner, but managed to stay upright.
“Ma’am, you’re gonna have to step back,” he told the distraught wife. She was watching Roy work on Ronald while Captain Stanley talked to Rampart on the biophone. As soon as she complied, Johnny kneeled near the others. A little woozy from the quick move down, he paused a few seconds to recover, then shrugged off his air tank as he asked Roy, “How is he?”
The dark-blond paramedic had just finished adjusting the oxygen flow to the downed man, the mask already secured on his face. “He took in a lot of smoke.”
Hank looked up at the wife when she began to sob openly. “Take over,” he directed Johnny as he got to his feet and tended to her. The husband gave her a weak thumbs-up in added reassurance.
As he picked up the handset of the biophone, Johnny glanced over his shoulder at the still burning home. He hoped Ronald was able to get some of their money, though he imagined at this point the couple was going to be grateful just to still have one another.
Soon the victim was ready for transport. Roy and Johnny lifted him onto a stretcher brought over by the ambulance crew. Gage tucked the IV bag underneath Ronald’s shoulder, then followed alongside as Roy led the way. The older paramedic climbed into the ambulance after placing the biophone and drug box inside. Johnny helped to lift the stretcher up and in. Once they were ready to leave, he gave a slight wave.
“See you at Rampart.”
The dark-haired paramedic closed the doors and gave them two slaps, signaling they were secure. The ambulance pulled away as he turned and slowly headed for the squad. The adrenaline was wearing off and he just didn’t have the energy to hurry anywhere.
The captain had just secured the two used oxygen tanks up on the back of the squad when he returned.
“You okay, John?”
“Yeah. Just tired, Cap.”
His concerned gaze still on him, Stanley asked, “Did you take in any smoke?”
“Okay, well, maybe we’ll be lucky and have a little downtime after this. You look beat.”
Johnny just gave a half smile and nodded.
Hank watched the younger man climb into the squad and drive away, wondering if he should have told John to get one of the doctors take a look at him. With a stubborn habit of denial, he knew Gage wouldn’t take it upon himself to do it.
By the time he got to Rampart, Johnny’s achiness had returned full force, including his headache. Added to that, his shoulders were sore from the air tank he’d worn earlier. More tired than he’d been all morning, he slowly climbed from the squad and took deliberate steps into the emergency ward.
Gage briefly entertained the idea of seeing a doctor about what he felt might be the onset of the flu, but when it appeared like Mike Morton was the only one available, he dismissed the thought.
Morton’s an okay guy, but as a doctor? His bedside manner could use a *lot* of improvement. And it sure won’t change in the next coupla minutes. . .
When he saw Roy come out of Treatment Room Four, he gave himself even more reason to forget about getting checked out. They’d be heading back to the station now, and as the captain had said, maybe he’d get some time to rest up. Perhaps that was all he needed anyway.
As Johnny approached, Roy did a double take. “Are you okay?”
His partner eyed him warily.
“Roy, I’d tell ya if I wasn’t all right.”
But he got a look in return that revealed a hint of doubt.
“Okay, so I’ve been a little less than honest a coupla times before. I had a good reason.”
“If you say so.” Roy motioned toward the exit. “So you ready to go?”
“More than ready.”
He followed alongside Roy, hoping by the time they got back to the station, he’d really feel a little better.
Johnny sat unmoving with his head against the glass of the window after Roy brought the squad to a stop in the apparatus bay of the station.
“You know how I said I’d tell ya if I felt sick?”
“Yeah. . .”
“I feel like crap.”
“You wanna go back to Rampart?”
“No, I think it’s jus’ the flu, Roy. But I’d better go home.”
Roy watched him a moment. He then opened his door and left the younger man still resting against the interior of the passenger side of the cab. “I’ll tell Cap.”
Johnny just closed his eyes, wishing he was already in bed so he wouldn’t have to move.
“You sure you’re okay to drive home?” Hank asked. He and the paramedics were standing in front of the squad, where Johnny leaned with one hand on the right front fender.
The ill crew member gave a slight nod. “It’s gotta be just the flu. I’ll be fine.”
“Where’ve I heard that before.”
The remark earned Roy an eye roll from his partner.
“Call us when you get home.”
“Just humor us, okay?”
“Sure,” he shrugged, figuring the captain wouldn’t take no for an answer no matter how many times he insisted he’d be all right. “Sure.”
When he got home to his apartment, Johnny headed straight for the bathroom, where he had a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He popped a couple of the pills in his mouth and took a big swig of water from a glass he’d filled.
Though he knew he could already use a shower to get rid of the smoke odor that still lingered on him, at the moment he had doubt he’d still be standing by the end of one. And as achy as he felt, more than likely the water spray would hurt against his skin anyway. It would just have to be put off until later.
After settling for a splash of cold water on his face, Johnny patted it dry with a towel, then went into his bedroom.
The paramedic stepped out of his shoes, then leaned against his dresser for support as he removed his socks. He stood away from it to take off his uniform, the clothes left in a pile on the floor. Just clad in boxer shorts and his white undershirt, Johnny pulled back the covers and plopped down on the side of the bed.
First priority was making that phone call he promised. Afterward he got under the covers and pulled the top sheet and blanket up to his neck. The room was already dim with the curtains still closed from the night before, but he draped his left forearm across his eyes out of habit. Exhausted, sleep came quickly.
A couple of hours later, Johnny stirred with a groan. He opened his bleary eyes to slits and peered at his surroundings directly in his line of vision as he lay on his right side. He could see the doorway and the closet to the left of it. It only took a few seconds for it to register in his mind that he was in his bedroom, not the station.
Man. . .feel so achy. . .cold
But he couldn’t bring himself enough to awareness to do anything more than close his eyes again as he snuggled up under the covers to ward off the chills. Very groggy, the sweaty paramedic soon drifted back to sleep.
After awhile, Johnny once again woke up to his own groan.
He hurt all over and his throbbing headache had returned. Minutes of discomfort passed before he realized he was going to have to do something or the headache wouldn’t go away. He winced as he weakly pushed himself to a sitting position, his damp sheet falling down around his waist with the blanket.
Oh man. . .
He felt worse than crap.
Johnny shivered as he pushed the covers back enough to get his legs and feet out. He sat on the edge of the bed as he waited for the wooziness to pass enough so he could stand up and not topple over.
With a hand to his forehead as if it would momentarily stop some of the pain, he shuffled his way to the bathroom, every step felt through his entire body. When he got to the medicine cabinet he caught a glimpse of himself as he opened the mirrored door. Johnny quickly closed it again and peered closer. His face appeared distorted.
What the. . .
He rubbed his eyes with fisted hands, then looked again. The right side of his lips and cheek were very puffy. Stunned, he slowly brought a hand up and was shocked to find that he couldn’t feel his finger tips against the swollen skin. Johnny tried to form a smile to see what would happen. He noticed that his left side worked fine, but the right sagged, like when deadened with Novocain.
Man. . .
He pushed on the inside of his cheek with his tongue, and although he could see it move slightly, he couldn’t feel the pressure either.
Johnny leaned in closer. There had to be something he’d not seen earlier. Sure enough, there was a tiny red mark between the corner of his mouth and right cheek.
Now more alert as he knew this was not good news, he made his way back to the bedroom and picked up the telephone receiver.
With gray sweat pants on over his boxers to keep some dignity, Johnny waited on his couch for help to arrive. He had a blanket that had been folded up in the closet as a spare draped over his shoulders to ward off the chills, though it didn’t seem to be helping much.
Johnny reached up and touched his swollen face again, for what would be at least the tenth time since discovering his added symptom. He still couldn’t believe this was happening.
How could I have missed seeing something when I shaved?
But with no direct pain at the site of the bite, it never crossed his mind that something such as that would be the cause of his misery.
When he heard the wail of a siren in the distance, he gathered the blanket around him, then slowly got to his feet. By the time he was at the door, the sound stopped.
Johnny waited till he could hear footsteps approaching, then opened the door, a pained and very lopsided smile on his face. It was good to see Roy and his temporary partner, Stoney, who was a very close friend of Gage’s despite the latter being five years younger. The two had known each other for several months before they became paramedics a couple of years earlier.
He figured calling Station 51 directly for a still-alarm was the best decision he’d made all day.
“Has the numbness spread at all?”
Roy didn’t waste any time in asking the question that most concerned him as he carried the drug box in inside. Stoney followed right behind with the biophone.
Johnny shook his head. “No. Nothin’s changed.” His entire body ached as he walked and he gingerly made his way back to the couch. He sat with help from Roy to steady him. Johnny reached up and swiped his sweat damp hair off his forehead as the other two paramedics set the equipment on the floor nearby.
His partner eyed Johnny’s swollen mouth and cheek, and closely examined the small red mark in the midst of it all. “You were right. It’s gotta be a spider bite.”
Stoney held Gage’s wrist and eyed the second hand on his watch as he counted the rapid pulse. The black paramedic then jotted the information down on a notepad and continued on with getting a bp reading.
Johnny grimaced as the headache that had woken him up to begin with still throbbed with a vengeance. “Man, my head. . .feels like it’s gonna explode.”
“We can probably give you some MS for that. Unless who ever we talk to at Rampart would rather we wait till they see you, since we don’t know what kind of spider bit you. Or if that’s even the whole cause of your symptoms.”
Roy wasn’t telling him something he already didn’t know.
“How long ago did this happen?” Stoney wondered as he set up the biophone.
“Had to be. . . last night,” Johnny explained through chattering teeth as he shivered against another chill. “I woke up feelin’ fine, but after a coupla hours. . .man, I thought I was just tired. . .then it just got worse as the mornin’ went on.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t notice a bite mark on your face,” Roy commented. “We could’ve had you in to see a doctor before you got to this point. Cap’s second guessing himself, too.”
“Not your fault. . .I didn’t even notice it.”
“It’s a small mark,” Stoney reminded them. “Hopefully it was a small spider that won’t pack anymore of a punch than it already has.” He picked up the biophone transmitter as he glanced down at the vitals written on the paper. “Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”
“51, we read you loud and clear.”
It was Doctor Brackett, much to Gage’s relief. At least he still could avoid having to deal with Morton’s poor bedside manner. As bad as he felt, he didn’t need that too.
“Rampart, we have a twenty-three year old male with a probable spider bite on the face near the right corner of his mouth. The victim apparently was bitten last night sometime and experienced a gradual onset of symptoms throughout the day, including exhaustion and grogginess, muscle aches, chills, and headache. He recently noticed swelling and numbness in the tissue surrounding the bite, and covering a large area around it. Respirations are shallow, pulse is rapid, bp’s 160/100, skin is clammy to the touch. Be advised, victim is John Gage.”
“51, has he experienced any nausea or vomiting?”
Stoney looked to Johnny, who briefly shook his head, his eyes now closed.
“Any stomach cramps?” Roy asked.
Roy chewed his lower lip in thought, while Stoney reported that bit of information as well.
Doctor Brackett suggested the possibility of it being a black widow spider bite, but even he wasn’t sure. The symptoms didn’t match up completely. But the chance of anyone finding out after the amount of time that had passed was slim. Still, Roy decided to go check Johnny’s bed and give it a shot. Maybe with a little luck the younger man had somehow rolled onto it and inadvertently killed it. But as he expected, there was no spider, dead or otherwise, in the bed.
Brackett directed they administer Johnny an IV of normal saline, but to hold off on the MS. He was concerned it would knock the paramedic out being he was already groggy as it was, and he wanted him as coherent as possible to talk to him first. And since the ambulance had just arrived on scene, they’d be on their way soon. Gage wouldn’t have to wait long before he’d get relief.
Johnny groaned as he pulled his left arm out from under the blanket while Stoney readied the IV. He could use them for other people with no problem but when it came to himself, he had one thought.
I hate needles.
He gritted his teeth as the other paramedic stuck his skin to capture a vein after cleaning the surface with a sterile alcohol wipe.
“Any luck?” Stoney asked as Roy returned to the room. After a head shake telling him ‘no’, he added, “You wanna ride in with him?”
Johnny looked at his fill-in. “Sorry I ruined. . . your day off,” he apologized ruefully.
“Ah, hey, I can use the overtime. Besides, it gives me a chance to talk with Captain Stanley and pick his brain. Remember, I’m going for captain next year.”
Johnny frowned at the reminder. He wasn’t so keen on the fire department losing what he deemed was a good paramedic since Stoney wouldn’t be able to be both a captain and that. But he understood the higher rank was important to his friend.
“You ready to go?” Roy asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Johnny nodded slightly as he shivered again. He wasn’t really, considering he’d likely be there overnight for observation, or until his symptoms subsided enough. And he’d find out shortly that he was right.
Though still worn down from his ordeal, Johnny felt better by late morning although a dull overall achiness lingered. But the swelling had already gone down considerably, the feeling returned to his face; his headache was easily handled with aspirin, and the chills and sweats were gone.
When given the option of recovering at his own apartment instead of spending another day at the hospital, the choice was easily made. Thus Doctor Brackett had signed his release papers and Roy would pick him up to give him a ride home.
Dressed in the clothes he wore in, Johnny slowly stood up from a chair near the bed when the door opened and his partner peeked inside.
“Man, am I glad to see you.”
Roy came the rest of the way in, the door closing behind him. He'd stopped by his home before he came over and was in his street clothes. “Well, you sure look a lot better. How do you feel?”
“Pretty good. Still a little sore and sluggish. But compared to yesterday? Good.”
“Brackett still thinks it might’ve been a black widow that bit you.”
“Maybe a young one,” he shrugged.
“So, you ready to get out of this place?”
“Man, am I ever.” He started for the door, but Roy put a hand on his arm, stopping him. Johnny regarded him in puzzlement.
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Roy reminded.
“What?” The release papers were all signed. What else could it be?
Roy walked over and opened the door, where he motioned for someone to come in. A gray-haired nurse at least in her mid fifties entered with a wheel chair.
“Ah, Roy. . .”
“You know the rules,” he reminded. “Every patient gets a ride outta here. Dixie would have my head if I let you walk out on your own.”
“Downstairs, helping Doctor Early with a patient. She made me promise I’d make sure you got your ride out. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”
Johnny closed his mouth, suppressing the "but"’ that had just about come out. He glanced at the older nurse, who was patiently waiting. His gaze traveled to Roy, who was standing with his arms folded across his chest, and a more insistent expression on his face.
With a sigh, the younger man complied.
Johnny took the opportunity on the ride to his apartment to make sure Roy no longer felt guilty for not noticing the bite on his face, nor for not insisting he see a doctor when he admitted he felt ill.
Only when they got to their destination and it came time for DeSoto to leave did he realize that perhaps he had convinced him too well.
“Well, take it easy, huh? And I guess I’ll see ya next shift if you’re up to par by then.”
“Call if you need anything.”
“Thanks, I will.”
Roy started out the door, when he turned to say, “Oh, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Ha ha.”
Roy’s humorous expression turned to one of sincere concern. “Seriously, once is enough. You might not be so lucky next time.”
He played it brave by shrugging it off. But once his friend was gone, Johnny made sure his bed with fresh linens, the wall behind the headboard, ceiling above and the floor underneath were arachnid free.
After taking a shower, and putting on clean shorts and a t-shirt, Johnny sat on the edge of his bed. He looked at the alarm clock with a sigh. Only a few hours into the day and he was already wishing for the next two to go by. He hated to admit it, but for the moment he’d feel a lot more at ease if he were on his bunk at the station.
Maybe stayin’ at Rampart wouldn’ta been such a bad idea either. . .Oh well. . .
He ran a hand through his hair. Tired was tired and he certainly was. After another quick check to make sure he was still alone, Johnny lay down to get some needed rest. What were the odds something so bizarre could happen to him again?
A huge thank you to Jill Hargan for the beta read and great suggestions to improve on some things. I used them all. :o) And thanks to my sister for allowing me to use another of her situations. Most of Johnny's illness is based on real life, I just added a little for dramatic effect since it’s fiction. :o) She never figured out what kind of spider bit her either.
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Stories Page April Picture 2007