Note: Back in early 2000, before I started writing fan fic, I sent a story challenge to a site. It was for Johnny to be at the scene of a rescue after the rest of his crew members had left and lightning strikes where he is. One writer responded with an excellent story, but I wanted to finally answer the challenge too.
By Audrey W.
Paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto helped load a victim they were transporting to Rampart General Hospital into an ambulance. The young woman had been driving on a wet curvy stretch of highway near Topanga Canyon when she took a corner too fast, sending her sports car out of control and into a metal guardrail. Though the rail prevented her vehicle from going over a rain-soaked steep embankment, the impact with it had thrown her unsecured body around inside. By luck a passing motorist had seen the accident and found a payphone several miles away to call for help.
“You wanna go in with her?” a damp Gage asked his partner.
Their turnout coats and helmets had protected them from the heaviest rain when they first arrived, but it had lessoned several minutes afterward, allowing them to remove the heavy clothing and work more freely.
“Sure.” Roy climbed up inside and Johnny quickly grabbed hold of one of the rear ambulance doors to close it.
“See you at Rampart.”
Roy nodded in acknowledgement rather than in answer. The younger man closed the other door and secured them. He then gave two slaps on them to indicate things were good to go. He watched a brief moment as the ambulance pulled away, then trotted over to where Officer Vince Howard was waiting in his patrol car. Engine 51 had responded with the other emergency vehicles, but was dispatched to a house fire after it was discovered the extra man power wasn’t needed here.
“Any word on the tow truck?” Johnny asked as he leaned over near the driver’s side window.
Vince shook his head. “But it should be here soon.”
Suddenly the rain began to come down harder again. Johnny rolled his eyes at the new development. “Figures. Guess that’s my cue to get movin’,” he stated as he pulled away from the door. The drops splattered as they landed against the helmet on his head.
“You don’t wanna get wet.”
“Right,” the paramedic snickered as he glanced down at his rain spattered uniform. He turned and headed for the squad several feet away and beyond the victim’s car.
When he noticed the pry bar they’d used still on the ground near the wreck, Vince quickly peeked out and yelled.
“Hey!” But the rumble of thunder drowned his voice out. When Johnny didn’t acknowledge him, the officer opened his door and hurried over to retrieve the bar. He picked it up, once again calling out, “Gage! You forgot this!”
This time Johnny heard him and turned around. Ducking rain drops, he trotted away from the red truck and toward Vince. Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light accompanied by a deafening boom.
Roy heard the few rumbles of thunder as the ambulance continued on its way to Rampart. Since his patient was doing well, he had time to think about the weather and the chill he was feeling in his very damp uniform.
It wasn’t common for them to have lightning and thunder in the area; only on occasion. He hadn’t expected it now since the earlier rain hadn’t brought any. But at least the rescue was over before this new storm cell had arrived.
I’d hate to be out in it.
And though he hadn’t seen the squad behind them, he was certain his partner was on his way in. They both would be looking forward to getting changed into dry uniforms as soon as they got back to the station.
Hopefully we won’t get anymore calls till this stuff passes over us.
Johnny groaned as he slowly came to awareness. He opened his eyes and blinked hard as he tried to comprehend what had happened. Looking straight ahead from where he lay on the pavement, he could see the squad with its red lights still rotating on top. It was about nine feet away from him, across an empty lane of highway. But the truck hadn’t moved. He had. He furrowed his brow in confusion.
Rain was still coming down steadily, drenching his hair as he was without a helmet as well. It was on the ground adjacent to the front of the squad. He pushed himself up on shaky arms, at the same time wanting to get onto his knees. But his legs wouldn’t move. They were completely numb. Panic set in as he glanced around. He was in the middle of the street; not a place a person should be hanging out on the ground.
Using his forearms and dragging his legs, he crawled toward the side of the road, still not sure how he got where he was.
What the hell happened?
The last thing he could recall was walking toward Vince Howard when the whole area lit up bright white with an explosive boom.
Any worry over being in the middle of the street vanished. Vince was his main concern. He tried calling out for the officer as he desperately continued to half-crawl in the direction of the squad. His voice was shaky at best and he could hardly hear himself. He wasn’t sure if that was from his voice being weak or his hearing being poor after the close blast.
Another flash in the sky followed by a rumble a few seconds later gave the still-dazed paramedic his answer as to what had occurred.
Lightning. . .
And now finding Vince as quickly as possible became that much more imperative. With a sudden rush of adrenaline, Johnny moved faster, his heart racing, breaths shallow with the strain from the effort.
Once the ambulance arrived at Rampart, the rear doors were opened, and Roy hopped out. He helped to lift the stretcher with the victim on it down and then quickly followed alongside as the woman was whisked to Treatment Room Three.
Nurse Dixie McCall was holding the door open and eyed his wet uniform as he hurried in.
“Looks like you could use a set of clean dry clothes.”
“Tell me about it. Johnny’s the same way.”
“You guys’ll be lucky if you don’t catch pneumonia,” she half kidded.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” came the response.
The nurse watched sympathetically as the paramedic moved about awkwardly in his damp clothing. A distant sound of thunder had her shaking her head. The rain storm wasn’t over yet. She hoped they’d get a chance to change before they had to go on another run.
She closed the door and headed for her desk across the hall, where she made sure there was still hot coffee in the pot on the counter behind it. If John Gage came in as damp as his partner, he was going to be looking for a hot cup of the brew.
In the back of her mind, she wondered exactly where he was. Usually one would arrive almost immediately after the other when they brought someone in.
Maybe he got caught in some traffic with the wet roads. . .
Johnny disregarded his helmet and continued to work his way past it as his attention fell on what was in view directly ahead. A speed limit sign and the post it was connected to were blackened. A section of the guardrail touching against it was blackened as well. He now knew where the lightning had struck.
With no sign of Vince yet, he briefly thought about getting to the squad to call for help. But reality was, he couldn’t get up to reach the door handle if he wanted to. He recalled the officer had called for a tow truck. When it got there, surely the driver would radio for help.
Where the hell is it? Shouldn’t it be here by now?
But he didn’t know the truck driver had problems of his own to contend with.
Ken Douglas swore when he eyed the right front fender damage to his tow truck. He was sure he’d be able to make the green light, but when it turned yellow as he approached the intersection, he was going too fast to slow down or stop on the wet pavement. He had to continue on through. A pickup truck that had jumped the light from the right plowed into his truck. Although neither driver was seriously injured, they couldn’t leave the scene until cleared to do so by police.
Ken had radioed for another truck to take his call, but with the wet weather, the company was maxed out. The young woman’s car at the other scene would have to be put down as next in line for whoever became available first.
Roy came out of the treatment room and scanned the corridor for his partner. Johnny was nowhere in sight. He noticed Dixie go into Treatment Room One with Doctor Morton, which meant he couldn’t ask her on Johnny’s whereabouts until she came back out.
I guess I’ll see if he’s in the lounge.
He headed down the hallway in search of the younger man.
When he finally got onto the shoulder of the highway between the squad and wrecked car, Johnny was exhausted. Every muscle in his arms ached from his efforts. And his stomach hurt from dragging on the ground. The front hem of his blue shirt and his white t-shirt underneath had worked their way out of his pants along the way leaving his wet skin vulnerable.
On a good note, the rain had returned to a light sprinkle. But it didn’t help that he was already drenched.
Johnny lay panting a moment until he got a resurgence of strength when he reminded himself he wasn’t done yet; he hadn’t found Vince. Last he’d seen him earlier, the officer was standing in front of the girl’s car ready to hand him the pry bar.
A sudden new worry came over the dark-haired paramedic when he saw the bar on the ground a few feet away. It could have been a conduit for electricity directly to the cop.
“Vince!” Gage called out again. “Vince, where are you?”
A barely audible groan from over the embankment had him half-crawling to the edge of the shoulder despite the protest from his tired shoulder muscles.
After searching various parts of the lower floor of the hospital for his partner, Roy returned to Dixie McCall’s desk near the base station.
“Well, I thought you and Johnny would be back at the station changing into dry clothes by now,” she said with a smile.
“Did he say where he was gonna be?”
The head nurse’s eyebrows rose in question, her smile fading.
“Didn’t he stop by here when he came in?” Roy wondered.
“Not that I saw. But I got called away for a short time. Didn’t he try to find you when he got here?”
Roy shook his head.
“Have you checked the squad?”
“I can’t see why he’d sit out there waiting. He knew we needed a refill on supplies. But I guess that’s the next place I’ll look.”
“What supplies do you need? I’ll have them ready for you when you guys come back in.”
Roy had taken a step away, and stopped with her question. He turned partially to face her. “Uh. . .” he gave it thought a few seconds, then quickly rattled off a short list.
Dixie went to work gathering the supplies as Roy headed for the exit, the handie talkie in his right hand.
Johnny stopped when he reached the edge. Wincing, he allowed himself to catch his breath for a brief second before calling Vince’s name again. He heard a very weak ‘here’.
Since he wasn’t able to get over the guardrail, he slid partially under, his eyes scanning the area below. About fifteen feet down he spotted the familiar figure in the rain soaked brush and weeds. Vince’s left lower leg was exposed underneath ripped material, and his foot was bare.
It was going to be tricky sliding down the steep incline head first, but he was going to have to go for it. His friend’s life could depend on it.
As soon as he stepped outside, Roy was stunned. The only truck parked nearby was Squad 18. The ambulance he’d ridden in on was still in its spot and one of the attendants was removing the drug box and biophone that Johnny should have transferred to the squad as soon as he arrived.
“He’s not here,” Roy said, voicing his thoughts. As the attendant turned to him, he immediately brought the HT up to his own mouth and keyed the mic.
“Squad 51, HT 51.” He paused, waiting for a response. When none came he tried again. “Squad 51, HT 51. Johnny, can you hear me?” Still no response.
The attendant held out the biophone and drug box. “Here’s your stuff. We’ve gotta make ourselves available for another transport, so you’ll have to take ‘em.”
“Thanks.” With the HT strap around his wrist, Roy took the boxes.
“Something going on with John?”
“I don’t know.”
“For what it’s worth, I hope he shows up soon.”
Roy gave a weak smile and nodded in thanks. That was one thing about any emergency crew, including him and Johnny. The victims out in the city had to come first; the job couldn’t be put on hold for worry over someone else’s issues. Not that they didn’t care, but it was part of their training.
He quickly turned and went back inside, the automatic doors opening for him. Lost in thought as he tried to convince himself that there could be any number of reasons why his partner wasn’t there yet, he absently passed by various hospital personnel in the corridor. Roy didn’t even notice when one of the paramedics from Squad 18 said ‘hi’ in passing.
DeSoto went straight to where Dixie was waiting at her desk. As she saw him approach, her expression was one of concern and he was certain it mirrored his own.
“Roy. . .where’s Johnny?” she asked hesitantly.
He set the biophone and drug box on the floor near his feet, the HT on the desk. He then picked up the receiver of the telephone in front of him and dialed Headquarters as he quickly explained, “I don’t know. He didn’t make it in. . .and I can’t raise him on the radio.”
Dixie glanced down at the floor, her brows furrowed in thought.
Johnny slowly eased himself the rest of the way under the guardrail, his arms trembling from the exertion he’d put on them so far.
It’d be a lot easier of I could use my legs . . .
That thought brought a sickened feeling to his stomach. He’d pushed his own condition out of his mind as much as possible, but for a brief moment, reality hit. He could very well be like this the rest of his life.
But he'd have to deal with that later. At least he was alive. He needed to do what he could to make sure Vince survived as well.
Roy worked to keep his worry from turning to fear after he discovered that Johnny hadn’t contacted headquarters and no calls regarding a squad in need of assistance had come in from anyone.
Dixie eyed him as he placed the receiver back in its cradle. A moment of silence passed between the two before Roy spoke, his preoccupied gaze fixed on the phone.
“They don’t have any information; they haven’t heard from him and can’t raise him on the radio either.” He looked up, his eyes meeting with the head nurse’s. “They’re contacting the police department to see if anything’s been called in there.”
“Roy, I’m sure he’s okay. Maybe the squad broke down and he doesn’t have use of the radio.”
“Maybe. But it seems like someone would’ve seen him somewhere along th--wait. . .Vince.”
Roy nodded. “Vince Howard. He was still at the scene when the ambulance left.”
“Was he going to follow behind the squad?”
“No, he was waiting on a tow truck. So if anything happened to the squad, he should’ve seen it on his way in afterward.” He glanced at his watch. “The tow truck should’ve been there awhile ago.”
Dixie smiled, as it seemed they had a plausible answer. “Well, then there you are. If Vince saw that Johnny had some kind of trouble along the way and he called it in on his radio, then the police department would already know what’s up. And of course Johnny wouldn’t think he needed to notify anyone else separately. The information would be passed on.”
“You know, it makes sense.” But he couldn’t feel at ease quite yet. He still needed to know for sure. Roy lifted the receiver and once again dialed Headquarters.
Kel Brackett came out of Treatment Room Three and joined them at the desk. As Roy continued with his call, Dixie stepped over to the other end of the desk to talk with the doctor.
“How’s the girl Roy brought in?”
“Lucky. There weren’t any signs of internal injury to any organs. But it took twelve stitches to close the laceration on her head. I’m sending her up to orthopedics to get a cast on her arm now.”
He glanced over at Roy as the paramedic asked into the phone with an edge to his voice, “They can’t?”
Brackett looked to Dixie for a possible explanation.
“Johnny hasn’t shown up with the squad yet. He hasn’t contacted headquarters, but Vince Howard was still at the scene when Roy left, so he’s seeing if the police department had any information from Vince.”
The doctor nodded in understanding and waited for word as Roy hung up.
The paramedic glanced from one to the other, his expression one of stunned disbelief.
“What is it, Roy?” the doctor asked.
“The police dispatcher told Headquarters that she hasn’t been able to get a response from Vince either.”
Dixie and Brackett looked at one another, both now very concerned.
Going down the embankment head first proved to be as precarious as Johnny expected. The terrain was rough and the ground very gravely in and around the weeds and brush. Small rocks dug into his elbows and forearms as he made his descent.
When he was in thicker clumps of weeds, the wet surface was slippery against his equally saturated shirt. He had to reach out and use his hands to brace himself to slow his momentum. A tumble down the hill wouldn’t help anyone.
The still-soaked paramedic grunted from his efforts as he continued his half-crawl and occasional slide down the steep slope. Twigs and brush scraped across his arms and sides along the way. Johnny ignored them, knowing Vince was in worse shape than he was.
Johnny kept his eyes locked on Vince, at times calling out his name and reassuring him that he was coming to help. Only problem was, he didn’t know what exactly he could do without any medical equipment. That hadn’t been an option any more than using the radio to call for help was.
Five feet away from his destination, he looked over his shoulder toward the edge of the road above. There was no sound of another vehicle that he could tell and none had joined the other three on the shoulder of the road.
Dammit! Where in the hell is that tow truck?
He quickly looked toward Vince again.
Although in reality it had only taken several minutes to get to where he was, it felt like it was taking forever to get down to the injured man.
Johnny continued with his risky descent, awkwardly scrambling the last couple of feet with a resurgence of energy. His wet clothes dirty from the muddy gravel and streaked green in places from sliding on the weeds, he pulled himself up beside the police officer. Johnny’s overworked arm muscles trembled as he propped himself up to assess Vince's condition.
Ken Douglas climbed back into his tow truck and turned the key in the ignition. It had taken longer than he’d expected to get things sorted out with the police. To him it was obvious who was at fault, but they’d had to get statements from witnesses before being sure of what exactly transpired.
He keyed his radio mic and called into the company dispatcher. When he was instructed to go to the original location, he put the truck into ‘drive’ and continued on.
At least *I* didn’t need a tow truck. I’d’ve never lived that one down with the other guys.
Although the rain had stopped and the streets were drying, he didn’t want to risk a repeat of what had just happened. Ken decided to take his time, slowing some with each intersection he approached.
“After all,” he reasoned, “The car’s been sitting there awhile now, what’s a few extra minutes gonna hurt?”
Roy leaned against the counter near the base station, an untouched cup of coffee beside him, as he waited for word on his partner. With both departments very concerned about their missing men, a police unit had been sent to look into their whereabouts.
The senior paramedic ran scenario after scenario through his mind in an effort to convince himself nothing was seriously wrong, but he couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that it was. Yet at the same time, he wondered in the back of his mind why the tow truck driver hadn’t called something in if there was anything out of place.
Dixie returned after assisting Doctor Brackett with another patient that had come in. She cast a sympathetic look at the worried paramedic. The expression on his face reminded her of when Johnny had been bitten by a rattlesnake at the close of a rescue after Roy had already left. DeSoto was visibly upset about being stuck at Rampart instead of there to help his partner. And although this time they couldn’t be sure Johnny was in trouble, it was that unknown that was making it just as hard on him.
“I’m sure we’ll hear something soon,” she speculated, trying to sound upbeat.
“I hope so.”
“Did you get a hold of Captain Stanley yet?”
“No. They’re either still at that fire or out on another response. Dispatch may have told him about Johnny though.”
Dixie nodded and got onto the stool behind her desk. She hadn’t sat down but for a few seconds when a call came over the base station.
“Rampart, this is Squad 16, how do you read me?”
Dixie stepped over and acknowledged the call. “Squad 16, I read you loud and clear.”
Roy listened to them give a run down on the situation. A man had lost control of his car on the wet pavement and run under a semi. By luck he was alive, however still trapped. With all the accidents caused by the rain, Roy became more fearful that it was likely the explanation for his missing partner.
But then how does that explain where Vince is?
It just didn’t add up.
“Hang in there. . .Vince. Help’s on the way. . .”
Johnny was panting heavily after his strenuous journey down. He wiped away sweat and water drops that had gathered on his face with the back of his left hand.
Johnny's right arm trembled under the strain of his weight as he propped himself up on it and used his left hand to take the officer's wrist and check for a pulse. He quickly eyed Vince’s hands as he counted the heart rate and was surprised not to see any burns.
He must’ve let go of the pry bar before the lightning hit. . .
It was obvious from the pained expression on the officer’s face and the short rapid breaths he took that he was in a great deal of pain. While Johnny’s main concern was damage caused by the lightning strike, he was also worried about possible injuries resulting from the fall, not all of them visible.
He glanced over at the torn pant leg and bare foot, and wondered again how Vince had been struck directly if the pry bar wasn’t in his hands.
Johnny wished he was more mobile and had the necessary equipment with him to treat Vince, especially the biophone to contact Rampart. With that thought he looked up at the top of the embankment. There was still no sign of the tow truck driver.
“Wha . . . hap. . .happened?” Vince asked through a clenched jaw, quickly drawing Gage’s attention to him.
“Lightning strike. But you’re doin’. . . okay, Vince. You’re. . . doin’ all right.” He just wanted to keep the officer as calm as possible. Johnny placed his left hand on Vince’s chest to count his respirations, but was interrupted when Vince tried to sit up. Johnny gently pushed him back down.
“Don’t move, Vince. . . Don’t move. You need to stay still.”
The officer didn’t give a reply, but also didn’t move.
Johnny shifted his weight slightly to give his right arm some reprieve. A sudden jolt of pain shot across his shoulder and down his right side. He quickly grabbed at his side with his left hand and discovered it was very sore to the touch. The paramedic quickly glanced toward the source of pain.
He’d been so focused on finding and getting to Vince, he hadn’t even noticed until now that his right arm was scraped up and already discolored with bruising from when he was thrown onto the pavement. Now that he had the time to think about it, the abrasions he’d gotten from landing on the pavement and on the way down the embankment stung fiercely. His abdomen stung as well, and he noticed blood had soaked through both his shirts on the front here and there, the red color mixed in with the dirt and grass streaks.
If he’d hit his head on the pavement at all, it couldn’t have been very hard, he surmised. It was about the only part of him that seemed to be 100 percent okay. Johnny was grateful of that and the fact that he didn’t feel any sharp pains in his side when he took a breath.
Must just be bruised.
But right now his own problems could still wait. Assessing Vince’s condition was still priority.
He shifted his weight again and grimaced at another sharp stab of pain in his shoulder, even though he was prepared for it this time. He worked his way toward Vince’s lower legs to get a close look at the damage to the one and check the other for possible injury. But he was stopped by a new development. There was a very slight tingling sensation in both of his own legs.
Johnny stared down as he tried to move them.
“This isn’t a good sign,” Officer Brian O’Dell commented as he quickly brought his squad car to a stop behind Vince’s, noting both emergency vehicles already at the scene still had their dome lights on top flashing.
His partner Tim Marshall already had his door open and jumped out. “I’ll check the rescue squad.”
“Right!” Brian trotted up to the driver’s side of Vince’s car and looked inside.
Johnny could barely move his legs. But as the tingly feeling spread, he was at least able to clumsily get onto his hands and knees and semi-crawl toward Vince’s feet. The task was anything but easy. Though he could feel his legs somewhat, he sure couldn’t get them to do exactly what he wanted and they’d almost gone completely out from under him.
When he was where he could see the exit wound on the bottom of the officer’s foot, he also noticed spider web-like lines partially visible from under the torn and scorched pant material below the knee. They streamed down in two faint rows where they met with his ankle. As he eyed the quarter-sized wound again, he heard the officer groan.
“Hang in there. . . Vince,” he panted as he once again found himself short of breath after the exertion from getting around. “Hang in. . . there, man.”
His gaze traveled up the left side of Vince’s body and suddenly what he’d missed at first glance was now obvious. A singed cloth edge where there was another quarter-sized hole, this time in the material of his pant leg on the side of his left thigh.
The entrance wound. . .
Johnny’s eyes once again followed the lines and he knew for certain the electrical charge had traveled nearly the full length of Vince’s leg. He then glanced up at their vehicles. It was a long climb up, but if he gained strength and coordination in his legs as he went, he could finally get the help they needed.
“I’ll be back. . . I’m gonna call. . .dispatch.”
Johnny did his best to scramble back up the hill, but his legs still weren’t fully functional. The trip up was obviously going to be far more strenuous than the one down.
Not far from the bottom of the steep incline, Johnny got back onto his feet after having them go out from under him again. His hands on the ground in front of him, he reached forward and pulled on some of the brush to help with his forward progress. But both legs folded like rubber and he hit the ground hard.
It was then he heard the sound of a car on gravel and saw the police squad pull up behind Vince’s. Johnny called out, but his voice didn’t carry very well. He paused a few moments, then tried again.
Tim stepped back from Squad 51 after finding the cab empty except for two wet turnout coats heaped together on the passenger side of the seat. He glanced at the blackened sign and pole nearby. Wonder what happened to that?
His gaze traveled downward to the charred guardrail, then to something on the ground.
A wet sock was still in it. He bent down and picked the items up. There was a small round hole with burn marks around the edge in the sole and foot of the sock.
The sign . . .the guardrail. . .the shoe. . .
As he turned to call out to his partner, he noticed a black helmet with a blue panel on the front, the numbers ‘51’ on it, on the ground in front of the squad.
The other officer had just turned the other way when he heard the tow truck approach. He turned back around to face Tim, who was now looking over the edge of the street, a shoe in his hand.
“Hey, they’re down there! Have dispatch get a hold of the fire department!”
Brian held up a hand to stop the tow truck driver from announcing his arrival. He reached into Vince’s car with the other hand and radioed for help.
Still waiting on word about his partner, Roy stood leaning against the counter behind Dixie’s desk as he listened to a radio broadcasting calls for the fire department. The radio was for emergency personnel at Rampart to be up to speed on where various rescue squads were dispatched, thus better prepared when paramedics called in.
Roy watched Dixie and Mike Morton handle the call of another paramedic unit at the base station.
"LA, this is Station 36. . ."
Roy jerked his head toward the radio and stood unmoving as the voice he recognized as Captain Roberts reported his crews’ arrival at the address the paramedic had left his partner.
Guilt plagued him as he realized what he’d feared was about to play out. He was once again stuck at Rampart while his partner had likely needed his help. Suddenly he was brought out of his thoughts by a light touch to his right shoulder. He turned his head to see Dixie standing adjacent to him, Morton’s voice in the background still handling the other call.
“Roy, are you all right?”
“Yeah. . .Yeah, I am.”
He gave an outward appearance of being ‘okay’, but in truth, he was still very worried inside. All sorts of scenarios ran through his mind now that the fire department had been called back to the scene of the accident.
Roy eyed the base station radio as Morton completed his communication with the paramedics from Squad 16. There was no sense in going over the possibilities anymore. The answer would come over that very radio before long.
Tim Marshall made his way down toward Johnny and Vince, slipping and sliding on the steep wet ground and weeds. Halfway down, he fell on his bottom, but quickly scrambled back to his feet and kept on with his journey down while his partner and the tow truck driver watched from above. The other policeman waited to give fire fighters the details when they arrived.
When the officer reached Johnny, he held out his hand to help the struggling paramedic to his feet, but Johnny waved him on.
“I’m okay. . .Vince needs. . .help.”
Sure, you’re okay, Tim thought. But he figured Gage meant he was the most okay out of the two of them and did as he was asked.
“What happened?” he called over his shoulder.
“Lightning,” came a weak reply.
Tim just nodded, his theory verified. When he got closer to the injured officer, his other thoughts were confirmed as well. But his concern for Johnny didn’t lighten. Banged up, the dark-haired paramedic was wobbly at best as he stood up on his own.
Both men looked upward at the sound of sirens as an engine and squad arrived on scene.
Captain Roberts climbed down from the engine as Brian hurried past the other vehicles to fill him in. The tow truck driver stood by his truck, waiting for Squad 51 to be moved so he could hook up to the wrecked car and take it away.
“What’ve we got?” the captain asked as his crew joined him.
“Two victims over the side of the road, down a steep bank. I’m not sure on the details, but it doesn’t seem to be a life-threatening situation. My partner just yelled up to tell you when you got here that they were victims of a lightning strike.”
The captain directed his paramedics to get their gear while he and the others trotted over to the edge to see just how steep the embankment was and how far down the victims were. They could see Tim and Johnny kneeling on either side of Vince, who was still lying on the wet ground.
Roberts had one of his men move Squad 51 forward several feet so that the tow truck could be hooked to the wrecked car and that vehicle towed out of the area. He instructed Brian to move his police car up behind the squad, and another of his men to pull their squad up as well, which would allow Engine 36 to be brought closer for tying off the ropes needed for the paramedics to rappel down safely.
Within a few of minutes, the rescue was underway.
Morton’s latest patient arrived at Rampart, which left Dixie to monitor the base station in the event a call came in. Roy went to use the men’s room and was just returning when the base station radio came to life.
“Rampart, this is Squad 36, how do you copy?”
The head nurse stepped over to the transmitter and pressed the talk button. “Squad 36, read you loud and clear.”
She quickly lifted the receiver of an in-house telephone nearby and paged for Doctor Brackett, then wrote down the initial information as it was transmitted.
Roy stood behind the desk, anxious to hear about his partner.
“Man,” Johnny winced breathlessly as paramedic Jerry Parker helped him get situated on a yellow blanket laid out on the ground a few feet from Vince. The officer was being tended to by Jerry’s partner Tony Romano and another fireman from their station. Johnny had already explained as much as he recalled about the lightning strike, along with Vince's initial vital signs.
Jerry grabbed another yellow blanket still in packaging and tore the outer cover off, then placed the blanket over Gage’s shoulders to ward off a chill.
“You sure you don’t wanna lay down?”
“Yeah, ‘m okay.”
Jerry eyed Johnny’s bloodied and dirty grass stained shirt, recalling the abrasions he’d seen underneath, and nodded. “Uh huh.”
Keep telling yourself that. . .
“How do your legs feel now?” he asked as he squatted down to take Johnny’s vitals.
“Better.” He moved them slightly to demonstrate he could. His gaze then fell on Vince’s form as the others continued to work on the injured officer. The feeling of having let Vince down was weighing heavily on him now. Intellectually he knew he did all he could considering the circumstances, but emotionally he felt like he should’ve done more.
Jerry read off Johnny’s vital signs to another of his colleagues who was manning the biophone, and that fireman in turn relayed them to Brackett. It was all background noise to Johnny as he stayed focused on Vince.
Roy listened, worry etched in his face, as the descriptions of Johnny’s and Vince’s injuries and vital signs were relayed to Brackett, along with an EKG strip on Vince. It was particularly disturbing to hear about the officer, but the news that Johnny still had some difficulty in controlling the movement of his legs was also a concern.
“36, keep victim one immobilized as a precaution. Start a large bore IV Ringers Lactate; continue administering 6 liters of O2. Monitor closely and transport as soon as possible.”
The instructions were acknowledged and Brackett continued on.
“36, did victim two fall as well?”
There was a moment of silence before an answer came. “Negative, Rampart. He crawled down. . .sorta. . .”
“10-4, 36. Start a large bore IV normal saline on victim two, monitor closely as well, and transport. We’ll irrigate the abrasions here.”
Once again the doctor’s instructions were acknowledged.
Brackett turned to face Roy. “Your partner sure knows how to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The senior paramedic nodded slightly. “What about his legs? Is it possible the lightning strike did permanent damage?”
The doctor folded his arms across his chest and shrugged. “Anything is possible with lightning. But it’s also possible the electrical charge just polarized the muscles and tendons in his legs and it’s only temporary. I’m sure we’ll need anywhere from twenty-four to forty-eight hours of observation time to tell for sure.”
Roy just nodded slightly again and looked at the radio transmitter. He wanted to be on the other end of the line.
Tony heard the instructions and jumped into action to set up the IV on Vince, while his assistant secured Vince to the backboard they’d carefully slid under him and secured a c-collar on his neck.
As soon as they had completed those tasks, they were ready to place him in a stokes, the EKG monitor still hooked up to him.
In the meantime, Jerry prepped Johnny’s arm for an IV, noticing the look of displeasure on his patient’s face.
“Sorry, but you heard Brackett. You’ve gotta have it.”
“I know, but I don’t. . . hafta like it.”
“And they say doctors make the worst patients.”
Both looked over as Vince was lifted into a waiting stokes that had been used to bring down their equipment.
“I’m gonna get him topside and on his way to Rampart,” Tony informed his partner.
“Okay, we’ll be right behind ya. Cap’s got a second ambulance on the way.”
Tony nodded. “Great.”
Once again Johnny watched the other two with Vince as they carried him up the hill with the help of ropes. He wished he could be in the same ambulance with him. Johnny already knew the first thing he was going to do when he got to Rampart was ask about Vince.
The trip up the steep embankment in a stokes wasn’t the most comfortable for Johnny. He’d much rather have walked up under his own power, had it been possible. Somehow needing another paramedic to take care of him at a rescue scene made him feel like he’d screwed up; that he should’ve been able to avoid getting in a bad situation to begin with. But a reminder to himself about the randomness of lightning helped to ease his guilt somewhat.
We had no way of knowing it was about to hit . . .
As soon as they reached the top of the embankment, Johnny was whisked over to a stretcher and carefully transferred from the stokes. In minutes he and Jerry were on their way to Rampart, one of the engine crew from Station 36 following behind in the squad.
Another of the engine crew was assigned to drive Squad 51 to Rampart so Roy would be able to get back to the station and complete his shift with a temporary partner.
The corridor in the ER became a flurry of activity as Vince Howard was brought in. The officer was quickly wheeled into one of the treatment rooms. Doctor Brackett rushed in with him, along with a specialist and one of the nurses on duty. They not only would examine the obvious injuries, but also run several tests on him to find out just what the extent of the damage was.
Roy stood beside Dixie, who was left to monitor the base station in the event of an update on Johnny or another call. The senior paramedic was torn between wanting to know more on Vince and waiting for his partner’s arrival.
But he knew the decision wasn’t his in the first place, which made it easier to accept staying near the base station. Only the paramedic who accompanied Vince in the ambulance and the medical personnel at Rampart could be in the treatment room with the officer at the moment.
I just hope he’s okay.
Johnny grimaced as he looked up at Jerry, who was sitting on the bench seat watching what little bit of scenery he could see out the window on the other side of the ambulance. The paramedic had checked Johnny's vitals a few minutes ago, but a new discomfort was making itself known and the fiery pain on his face and arms was intensifying.
“Man. . .”
Jerry glanced down and immediately took a closer look. There was a reddish-brown feather-like pattern evident on Gage’s face.
Johnny’s arms were underneath the blanket that covered him. Grateful they weren’t secured down with the straps that held his body still, Gage pulled them out from under as he ignored the pain from the multiple abrasions and scratches rubbing against the cloth. There was an even greater hurt now.
Jerry quickly examined his arms and noted the same pattern on the skin.
Flash burns. . .
He contacted Dixie on the biophone and updated her on the latest development. She in turn paged Doctor Early.
“10-4, 36,” the doctor acknowledged. “It’s not uncommon for flash burns to show up awhile after the initial exposure to electrical energy. Administer 5 milligrams MS IV and continue monitoring. Let me know if anything else changes.”
“10-4, Rampart,” came the reply.
Doctor Early could see the added worry on Roy’s face. With Dixie still there to monitor the radio, he stepped over to the paramedic and assured him. “This latest development isn’t a huge concern, Roy. Flash burns can be painful, but they aren’t exactly real burns. If Johnny was wet or even just damp when the lightning hit, some of the energy from the bolt would’ve carried to the surface of his skin. But just as it took awhile to show up, it’ll take awhile to go away. He won’t require any skin grafts though.”
Roy nodded. “Thanks. At least that’s one less worry.”
“Yes, it is.” The doctor looked toward the direction they’d be entering from, then turned to address Roy again. “You want to wait in Treatment Room Four with me? That way you’ll already be there when he’s brought in.”
He nodded and followed alongside Early, wondering if Captain Stanley had gotten word yet. At least he could be glad that he’d get to see his partner before heading back to the station. The captain and others wouldn’t get that luxury. He’d have to update them when he saw them later.
The ambulance transporting Johnny backed up to the emergency entrance. As soon as the rear doors were opened, Jerry hopped down and helped to lift out the stretcher carrying his charge.
“Let’s go,” he said as he removed the IV bag from underneath Johnny’s left shoulder and held it up. He followed alongside and glanced down at the injured paramedic.
“I’ll bet Roy’s gonna be thrilled to see you.”
Johnny just nodded slightly, then watched lights pass by overhead as he was quickly wheeled down the corridor.
“In here,” Dixie directed. She was holding the door to the treatment room open.
Jerry went in with his patient. He immediately saw Roy take a few steps over to help guide the stretcher into place beside the exam table.
“Sorry. . .I’m late,” Johnny mumbled.
“You’re here now, that’s the main thing,” Roy commented. He helped to transfer his partner from the stretcher and stood back as Jerry updated the doctor while hanging Johnny’s IV bag on a nearby pole.
“Roy,” Dixie tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The senior paramedic looked expectantly at her. She hadn’t come in with the others, and he wondered if she had news on Vince. He waited for her to continue.
“Captain Stanley’s on the phone. He wants to talk to you.”
“Sure.” Though he’d have preferred to stay in the room with his partner a little longer, he was also anxious to talk to the captain and fill him in on details that likely hadn’t been passed along. With one last glance over his shoulder as he followed Dixie out, he silently gave thanks that both Johnny and Vince had survived what others often hadn’t.
Roy reached for the receiver when he was approached by one of the fire fighters from Station 36. The man held out a key.
“Here. The captain had me bring your squad in so you could get back to 51.”
Roy took it and stuck it in his pocket. “Thanks.” It was a reminder he was going to have to continue on with the shift. Maybe that’s what Cap wants. . .to let me know Johnny’s replacement is in.
But there was only one way to know for certain. He picked up the receiver.
“Hey, pal. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get in touch. We were hung up at the last call.”
“It’s okay, Cap. Did headquarters fill you in on everything?”
“Just the basic facts. Vince Howard and John were missing for awhile, and that they were both struck by lightning. Neither had life threatening injuries. But no one knew exactly how they were doing now.”
“Vince took a hit in his left leg somehow and apparently was blown off his feet and down an embankment. Doctor Brackett’s still in with him now.”
“And John. . .?”
“He’s doing okay, Cap. I’m not sure exactly what happened to him. Doctor Early has theories, but he needed to see and talk to him first. All I know is that his legs were temporarily paralyzed, but he’s got feeling in them now. And he’s pretty banged up from his trip down to Vince. He’s also got flash burns on his skin in places, but those aren’t very serious. He was in a lot of pain though.”
Hank let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God it wasn’t any worse.”
Both men knew very well, had either Vince or Johnny suffered cardiac arrest from the strike, the outcome would have been very tragic.
“Where’s the squad?”
“Here. Cliff Barnes from 36’s brought it in.”
“Great. Well, John’s replacement won’t be in for another forty-five minutes so why don’t you hang out there for a half hour or so. Maybe you can get a better idea how both men are doing, and fill us in when you get here.”
“Thanks, Cap. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Tell John we’re thinking of him.”
Roy replaced the receiver in its cradle and looked toward Treatment Room Two, where Vince was being cared for. There were a few officers that had gathered around the door in the past few minutes. A woman hurried down the corridor to join them, the expression on her face one of fear. One officer put his arm around her and quietly said something before opening the door for her to go inside without them.
Must be Vince’s wife, Roy surmised. He then shifted his gaze to Treatment Room Four, where his friend wouldn’t have family to come make sure he was okay. That was his job, and one he didn’t mind having.
Roy quickly walked over to go back inside just as Jerry was coming out, his uniform pants still damp in spots from the rain soaked ground at the rescue scene.
“Have you seen my partner?”
“Uh. . .yeah, he’s in the lounge with Barnes and Decker.”
“Thanks.” He started forward when Roy stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Jerry looked puzzled.
The paramedic from Station 36 eyed Roy a second, then glanced in Gage’s direction before quickly returning his gaze to Roy. “Just doin’ our job.”
The edges of Roy’s mouth curled up in a slight smile. How many times had he and Johnny said that exact same phrase to relatives of victim’s they’d brought in.
Jerry continued on his way as Roy shut the door to the treatment room.
“But you haven’t. . .told me. . .how Vince is,” Johnny was saying, his voice sounding tired but anxious. He was shirtless, the abrasions on his arms and body easy to see from across the room. A white sheet covered him from the waist down and he now was hooked up to an EKG monitor as a precaution since the electrical contact could have an effect on his heart rate even after time had lapsed. The result displayed on the small screen was normal. Early also requested some of the same lab tests run on him that Brackett had on Vince.
“I won’t know until I talk to Kel.”
“Then. . .send someone. . .in there. . .to find out.” Johnny saw Roy approach and directed his plea at him. “Go see how. . .Vince is.”
Roy met eyes with Early then looked down at his injured friend before stating, “I can’t. I’m not family.”
“Roy. . .I gotta . . .know. . .his leg. . .”
“Johnny, he’s alive.”
“I know that. . .what about his. . .leg? Or did he . . .hurt his back?”
It was the doctor’s turn to reassure his patient. “As soon as I get any information, I’ll make sure you get it. Right now, you need to be taken care of. I’m going to have to irrigate those abrasions. They can’t wait any longer.”
Roy watched his partner grimace as Early and a nurse carefully cleaned out the many wounds on his skin after removing the EKG leads. The pain was dulled from the MS, but as bad as it hurt otherwise, Roy knew the medication wasn’t sparing Johnny completely.
For now he remained quiet and just stood nearby so that Johnny could see he was there for moral support.
Roy glanced at his watch and saw that his time at Rampart was nearly up. Doctor Early had just finished with Johnny and went to get news on Vince while the dark-haired paramedic waited to be transferred to a room. He was going to be staying at Rampart for the rest of the afternoon and possibly a couple of days beyond.
The senior paramedic let out a sigh. “Well, I guess I’d better get back to the station.”
Johnny turned his head to the side and looked at him with droopy eyelids. When the pain became nearly unbearable during the irrigation process with the dirt ground in so deep in places, Early had given him more medication and it was making him drowsy.
“ ‘kay. Thanks. . .for stayin’.”
“What are friends for. . .” Roy said with a smile. He then grew more serious. “How’re your legs feeling?”
“They’re. . . feeling. . .”
“I guess that’s all that counts, huh?”
Gage ignored the question. “Roy. . .what. . .’bout Vince? He. . .he’s a cop. . .man, he’s gotta. . .his leg’s gotta. . .be okay.”
“Johnny. . .” Roy paused a moment as he gave careful thought to his words. “We both know lightning can cause permanent damage the instant it hits. No matter what kind of medical help a person gets and how soon, there’s no guarantee that a lot can be done. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time before things get better, like with your injuries. Maybe that’ll be the case with Vince, too, but. . .”
The younger man furrowed his brow. “But?”
Once again Roy sighed. “Look, you haven’t said it, but I know you’re feeling some guilt over this. I’m sure you feel if you’d been able to help Vince more, he might be better off. But don’t do that to yourself. It traveled through his leg, Johnny. You knew that by his wounds. All the medical supplies in the squad couldn’t reverse that even if you had them right there with you.”
Johnny opened his mouth to say something, but Roy kept on. He wanted to be sure he got his message across.
“What ever happens to Vince’s career from this, whether he ends up behind a desk or back in a squad car. . . it’s not in your hands. It never was.”
Groggy and lacking an argument for what his partner had said, Johnny just frowned and said, “I know.”
The next morning, Johnny gently bit his lower lip as Doctor Early examined the wounds on his abdomen. He’d already checked the paramedic’s legs’ reflexes and Johnny was relieved they’d responded as they should. All his lab tests had come back with normal results as well.
But the paramedic was feeling other effects from the day before that hadn’t shown up right away. The muscles in his arms ached from the exertion. His right shoulder was still particularly sore. He felt like he’d bench pressed too much weight during a long work out.
His stomach, back and leg muscles also hurt. Early explained to him that when the lightning traveled into his body from the ground, it caused his muscles to tighten and tense up, which was also a large part of why he was tossed as far as he was.
He knew now what had likely transpired. After hearing a clear description of the scene, Doctor Early explained to him that the electrical energy from the strike likely traveled down the metal sign and guardrail, and into the ground. From there it carried to where he had been standing. The force of the energy threw him several feet where he landed on the pavement. Just as Doctor Brackett had first suspected, the contact then would’ve polarized the tendons and muscles and rendered him temporarily paralyzed.
The flash burns were fading, but he could still see them. The pain wasn’t nearly as bad as the first day.
The doctor gently covered the wounds again and wrote down some information on Johnny’s chart that had been lying at the foot of the bed.
“They’ve scabbed over pretty well, Johnny. I’ll have a nurse come in and put a clean dressing on them and I’ll take another look at them later today.”
“How long till I get outta here?”
The doctor smiled. He knew Johnny wasn’t one to enjoy being stuck in a hospital. “Maybe tomorrow. But I might want to keep you here a little longer for observation, depends on how things look by then.”
The paramedic looked down in thought. He then lifted his gaze to Early. “Is there any way I could see Vince today?”
When a look of doubt crossed Joe’s face, Johnny added, “Doc, I’ve gotta see ‘im.”
He placed the chart back in its place on the footboard of the bed. “If Kel thinks he’s up to having visitors, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Sure. In the meantime, Johnny, get some rest.”
Gage watched as he left the room. A few minutes later a nurse came in with the sterile bandages as mentioned.
After a brief visit from Roy and Chet later in the morning, and another from Captain Stanley, Johnny was once again alone and wondering if he’d get the chance he wanted to talk to Vince. He didn’t know what he would say. But he felt like he needed to say something.
The door to his room opened and in walked a very happy Dixie McCall pushing a wheel chair.
Johnny’s expression brightened. “You’re springing me?”
“Are you kidding? Joe would have my head,” she teased. “No, I’ve been given orders to take you to see one Vince Howard.”
His face brightened even more.
He didn’t expect it, but Gage found himself feeling a little apprehensive as he and Dixie approached Vince’s room. He attributed it to two things. One, he and Vince really only knew each other on the job, which amounted to seeing each other at rescues. And two, he wasn’t sure exactly how the officer was handling the ordeal.
A few inquiries to Dixie on the way to the officer’s room didn’t help much on the second issue. All she knew was that Vince wanted to see him as well.
The apprehension left as soon as the door opened and Dixie wheeled Johnny in. The officer looked tired, but otherwise okay. He even had a slight smile on his face.
“Hey, Vince,” Johnny greeted. “How’re ya doin’?”
“Hanging in there. Maybe I’d better be asking you. You almost look like you wrestled a bear.”
Johnny gave a snort for a laugh. Come to think of it, he felt like he’d wrestled a bear.
Dixie smiled at the two men as she parked the wheel chair with Johnny in it near the side of the bed and facing the officer. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to talk. Just press the call button when you’re ready to go back to your room,” she directed.
Johnny watched a moment as she went out the door, then turned to look at Vince.
“So you’re really doin’ okay?”
“Right now, I’m just glad we’re still here. We were lucky.”
The words hit Johnny funny. He considered himself lucky. But to hear Vince call himself lucky. . .well, he hadn’t expected it.
“Has Brackett said what the prognosis is for your leg?”
“We won’t know for awhile. He said I may continue to have pain in it off and on for years – it may never go away for good. But there’s not much he can do. When the lightning travled through my leg, it damaged blood vessels and other tissues inside.”
Johnny didn’t know what to say to that. He said the only words that would come to mind. “I’m sorry.”
“I couldn’t do anything for ya, Vince.”
“I heard what you did do. And if you hadn’t come down to where I was, I might’ve tried to move around. . .I might’ve done more damage.”
Gage pondered his words. He’d just gone into paramedic mode once he’d found the officer, thus he’d forgotten that he had Vince lay still until help arrived. But he didn’t want the attention to focus on that. There was something much more important.
“What’re ya gonna do about your job?”
“If I can’t go back to being on the street?”
“Well, my wife’ll have less to worry about with me being behind a desk.” He sighed. “You know, John, I won’t lie. I’ll miss it if I can’t go back to a squad car. It’s been my life for years. But family’s more important than any job. As long as I’ve got my wife and kids. . .and we’re all happy. . .I’ll be okay.”
That was one thing Johnny hadn’t weighed in on the situation. Being single, his career was the center of his life. He didn’t know for certain until now that the officer had much the same things going for him that Roy did. And his partner had told him multiple times that as long as he had his family, if he ever had to take a desk job due to an injury on the job, he’d make the best of it. That it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Johnny just nodded, a slight smile on his face. He hoped Vince could return to driving a squad car, but at least he’d gotten a chance to see that the officer was already coming to terms with the situation, though he imagined he was bound to have days he felt angry about it. Maybe he was feeling it now, but it was a side to him he didn’t want everyone to see. Johnny figured he’d never know for sure. But in the long run, it appeared Vince was going to be okay.
Just as Early had said might happen, Johnny was kept an extra day for observation. The morning he was released, Johnny sat on the edge of his hospital bed. Dressed in grey sweat pants and a white t-shirt, he waited for Roy to come and give him a ride home. Marco and Chet had already gotten his Land Rover to the parking lot of his apartment.
The dark-haired paramedic got to his feet and walked to the window, just enjoying the fact he could. He thought back to the moments just after the incredibly bright flash had hit with a deafening clap of thunder.
It was like my legs went completely asleep, completely numb. Just dead weight.
Johnny then held out his arms and looked at them for the umpteenth time since waking up. The flash burns were gone. Only the scabbed over abrasions and bruises remained. His abdomen was in much the same condition.
He dropped his arms to his sides and stared out the window at a police squad car in the lot below. A reminder of Vince Howard. The officer had one heck of a time ahead of him. Though most of his lab results had come back as good, his leg would remain a major hurdle to overcome.
It had been determined that very likely in the split second when the lightning hit, Vince lost hold of the prybar and one end of it was close enough, if not touching, his upper leg and served as a conduit for part of the electrical charge to follow another path. It then traveled down where it exited through his foot. It was a one in a million chance that something like that could happen, but unfortunately the odds won.
‘It’s very possible he’ll still be able to perform his same job’, Early had reminded the paramedic when he saw that Johnny was still concerned about Vince.
At least he didn’t have a spinal injury from the fall. . .
Suddenly the door opened and Johnny turned to see Roy in the doorway, a young nurse behind him with a wheel chair.
“You ready?” DeSoto asked.
Johnny pursed his lips and nodded. He took one more glance at the patrol car below, then walked toward his friends, aware more than before how life could be forever changed in a millisecond of a flash.
Many thanks to Jill Hargan for the beta read. If you find any errors, medical or otherwise, they are mine alone. Though I researched lightning strikes, please keep in mind this is fiction and is probably not 100% accurate.
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