Disclaimer: The characters, of course, belong to Universal and Mark VII. But, I sure have a lot of fun writing about the guys and the situations they find themselves in.
A Killing Cure
By: Vanessa Sgroi
The incessant shriek of the alarm clock woke Johnny Gage from a sound sleep. Rolling over with a groan, he realized that that very same shriek was intensifying the throbbing in his head. Feeling the beginnings of a sore throat, he moaned slightly and reached over to slap off the offending machine. Ah, man, I sure hope I’m not getting sick. More than anything, Gage wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but he knew he couldn’t. He had to get up now if he wanted to keep his newly made vow to get to work on time. A month’s worth of latrine duty held no appeal, and Cap was a little short on goodwill at the moment since Johnny had been late for his last two shifts.
With his vow in mind, Gage sighed and pushed back the jumble of navy blue blankets on the bed. The dark-haired paramedic shuffled to the bathroom. After relieving himself, Johnny quickly showered, relishing the feel of the sumptuous hot water cascading over his sore muscles. He dressed and headed to the kitchen for a much-anticipated cup of hot coffee. Sadly, his sought after desire was not to be. Johnny groaned in dismay when he discovered the empty coffee jar in the cupboard. He’d meant to pick up some groceries yesterday but had completely forgotten. Now the only beverage residing in his kitchen was one lone beer in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the shower had done little to ease the ache in his head. Johnny went in search of a couple of acetaminophen capsules to tackle the headache. He grabbed the bottle off the shelf but knew immediately it was also empty. This just isn’t going to be my day. Johnny glanced at the clock on the wall. His mood brightened a little when it occurred to him that if he left now, he could stop at the Quik Fill for a cup of brewed coffee. Maybe a doughnut, too. He grabbed his keys and headed to the Land Rover.
* * *
Johnny sighed as he watched the rich-smelling, dark liquid fill the paper cup. He knew he could have waited until he reached the station for a cup of coffee, but this morning he was desperate for both the jolt of caffeine and the soothing effect on his sore throat. He placed the lid on the cup and was headed toward the cashier when the Tylenol display on the shelf caught his eye. As he passed, he grabbed a small box. Ah, what the heck, I need these at home anyway. He made his way to the service counter and surveyed the tiny doughnut display next to it. Darn, no jelly ones. Oh, well.
Gage placed his two items on the counter.
Seeing that he had been eyeing the pastry display, the cashier inquired, “Can I get you anything else?”
“Nah, once I get a couple of sips of that coffee along with a couple of those capsules, I should be doin’ good,” replied Johnny with his usual charming grin.
With his purchase now complete, he left the store.
* * *
Roy was pleased to see Johnny’s Land Rover parked in his usual space in the parking lot, though he frowned slightly when he noticed how crooked the parking job was. That was unusual. Johnny loved that Rover so much that he was almost fanatically precise when parking. With a sigh, Roy pulled into his own spot and climbed out of his car.
At least roll call will go ahead on time this morning—no waiting for Johnny to show up.
He couldn’t suppress a half grin at this thought.
Whistling, Roy ambled into the station, actually looking forward to hearing about his partner’s escapades on his days off. He entered the locker room fully expecting to find Gage in front of his locker changing clothes. Mildly surprised to find the locker room empty, Roy figured Johnny must have opted for coffee first. He quickly donned his uniform and headed to the kitchen for a cup himself. Marco and Mike were the only two in the kitchen. They were seated at the table with steaming cups in front of them rehashing yesterday’s televised baseball game.
“Hi, guys,” he greeted.
Marco and Mike glanced up and replied, “Hey, Roy.”
Roy grabbed a stoneware mug from the cupboard and filled it with the dark, rich brew from the pot. Judging by the tantalizing aroma, the blond-haired paramedic knew this was a batch of Mike’s magical coffee. No one made it better.
He settled in a chair next to his co-workers.
“Hey, have you guys seen Johnny this morning? I was sure he’d be in here getting coffee.”
Mike glanced at his watch. “He was here maybe 10 minutes ago. He mumbled a hello, grabbed a cup of coffee, and disappeared. I assumed he was going to change.”
Puzzled now, Roy raised the mug for another sip when suddenly Station 51 was filled with loud and severely off key singing. Chet, who was just walking in the door, covered his ears and yelled, “Holy Cow! What is that noise?”
Recognizing Johnny’s voice, Roy pushed back his chair and rushed out of the room following the noise to the dorm room. He slid to a stop just inside the door.
Johnny was sitting on his bunk struggling to sing at the top of his lungs. He was swaying slightly and occasionally flailing his arms. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the paramedic’s hair was mussed, his shirt hung open, and his pants were unbuttoned and unzipped. At his feet there lay a shattered mug and spreading puddle of steaming brown coffee.
“Uh, Johnny . . .” exclaimed Roy.
His voice went unheard over the singing.
The singing abruptly stopped.
Roy watched as Johnny turned his head and blinked a few times in an attempt to focus. The dark-haired paramedic broke into a fit of giggles.
“Johnny . . . what’s going on?”
Roy’s alarm grew as he made his way over to his sable-haired partner. For all intents, Johnny appeared inebriated, but Roy knew his friend well enough to know it couldn’t possibly be that. He placed his hand on his partner’s forehead. Hmm, he’s not hot so it’s not a fever.
As dark-haired young man struggled to control his laughing, Captain Stanley appeared in the doorway. Behind him, the rest of A-shift stood staring in shock.
“Roy, what the heck is going on?” inquired the captain with a look of concern.
“I don’t know, Cap,” replied Roy as he continued to evaluate the other paramedic. Johnny had finally managed to control the agonizing giggling, but it had left him panting for breath.
“Johnny, talk to me. Tell me what’s happening.”
“R-r-r-oy. H-h-h-e-l-p me. Ro-- Spin-n-n-g. Chest hurts,” panted Johnny.
With an anxious glance at his superior, Roy instructed softly, “Cap, I need the oxygen, defibrillator, drug box, and biophone from the squad. And, an ambulance would probably be a good idea.”
“Gotcha, Roy,” came the response, “I’ll call it in. Marco, you and Chet get the stuff from the squad.”
The two firemen ran to do Cap’s bidding as he called in to dispatch.
“L.A., Station 51. We have a Code I at the station. Repeat, we have a Code I at the station. Please dispatch an ambulance to our location.”
“10-4, Station 51.”
Stanley returned to the dorm where Roy had coaxed Johnny on to the floor and was just beginning his ministrations to the downed man. The dark-haired paramedic was lying flat but was far from still. He was thrashing his arms and legs, tossing his head from side to side, and groaning.
Roy awkwardly slipped the oxygen mask over Johnny’s mouth and nose despite his partner’s attempts at evasion.
“Johnny, c’mon, man. You gotta calm down.”
Roy’s words had the opposite effect. Johnny’s flailing increased as his agitation grew. He lashed out with his feet and his right hand flew up and roughly pushed aside the oxygen mask.
“S-s-top. S-s-stop. No.”
“Johnny, leave the mask be. It’ll help.”
“W . . . Wh . . .? R-o-y. Stop. Mmm . . .ake stop. C-c-c-can’t breathe.,” he mumbled.
Roy readjusted the mask over his partner’s face. “Chet, Marco. I’m gonna need you guys to hold his arms and legs.”
The two men rushed to do as Roy requested. Once Chet and Marco had a hold of the paramedic’s arms and legs, he arched his back repeatedly in a desperate attempt to break their hold.
“Mike, get Rampart on the line.”
“Sure, Roy.” Mike replied as he deftly set up the biophone.
“Rampart, this is Station 51.”
When no response was immediately forthcoming, Mike repeated his hail.
“Rampart, this is Station 51.”
“Go ahead, Station 51,” a certain amount of puzzlement filtered through Dixie’s voice as she acknowledged the unusual summons.
“Rampart, we have a Code I at our location. Standby for condition and vitals.”
“Station 51, standing by.”
* * *
Just as Dixie finished replying to Station 51, Dr. Brackett arrived at the base station.
“What have we got, Dix?”
“Kel, it’s Station 51. They have a Code I. No details yet. We’re standing by for condition and vitals.”
Concern furrowed Brackett’s forehead as he stared at the receiver waiting for details on the fallen man.
“Dix, get treatment 2 ready.”
* * *
Mike turned the biophone over to Roy.
“Rampart, Station 51.”
“Go ahead, Station 51,” came Brackett’s anxious response.
“Rampart, we have a 28 year old male who is experiencing dizziness and disorientation, shortness of breath, and chest pains. I’ve started 15 liters 100% oxygen. Patient has been extremely agitated though struggles appear to be weakening. Heart rate – 110, respirations – 28, Blood pressure – 180/100.”
“51, send me a strip.”
“10-4, Rampart. This will be lead 2.”
Roy turned the biophone over to Mike and repositioned himself near his partner and proceeded with sending the strip.
“51, strip shows sinus tachycardia. Start IV Ringers Lactate. Continue to monitor vitals and transport immediately.”
“10-4, Rampart,” replied Mike and then relayed the instructions to Roy.
Roy quickly readied Johnny for transport. His partner’s struggles had finally lessened considerably though he remained confused and disoriented. The ambulance pulled up just as Roy was obtaining another set of vitals.
“Rampart, BP is 180/100, heart rate – 120, respirations – 30. Ambulance has arrived and we’re ready to transport.”
“10-4 51. Get him in here.”
Chet and Marco lifted Johnny and placed him on the stretcher and Roy quickly positioned the equipment.
Captain Stanley clapped a hand on Roy’s shoulder and with face clouded by concern said, “Roy, let us know how he’s doing okay?”
“Sure thing, Cap. As soon as I know anything, I’ll call.”
Roy rushed with the stretcher to the ambulance, helped load his partner, and they took off for Rampart Emergency.
As the ambulance pulled away, the paramedic glanced out the back window and saw the diminished A-shift of Station 51 staring at the departing ambulance. All of the four remaining men had puzzled and worried looks on their faces. Clearly they were wondering just what was wrong with their fallen friend.
Roy turned his attention once again to the softly moaning man lying on the stretcher.
Johnny, what’s going on with you? Roy’s worried thoughts swirled in his head as he closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath. The fair-haired paramedic opened them again and worked on pushing his worry to the nether regions of his mind so he could function as a professional rather than a friend. He again checked Johnny’s vitals.
“Rampart, Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51.”
“Update on patient’s vitals, BP – 160/90, heart rate – 100, respiration – 28. Patient is now semi-conscious.”
Roy glanced anxiously at his watch. Gut instinct told him that time was of the essence. He checked the IV line running into Johnny’s arm and was about to start another vitals check when he felt a weak tug on his pant leg. Beneath the oxygen mask, Johnny was trying to say something to him. He leaned close and tried to make out what it was, but couldn’t.
“Johnny, relax. We’re almost there.”
The tugging increased.
Sighing, Roy moved the mask over slightly hoping to hear Johnny and consequently ease his mind.
“R-r-r-o-y. P-p-lease hel . . .”
As Roy leaned close, he caught the slightest whiff a strange odor on Johnny’s breath, but before it could even register, his partner’s eyes rolled back in his head and his body began to jerk.
“Rampart. Squad 51. Be advised patient is having a seizure.”
“51. Administer 4 mg. Lorazepam IV over 2-5 minutes.”
Roy deftly followed Dr. Brackett’s instructions and watched as the seizure slowly released its ferocious grip on his partner. He quickly readjusted the oxygen mask and took a new set of vitals. What he saw alarmed him. Johnny’s blood pressure and heart rate had rapidly fallen.
“Rampart, BP has fallen to 90/50. Heart rate – 45, respirations – 15.”
“51, start IV sodium bicarb. What is your ETA?” came the increasing tense voice of Dr. Kelly Brackett.
“Rampart, ETA is two minutes.”
Those last two minutes seemed like an eternity to Roy. Finally, he felt the ambulance make the final turn into Rampart and then back up to the emergency entrance. The doors flew open revealing the concerned faces of Dr. Brackett and Dixie McCall.
“Treatment Room 3,” said Dixie as Roy updated Dr. Brackett once again on Johnny’s falling vitals.
Roy helped move Johnny to the examination table, smoothly keeping the oxygen, wires, and IV tubing straight.
As Brackett started his examination of the now unconscious man, he questioned the senior paramedic.
“Dix, get me a new set of vitals. Has he been sick, Roy? Injured in any way?”
“No, Doc. I just spoke with him last night. He was fine then.”
“How about this morning?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see him until the singing started.”
At Brackett’s quizzical look, Roy explained further.
“I couldn’t find him right away this morning. I was getting coffee when we suddenly heard him singing. I found him sitting on his bunk. But, he was having trouble breathing and he actually looked drunk.”
Roy paused a second while he thought back.
“Come to think of it, his truck was parked funny this morning. You know, crooked. And you know how careful he is with that truck.”
At this, Brackett raised his eyebrows and said, “Any chance that . . .”
“No!” Roy’s low voice was vehement.
Brackett turned his attention to Dixie as he ordered both arterial and venous blood gas panels and a full chemistry workup.
As Roy watched, he couldn’t shake the haunting feeling that he was missing an important clue. Something was niggling at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t call it forth. Roy was pulled from his reverie when he heard Brackett call out.
“Damn, he’s seizing again. Get another dose of Lorazapam on board. Also, let’s get ready to intubate. I don’t like the look of his sats.”
Suddenly something clicked in Roy’s mind. He remembered the faint, but peculiar, odor on his partner’s breath. Bitter almonds . . .
“Hey, Doc. Bitter almonds . . . on his breath . . .,” Roy stuttered. Then he took a deep breath and tried again.
“Doc. On the way over in the ambulance, I could swear I smelled bitter almonds on Johnny’s breath. Isn’t that an indication of cyanide . . .”
As Roy was speaking, Doctor Brackett looked up and frowned in the fair-haired paramedic’s direction.
“Cyanide poisoning? That’s normally something we look for as a complication from smoke inhalation.”
“I know, Doc. But, I’m almost sure that’s what it was. I had just barely noticed it when he started to seize, and it slipped my mind.”
Kel leaned over his patient and gently pushed aside the oxygen mask. He bent closer to catch a whiff of exhalation and was amazed to discover the faintly bitter scent.
“Roy, I think you might be right. Let me check something. Dix, hand me an ophthalmoscope.”
The senior paramedic leaned against the wall in amazement as realized how important that tiny clue had been. He watched Brackett tend to his partner. Man, if he hadn’t tried to sooth Johnny by answering his tugging . . .
The doctor quickly did an eye exam and found what he was looking for. “I think you’re right, Roy. Johnny’s retinal veins and arteries are bright red color which is caused by the absence of tissue oxygen extraction. It definitely points toward cyanide poisoning.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Dix, let’s intubate. And we need to administer sodium nitrate, 0.33 cc/kg, 3% solution, slow IV push. We don’t have time to wait for lab confirmation. While you’re at it, tell the pharmacy to send up some sodium thiosulfate.”
With Dixie’s help, Brackett quickly inserted the ET tube and hooked up the ventilator. While the doctor continued with his exam, he heard the head nurse call down to the pharmacy to obtain the requested drugs.
Just then Joe Early entered the room. His glance traveled briefly to Roy and then moved to Johnny on the exam table.
“Hey, Kel, what do you have?”
Brackett looked up from making notations on Gage’s chart.
“Hi, Joe. Believe it or not, I’m pretty confident it’s cyanide poisoning. Gage is one very sick young man right now. As soon as the meds come up, I’m going to start the antidotal therapy.”
Intrigued with the potential diagnosis, Early indicated he’d like to examine Johnny as well. Brackett concurred and stepped next to the silver-haired doctor.
“Any idea how this happened?” inquired Joe.
Both doctors glanced at Roy, who shrugged his shoulders in frustration and worry.
“I have no idea.”
Early spoke again as a pharmacy technician entered the treatment room with the requested drugs.
“Well, since it not a side effect from smoke inhalation, there are only a couple of other methods of exposure—dermal absorption and ingestion. Since others may be at risk, it’s imperative we try and discover the source of exposure.”
“I agree, Joe. Let’s get him stabilized and admitted to the ICU.”
As the two doctors turned their attention back to Johnny, Roy shook his head in disbelief and quietly left the room. He had some calls to make.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, the two weary and puzzled doctors emerged from Treatment Room 3 leaving the two white-clad orderlies readying Johnny for transport to ICU.
“Kel, given the rapidity of the onset of symptoms, my guess would be ingestion.”
“But how, Joe? How? Trace amounts in food? We certainly know it’s not from peach pits like that little boy we treated awhile ago.”
“No, I don’t believe it would have been from food,” responded the silver-haired doctor.
Brackett sighed as he regarded his fellow professional. He hated to even mention what had crossed his mind.
“Joe, I hate to even say this, but you don’t think it could have been intentional, do you? I’m sure you know that most cases of ingested cyanide poisonings are suicide attempts.”
“Nah, Kel, not Johnny. I wouldn’t believe that for a minute.”
Brackett gazed at his colleague for a moment and then said, “No, I wouldn’t believe it either. But, now we’re left with the daunting task of figuring out how the hell this happened in the first place.”
* * *
Roy sat in the break room staring at the phone. He had just hung up after briefly talking to Joanne. As usual, just hearing his wife’s voice had a calming effect on the blond-haired man. The only other voice that had the same effect as well was Johnny’s. The next call was going to be even more difficult. With a somewhat less than steady hand, he dialed the number for the station. The phone was answered on the first ring, clearly a sign of just how worried their Captain was.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Cap, it’s Roy.”
“Roy, how is he? What’s wrong with him?”
“They’re working on getting him stabilized so they can admit him to ICU. He’s really sick, Cap. Brackett thinks it’s cyanide poisoning.”
“CYANIDE POISONING,” came the shocked response, “but . . . how . . . I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, Cap. Neither do I. The docs are hoping to pinpoint the source of the poisoning to make sure others aren’t at risk. The problem is I don’t even know where to tell them to start.”
As Roy was talking he heard the door open and glanced up to see Dixie entering the room. His breath caught at her grim expression.
“Cap, Dixie’s here to give me an update. I gotta go.”
“All right, Roy. Dwyer arrived a couple of minutes ago. I’ll send him over to Rampart.”
Roy quietly replaced the receiver in its cradle and looked over at the Head ER nurse.
Dixie McCall walked over and sat down next to the fair-haired paramedic before speaking.
“He had another seizure after you left the room. He’s bradycardic but they’ve managed to stabilize him. They’re going to move him to ICU in a few minutes.”
Roy dropped his head into his hands.
“Ah, Dix. I just don’t understand. How did this happen?”
Dixie placed a comforting hand on Roy’s knee.
“Roy, they think he ingested it somehow. Kel was talking to Joe about the possibility of a suicide attempt . . .”
“WHAT!” Roy’s outraged shout bounced off the walls of the room.
Before Dixie could open her mouth to speak again, Roy continued on, his face now flushed with righteous anger and his voice rising with each word.
“No way. NOT Johnny! How could you . . . how could they . . . even think . . .”
Dixie reached out and grabbed his hand.
But, the paramedic was too lost in his indignation to hear her.
“. . . can’t believe they have no faith in Johnny. That they’d think he’d do something crazy.”
“ROY!” This time it was a shout, and it was loud enough to get his attention.
Roy stopped speaking but the ire in his eyes continued to blaze bright as he looked at the woman beside him.
“Joe didn’t believe it for a minute, Roy. Neither did I. And neither does Kel, not really. But as a doctor, he had to voice the question, given the circumstances.”
Knowing she was right, but still uneasy at the very prospect, Roy took a deep breath and nodded his head as absently rubbed his fingers over the knee of his uniform pants. Just then the door to the break room opened admitting a somber-looking Kelly Brackett.
Roy’s gaze snapped to the entryway.
“Doc? How is he?”
As always, when he was particularly concerned about something, Brackett’s lips twitched a bit.
“Roy, they’re getting him settled into ICU now. I won’t lie to you, he’s in for a long haul. Cyanide is a cellular toxin, and it can have severe and long lasting side effects. With luck, we’ve caught him in time for the medications to reverse the effects. For now, all we can do is continue aggressive respiratory support and monitor his cardiac and neurologic functions.”
As the doctor finished speaking, Roy rose to his feet, as did Dixie.
“Can I see him, Doc?”
“Sure. Just for a couple of minutes. I’ll take you up.”
Just before he got on the elevator, the worried paramedic felt Dixie lightly squeeze his arm.
“I’ll go up in a bit to see him. Hang in there, my friend. I think Johnny will be just fine.”
* * *
Roy entered Johnny’s room with Dixie’s words still ringing in his ears. After Brackett assured himself that Johnny had endured the transfer well and was still stable, he left the room to allow Roy a couple of minutes of private time with his partner.
He approached the bed and took his partner’s hand in his. I dunno, Dix. I just don’t know this time.
He stood gazing at his friend lying so still beneath the wiring and tubing. His thoughts were centered on two things—willing his partner to get better and wondering how he had been poisoned in the first place.
Roy looked up at the sound of the door opening. It was Nurse Poole coming both to check on Johnny and shoo Roy out of the room.
Leaning toward his partner and friend, Roy whispered, “You’re gonna be okay, Johnny. You’re a fighter. You’re gonna be okay. I’ll be back when I can.”
He then squeezed Johnny’s hand in reassurance before leaving the room.
* * *
When Roy once again reached the nurses’ station, he found Dwyer waiting for him.
“How’s Gage?” Dwyer asked as Roy stopped next to him.
“For now, he’s stable. But, it’s anyone’s guess if that will last.” Roy’s response was dispirited.
Dwyer could only nod in understanding. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah, as ready as I’m gonna be. Go ahead and make us available.”
Dwyer did as instructed and they said goodbye to Dixie who assured them she’d call if Johnny’s condition changed.
* * *
The squad made it back to Station 51 without being toned out. The two paramedics found Mike, Marco, and Chet at the kitchen table nursing cups of coffee. Upon hearing their return, Cap emerged from his office where, technically, he’d been doing paperwork. In reality, he’d done more staring at the wall than anything else. He joined his men at the table.
“So, Roy, how is he?”
Roy observed his co-workers worried faces and shook his head.
“He’s stable. That’s about all I can say. They’ve got him on a ventilator, and they’re monitoring his cardiac and neurologic functions, both of which can be severely compromised by cyanide. They also have to worry about swelling in his brain.”
“But, he’s going to be okay, right?” This came from a distressed Chet Kelly.
Roy again shook his head.
“I don’t know, Chet. Neither do the doctors.”
Suddenly, Mike Stoker spoke up with clear and precise conviction.
“Johnny’s going to be all right. He’s going to be okay because he has to be.”
Before anyone could comment on this cryptic comment by the quietest of the men, the klaxons sounded.
“Engine 10, Station 51, structure fire, 1275 Hillside Blvd., cross street Traynor. That’s 1-2-7-5 Hillside Blvd., cross street Traynor. Time out. 11:15.”
It was odd, but Roy was glad to be busy. And, the rest of the shift remained that way. The senior paramedic managed to check on his partner, either in person or by phone as often as possible during the endless shift.
* * *
Kelly Brackett sat in quiet contemplation at his desk. He wearily rubbed his eyes. The emergency room had been steadily busy throughout the rest of the day, which allowed for little rest. Kel glanced up at a knock on his door.
He smiled a bit when he saw Dixie enter the room.
“Dix, aren’t you supposed to be gone?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to sit with Johnny for awhile.”
“Well, I was just about to go up to ICU myself to check on him. We’ll walk up together.”
The two walked in silence for a few moments, each lost in thought.
“Kel, do you or Joe have any idea how Johnny was poisoned?”
“No. We discussed it very briefly earlier, but we came up blank.”
Frustration was evident on his face as he pushed open the door to his patient’s room.
The doctor quickly reviewed the paramedic’s chart and frowned in concern.
“He hasn’t shown any signs of regaining consciousness. He’s not responding to pain, and he’s still bradycardic. Damn it. I was hoping for some improvement by now.”
Brackett replaced the chart and approached the bed.
The hiss of the ventilator was his only response.
“John Gage, c’mon. Wake up now.”
Gage didn’t so much as twitch even when the doctor pinched the fleshy part of his arm.
Kel sighed in temporary defeat.
“Well, I’m not giving up on you, Gage. Just remember that. I can be stubborn, too.”
The doctor heard Dixie give a small laugh.
“Oh, it’s just that beneath that gruff, hard-as-nails exterior, you’re really just a marshmallow.”
Brackett flushed a little in embarrassment and then he grinned.
“Hmm, you know, the same could be said about you.”
“Yep, you’re right. Guess we’ll both just have to keep it our little secret. Wouldn’t want to ruin our images now, would we?”
The two shared a smile and then Kel spoke up before heading for the door.
“Dix, don’t stay too long. You need your sleep, too.”
* * *
Roy was never so glad to be going off shift. He’d slept little during the night despite a lack of calls. Judging from the tossing and turning he’d heard throughout the dorm, neither had the rest of the men. The blond-haired paramedic rubbed his eyes. Weariness pulled at him, but concern for his hospitalized partner was foremost in his mind. As often as possible, he’d checked on Johnny’s condition, but it wasn’t the same as being there at the hospital.
Before leaving the station, Roy called Joanne to let her know he was heading over to the hospital, and she agreed to meet him there once Chris and Jennifer were in school. The senior paramedic bid goodbye to his shift mates, certain he’d see them all later at the hospital.
Upon arrival at Rampart, Roy sought out Dixie at the nurses’ station.
“Dix, how’s Johnny?”
Dixie shook her head. “He’s stable, but there’s been no improvement.”
Roy hung his head for a moment.
“Can I go up and see him?”
“Sure. I’ll let the ICU nurses know that it’s okay. Kel should be checking on him soon.”
A few minutes later, the worried paramedic installed himself in a chair next to Johnny’s bed and laid a hand on his partner’s arm.
“John. Your friends are all waiting for you to come back, you know.”
Roy settled back in the chair and continued to talk softly to his friend hoping the sound of his voice would elicit a response. Eventually, his weariness overtook him, and he drifted off into a restless slumber.
He was swiftly pulled from sleep some minutes later as the alarms from Johnny’s equipment sounded. Roy glanced at the monitors which now showed v-fib. He hit the call button and immediately began CPR. Seconds later, the door banged open revealing one of the ICU nurses. She paged out a Code Blue, grabbed a crash cart, and quickly returned to assist Roy.
Dr. Brackett flew into the room.
“Let’s shock him. 400 watt seconds.”
Brackett placed the defibrillator paddles on Johnny’s chest.
The doctor administered the electric shock.
“No conversion. Let’s hit him again.”
The electricity once again arced through Johnny lifting his body off the table.
“Sinus rhythm. We got him back.”
Brackett heaved a sigh of relief and assessed the rest of his patient’s vitals pleased to see that for the moment they had stabilized.
The doctor motioned for Roy to join him outside the room.
“Roy, I admit I’m worried about him. He hasn’t responded as we had hoped.”
“I know, Doc. I was talkin’ to him hoping the sound of my voice would get through. But, like an idiot I had to go and fall asleep.” Roy’s voice was tinged with guilt.
“Now, Roy, you know you couldn’t have done anything to stop him from going into cardiac arrest.”
“Yeah, in my head I know—but here is a different matter.” As he spoke, Roy placed his hand over his heart.
The doctor placed a hand on weary paramedic’s shoulder.
“How about we get some coffee. You look like you could use a cup.”
* * *
The two men found the lounge empty when they entered. They each grabbed a cup of what passed for coffee and sat down. It wasn’t long before the rest of Station 51’s A-shift entered the room.
Captain Stanley was the first to speak.
“We just came to see how Johnny’s doing. Dixie said you both were in here.”
The newcomers grew apprehensive when they noticed the grim expressions on both the doctor and paramedic.
Roy finally responded to his colleagues.
“Johnny went into cardiac arrest about a half hour ago. Doc Brackett was able to bring him back, but . . .”
The men stared at him in pained disbelief as it sunk in that their friend might not make it this time.
At that moment, Dixie escorted Joanne into the room.
Roy stood and hugged his wife tightly, ever grateful for her love, understanding, and support.
All Roy could do was shake his head.
“Roy, honey, I brought something for you guys to look at. It might not have anything to do with Johnny, but I thought you might want to see it.”
As she spoke, Joanne pulled out a newspaper and then continued.
“When you told me about Johnny, it just sounded so familiar—like I’d heard or read it somewhere before. So I dug through those old newspapers Mrs. Fox gave us. You know—the ones we’re saving in the garage for Chris’s school project. I found this.”
Joanne handed Roy a slightly yellowed Sacramento newspaper folded just so one headline and story stood out.
“MYSTERIOUS DEATH LINKED TO POISONED PILLS”
Roy quickly scanned the article and handed it over to Dr. Brackett. The doctor’s brows furrowed as he read.
“This is it. This has to be it,” he announced.
“It says here that a woman died after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. At this time, authorities have no leads as to who tampered with the pills.”
Roy spoke up. “Doc, I think we need to contact Lt. Crockett.”
“You’re right, Roy. I’ll do that now. And then I want to contact the hospital where the woman died. They might give me some insight.”
“DR. BRACKETT – ICU ROOM 2 – STAT. DR. BRACKETT – ICU ROOM 2 – STAT.”
* * *
Brackett sprinted into Johnny’s room to see the ICU nurse struggling with the twisting form on the bed. The vent alarm was screeching madly as Johnny gagged against the intrusion. The doctor approached the bed and placed his hands on Johnny’s shoulders.
“Johnny. It’s Dr. Brackett. You’re okay. Calm down now.”
The dark-haired man’s disoriented and distraught expression did not ease nor did his restless struggling.
“Roy, you try,” encouraged the doctor.
“John, it’s Roy. Please calm down. Don’t fight the tube.”
Roy watched as his partner struggled for a few more moments before he finally stopped.
Slowly, Johnny turned his bleary eyes toward the more familiar voice. Confusion clouded in his expression.
“That’s it, partner. Just stay calm. Let the machine breathe for you.”
Brackett spoke again from the other side of the bed, drawing Johnny’s attention.
“Johnny, I’m gonna run a few tests. If I like what I see, maybe we can get rid of that tube, okay?”
Gage gave the slightest of nods, and he reached for Roy’s hand. Once he felt his friend’s firm grip in his own hand, his eyes drifted shut in a semblance of peace.
“Nurse, let’s get another round of blood drawn and sent down to the lab. Roy, I’ll leave you with your partner while I go make those phone calls. But first, I’ll let Joanne and the rest of the guys know he’s awake.”
Once the doctor was gone, Roy again settled in a chair. He noticed Johnny’s eyes were open and were full of questions.
“You want to know what happened, right?”
Johnny moved his head slightly in assent.
“Well . . . it looks . . . it looks like you were poisoned with cyanide.”
The dark-haired paramedic’s eyes widened, and he tried to speak momentarily forgetting the ventilator. The alarm sounded as he began to cough.
“Hey, take it easy now.” Roy reached up and silenced the alarm once he was sure Johnny’s breathing stabilized.
“We don’t know any details yet. But, when I do know, I’ll tell you, okay? You just concentrate on getting better.”
Roy sat at the bedside until his partner drifted off to sleep. He then returned to the lounge to wait with his wife and shift mates for additional news from Dr. Brackett.
* * *
It was some time before Brackett returned to the assembled group.
“Lt. Crockett is on his way over. In fact, he should be here any minute. He’s going to ask Johnny’s permission to search his apartment for Tylenol capsules. I spoke with the hospital in Sacramento. All they could really tell me was that the woman died of acute cyanide poisoning. She was brought in by her husband but was already in a coma. She died three days later.”
The doctor’s narrative was interrupted by the opening of the door. Lieutenant Crockett entered the room. Brackett nodded his head in greeting.
“Lieutenant. I was just filling everyone in.”
Crockett nodded in return and motioned the doctor to continue.
“Well, the cyanide was discovered during the autopsy. Since there had been bad blood between the husband and wife, police suspected foul play on the husband’s part and started an investigation.”
At this point, Crockett took over.
“The police there discovered tainted Tylenol capsules in a bottle in the couple’s home. They’ve tried repeatedly to link the husband to the tainted pills without success. Now depending on what we find out about Johnny . . .”
Brackett took a deep breath.
“Speaking of Johnny, let’s get you up there. Roy, I think you should come with us.”
* * *
The three men found Johnny asleep but agitated. His arms and legs moved restlessly beneath the covers. The ventilator hissed as it continued to assist Johnny’s breathing.
Dr. Brackett approached the bed and gently shook his patient.
Gage’s eyes blearily opened and he gazed at the doctor standing over him.
“John, I have Lt. Crockett here. He’d like to ask you a couple of questions. They’ll be yes or no so just nod or shake your head slightly.”
Crockett stepped forward into Johnny’s line of vision.
“John, I need to know if you’ve taken any pills recently, specifically any Tylenol capsules.”
It took a moment, but Gage responded with a tiny nod.
“I need permission to search your apartment for the bottle of pills. Is that okay, Johnny?”
The paramedic’s brow furrowed for a moment and he looked confused.
“Gage, can I search your apartment for those pills?”
Finally, Johnny responded. Much to everyone’s surprise, he shook his head no.
Roy stepped forward.
“Hey, partner. C’mon. It’s really important that we find them. I can take the Lieutenant over to your apartment if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Becoming agitated, Gage shook his head no. He lifted his right hand and made an odd jerking motion.
When no one moved, he hit the bed with his hand and made the motion again.
Roy finally caught on.
“Pen! He wants a pen to write something.”
Doctor Brackett pulled a pen from the pocket of lab coat and pulled his prescription pad from one of the overstuffed pockets. He placed the pen in Johnny’s hand and wrapped his fingers around it. He then placed the prescription pad within reach.
With great concentration, Johnny willed his hand to move correctly to spell out one word. It took a couple of minutes, but he eventually succeeded though his printing was a mess. Spelled out on the pad was the word “Rover”.
“Rover? Johnny, you’re worried about your Land Rover?” Roy remained puzzled.
Gage shook his head no and started to write again. This time the word was “Look”.
The meaning behind his words quickly dawned.
Crockett leaned forward slightly and said, “You want me to look in your Land Rover instead of your apartment?”
Johnny carefully nodded his head. His eyes started to drift shut. Seeing this, Brackett placed his hand on the young man’s arm.
“Good job, Johnny. I should have your test results back soon. You just get some rest now. I’ll be back.”
Almost before he had finished speaking, Johnny was fast asleep.
* * *
Just shy of an hour later, DeSoto returned to Rampart and headed for Johnny’s room. He quietly opened the door and found Mike Stoker sitting next to his bed.
“Hey, Mike? You’re still here? How’s he doing?”
“He’s been asleep since you and Crockett left. The other guys had to leave but said they’d be back later. Did you find anything?”
“Yeah, we found a newly opened bottle of Tylenol on the front seat along with a receipt for the Quick Fill on S. Alameda Street. Crockett took them to have them tested.”
“Roy, I don’t understand. How would cyanide get into Tylenol capsules?”
“Crockett is thinking sabotage. If that’s the case, then there might be more poisoned capsules out there. Who knows, there already may be more cases out there we don’t yet know about.”
“That’s just sick. Who would do that?”
“I don’t know, Mike.”
The two men looked up as the door to Johnny’s room opened admitting Dr. Brackett.
“Hey, Doc, how’s my partner doing?”
“I’m not entirely happy with his test results yet. I’m going to keep him on the ventilator for a little while longer and give the medication a little more time to work.”
“But, he’s showing signs of improvement?”
“Yes, but not as much as I’d like to see.” He approached the bed and grabbed his patient’s chart for a quick review. The doctor frowned.
“What is it, Doc?”
“His temp is elevated. That wouldn’t be from the cyanide.”
“What do you think it is?”
“My guess would be that he has the flue or a virus. Could be the reason why he took the Tylenol to begin with. In his weakened condition, this is a complication he doesn’t need.”
“Will it set back his progress, Dr. Brackett?” The usually placid Mike Stoker couldn’t keep the worry from his voice.
“It’s too soon to tell. Look, I’m going to examine him and get those additional tests going. Why don’t the two of you go get coffee or something to eat? Better yet, go home. You both look like you could use some sleep.”
Knowing the doctor was right, the two men reluctantly left the hospital, both praying their friend wasn’t about to take a turn for the worse.
* * *
Over the next couple of days, their prayers went half answered. The antidotal medicine eventually did its job and Johnny’s cardiorespiratory and neurologic status at least showed definite signs of improvement. Unfortunately, the viral infection took full advantage of his weakened condition and hit full force. Most perilous was the high fever and congestion in his lungs.
Finally, by the end of Johnny’s fourth day of hospitalization, his fever broke and the congestion began to dissipate somewhat. Dr. Brackett decided it was time to wean him off the ventilator.
“All right, Johnny. You know what to do. Cough when I start to pull out the tube.”
The doctor began to pull on the tube and immediately felt Gage’s reflexive gag followed by a strong cough. The tube came out with relative ease, and the doctor handed it over to Dixie for disposal. Brackett carefully watched his patient’s oxygen saturation as he continued to cough for a minute after the tube’s removal, and he placed a nasal cannula under Johnny’s nose. As he did so, Dixie fixed the pillow behind his head and adjusted the angle of the bed to make Johnny more comfortable.
Gage opened his mouth to speak but was unable to force out a sound.
“Easy now. Give yourself a minute. Dixie will get you a sip of water.”
Johnny gratefully took a couple of sips of water when Dixie offered it and then tried his voice again.
“Wha’ happened?” The husky richness of his voice was now temporarily gritty from the tube.
“Don’t you remember?”
A slight frown appeared on Gage’s face. “I . . . I . . . wait. Cyanide. Roy told me something about cyanide.”
“That’s right. You suffered acute cyanide poisoning. On top of that, you succumbed to a viral infection which was probably brewing before you were poisoned.”
“How was I poisoned?”
“The police think someone tampered with some Tylenol capsules you took.”
“You mean someone tried to kill me? But . . . but that’s crazy,” came the whispered reply.
Seeing that his patient was starting to get a little upset, Brackett decided that an in depth discussion could wait.
“Johnny, let’s not go into the details now. Roy can tell you more when he comes by in the morning.”
The dark-haired paramedic sighed and closed his eyes. “H-how much long . . . longer do I have to stay?”
“It’s going to be at least a couple of more days. Your cardiovascular status has improved. The last two ECG’s have come back nearly normal. I want to be reasonably sure you won’t experience any delayed neurologic symptoms, and I’m also looking for a little more improvement in your metabolic status.”
Gage swallowed, wincing at his irritated throat, and began to cough.
The doctor reached for his stethoscope and listened to his patient’s lungs for a moment. Though still congested, they sounded much improved from the day before.
“It’s going to take awhile to clear up the congestion in those lungs too.”
Feeling drained and dopey from the light sedative still in his system, Johnny yawned.
“I’ve got get back downstairs. I’ll be back later to do another ECG.”
“ ‘kay. Thanks, Doc.”
As Brackett turned to leave, Dixie smiled down at the slender man on the bed, taking in the rumpled sheets, damp hospital gown, and sweat-slicked face.
“Johnny, how about if I call in a nurse to get you cleaned up and get new sheets on the bed? I think you’ll sleep much better.”
“T-that’d be n-nice.”
“I’ll send someone right in.”
Twenty minutes later, the paramedic sighed in relief as the nurse finished changing the sheets and left the room. The sponge bath had felt good but the activity had really wiped him out. Just briefly his thoughts drifted over what had happened to land him here again before weariness won out and his eyes slid shut.
* * *
The next morning Johnny was staring at his breakfast tray, not really sure he was up to eating. He looked up when he heard his door open and was immensely relieved to see his partner walk into the room. He was anxious to finally have some answers to the questions that had been plaguing him since last evening. A small smile lit his face.
“Hi, partner. How ya doin’? It’s good to see that they finally took that tube out.” Roy pulled a chair over and sat down.
“I’m better. According to the Doc, things are looking up. If my test results continue to improve, I should be out of here in a few days.”
“Roy? Can you . . . can you . . . tell me what happened? Brackett said there was cyanide in some Tylenol capsules. I don’t understand. I’d just bought those . . .”
The beeping on the monitor became more frequent as Johnny’s heart rate increased.
“If you promise to calm down, I’ll tell you.”
After taking a breath, Johnny nodded.
“Here’s what I know from Lt. Crockett. The bottle of pills you bought at the Quik Fill had 10 contaminated capsules out of 50. All the pills were near the top of the bottle. The police pulled the rest of the bottles from the shelf, and they found one other contaminated bottle. A woman in Sacramento and two men from San Diego died from ingesting poisoned Tylenol. The lot number on all bottles was the same. Four additional tampered bottles were found just over the border in Nevada.”
“The police think that somebody at the manufacturing plant purposely sabotaged a batch of Tylenol. But, they don’t know who or why yet and they’re continuing the investigation. In the meantime, stores all over the country are pulling the stuff off the shelves just to be on the safe side.”
“Man, three people died?” an unsettled look crossed the paramedic’s face, “Why didn’t I?”
“You were lucky. Unlike the people who died, you followed directions and only took two of the capsules. They all took more than the recommended dose. You also had immediate access to aggressive supportive care.”
“I guess you’re right. I was lucky. Lucky you and the guys were right there for me.” Johnny’s statement was cut short by a low bout of coughing.
“Yeah . . . well . . . listen, can I bring you anything later? Some magazines? A book?”
“Nah, I don’t think . . . wait a minute . . . yeah, there is one thing. Ever since I came around, I’ve had the strangest craving for marshmallows. I don’t know why, but they sound really good. It sounds silly, but can you bring me some?”
“Marshmallows? Really? Sure. Sure. If Doc Brackett says it’s okay, I’ll bring you a bag.”
Johnny sat back with a happy smile. “That’d be great. Really great. Thanks, Pally.”
<O> <O> The End <O> <O>
Author’s Note: I’d like to say thank you to Cheryl N. for an initial beta read when this story was in its infancy. I also owe Audrey W. a huge thank you for all her suggestions and help. Though I tried to be as accurate as possible, all medical inconsistencies are mine and mine alone. I take full responsibility. J