The Strongest Weakness
By Audrey W.
Johnny walked into the dayroom to join the others before roll call. Noticing donuts on a large plate on the table, the paramedic smiled.
“Who sprang for these?”
“Cap,” Mike answered, taking a sip of milk.
Roy pushed the plate closer to where Johnny stood near the table. “Have one. They’re good!”
Gage reached out and selected a glazed donut. He then stepped over to the counter to get a glass out of the cupboard. As he set it near the sink, he took a bite of the pastry and winced at the sharp pain that shot through one of his teeth and lower right jaw.
Oh man! He glanced around at the others seated at the table, hoping no one noticed his reaction to the pain. The crew was paying little attention to anything outside of their conversation. Great. They’re too busy talkin’.
His tooth still ached, though, and the paramedic wondered how he was going to eat the remaining donut without being in too much agony.
“Here’s the milk,” Roy said, handing Gage the carton out of the refrigerator. The blond man was now standing beside his partner.
Still working through the pain, Johnny looked over. “Huh?”
“Milk. To pour in the glass you got out.”
“Oh. . .yeah. . .sure, thanks.” The younger man poured the milk, then handed the carton back to Roy.
“Yeah. . .yeah, I’m fine.” To make his partner believe everything was okay, Johnny took another bite of donut and forced a grin as he held up his drink as if in a toast. He then took a swig of milk. Johnny held the smile until Roy’s attention shifted to the others still seated at the table. Then the cold liquid and the sugar from the glaze became too much to bear. The paramedic suddenly tossed both the glass and the donut in the sink, and bolted out of the room.
“What’s with him?” Chet asked as he watched Gage disappear through the doorway.
“Maybe he’s feeling sick at his stomach,” Marco suggested.
“He was okay a minute ago,” Roy commented. He started for the exit. “Or so he said.” DeSoto headed into the apparatus bay in search of the younger man.
Johnny stood in front of the sinks in the locker room, looking into his open mouth reflecting in the mirror. He leaned in closer and tried to peer in at his sore tooth. Trouble was, when he got too close, his breath would steam up a patch of the mirror, covering the view of his mouth.
Suddenly the door opened and he quickly pulled away from the mirror. Gage turned on the faucet and began to splash cool water on his face as Roy stepped inside.
“Whataya’ mean?” Johnny asked, wiping his face with a paper towel.
“You left the room in a big enough hurry.”
“I wanted to be back in time for roll call.” Gage glanced at his watch. “Which is now, so we’d better go line up with the others.” The dark-haired paramedic tossed the wadded up paper towel in the trash and stepped past Roy. He pushed open the door leading to the apparatus bay and stepped out.
The senior paramedic stood a moment as the door closed behind his partner.
“Be back from what?” he said to himself. DeSoto hurried out for roll call.
Captain Stanley assigned each of the men a chore for the morning, Johnny’s being to clean the dayroom along with Roy. Getting a mop and bucket from the storage closet, Gage turned to DeSoto.
“You want the floor or the oven and furniture?”
“I’ll do the oven and stuff. You’ve gotten pretty good at mopping.”
Johnny grinned. “I have, haven’t I? But I gotta wonder if that’s such a good thing,” he added, frowning.
“Well, I wouldn’t let the secret out when ever you decide to get married.”
Roy thought about asking Gage if he was really okay. But he decided not to bring up the subject again for now.
I’ll just keep a close eye on him.
Before the paramedics were done with the morning assignment, the tones went off, sending them out for a probable heart attack.
As they pulled up to the address, a woman came rushing out to greet them. She grabbed Johnny’s right arm as he got out of the squad.
“Now calm down, ma’am,” he said in a soothing tone as he placed his left hand on her shoulder. “Can you tell us what’s going on?” Johnny asked.
The woman let go of his arm. “My husband. I think he’s having a heart attack.”
Once she released the grip on his forearm, Johnny took his hand away from her shoulder and helped Roy get the equipment out of the squad compartments. The woman watched nervously as they unloaded the oxygen and other necessary supplies. Within seconds, the three were headed towards the house.
“Jack’s really been feeling ill,” the woman explained as she opened the front door. The paramedics followed her inside. “I’ve been trying to get him to see a doctor, but he won’t go! Now this happens. . .” she trailed off.
“Where is he?” Roy asked.
“In the bedroom,” she answered as she pointed down a long hallway. “Second room on the right.”
The paramedics trotted into the room and saw a heavy-set man sitting on the floor leaning up against a bed. He was wet with perspiration and his breaths were shallow.
Johnny and Roy went to work, setting up the biophone and getting vital signs on the victim. Gage contacted Rampart while Roy placed leads on Jack’s chest and hooked up the EKG.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you copy?”
“51, we copy loud and clear,” came Doctor Brackett’s reply. “Go ahead with your transmission.”
Johnny continued as he read off the vital signs they has recorded. He also let Brackett know that the EKG was hooked up.
“This’ll be lead two, Rampart.”
After several seconds, the doctor gave instructions to the paramedics told them to bring the patient in as soon as possible.
“Is it a heart attack?” the wife asked, wringing her hands in nervousness.
“Ma’am, we don’t know for sure, but they’ll be able to tell more about his condition once we get him to the hospital,” Roy calmly explained.
“See, Jack?” she asked, leaning down towards her husband. “If you weren’t such a big chicken when it comes to seeing a doctor, you could have had this all taken care of when you first felt ill. Now you’re worse off and you’re going to have to see one anyway.”
Johnny glanced up at the woman and then returned his attention to her husband. Distracted with something now weighing on his mind, he didn’t hear Roy talking to him until the senior partner repeated himself for the third time.
“Johnny, are you with me?”
“Wha. . .what?”
“I said, let’s get him going. The ambulance is here,” Roy said as he motioned towards the attendants now bringing in the stretcher.
“Right. Got it.” Gage was suddenly more alert to his surroundings.
Once they got Jack on the stretcher, Roy placed a hand on Johnny’s left shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re okay today?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” When Roy’s face showed doubt, Johnny assured, “Really, I’m okay.”
“If you say so. I’m gonna go in with Jack,” Roy said. He hoped his partner wouldn’t pick up on the fact that he would rather the younger man not be alone with the patient right now. He just didn’t seem to be his usual self at the moment. “Will you be all right driving the squad?”
“Of course I will be. Look, Roy--” Johnny stopped as the attendants began to wheel the victim out of the room.
DeSoto glanced briefly at Gage, then trotted to catch up to the patient and attendants.
Something’s bothering him, the senior paramedic thought.
“See ya at Rampart,”Johnny said as he closed the rear ambulance doors.
The dark-haired paramedic gave the doors two customary slaps to indicate they were secure, then trotted over to the squad. He climbed in as the ambulance pulled away. Johnny followed suit. He noticed Jack’s wife was also departing for Rampart. The paramedic thought about what she had said to her husband earlier.
‘If you weren’t such a big chicken when it comes to seeing a doctor, you could have had this all taken care of when you first felt ill. Now you’re worse off and you’re going to have to see one anyway.’
“Man,” Johnny said to himself. “I know how he feels.”
When they arrived at Rampart, Roy went into Treatment Rom Three with Jack, while Johnny headed over to the base station with a list of supplies they needed and to see Dixie. The head nurse was just pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“Want some?” she asked as Gage stepped up to the desk.
Knowing his problem tooth was sensitive to cold and hot temperatures, Johnny shook his head. “No thanks.”
“No? John Gage is turning down a free cup of coffee?”
The dark-haired paramedic gave a lop-sided grin. “Yeah. I had enough this morning,” he lied.
“Well, you’ve got to try one of these,” Dixie said, setting a platter of chocolate chip cookies in front of the man.
“I. . . uh. . .I. . .that’s okay, Dix. I’m really not that hungry,” he said, rubbing his stomach.
“Oh c’mon. ,They’re good! Betty made them.” She smiled. “Just a taste at least, while I get your supplies together for you.”
Johnny thought a moment. He was going to have to play like nothing was wrong or people would start getting suspicious. It didn’t help that Roy already was.
“Okay,” he conceded, picking up a cookie. “Thanks.”
“Now that’s the John Gage I know,” Dixie said, looking over her shoulder and smiling.
The paramedic stared at the cookie a few seconds, then took a bite. Just as he feared, the chocolate chips sent a sharp pain through his bad tooth. Only it was more intense than he expected. Not able to help himself, Johnny dropped the remaining cookie, and put a hand to the right side of his jaw and grimaced. Dixie turned around in time to see his reaction.
“Johnny? Are you okay?”
Gage knew he was busted. But before he could answer, Roy was coming up beside him.
“What happened?” DeSoto asked when he noticed Johnny holding his jaw.
The nurse was on the other side of Gage and had a hand on his left arm. “Johnny?”
“I’m fine,” the younger man mumbled.
“You’re not fine,” Roy said firmly. He looked across his partner to Dixie. “He’s been acting strange all morning.”
“Okay,” Johnny gave in. “I think I have a cavity.” He pulled his hand away from his mouth as the pain slowly subsided. “Whenever I eat anything sweet, or drink anything hot or cold, I get a sharp pain on the right side of my mouth.”
“Did you make an appointment with a dentist?” the head nurse wondered.
Gage shook his head.
“Why not?” Roy put in. “How long has it been bothering you?”
“A coupla weeks. But it just started getting worse.”
“A couple of weeks?”
Johnny frowned. Something he had been trying to keep secret was about to come out. “Well, I . . .I just haven’t had time, Roy.”
“You have too,” DeSoto argued. “In two weeks, you’ve been off six out of fourteen days.”
“Yeah but--” the younger man cut himself off when he noticed both Roy and Dixie fold their arms across their chests and give him disbelieving looks.
“But what?” the senior paramedic asked.
“Okay, okay. But you have to keep this between you and me,” Gage said, “And her,” he added, acknowledging Dixie.
“I just don’t like goin’ to the dentist, Roy. I get kinda queasy at the sound of the drill and the longer I have to wait and listen, the jitterier I get. It’s even worse once I get in the chair. And don’t even ask what seeing that long needle they use for Novocain does to me.”
“You mean you’re afraid of going to the dentist?” DeSoto couldn’t believe it. He and Dixie exchanged surprised looks.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘afraid’,” Johnny defended. “I just don’t wanna go.”
“Because you get queasy and jittery,” the head nurse offered.
“You’re afraid,” both friends said in unison.
“Look, if you’re not scared, then make an appointment. We can go up to the dental clinic on the third floor right now,” Roy suggested, motioning upwards with his left hand. “And you can make an appointment. Heck, maybe they’ll take you tomorrow.”
“You sure are in a hurry to get me in the dentist chair,” Johnny grumbled.
“Consider it payback for when you were anxious for me to get my tonsils out . . .for the second time.”
“Oh yeah. . .” Gage grinned slightly. “I forgot about that. But this is totally different.”
Doctor Brackett came up to the trio just in time to hear the last two exchanges. “What’s totally different?”
“Oh, my partner here,” Roy paused a moment when Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “Nevermind.”
Gage relaxed, knowing DeSoto was going to keep his secret.
“Kel, Johnny’s got a bad tooth and he’s afraid to go to the dentist,” Dixie blurted out. She noticed the younger paramedic’s mouth open wide in shock. “I never promised to keep it between us,” she said, shrugging.
“Wait a minute,” Brackett said, putting up a hand and facing Johnny. “You mean you can go into all the dangerous places you do on the job, but you can’t handle going to the dentist?” He couldn’t help but grin.
“Well. . .yeah. . .”
“You handled that other man who had a dentist phobia,” Dixie reminded the doctor. “What was his name? Mr. Warner? You know, the man who had a panic attack in the chair and passed out.”
“Oh yeah. That’s right,” Brackett returned his attention to Johnny. “I gave him something that put him out before he even got in the chair. If you want, I’d be glad to help you in any way I can.”
“I don’ know. I just--”
The paramedic was interrupted by the HT.
“Squad 51, what is your status?”
“Squad 51, available,” Johnny answered.
“Stand by for response.”
The foursome listened as the paramedics were called out to a house fire.
“See ya later,” Gage said as he picked up the new supplies and started for the exit.
“Yeah, see you,” Roy added. “Don’t worry. I’ll work on Johnny and his problem when I get a chance.” He turned and followed his partner down the corridor.
“What do you think?” Dixie asked, glancing at Brackett.
“Johnny’s a great paramedic, but he’s always made a lousy patient. My guess is, he’ll come around though. A toothache is only going to get worse, and it’s liable to reach a point where it’ll start interfering with his concentration on the job. I don’t see someone as conscientious as him letting it get that far.”
The nurse smiled and nodded in agreement.
The men of Engine and Squad 51 returned to their station, worn out after a tough job of battling flames. Luckily no one was hurt in the house fire and the paramedics were only needed for assistance with fighting the fire.
The six firemen climbed out of their respective vehicles and made their way towards the dayroom, Captain Stanley heading for his office.
Four of the guys plopped into the chairs around the table, while Roy got out a pitcher of apple juice and placed it on the table. Next he got a couple of drinking glasses out of the cupboard, handing them to two shiftmates before getting three more and doing the same again, keeping one for himself.
“I’m glad you’ve got the energy,” Chet said, reaching for the juice.
“Yeah, thanks, Roy,” Marco put in.
They passed the pitcher around clockwise. Then Roy sat down as he poured some for himself.
A sudden gasp by Johnny had them all staring at him.
“What’s wrong, Gage?” Mike wondered.
“Nothin’,” Johnny quickly answered, hoping to hide the fact he was in agony from his tooth again.
Roy eyed his partner carefully, trying to judge just how much pain the man was in. He could tell Gage was struggling to keep himself composed in order to hide his problem from the others.
“Is the headache back?” DeSoto asked, hoping to be of help in hiding the truth.
Johnny glanced across the table and forced a smile of gratitude. “Yeah. . .yeah it is.” The smile faded.
“Why don’t you take something?” Chet wondered.
“If it gets too bad, I will.” Gage shot Roy a quick look and promised again, “I will.”
A short time later, Roy and Johnny stepped into the captain’s office to fill out the log book. Hank Stanley was done with his paperwork and got up to leave the paramedics to their task.
Walking past the two men, he noticed Gage seemed down.
“You okay, John?”
“Yeah, Cap, I’m fine. Just tired.”
The captain looked to Roy in question. When the senior paramedic nodded slightly, Hank shrugged. “Okay, pal. Hopefully you two can get your log book updated before you get another run.”
As if on cue, the tones sounded, sending the squad out on another call, this time for a child trapped. Stanley gave a sheepish grin. “Sorry.”
“It’s just one of those days,” Roy said as he and Johnny turned to head for the squad. The captain followed behind and acknowledged the call at the podium. He then handed the slip of paper with the address written on it to DeSoto, who in turn gave it to Gage. As Roy drove the truck into the street, Johnny was thankful his toothache had once again subsided.
As soon as they arrived at the scene, the paramedics were escorted through a house where a seven-year-old boy was stuck in a locked laundry room.
“Is there a window in the room?” Johnny asked as he and Roy stood in front of the door.
The mother shook her head. “No. I can’t believe this is happening. My husband was going to take the doorknob off tomorrow and replace it with a non-locking one.”
“Is it just a standard push button on the knob?” Roy wondered.
“Yes. And usually it just pops out when the knob is turned from that side of the door. But Benny says it’s stuck.” She sighed. “All this because he doesn’t want to go to the dentist.”
Johnny nearly gave himself whiplash, he turned his head towards the mother so fast. He couldn’t believe the odds that the kid was afraid of the dentist, too.
Roy saw his partner’s reaction and had an idea that might get Johnny and the boy over their fear.
“The dentist?” Gage verified.
“He has an appointment in an hour,” the mom explained. “”Course, he’s gotten himself stuck in there.” She shook her head. “He’s afraid of the drill. Just the sound makes him run for the exit of the waiting room.”
Roy stooped down and fiddled with the knob, then looked up at the woman. “Ma’am, do you have a bobby pin?”
“A bobby pin?”
“Yes. I’m gonna try and pick the lock. Pop it loose. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to try a pry bar.”
“Oh dear.” The woman didn’t like the idea of her door or doorframe getting damaged.
Roy turned to Johnny, who was standing beside him. “How about you try reassuring Benny that there’s nothing about the dentist to be afraid of. You know, in case he’s not really stuck.”
“Me? Roy, that’s crazy. I don’t even like the dentist, in case you’ve forgotten,” the younger man reminded in a hushed tone. “In fact, I was kind of thinkin’ the kid had a good idea goin’.”
Roy shook his head. He could almost picture Johnny locking himself in a room. “Look, you can do it. It’ll be better coming from you.”
Gage looked at him like he was from another planet. He cleared his throat as he prepared to try his hand at talking the boy out.
The mother handed a bobby pin to Roy as Johnny began his part of the deal.
“Hey, Benny, how’re ya doin’ in there? My name is John Gage and I’m with the fire department.” With no response, Johnny continued. “My partner is here, too. His name is Roy DeSoto. We’re gonna get you out of there, so just hang on.”
“That’s talking him out?” Roy asked.
“I’m gettin’ there.”
“I’m not coming out ever!” came a boy’s muffled voice from the other side of the door.
“I understand you’ve got an appointment with a dentist you don’t like.”
“I’m not going!”
“Listen, Benny, I used to be afraid of the dentist, too,” Johnny said loudly so he could be heard clearly on the other side of the door. He glanced at Roy and shrugged when DeSoto rolled his eyes. Gage returned his attention to the door at Benny’s muffled reply.
“Yep, I sure was.”
Now Johnny was in a spot. He didn’t want to lie to the kid. But he couldn’t let on that he was still scared. Referring back to something his mother used to tell him became his solution.
“Well, I reminded myself that our imaginations often make things seem scarier than they really are.”
Johnny went on to try to reason the boy out from his hiding place while Roy continued to maneuver the bobby pin in a tiny hole in the doorknob. Suddenly the senior paramedic felt the knob move. A click could be heard on the other side of the door. It slowly opened, revealing a red-haired, blue eyed little boy. He looked from one paramedic to the next, noticing the name badges. Gage was an easy one to read. His mother stepped forward and grabbed the youngster by the arm, pulling him out.
“It’s about time,” she glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. “If we leave right now, we might be able to just make it to the appointment in time.”
Benny’s lower lip quivered and he turned a wide-eyed expression to Johnny. “Are ya sure it’s gonna be okay?” he asked in a tiny voice.
The paramedic grinned. “Oh yeah, you’ll be fine,” he reassured. “Don’t worry.” He glanced at his partner. Johnny could tell by the look on his face, Roy was going to be on him about his own dentist hang up as soon as they got in the squad. It was now obvious to the younger man why DeSoto had him coax Benny out of the laundryroom.
Pretty sneaky, Johnny thought.
Johnny and Roy were in their way back to the station. So far the subjects of dental care and toothaches hadn’t been brought up by either man. Unable to hold back any longer, Gage broke the silence.
“Okay, go ahead and say it.”
“You know. About me needing to listen to my own advice on going to the dentist. I know you’re dying to say somethin’,” Johnny said wryly.
“I’m not saying a word,” Roy commented. “I don’t think anything I say is gonna do any good.”
Gage looked curiously at the older man. Roy kept his eyes on the road ahead, but feeling Johnny staring at him, explained what he meant.
“If you can talk a seven-year-old out of locked room and into going, I have faith you’ll drag yourself to one before long.” A quick glance at his partner to make sure he was still listening, and Roy continued. “It’s either that, or pretty soon it’s gonna start affecting your performance on the job.”
Johnny turned to look out the passenger window. Roy was right and the younger man knew it.
John Gage bounced his right leg up and down slightly as he sat in the waiting area of the dentist office. He elected not to go to the clinic at Rampart. This way no one he might have to face nearly every day would see him in such a vulnerable situation.
The sound of a drill being used on another patient filtered out into the lobby. Johnny could feel himself growing more nervous the longer he waited. He glanced at his watch.
Ten minutes late. . .why can’t they ever take patients on time?
Finally, the paramedic’s name was called and he followed an assistant back into one of the rooms with the dentist chair in it. He eased himself onto the seat and looked around as the woman left to get the doctor. In front of him was a small tray with dental instruments on it, and a tiny white basin with water flowing into it was to his side.
Man, I hate spitting in that thing. There has to be a better way to do this.
Soon the door opened and in stepped the dentist and his assistant. After exchanging routine greetings and introductions with his patient, the dentist examined the tooth Johnny claimed was bothering him.
“I can see why you’ve had problems, Mr. Gage. That’s a rather large cavity.”
Great. That means he has to drill a rather large hole.
“We’ll take care of this now, but you’ll need to schedule a regular cleaning and x-rays later.”
“Sure,” Johnny said, not intending to.
The dentist prepared the Novocain shot, then held it down by his side, out of Gage’s view. “Open wide.”
Johnny did as he was asked, but his eyes widened at the extra long needle coming towards his mouth. Wisely he shut them at the last second before the needle penetrated his lower right gum. The paramedic felt his eyes watering as the tip of the needle entered his gums for a second time.
“There, that should do it,” the dentist said. “We’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”
Gage sat in the chair wishing there was no such thing as a cavity.
After twenty-five minutes, the dentist returned with his assistant.
“Let’s get a bib on Mr. Gage before we start our work, Marcia.”
The assistant nodded and clipped a large paper napkin around the paramedic’s neck.
“Sorry, I almost forgot,” she said, smiling.
“No robrem,” Johnny replied.
“Are we numb yet?” the dentist asked.
You aren’t, but I am, Gage thought. He answered, “Uh huh.”
“Good. Let’s get started.”
Johnny opened his half numb mouth wide and accepted his fate in the chair. It was every bit as bad as he recalled.
When the work was done, the dentist left the assistant to take off the bib and help the patient out of the chair. After Johnny flung his legs over the side, he tried to stand up, but his legs were wobbly from nerves. Marcia helped steady him as they made their way to the lobby.
Johnny came into the locker room whistling a tune. Roy and Mike were getting ready for duty when they saw the cheerful man step over the bench and up to his locker.
“So, did you get to the dentist?” Roy asked.
Mike half listened, unaware of Johnny’s dental phobia.
“Yeah. As a matter of fact I did.”
“How’d it go?”
“Great!” he answered proudly.
Mike closed his locker. “Is that why you were getting headaches?”
Both paramedics looked over at the engineer. They had forgotten no one else knew about Gage’s fear of dentists.
“Uh. . .yeah,” Johnny nodded. “Yeah, it was.”
Stoker headed towards the exit. “Unless I’m getting my teeth cleaned. I hate to go.” He opened the door and stepped out. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve kind of got a phobia of dentists.”
Johnny and Roy stared in surprise as the door closed behind Mike.
“Well, how do you like that?” Johnny asked, grinning at his partner. “I guess I’m not the only one, huh?
Roy sat on the bench to put on his shoes. “So, tell me how you did.”
“Great!” A doubtful look on his partner’s face had Johnny bring his answer more to reality. “Well, not great. It hurt like hell when he gave me the Novocain shot and everything else was just as bad as I remembered it being.”
“But it went okay?”
“Yeah, thanks to Marcia.”
“The dental assistant. We’ve got a date for Friday night. And guess what!”
“She loves bowling!”
“Only you could come out of this with a date.”
Johnny grinned. “Let’s just say there’s something women like about a man being vulnerable. You should try it.”
“I’m married, remember? I don’t need to try it.”
“Oh yeah.” Johnny buttoned his blue shirt, then stepped out of his jeans.
“So are you going to go to the dentist on a regular basis now?”
“Why?” Gage asked, pulling on his trousers. He tucked the shirt in.
“Why? Didn’t you learn anything in all this?”
“Yeah! That dental assistants make great dates!”
Roy shook his head and started for the door.
“Roy, don’tcha’ get it? I’ve got everything I need. My tooth is fixed and I’ve got a new girlfriend.”
“You’ll never learn,” DeSoto mumbled. He exited out the door leading to the apparatus bay.
Johnny ignored the comment and sat down on the bench to put on his shoes.
“Yep, no more pain and a beautiful date to look forward to. I guess going to the dentist turned out to be a good experience after all.”
Thanks for the beta reads, Jill H. and Kenda! :o) Any mistakes are mine.
*Click on the dental instruments to send Audrey feedback