The Culvert

               By Audrey W.






“Right up there,” John Gage directed when he saw a couple of young boys standing near the side of the road up ahead. The youths began waving their arms over their heads to get the firemen’s attention.


Johnny’s partner Roy DeSoto drove along the dirt road with an empty field to the left and houses off in the distance to the right. Once near the boys, he brought the squad to a stop and the paramedics quickly climbed out, their helmets still on.


Having followed behind, Mike Stoker brought Engine 51 to a stop behind them.


“You called for the fire department?” Roy asked as the engine crew joined he and his partner.  


One boy shook his head and pointed down an embankment to a woman who was with two other small boys. “She did!”


Johnny halfway grinned at the response.


The woman hurried up the dirt bank. With a dress and heeled shoes on, it was obviously a challenge. It was also obvious she’d been interrupted in the kitchen, as she still had an apron tied around her waist.


“I’m so . . .glad you’re. . . here!”  She managed, partially out of breath.


“What happened?” Captain Stanley wondered.


They’d gotten a call for a child trapped. All they could see were the four little boys about six years old and no one else. With the open field at the bottom of the bank, it was hard to imagine where a child might get trapped.


“Ricky’s stuck!” One little boy exclaimed, his eyes open wide.


It was then they noticed a couple of the boys had streaks from tears down their dirty faces. 


“Where is he?” Gage asked.


Another of the boys pointed toward a rather narrow culvert that was protruding from the embankment below.


“In there.”


Johnny raised his eyebrows in question and the lady nodded.


“The boys said Ricky can’t get out.”


“Are you Ricky’s mother?”


She looked at the captain. “No, this is my son.” She put a hand on one blond boy’s head.  “Steven. Ricky’s a friend of his.”


Johnny, Roy and Hank made their way down to the bottom of the bank where the culvert was located. Chet, Marco, the mother and a couple of boys followed.


The younger paramedic took off his helmet as he squatted down at the opening and peered inside. He could see the opening at the other end of the thirty foot long round tube. A small form appeared to be lying down flat in the middle. He hollered out the trapped boy’s name.


“Ricky? Ricky, can you hear me?”


The boy didn’t respond.


“Can you see anything?” Hank wondered.


Gage glanced up at him and nodded.  


“I think he’s laying down, but I’ll need a flashlight to be sure. There’s not enough natural light to see inside real well. What I can see is a lot of debris inside on the bottom toward this end. . .you know, just stuff the run-off from rain tends to wash in over time.”


“Chet, get a flashlight out of the squad,” the captain directed.  


Chet gave a nod and clambered up the bank towards the red truck.


“Grab a safety blanket and the biophone while you’re at it!” Hank called out. “We can have someone at Rampart standing by in case!”


“Right, Cap!”


“Mister, ya gotta save ‘um! You gotta,” Steven begged.


“Yeah, he’s our bestest friend ever!” Another cried.


“We’ll get him out,” Johnny assured. But he didn’t want to bring up the point that the lack of response wasn’t a good sign.


“How long’s he been in there?” Roy questioned.


“They came to the house about thirty minutes ago,” Steven’s mom supplied.


Johnny frowned. Judging by the distance to the houses from there, it was possible Ricky had been ‘trapped’ for forty-five minutes to an hour, if not more.


Chet returned with the flashlight and tossed it down. Johnny shown it inside the long tube. Sure enough there was the boy, lying flat on his stomach, his face toward the other end.


“I can fit inside, Cap” Johnny said. He glanced up at the superior officer. “I’ll just slide along on my stomach.”


Hank eyed the opening, then Gage. He was right. He’d fit, though he wouldn’t have much room to play around with his shoulders. Fact was, he wouldn’t have any extra room.




Johnny made his way on his belly as planned, pulling himself along on his elbows, the flashlight in his right hand. His arms were bent and directly in front of him, rather than to the sides which would have been easier for leverage. Either way, since he was just slightly over six feet tall, it wouldn’t take him long to reach the center of the culvert and Ricky.


At one point he could feel his right foot hit against a chunk of brick that he’d worked past and move it. But now the piece had gotten lodged against the side somehow and it held firm when he pushed off of it with that foot.


Johnny kept his gaze on the boy ahead as he made his way over twigs, still-wet mud and gravel, dead weeds and dead grass that were gathered in clumps along the surface here and there.




The boy glanced over his shoulder to look at him when he was in Johnny’s reach, then moved forward about a foot.


“Go ‘way!”


“Ricky, I’m here ta help ya. Are ya hurt?”


He shook his head and sniffled.


“How come ya can’t get out of here?”


He clearly wasn’t ‘stuck’ as his friends had feared.


“I’ll get in trouble,” he pouted.


“Why? What for?”


Ricky faced forward again, the back of his head toward Johnny.


“Just go ‘way! I wanna be invisble!”


Gage cracked a grin. “Well, I can understand that. I’ve had those kinda days myself.”


After a few seconds, Ricky moved to where he was on his hands and knees, facing the paramedic.


“You. . .you have?”


He looked at the wide eyes of the child looking back at him in amazement. “Uh huh. An’ you know what?”


Ricky shook his head.


“It turns out not to be as bad as I thought it was and I’m glad I couldn’t make myself invisible. Because if I had, I’da never been able to find that out.”


“Are ya sure?”


The paramedic nodded.


Ricky bit his lower lip as he stared down at the bottom surface of the culvert in thought. After a minute, the boy gave in. After all, if he couldn’t trust a fireman, who could he trust?


“Good deal,” Johnny commented when Ricky said ‘okay’.  “All right, I’ll slide backwards and you just follow me.”




“We’re comin’ out!” Johnny called over his shoulder.


“Are we gonna need an ambulance?”


“No, Cap! He’s not hurt!”


The news brought smiles to the faces of the mother and boys watching the rescue.


Roy updated Doctor Early at Rampart and ended their transmission.




Johnny moved swiftly as he worked his way backward. There was no sense giving Ricky time to change his mind.


“What was so bad anyway?”


“I lost my daddy’s favrut pocket knife,” came a whispered answer, as if to keep it a secret from anyone else. “I wasunt s’posed ta have it.”


At the time he heard the word ‘knife’, Johnny stopped abruptly and jerked his body up with a gasp. He’d felt a sudden sharp pain in his abdomen right below his ribcage. What were the odds he’d found the missing object? What were the odds Ricky would have lost it while the blade was exposed?


He hadn’t noticed a shiny blade when he’d made his way in. Ricky hadn’t said where he’d lost it. A knife would need something behind it holding it in place to go into someone anyway.


Instinct was to reach under himself and yank whatever it was out. But the paramedic knew that wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do. He also had to consider he had Ricky still in his charge.


As he laid slightly onto his right side with a grimace, he asked, “Ricky. . .where’d you see the knife. . last?”


“I dunno,” the boy explained. “It’s lost!”


Well, the kid was right. If he had an idea where it was last, it probably wouldn’t be lost.


Just enough on his side to see, Johnny glanced at the object that was the source of his pain while trying to keep it obscured from Ricky's view. He definitely had a problem.


Dammit. . .




Roy and the captain exchanged glances when Johnny didn’t emerge after a few minutes. The latter squatted down by the opening of the culvert. Johnny’s shoe covered feet could be seen about a yard from the opening and they weren’t getting any closer.


“What’s the hold up, John?”


As he waited for an answer, Marco and Chet looked on in puzzlement as well.




Johnny fought to keep himself calm as he tried to assess his situation without letting on that anything was wrong. He didn’t want to scare or upset Ricky.


“Well?” He heard the captain ask.


“Just a slight. . . delay, Cap!” he hollered toward that opening. He then looked at the little boy as he tried to keep from displaying pain in his facial features. “Ricky, it looks. . . like I’m kinda stuck. I need you to go out. . . the other end and tell my. . . partner that, okay?”


“Why can’t ya tellum from here?”


“Well, I could. . . But I think he’d take it better . . .if you were out.”


“Okay,” he shrugged. Just after he started in the other direction on his hands and knees, he turned to face Gage. “Mister Fireman, are you in trouble, too?”


Johnny nodded slightly. “You could say that.”


“Are ya sure ya wanna get out?”


The dark-haired paramedic forced a crooked grin. Again he nodded slightly. Boy, was he ever sure.


Ricky shrugged and continued out the other direction on his hands and knees.




When Johnny figured Ricky was far enough away that he wasn’t going to turn around again, or see much if he did, he flicked the flashlight on to get a better assessment. Though he knew some of the dampness he felt was due to sweat and residual moisture from the culvert’s surface, he was certain enough of it was from blood.


With the flashlight beam awkwardly shown on his midsection, he eyed the blood stain on his shirt, and the brown wooden and metal handle sticking out of it. The design was typical of a mid-sized pocket knife.


“Oh man,” he groaned.






He had to get out to the others for help. But he’d have to do it carefully. He slowly rotated on his back until his left side was against the bottom surface of the culvert. He’d have to remain that way to avoid moving the handle of the knife. But there was also another concern.


“Cap!” He once again called out. “Have Mike show the boys. . .the engine!”


Hank pulled back in surprise and puzzlement.


What in the hell?




Suddenly Ricky came running across the road after having climbed up the other embankment. He hurried in front of the rescue vehicles as the men looked on.


“He’s stuck! He’s stuck!”


Hank looked at the feet still unmoving.


“You mean you’re wedged in there?” He asked his youngest crewmember.


Ricky scrambled down to join the firemen, mother and other boys.


“Cap, I’m on my. . . way out! Get the boys up to Mike!”


Johnny could feel sweat run down the sides of his face from his hairline. Part of it was from his own body heat that’d built up while he was inside the culvert. But part of it was his body’s reaction to the injury.




The captain knew his men well enough to trust their judgment during rescues. There had to be a good reason John was concerned with the boys being right there when he came out. Something had to have gone seriously wrong.  


But what? All he did was crawl into a lousy culvert. . .


Hank turned to his men who were looking equally concerned.


“Marco, how about you and Mike show the boys the engine.”


“Okay, Cap.”


“Oh boy!” a couple of them exclaimed in excitement as they scurried up the embankment before Marco even had a chance to say, “How about it?”


The mother followed behind the fireman, her son Steven with her.


“Okay, pal, come on out.”


Johnny took one more glance at his problem, then carefully moved backwards. It wasn’t as easy and he had to use his feet to pull himself along as he awkwardly pushed with his left forearm and hand, the flashlight still in his grasp. The result was long pauses between movements as he inched his way toward the opening.


“What was all that about?” Hank wondered once Johnny’s lower legs and feet were in the clear. But as soon as his abdomen came into view, the answer was more than apparent to the waiting men.


“Good Lord, what the hell happened?”


Johnny had pushed himself harder to slide his way out just when the captain had seen the blood, then knife handle.  He didn’t offer an explanation. At the moment he just wanted out.


Roy, Hank and Chet helped Johnny the rest of the way, gently guiding him straight out till they could ease him to the ground right away.


“Chet, get the drug and trauma boxes and the oxygen!”


The mustached fireman complied with the captain’s orders. He hurried up the embankment, his adrenaline level at top speed.


At the same time, the captain requested an ambulance via the HT.


Roy was already assessing his partner’s condition as the latter tried to explain the situation.   


“He stabbed you?”


Gage shook his head.


“Just. . .dumb. . .luck. . .” he managed.


“What in the hell happened?” The captain asked again as he stared in disbelief.


“The kid. . .lost his. . .dad’s knife. . .” . .” Johnny gritted his teeth against the pain. “I guess. . .I found it.” He forced a slight anguished grin, his eyes narrowed to slits. He kept his voice low as he explained further, “I don’ know. . .Cap. I guess it must’ve. . . been lost. . .in the debris and somehow. . .as I went backwards, I must’ve moved it. . .all I can figure is. . .it got wedged in a corrugated ridge. . . in the culvert.”


“That’s the only way I think it would have enough pressure behind it to go in,” Roy agreed.


He noticed Gage’s skin was unusually pale and moist.  He was clearly already shocky.


The captain tore open the plastic casing around the folded safety blanket, then quickly spread it out on the ground.


He and Roy placed Johnny on it, careful not to move the handle of the knife. As soon as Chet returned with the supplies, they could stabilize it with bandaging.


 “Looks like. . .I’m in for. . .a week of room service. . .” Johnny said, still trying to make as much light of the situation as possible. But he could tell by the deep concern on his crewmates’ faces, it wasn’t working.


“Yeah, I’d say so,” Roy agreed.


“Roy, jus’ don’t. . .let the kids see. Ricky. . .ya know. . .he’s gonna. . .gonna know. . .”


Roy nodded. “We’ll do our best,” he assured.


Johnny closed his eyes, pain etched in his features. Roy looked down at the growing red stain. His partner’s body temperature was up from his exertion to get out and it was making the blood flow more freely.




Chet and Marco arrived with the requested supplies. The boys and mother remained at the top of the embankment, where the squad was parked behind them. But there was no keeping the current situation from them. When Roy moved to adjust the oxygen flow after placing the mask on Johnny, he’d inadvertently exposed what his body had been shielding from them.


“My dad’s knife!” Ricky cried out.


He started to run down the small hill, but was stopped when Mike rushed forward and grabbed him by the right arm.


Ricky struggled to pull himself free, twisting his arm in the process. “No! I killed ‘im. . .I did it! I killed the fireman! I los’ my daddy’s knife an’. . .an’ now the fireman’s dead!”


Tears streamed down his face as Mike pulled him closer.


“It’s all right. He’s not dead.”


Ricky just continued to cry.


Mike chewed his lower lip and looked at Steven’s mother to see if she could be of any help with Ricky. It wasn’t likely. She looked just as horrified as the kid did.




Johnny again grimaced in pain.


“Just hang in there, Cap’s contacting Rampart now,” Roy informed him.


“Man, leave it to Gage to find the kid’s knife,” Chet numbly commented as he handed Roy the bp cuff from the drug box.


“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?” Captain Stanley called over the biophone handset. After a few seconds with no response, he repeated, “Rampart, this is Squad 51.”


“Go ahead, 51,” came the voice of Dixie McCall.


“Rampart, we have a male, approximately twenty-five years old. The victim has a stab wound to the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just below the rib cage. The knife is still in place and we’ve secured the handle with sterile bandages to avoid further injury and slow the bleeding. Also, Rampart, we’ve placed the victim on six liters of O2. Skin is pale and clammy. Stand by for vital signs.”


“Standing by.”


Hank watched his youngest crew member with worry.




Dixie grabbed the receiver of the phone on the wall and paged for Doctor Brackett to come to the base station. She then looked at the information she’d jotted down from Hank Stanley’s transmission.


She wondered why it wasn’t Roy or John on the other end of the line. She wasn’t sure she wanted the answer. But being they’d likely need a cross match for a blood transfusion, the sooner she found out the better.


The head nurse was about to press the transmit button when the captain’s voice came over the radio again.




“Rampart, squad 51.”


“Go ahead, 51.”


“Rampart, we’ve got the victim’s vitals.”


She jotted them down, then found herself looking at the radio in a stunned moment of silence when she heard him say, “Also be advised the victim is John Gage.”




Kel Brackett had stepped up beside Dixie as Hank gave the latest information. He, too, was taken aback by the mention of Johnny’s name. Even more so when Dixie told him the paramedic had been stabbed with a knife.


Brackett looked over the notes she had taken, then pressed the transmit button.


“51, start an IV lactated ringers to run wide open. Administer 5 milligrams MS. Transport as soon as possible.”


“10-4, Rampart. IV lactated ringers to run wide open. Administer 5 milligrams MS.”





Johnny looked up at Roy with eyes squinted in pain, perspiration on his face.


“Ever wish. . .you were . . .invisible?”


Roy gave a nod. “I sure wouldn’t mind it when my mother-in-law comes to stay for awhile.”


That elicited a wan smile from the wounded younger paramedic.


Unaware of the earlier exchange in the culvert, Roy just figured Johnny considered this one of those times for himself to spare the boys from seeing him injured. Especially Ricky.


“Chet, hand me the IV,” he said as he continued to follow the directions from Rampart.


The mustached fireman complied, the look of concern never having left his face.




Hank glanced at his watch. Due to their location, it would likely be several minutes yet before the ambulance arrived.


He’d briefly considered taking John in on the back of the engine rather than wait for it, like they’d done when he was bitten by a rattlesnake in a remote location. But the less they jostled him with the knife, the better. The ride on a back of an engine would be anything but smooth for much of their destination.


He just hoped John didn’t take a turn for the worse before the ambulance got there.




Mike Stoker noticed Ricky had his eyes shut tight. In fact he was squeezing them shut. The engineer figured the boy was making a wish, maybe for Johnny to be okay. But with having been around a variety of little kids over time, it wouldn’t surprise him if Ricky was wishing he wouldn’t be in big trouble later, with Johnny added in as an after thought.


What he didn’t know was that just like the dark-haired paramedic, Ricky was wishing he could disappear even more so than before. The boy was certain his new fireman friend would be just as angry at him as his dad was going to be.


Ricky’s bottom lip quivered as he kept his eyes closed.




Hank also noticed Ricky’s reaction, as well as the others’. There wasn’t really any need for them to be there any longer and it sure wasn’t helping matters. His engineer didn’t look very comfortable with the upset onlookers either.


He quickly made his way up to the group near the top of the embankment.


“Ma’am, there’s really nothing more for any of you to do here. I really think it would be best if you got these youngsters home.”


Ricky’s eyes immediately opened and his face was one of sheer terror.


“I can’t go home without my daddy’s knife!” He wailed.


Hank squatted down in front of the upset boy.


“I know you want__need__ your dad’s knife back.” He glanced down where Roy was busy giving a new set of Johnny’s vital signs over the biophone to Rampart, then returned his gaze to Ricky.  “But I’m afraid it’s going to have to go with us.”


When Ricky’s bottom lip quivered again, Hank sighed.


“Son, you wouldn’t want that fireman to be in even more danger, would you?”


Ricky slowly shook his head ‘no’ and sniffled.


“Well, if we pull your dad’s knife out, he could be in a lot more trouble. And I have a real strong feeling, your dad’s not going to want it anymore anyway.”


Boy, is *that* an understatement.


“In fact,” he continued, keeping his voice calm and assuring. “I’m willing to bet he’s just going to be glad you didn’t get hurt and that my man down there will be okay.”


He sure hoped John was going to be okay.  But what else could he say to the little boy? His priority was getting Ricky to agree to go home, and not be scared to death to.




Captain Stanley sighed. It wasn’t always easy making a point with young minds. After all, they could only grasp so much of an adult situation. It was likely, though Ricky basically knew things were very serious for Gage now, he still had his own well being as his priority. And really, who could blame him? He was just a kid.


“I’ll tell you what,” Hank said. “I’ll write down the phone number of the station so you can give it to your dad. He can call me and talk to me about his knife, okay? I’ll let him know I wouldn’t let you have it back and he can get mad at me instead.”


“Okay,” came a quiet response.


“So can you do me a favor and go with this nice lady now? You do that for me and I’ll arrange for you and your dad to get a tour of the station.”


Ricky nodded, his eyes slightly brighter as tears dried up.


After a couple of minutes, and a brief exchange between Captain Stanley and the mother on how to contact her if necessary, Hank started down the embankment when he was stopped by Ricky’s voice.


“But mister. . .”


He turned to see everyone still standing there, though the mother and other boys were a few feet further away from where they stood before.


“You fergot ta give me the number,” Ricky stated.


He sure had. Normally he kept his mind together in a crisis. The captain realized this time he was too preoccupied about John to remember the simple task he’d just promised.


“I’ll take care of it,” Mike Stoker offered.




As he hurried back down to his other men, Captain Stanley overheard one of the youths say, “Boy, you’re lucky, Ricky!”


He shook his head, but it was just as well they didn’t totally comprehend the whole situation.





Johnny half heard some of the exchanges with the boys. But for the most part, the voices were just background noise to him as his mind was on something else. Despite the all the medical treatment he had received so far, his condition was continuing to slowly deteriorate. It didn’t take medical training to know that was a bad sign. 


“Man. . .Roy. . .”


“What is it?”


“It’s starting. . .ta hurt. . .more. . .it’s gettin’ worse. . .”


Roy tried to hide the alarm he felt. He gently palpated Gage’s abdomen, careful to stay well clear of the knife.


“Internal bleeding?” Chet wondered.


“I don’t feel any rigidity. It could be a slow bleed.”


Roy had watched Johnny’s face for reaction as he’d checked over his abdomen.  However, the grimace already on his face didn’t change.


He contacted Rampart again to fill the doctor in.




“How’s he doing?” Hank asked as he came up beside where Roy was kneeled down next to Gage. By the expression on his face, the captain had to guess that the injured paramedic was every bit as uncomfortable as he appeared.


Johnny’s eyes were open again, though still not more than slits.


“Looks like we might have a complication, Cap,” Roy briefed. “One thing for sure, we’ll both feel a helluva lot better once that ambulance gets here.”


“Make that three of us.”


“Four,” Chet added.


They knew they could easily make that six with Mike and Marco.




A short time later, Hank Stanley turned to see the ambulance come to a stop not far behind the engine. Mike trotted back to meet the attendants. Only a few seconds later, the two were on their way down with the empty stretcher.


With a steeper and longer hill, the firemen would have brought Johnny up in a stokes first, but the less he was moved the better. Thus since the embankment wasn’t all that much of a climb, it had been decided to wait for the other.




“Rampart, Squad 51.”


Brackett turned toward the base station radio at the sound of Roy’s voice and pressed the transmit button. “Go ahead, 51.”


“Rampart, the ambulance has arrived on scene. Will transport immediately. ”


“10-4, 51. Monitor Johnny closely. Call in if there’re any more changes in his condition.”




When they’d completed the exchange, the doctor turned to Dixie.  


“I want an x-ray technician on standby. And alert OR, we may have an emergency surgery on its way in.”


She reached for the phone on the wall to comply.




“You ready?” Roy asked his partner.


“Are we. . .there yet. . .?”


That question answered Roy’s. Gage was more than ready.  




Johnny was carefully lifted onto the stretcher, and taken up toward the ambulance. The attendants had to carry the stretcher up the embankment and along the short stretch of road so as not to jostle the wounded paramedic around from the uneven and gravely ground surface.


Once Johnny was placed inside the ambulance, Roy climbed up inside and took a seat on the bench beside him.


Chet placed the biophone and drug box inside on the floor, then stepped back to allow Captain Stanley to talk to Roy.


“Marco’s gonna follow behind in the squad. Then the two of you can come back to the station once you’re ready. I’ll try to get a replacement in soon.”


Roy nodded.


“If you get any new information on John while you’re still at Rampart, call me.”


“I will.”


Hank took one more concerned glance at Gage, then closed the doors. He gave them two slaps to indicate they were secure. The ambulance then backed way as it was turned around. It wasn’t long before they were on their way.




Mike had to back the engine up to allow Marco room to do the same with the squad. Just like the ambulance, the small red truck was turned around soon and on its way a few minutes behind the lead vehicle.


“Let’s go,” Hank said to Mike as he climbed up into Engine 51.


Chet was already situated in one of the back seats. While Mike backed up the engine, Chet watched as the squad disappeared from view after turning onto a different road at the empty intersection they were headed for.




Roy checked his partner’s vital signs again after minutes of travel time in the ambulance. His blood pressure had dropped some and his heart rate had increased.


He glanced down at the now groggy younger man as he reached for the biophone to report the findings.


Roy hid his concern at the change in readings and gave a reassuring smile as Johnny’s hazy eyes returned his gaze.


“Can’t. . .fool me. . .” Gage’s weakened voice was muffled by the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.


Roy’s smile faded. “I figured it was worth a try.”


Johnny slowly shook his head, then closed his eyes as Roy reported the latest vitals. Gage was barely aware that the groan he heard next was his own.




“Get him in Three!” Brackett barked as Johnny was briskly wheeled down the hospital corridor after being unloaded from the ambulance.


The doctor followed alongside Roy, who had Johnny’s IV bag in his hand as he hurried beside the stretcher.


It took less than a minute to have the dark-haired paramedic in the room and transferred to the exam table.


A nurse immediately took blood samples for the necessary tests Brackett already put in a request for. At the same time, Roy hung the IV bag on a pole nearby the table, then he and Dixie worked together to get Johnny transferred from the paramedic equipment in use to the hospital ones. While Dixie hung a cross-matched bag of plasma for Johnny on the pole with the IV, Roy explained briefly how the knife came to be in his partner.


All the while, Brackett removed the bandages and carefully cut away Johnny’s blue uniform and t-shirt. Though it was still covered by a small amount of material, he lifted the edges ever so slightly and peered closely where the blade had entered. From what he could see, the skin around it was already swollen.


“I know you’re ready to lose this thing, Johnny, but we’re going to have to wait till we get pictures before we can remove it.”


Brackett wasn’t telling him something he didn’t expect to hear.


Doctor Morton, who was in there to assist, read off Johnny’s latest blood pressure reading. “100/70.”


It was lower than any previous readings. Gage was obviously bleeding internally somewhere. The plasma would help to bring it back up very soon since Roy’s first assumption that it might be a slow bleed appeared to be true. But he’d need to be in surgery as soon as possible.


Brackett placed a stethoscope on Johnny’s abdomen and listened intently. He shook his head as he pulled the ear pieces out after a brief period of time, his gaze on Morton. “I don’t hear any bowel sounds.”


“You think it pierced the large intestine?”


“I’d say it’s a good chance. We’ll know exactly what we’re looking at once we have pictures. Let x-ray know we’re ready for them STAT.”


Morton gave a nod and made the necessary call from a phone on the wall in the room.    




The whole situation seemed surreal to the still groggy Gage. He couldn’t believe he was lying in the ER with a blade in his gut. Brackett was right. He wished they could skip a few steps and just take the damn thing out.


He glanced up at Roy as the older man informed him, “I’m gonna fill Marco in and call Cap. Hang in there, huh?”


Johnny nodded slightly. “I am. . .”


The oxygen mask over his nose and mouth steamed up slightly for a second from his breath at the end of his brief statement.  




Marco waited with Roy in the doctors’ lounge while the x-ray technician did his job. Captain Stanley gave them permission to stay awhile longer, at least until Johnny went in for surgery since it wouldn’t be long before that would happen.  


The men had already returned the paramedic equipment to the squad in an effort to pass time quicker.


After several minutes of waiting, the door opened and Dixie stepped inside.


“How’s he doing?” Roy wondered.


She glanced at the worried look on Marco’s face, then addressed Roy.


“He’s on his way up to the OR now. The x-rays showed the knife nicked the left side of his liver, and just as Kel suspected, pierced the large intestine. The blade’s about four inches in length. ”


Roy didn’t have to be told what any of that meant. He knew that the large intestine was the final stage for digested food. It was where the fecal matter was and if any of that waste had seeped into Johnny’s abdominal cavity through the wound, they’d have to be worried about infection.


It was time to give Hank a call, then he and Marco would have to head back to the station.


“I’ll call Cap and meet you at the squad.”


Marco nodded, then gave him a pat on the shoulder. “He’ll be okay, Roy.”


“Yeah, if there aren’t anymore complications.”


Again Marco somberly nodded, then exited the room.


“I’ll give you a call as soon as he’s out of surgery.”


“Thanks, Dix.”


Roy walked over to a phone in the room and lifted the receiver. He’d let the captain know that Johnny was in surgery, and that he and Marco were on their way back.




Captain Stanley replaced the receiver on the phone, and sat back in his chair. He’d hoped for better news on John. But he couldn’t say the information Roy gave him was unexpected.


There was something to be grateful for. Going by what Roy had told him, he knew that if the knife had gone even slightly more to the right, John may have suffered a severe injury to his liver. That could have caused life-threatening internal bleeding. With the location they were at and the time it took for an ambulance to get there, the whole situation could have been very grave.


“Thank God it didn’t happen like that,” he said to himself.


He pushed his chair back and got up from the seat. The captain then headed out of his office to fill the other two crew members in.




When he came out of the lounge, Roy took one glance in the direction of the elevator at the end of the hallway. He really wanted to get on it and take a ride up to the OR. The paramedic would much rather wait up there than at the station. But he knew better. Just because Johnny was out didn’t mean their services still wouldn’t be needed by others. Thus the sooner he got back to the station, the better. Of course, Marco was needed to complete the engine crew.


Roy gave a resigned sigh, then headed toward the exit.




Johnny lay on the operating table, his eyes closed as he slept from the anesthesia.


Kel Brackett and the surgeon he was assisting had the knife out. Now they’d have to work feverishly to repair the internal injuries it had caused.  




Roy had hoped that by the time he and Marco reached the station, Dixie might call with an update, even if it was just that everything was going well in surgery. But his hopes were dashed when it didn’t happen.


After twenty minutes of doing nothing but sitting and staring at the phone on the wall in the dayroom, he went to the supply closet in the apparatus bay and grabbed a dust rag. The senior paramedic then went to work on wiping down the squad.


Hank Stanley sauntered up beside him.


“Need any help?”


Roy shook his head. “Might get done too soon.”


The captain nodded. He understood.


“Jordan should be here soon. If you let him help you after you turned me down, I might have to take offense.”


Roy glanced at him and smirked. “You’ll be the first person I ask if I change my mind.”




Stanley patted him on the back, then went to his office. He found himself a little disappointed Roy hadn’t accepted his offer. Maybe he was the one who felt the need to talk to someone about Gage’s situation.




Once Roy’s temporary partner, Paul Jordan, arrived, the two decided to go to Rampart. Paul had gone through enough incidences with his regular partner being in the hospital, that he understood Roy’s desire to stay on standby there, where they could get news on Johnny sooner if it became available.


It also gave the men a sense of being there for their close co-workers, even though there wasn’t anything they could actually physically do.


However, after forty minutes of nothing more than being told that Johnny was still in surgery, the paramedics were toned out for a man down.


Roy would have to shove his concerns about Gage aside, and give one hundred percent of his attention and ability to the rescue and victim. Due to the nature of their job, the paramedics and other fire fighters had gotten very good at it.




Johnny slowly woke to the sound of voices. Female, male. Clattering of metal.  Footsteps as someone walked across a floor at a brisk pace, material swooshing with the motion of their arms. Not able to bring himself to enough awareness to even open his eyes, his mind drifted back into oblivion.




A nurse peered over at the seemingly still unconscious paramedic as she quickly walked past. John Gage had just recently come out of surgery and was now in the recovery area.


Once he woke up, one of the nurses on duty would need to notify Doctor Brackett. But for now, they’d tend to the two other patients in the room.




After they brought in the man who’d fallen off a stage platform, Roy and Paul headed for the base station at Rampart. Dixie was behind the desk, talking to Kel Brackett.


“Well, you got here just in time,” Dixie said to the two new arrivals, a slight smile on her face.


Roy wondered if the news was that good, or if Dixie just wanted to put them at ease first. Being that Brackett was there, he at least knew Johnny was finally out of surgery.


“How’s Johnny?” Roy asked, his gaze shifting from Dixie to the doctor.


Paul leaned on the wall beside the desk and remained quiet to give the trio time to talk.


Brackett’s mouth twitched and he folded his arms across his chest. “The surgery went well, Roy. However, there was a substantial amount of waste product that seeped out of the wound in his colon and into his abdominal cavity.”


“That’s what was causing the added pain. . .”


The doctor unfolded his arms as he nodded. “More than likely.”


Roy figured he must’ve looked as concerned as he felt when Brackett added, “Don’t worry. It’s not all bad news. We suctioned out the abdominal cavity after we repaired the other damage. Since it’s possible he could still get an infection from any bacteria we may have missed, we’ll have him on antibiotics for the first few days and under observation for about a week. I’d say if no symptoms present themselves by then, he should be home free and back in the truck with you in about a month.”


A week. . . Roy thought to himself. He glanced at Paul, who gave a nod. Roy then returned his gaze to Dixie and Brackett.


“When can we see ‘im?”


Dixie wasn’t sure. She waited for the doctor to respond.


With his arms again folded across his chest, Kel offered, “He’s going to be groggy for awhile after he wakes up from the anesthesia. But once he’s settled in a room, if you want to see him, it should be okay.”


“Great. Thanks, Doc.”


“Just keep in mind, he’ll be on medication for pain, along with the antibiotics. That’s liable to keep him pretty much out of it. So your visit’s likely to be brief and without much responsiveness.”


 Roy nodded in acknowledgement. That was fine with him. He just wanted to see Gage without the damn knife handle sticking out of him.  




Hank had no sooner gotten the latest news from Roy over the phone when it rang again.


“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.


“Oh, yes, sir. I was expecting your call.”


It was Ricky’s father. Being that he could fill the man in on everything, including John’s latest condition, Hank couldn’t be more relieved at the timing.  He could give him an honest and optimistic outlook for the paramedic’s recovery.


Hank was also pleased to hear that the mother at the scene had managed to talk to Ricky’s dad first, so there was very little explaining needed as to what happened to his knife.


“Yes, that’s right, I promised him a tour of the station. I still think it would be a good idea. But I think it would be best if we waited until my man is back on duty.


“Right. So he can see that he’s doing okay.”


They decided to get back in touch with each other when it got closer to Johnny returning to duty at the station. Until then, Ricky’s dad wanted to make sure his son understood very clearly what his actions had caused. He’d work on finding an effective way to get it to really sink into the boy’s young mind besides the spanking he initially had gotten for taking the knife in the first place.




Johnny lazily opened his eyes and squinted at the bright lights overhead. He could feel the nasal canula in his nostrils.


Where was he?


The groggy paramedic hadn’t quite recalled what was going on when a middle aged nurse stepped over to him.


“You’re awake. I’ll let your doctor know.”


Nurse. . .doctor. . .well, that was it. He was at Rampart.


Rampart. . .Rampart. . .the knife!


Johnny lifted his head ever so slightly to see if the handle was indeed gone from his abdomen. Much to his relief, it sure was.


He lowered his head and glanced around. Now that he new where he was and remembered why, he figured out that he was in the recovery unit of the OR.


Recovery. . .


It was a great word. No, an incredible word. The only word that could top it for now was ‘healed’.


Even in his groggy state, he was aware enough to know that one would come much later.


Johnny was about to close his eyes again when Brackett came up beside him.


“I heard you were awake. Glad to see the rumor’s true.”


“ ‘M tired. . .”


“I’m sure you are. Don’t worry, we’ll have you set up in a room soon and you can sleep off the anesthesia. That is if your partner’ll  let you,” he added with a grin.


“Wanna see. . .im. . .”


“Believe me, the feeling’s mutual. You will.”


He checked Johnny’s vital signs, which so far appeared to be normal.  He looked at the suture on his abdomen, then recovered it with bandaging before directing the nurse to have the paramedic moved to a room as he’d promised.


Brackett patted Johnny on the shoulder. “Get some rest, and I’ll let Roy know he can see you shortly.”


Johnny nodded slightly.


As Brackett started to walk away, Johnny called out in a hushed tone, “Doc.”


Kel turned around.




He gave a nod with a smile, then continued on.  




Paul waited downstairs with the HT in his hand while Roy headed up to the third floor to see Johnny. So far their luck had held on and they hadn’t gotten sent out on another call.


Roy opened the door to the dimly lit room and peered inside. The head of Johnny’s bed was angled slightly, which propped him up enough to see his eyes were closed. He still had the nasal canula on and IV tubing snaked down to his left arm from the bag hung on a pole beside the bed.


Roy gently closed the door, then walked across to a chair in the corner of the room.  He carried it over near the right side of the bed, where he took a seat.


“Hey, partner,” he said quietly. “You awake?”


Johnny’s eyes opened part way and he turned his head to look in Roy’s direction.  


“Sorta. . .”


“That’s okay. That’s good enough for now.”


Johnny yawned. “I jus’ wanna . . .get back. . .”


“To sleep?” Roy started to get up, but immediately sat back down when Johnny slowly shook his head.


“Meant. . .work. . .”


“Oh__right. Work. Brackett says if all goes well, we should be riding together in about a month.”


“Month. . .?” Gage frowned. He knew what that meant. Desk duty for a few weeks. It just wasn’t his ‘thing’, but he’d had to do it before when he was recovering from an injury. There was that word. Recovery.


As he got lost in his hazy thoughts about recovery and healing, he began to drift off again.


Roy saw his partner’s eyelids droop, then close. When they didn’t open back up, he got to his feet. Johnny needed the rest anyway, so he headed out to meet up with Paul Jordan.




During the first three days in the hospital, all the guys from A-shift had visited Gage at various times. A few of his friends from B and C-shift, and from couple of other stations had as well.


Things seemed to be progressing well, so the men talked about how great it would be when Gage was back to riding in the squad, or participating in a few Friday night poker games soon in his spare time.


Little did they know, their plans would hit a snag.




Dixie removed the thermometer from Johnny’s mouth and held it up to read. “A hundred and one.”


Standing beside her, Brackett frowned. He eyed their patient, who was resting rather uncomfortably in bed. “We’ll need to run some tests, Johnny. You may have an infection starting.”


It was late into day four, and it had become apparent they might’ve missed some of the bacteria in his abdominal cavity after all.


They’d backed off on the antibiotics during the third day. Brackett now realized that his decision may have been a little premature. It was possible the bacteria was holding its own against the antibiotics and when they’d been lessoned, it gained the upper hand.


“Man. . .just when I thought I was gonna get outta here. . .”


“I’m sorry,” the doctor apologized. He knew how much Gage wanted to be back to being the rescuer and not the laid-up rescuee.




Roy was in the room with Johnny before visiting hours ended, when Brackett came back with the results of the tests.


“Your white blood cell count is higher than normal, Johnny. Looks like you’re in the early stages of Peritonitis.” His mouth twitched before he continued with, “I’m going to start you on a stronger antibiotic. That should be able to knock the infection out, but if it doesn’t, you need to be aware that it could mean more surgery to remove infected tissue.”


Johnny just nodded, a look of discouragement on his face.


Roy wasn’t thrilled either. He would be pulling duty with his third different temporary partner the next day. He already missed the routine he and Johnny had. Heck, he even missed the younger man’s sometime cockiness, often girl craziness and frequent thriftiness.


Neither blamed Brackett for the latest development. He was only human and had used his best judgment. Sometimes the human body could even fool the best of doctors.




Nearly a week later, Johnny was once again in better health. The antibiotics worked, thus sparing him another trip to the OR. Though he’d be about ten days behind in his return to duty in the squad, it was a small inconvenience compared to how things would have gone after a second surgery.


He’d still need to stay on some antibiotics for awhile longer, but Johnny wouldn’t complain about that either. Anything to avoid a possible set back.




Gage couldn’t quit grinning as Dixie wheeled him out of his room and down the hall toward the elevator. It had been seven days since the infection had been diagnosed and he was finally on his way home.


Home. . .


Home was another word he liked. Healed was still better at the moment, but home would do for now.


Roy walked alongside the wheel chair. “You sure you don’t want to stay with us? There’s no problem with the kids sharing a room for awhile.”


“I appreciate the offer, Roy. Tell Joanne, I appreciate the offer. But__ there’s no place like home.”


Dixie smiled as she wondered if Johnny had given thought to the fact he’d just quoted a young girl in pigtails.


“Okay, Dorothy,” Roy said with a smirk, evidently with a similar thought as Dixie.


Gage rolled his eyes. “Ha ha. Maybe you oughta be admitted and put on antibiotics for awhile. Your humor is pretty ill.”


The elevator doors opened and the threesome got on. Roy pressed the button for the first floor while Dixie looked from Johnny to his partner. It was good to see they were already returning back to their usual ways.




Finally the time came for Johnny to return to duty at Station 51. On Gage’s fourth shift back, Captain Stanley arranged for Ricky and his dad to come by the station for a visit.


Johnny was the first to greet the youngster. 


“Hey, man, it’s good to see you again.”


“It is?


“Well, of course!” Johnny grinned. “Of course,” he repeated.


“That goes for all of us,” Hank assured.


“You. . .ya aren’t. . .mad?”


Johnny glanced at the others, then squatted in front of Ricky. “No one was ever mad at you. Sure ya shouldn’ta taken your dad’s knife. That was the wrong thing to do. But as far as the rest, that wasn’t all your fault. ‘Sides, things happen to us all the time in our line of work, right guys?”


“It’s part of being a fireman or paramedic,” Roy added from a couple of feet behind Gage.


“That’s right,” the captain chimed in.


“An’ besides that,” Johnny continued. “I’m all better now. I’m healed. So it’s all water under the bridge.”


Healed sounded as good as he thought it would, even for it being the fifth time he’d said it since being back. 


Ricky appeared either somewhat confused by the bridge statement or doubtful that they were being sincere this time. So Johnny tried again.


“What we’re tryin’ to tell ya, kiddo, is it’s okay. We know you didn’t mean for anything ta happen.”


But the doubt stayed on the boy’s face.


“You aren’t wishin’ you were invisible right about now, are ya?”


Ricky appeared both surprised at Johnny’s accurate guess and embarrassed the others now knew his frequent wish when he was scared or unsure of things.


Johnny could tell by the boy’s physical reaction that he was right. “C’mon,” he said as he stood up and took a few steps toward the map on the right side of the apparatus bay. “Let’s take a look around.”


The boy shrugged and reluctantly followed.




As the men took the visitors through the station, the father explained how he and his wife had figured out how to make Ricky comprehend exactly what he’d done.


“Before it came time for another show-and-tell for his class, his mother and I talked to his teacher about him telling to show what can happen if a person takes something they shouldn’t. She was all for it. It wasn’t easy on him, and he nearly started crying a couple of times. But when he looked over at me, I just gave him a smile and a nod to let him know he was doing fine. The kids were really riveted to what he was saying. I think the fact it showed he was still upset about it helped.”


“So he got his message across.”


The dad glanced down at Ricky, then returned his attention to the captain and with a nod, said, “He got his message across.”


Hank smiled as he lowered himself down in front of Ricky, where they’d stopped in the dormroom. “That took a lot of courage to stand up in front of your classmates and admit you did something wrong, son.”


Ricky shook his head ‘yes’ in agreement.


The captain’s smile widened. “Well, I’m really proud of you. I’m sure my men are, too.” He glanced up and the rest of the crew chimed in with their approvals and ‘that-a-boys’.


Ricky finally looked genuinely happy. He was obviously proud of the praise he was getting for being brave and admitting he’d done something wrong. Since other adults had told him the same thing, it was easier to take as sincere now. His short-lived distrust in the firemen was already gone.


Johnny nudged Roy in the side with his elbow. “Looks like Ricky and I both learned somethin’ thanks to that culvert.”


Roy waited for him to say more.


“Ricky figured out that not bein’ invisible has its advantages.”


“And you?”


“I learned that next time I’m in a tight spot and someone says they’ve lost a knife,” he said with a snorted laugh. “Ta hold___ still.”


Roy just shook his head. It was great to have his sometimes quirky partner back.




Note: Although I researched peritonitis and stab wounds, the medical information in this story is not 100% factual and accurate. I applied a little fiction for story purposes. :o)  I want to thank my friend Ross for her encouragement on this one. I had a blast!  :o) 


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