For E!lf :o)
By Audrey W.
John Gage sat in the ICU and watched the patient in the bed nearby. It seemed like it had been weeks that he’d been coming here on his days off, but in reality it had only been ten days.
Ten days. . .
How long would it be before he knew if he would ever be partnered with Roy DeSoto again? He looked at the unconscious blond paramedic with the white bandaging wrapped around his head like a cap. He then shifted his gaze to the monitor showing the steady rhythm of his heart, the IV line attached to his left arm, and respirator breathing for him, providing the oxygen support his brain and body needed to heal.
Johnny sighed as he recalled how it had all begun with one phone call.
******* ********* *******
John woke to a ringing sound. Without opening his eyes, the paramedic reached over to hit the snooze button on his battery operated alarm clock.
The sound didn’t stop.
The phone. . .
He opened his bleary eyes to slits and moved his hand over to the phone on the night stand.
“Lo?” Gage croaked into the mouthpiece once he had the receiver in place.
“Johnny, this is Joanne.”
“Joanne. . .?”
Suddenly he was bolt upright in the bed. The only Joanne he knew who’d be calling him was Roy DeSoto’s wife. Even then it would only be for one reason. Something was wrong.
“I’m sorry to wake you up.”
“No, no, It’s okay.” He turned on the lamp that also was on the night stand, then glanced at the clock after rubbing at his still tired eyes. It was only two o’clock in the morning. “Are you at home?”
Johnny didn’t like the pause, but he didn’t push. He figured he’d give her a brief time to say what she needed to when she felt ready.
“We’re. . .we’re at Rampart. Johnny, it’s Roy. He’s. . .he’s in surgery.”
With the receiver still in one hand, he shoved the covers off with the other, then swung his legs over the side of the bed. As he got to his feet he told her, “I’ll be right there.”
“Are you sure?”
Was he sure? He’d like to see anyone try to stop him from going. Obviously Joanne wasn’t thinking clearly, likely her mind all over the place since she’d probably been woken up in the middle of the night as well with shocking news about her husband.
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He replaced the receiver in its cradle and scrambled to the closet. The shirtless paramedic grabbed a pair of jeans off a hanger with one hand, then hurried over to his dresser where his t-shirts were in a drawer.
Within minutes he was on his way out the door, keys to his Land Rover in hand.
On the way over, Johnny was able to keep his focus on the task of driving, but his mind still wandered.
He and Roy were supposed to be back on duty together again when his vacation came to an end in two days. Not now. He wondered who Roy had been partnered with this shift. Was it someone reliable? Someone he’d trust with his own life?
That wasn’t fair of him, and he knew it as soon as the thoughts came to mind. Without even knowing the circumstances, he shouldn’t question anyone else’s ability or try to place blame.
Johnny glanced up at the red light he’d stopped at.
“C’mon, c’mon,” he urged.
It changed to green and Gage continued on with more than a sense of urgency.
When he got to Rampart, Johnny rushed from the parking area into the building. Though sometimes he’d see colleagues he knew really well on the overnight shift when he and Roy brought in a victim, it wasn’t the case at the moment. Maybe that’s who was taking care of Roy.
He immediately made his way to the elevator at the end of the corridor. It seemed to take forever for it to make it down to the first floor and open. But once on board, he only had to get to the second floor.
When the doors opened, Johnny quickly made his way down the hall. He peeked inside a waiting room nearby. Joanne was seated in a cushioned chair with a tissue in one hand. Her eyes were red from crying.
He’d never seen her so upset. He was almost afraid to ask.
“Is he . . .”
“He’s still in surgery.”
The dark-haired paramedic’s shoulders visibly relaxed. It was better news than what he’d feared.
As he took a seat beside her, he asked, “What happened? Did anyone tell you?”
She nodded. “They were at a warehouse fire. He was searching for a victim inside . . .one of the overnight employees or something. . . when a large portion of the second floor came down on him.” Her voice caught in a sob. She wiped at her eyes as she continued. “He’s got a collapsed lung. He’s bleeding internally. I was told he hadn’t regained consciousness when they took him in for surgery.” She looked at the friend beside her again. “Johnny, what if he doesn’t make it? What will I tell the kids? I mean, I’ve prepared for the worst since he started with the fire department. I knew anything could happen on any given day. But now that it’s here. . .”
He reached out with his right arm and put it around her shoulders. “Roy’s strong. He’s a fighter. He’ll pull through.”
He couldn’t help but wish he’d been there with Roy, just as the older paramedic had been right there to get him out of a jam when a ceiling gave way, raining down on him and a security guard he was in the process of rescuing. Roy had braved flames with no support from a hose crew to save his and the guard’s life.
All he could do now was hope he was right. The only thing that allowed doubt to creep in was thoughts of Drew Burke. He’d been a friend of Johnny’s. Drew was strong, too. He wasn’t one to give up, but internal injuries had been too much for the motorcycle cop to survive after being in a serious traffic accident.
Gage shoved that thought away. No, he wasn’t going to lose another close friend. No way.
“Here ya go. With two sugars.”
Johnny handed Joanne the styrofoam cup of coffee with a white plastic lid on it.
She gave a weak smile as she accepted it. “Thank you.”
The dark-haired paramedic sat down in his chair again, a cup of coffee for himself in hand. He didn’t need it to keep him awake. The news on Roy would likely keep him up from now through the day and well into the next night. But it was something to hold onto, to keep him from fidgeting. Joanne was anxious enough without him adding to it by displaying his uneasiness.
The dark brew was also something to pass time with. Time that was moving much too slow. The past thirty minutes felt like hours.
He’d used the time to keep Joanne busy talking in hopes she’d forget about the minutes as they passed by slowly. As a result, he’d found out that Tom Wheeler was Roy’s partner on this shift. As annoying as Wheeler could be at times, Johnny had to admit, he’d trust the man with his own life. He’d trust him to look out for Roy during a rescue. He was sure that it was just a bad deal that Roy was in the wrong place when the ceiling gave way.
He’d also been told that the DeSotos’ neighbor was taking care of their young son and daughter. Priscilla Baker had told Joanne if she ever got the dreaded call, be it in the middle of the day or night, to contact her and she’d be over as soon as she could to get the kids. If she couldn’t be there right away, it was possible her husband would.
“So is your neighbor going to keep Chris and Jennifer for the day too?”
Joanne nodded. “If I need her to.”
“That’s good. That’s good,” he repeated.
“What’ll I tell them if their daddy doesn’t make it?”
His thoughts returned to his friend Drew. The cop had left behind a wife and little girl. Johnny would never forget the pain and sorrow on either’s face when he broke the news to them. He was even closer to Joanne, Chris and Jennifer.
Roy had to pull through. He had to.
He’s going to. . .
On that thought, Gage excused himself as he went in search of an update on his partner and best friend, for his and Joanne’s sake.
Johnny wasn’t able to get much information on Roy’s condition the first time he’d sought it nor a couple of other times after that. But if it meant full attention on Roy in the operating room, he’d take waiting and there was no question Joanne would agree.
The petite brunette glanced sympathetically at the weary paramedic in the chair beside her. She didn’t have to ask what he was thinking. It would be the same if it were Roy beside her and the two were waiting on word about Johnny. Roy would’ve been wishing he’d been at the scene and wondering if it would have changed the outcome if he had been.
“It’s not easy being on the waiting end.”
Johnny gave her a solemn look, then shook his head. “No, no it’s not.”
“I’ve lost track of how many times Roy’s come home with stories about how he’d thought he almost lost you. Whether it was just a close call at a rescue or waiting for word at Rampart. He said it never gets easier.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “I just never realized how hard it would be.”
First Johnny was surprised. Yeah, he’d known he put his partner through a lot of stress when he nearly died from a virus he’d gotten from a victim’s pet monkey; and when he’d nearly lost his life to a rattlesnake bite at the end of a rescue. But he had no idea Roy was affected enough by a few other close calls that he’d taken the worry home with him.
Enough to talk about it with Joanne!
Then came another realization. Until she’d brought up that they hadn’t had to go through this with Roy before, Johnny hadn’t given the comparison much thought. But she was right. Other than a bout of tonsillitis and a minor injury here and there, so far Roy had managed to stay pretty safe.
Until now. . . he reminded himself.
He’d take being on the other end of the deal anytime over this. Especially since he didn’t have a wife and kids to put through the scare as well.
Finally Roy was out of surgery and in recovery, soon to be on his way to a room in ICU a few floors above. Johnny and Joanne listened as Doctor Early, who’d been in the operating room, explained his current condition to them.
Johnny processed the information in his mind while he also wondered how long it would be before they could see the injured paramedic.
Pneumothorax. A tube had been inserted into Roy’s chest to allow air to escape from the pleural cavity so that the lung could re-inflate.
Three fractured ribs. Only time could heal those.
A lacerated liver. They’d been able to stitch it up once they’d found the cause of the internal bleeding. However, he’d lost a lot of blood and needed transfusions. He’d also need to be monitored closely for any signs of infection.
Fractured skull. Brain edema. It was a hairline fracture, but the evidence of swelling of his brain was more than unsettling. Roy would be put in a chemically induced coma to give his brain time to heal. For how long, nobody knew.
When Early finished with his update, a very solemn John Gage asked for both he and Joanne, “Doc, how long before we can see ‘im?”
The doctor understood that seeing Roy was going to be the best medicine for both Joanne and John Gage, even as rough as DeSoto looked.
“As soon as they get him settled in. I’ll let you know,” he promised.
“Thank you,” Joanne added.
She didn’t sit down to wait. Johnny didn’t either. The two stood near the doorway, his right arm securely around her shoulders.
******* ********* *******
So here he was, ten days later, and things hadn’t improved enough to know the outcome. Yes, the swelling in Roy’s brain had gone down enough that they were backing off on the pentobarbital, the barbiturate that was used to induce the coma.
Would Roy have the full mental capacity to still be a paramedic? Or had there been too much of an injury? His lung was fine and the slight infection he’d gotten from the liver injury was cleared up with antibiotics. His fractured ribs were on the mend. It all was going to depend on how he came out of the head injury.
Johnny thought back to an earlier time he nearly had lost Roy as a partner. It wasn’t due to injury then. It was when a doctor blamed Roy for the death of his patient, which started the senior paramedic on a guilt trip of major proportions. He almost quit the paramedic program, until a house fire with the rescue of a little boy and the family dog reminded Roy of why he became one to begin with.
Johnny smiled at the remembrance of how he’d gone on and on all the way back to the station, telling Roy why he should stay at Station 51 and remain a paramedic. It wasn’t till they got back that Roy revealed he’d made up his mind to stay before Johnny made his point.
The dark-haired off-duty paramedic sighed, a crooked smirk on his face, when he thought about the two pennies Roy put on the hood of the squad that night. It was after he’d jokingly stated that for two cents, he’d transfer, once it became apparent Roy had gotten the best of him.
Would they have anymore times like that? He sure as hell hoped so.
Johnny reached in his right jean pocket and felt for some change. He pulled out a dime, two nickels and three pennies. He picked the two cents out, then put the rest back in his pocket.
“Remember when you put the two pennies on the hood of the squad? You even topped Chet with that one.”
He looked at the two coins in the palm of his right hand.
“Man, what I wouldn’t give to get your ‘two cents worth’ now.”
He shifted his gaze to his friend and gave a wan smile.
“Ya know, we really make a good team. Joanne even says so. Right now, I’m workin’ with Wheeler. The only downside is he still attracts a lot of publicity. I don’ know how you stood it. It’d be all right if he’d share the spotlight. Thing is, he kinda finds a way to make it on camera while I’m busy or no longer around.” He snorted a slight laugh. “I’m guessin’ you already know that, too.”
What could he tell Roy that he wouldn’t already know? Only one thing.
“You know that time you were thinkin’ of taking the promotion to engineer? I didn’t tell ya then, but I was really relieved. . .no, more than that. . .happy and relieved. . .that you decided not to take it after all. All that talk about bein’ ready for a new partner? I wasn’t. Not in the least. I just didn’t wanna influence your decision. Not that I necessarily would,” he shrugged. “I know ultimately it was between you and Joanne. But, you know, I didn’t need to plant any doubt in your head.”
What was going on in that head?
“How’s he doing?” Johnny asked when he came by Roy’s room for another visit. He was dressed in uniform, having just gotten off duty.
Joanne was seated in a chair beside the bed, her right hand in Roy’s left. He was off the respirator. He now had a nasal cannula. His eyes were barely open.
“Better. He’s still in and out of it. But Doctor Early was just in here a short time ago and he responded well to the commands the doctor gave him.”
She smiled at Roy when she felt him lightly squeeze her hand. His right lifted partially off the bed, as if to wave to Johnny. It was the first time he’d been awake with his co-worker in the room. The very small but significant motion brought tears to Joanne’s eyes and a stunned smile to Johnny’s face.
“Hey, partner,” Gage said as he gave a brief wave back. “It’s good to see ya.”
Roy mouthed something, though neither was sure what. He then closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
The two visitors kept their attention on him, as if trying to will him back awake. After a few moments, they glanced at one another.
“It’s a good sign, don’t you think?” Joanne questioned.
Johnny nodded. “I’m no expert, but I’m gonna take it as one.”
He’d take what ever little bit they got. He reached in his pant pocket and pulled out the two pennies he’d been carrying around for a few days now. Sooner or later he was going to get those ‘two cents worth’ from Roy. He just knew it.
“Good mornin’,” Johnny said when he saw Roy’s eyes flutter open.
It was late in the morning and he’d already been there two hours, waiting for his friend to wake up. It was about the fourth time in the past couple of days that Roy had seen him. But those moments had just been glimpses through an inner fog. Now there appeared to be some clarity in the blue eyes, though Roy was obviously still groggy.
“I’ll bet you were hopin’ to see someone else sittin’ here, huh? Don’t worry, Joanne’ll be here soon. Jennifer had to get a birthday present for a friend, and of course, like any little kid, waited till the day of the party to decide what she wanted to get ‘er.”
He paused when he saw an ever so slight grin play on Roy’s lips. It was a reaction that brought a huge smile to Gage’s face.
“Oh, you find that funny? Wait’ll Jo hears,” he teased.
He wished Joanne was there with them.
Roy briefly glanced around his immediate surroundings by just moving his eyes. He then quietly mumbled, “Wha. . .hap. . .pened . . .?”
Johnny sighed. He pressed the buzzer to call for a nurse, then explained things to Roy, keeping it as brief as he could. The only interruption was to tell the responding nurse she may want to page Doctor Early.
When the doctor arrived, Johnny stepped back to allow him room to examine the recovering paramedic.
Recovering, Gage thought to himself.
Roy’s condition was improving at a good pace. Now the question remained, how far?
“Guess what I just heard,” Johnny said as he entered Roy’s room. “You’re getting outta here. As in this room, anyway,” he added with a lopsided grin. “Good deal, huh?”
Roy’s condition had continued to improve each day. Both the amount of time he was alert, plus his recollection of things in his daily life. He had lost all memory of the incident in which he got injured, along with the few days leading up to it. But that was expected.
Now he was even able to sit up in bed, with the end of it raised in support.
“Good,” Roy responded. “I could use different scenery. I think Joanne can, too. When she was here earlier, I woke up and she’d fallen asleep in the chair.”
Of course both men knew that was really due to just plain being tired from everything, including taking care of two young ones on her own when at home.
Johnny glanced around the room. He sure could use the change, too, though.
“Hey, partner,” Johnny happily greeted as he came into Roy’s hospital room. “Don’t look now, but I think Joanne and Dixie are planning your ‘release party’.”
Roy looked at his visitor in surprise as the younger man took a seat in the chair a few feet from the side of the bed.
“Sounds like it. Not sure when it’ll be, but they’re workin’ on it.”
“I don’t recall you ever having to go through a release party. How come I have to?”
“Because I don’t have a spouse to conspire with Dixie. ‘Sides, I’ve been ‘released’ often enough, it’s just become routine.”
“That’s true,” Roy agreed.
It was then Johnny recalled what Joanne had told him. About the worry he’d put his partner through so many times.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry about all that, by the way.”
“You know,” Johnny said, shifting uncomfortably in the chair. This was more awkward than he thought it would be. No wonder Roy never brought up the subject himself. “Uhm, all those times I put you. . .uh. . . through the worry and all. When I ___got ___hurt,” he finally finished.
Roy looked at him in question.
“Joanne,” Gage explained.
“When did that come up?”
“The first night. When she called me and I came to Rampart. We were talkin’ about being on the flipside.” He sat up straight, on the edge of the seat. “I promise I’ll try ta make it easier on ya.. From now on, no more cartin’ me into the ER,” he assured as he waved his hand across in a cutting motion.
“So how many times have you been ‘carted in’ since I’ve been in here?”
Johnny gave a wan grin and shrugged. “I said from now on.”
Of course he knew it wasn’t usually in his control, but he’d sincerely try to keep his promise.
He thought about the pennies in his pocket that he was still carrying around. But the little bit they opened up was ‘two cents worth’ enough for him for now. Bottom line was, Roy would be back as a paramedic, as his partner, once he had recovered completely.
It had been a long month of being on the flipside of things. It felt like an eternity since he’d gotten that middle-of-the-night phone call from Joanne. He hoped it would be an eternity before he’d ever get another.
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