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NOTE TO READERS: THIS IS THE LONGEST ONE YET. I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT. :)
“C’mon Roy...don’t do this man!” Johnny continued with the chest compressions on his best friend, a mixture of sweat and blood dripping onto his clasped hands. His head throbbed.
“Let me take over for awhile Johnny,” Chet offered, after he had given Roy some breaths.
“No, I can...do it…” Johnny’s head swam. He had to save Roy. He couldn’t let him die.
“Johnny, you are exhausted. Let me take over.” Chet gave Roy 2 more breaths.
“NO Chet!” Johnny yelled, his mouth set in a firm line of determination.
“Help should be here any minute. You’re bleeding and exhausted, c’mon man...I can take over,” Chet put a gentle hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
Johnny’s vision blurred. He blinked it away, sweat and blood running into his eyes, down his face, and dripping onto Roy’s chest. He could not give up...he had to keep going...this was his fault. He squeezed his eyes shut as he continued compressions, his arms beginning to shake. When he opened them again, there was a loud roaring in his ears, his vision faded to pinpoints, and he collapsed on top of Roy.
Chet gently moved Johnny to the side and began taking over compressions. A very short time later the rescue crews came upon the fallen men and began removing some of the debris to give them more room to work. The fire had been put out and what had remained was a partially collapsed, charred house.
Paramedics from squad 18, Bill and Larry, were among the men that came to help.
“What happened?” Cap asked as the paramedics took over compressions on Roy and quickly checked Johnny’s pulse. Bill contacted rampart.
Chet knelt back, trying to catch his breath. “We were clearing the building and were about to exit when Johnny thought he heard a kid crying. We went to this end of the hall to check it out when some of the ceiling came down on us. Roy got hit in the chest with a beam and Johnny got whacked on the head with another one. He did CPR on Roy until just a few minutes ago, then he collapsed. I don’t see how he stayed on his feet as long as he did.”
“Did you find a kid?” Cap asked, concerned.
Cap’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
While Chet was explaining the ordeal to Cap, Dr. Early had ordered Roy to be defibrillated. After 2 tries, and surrounded by very nervous men, he had a normal heart rhythm. Dr. Early ordered IVs and oxygen. Some of the men loaded Roy onto a stokes and took him out of smoldering building.
Larry then knelt next to Johnny and began assessing his condition. The gash on his head continued to bleed. Larry cleaned the blood out of Johnny’s eyes and wrapped his head in bandages. Johnny began to stir.
“Roy? Is that...you?” He tried to clear his vision, but everything began to spin and he knew he was going to be sick.
Larry gently turned him and he vomited.
“Take it easy Johnny,” Larry soothed, “ it’s me...Larry. Roy was just taken out of the building and you’re next.”
“Oh shit!” Johnny remembered what had happened and tried to sit up, but Larry pushed him down again.
“He’s dead isn’t he?” Johnny felt his stomach do a flip.
Cap knelt down next to them. “We got him back Pal. Now take it easy and let’s get you out of here.”
“It’s my fault…” Johnny said quietly, his head continuing to pound.
Johnny was loaded into the ambulance next to Roy. He wanted to get up and help with Roy’s care, but Cap insisted that he stay in the stokes and take it easy, which is the last thing that he wanted to do.
Johnny could see Bill closely monitoring Roy’s vitals, the IV dripping into his arm. He could also see the electrodes on Roy’s chest, monitoring his heart rate, and the large bruise that was forming there. Roy’s shallow breaths caused the oxygen mask to fog with each exhale. Johnny thanked God that Roy was still breathing at all.
“Roy?” Johnny called weakly from his side of the ambulance. He stretched a hand out to him but he couldn’t quite reach him. Besides, Bill was blocking his way.
Bill turned to Johnny. “He can’t hear you Johnny. Don’t worry, he’s holding his own,” he said with a small smile.
Suddenly the ambulance lurched into motion and so did Johnny’s stomach. Bill could tell by the look on Johnny’s face what was about to happen and he turned him onto his side. Luckily for Bill, nothing was left in Johnny’s stomach. He dry heaved over and over until he was finally done. His head feeling as if a knife was stuck in his skull.
“Sorry…” Johnny muttered as he lay back and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Don’t worry about it...try to take it easy. I am going to contact Rampart again.”
“Rampart, this is squad 18, how do you read?”
“Go ahead squad 18.”
“Rampart, victim 2 has vomited again and is in considerable pain.”
Suddenly, as Bill was waiting for Rampart’s reply, Roy’s heart rhythm became abnormal.
“Hold on Rampart, victim one is throwing PVC’s.”
Johnny’s eyes flew open and he sat up, ripped out his IV and knelt next to Roy, all the while swallowing frequently trying not to vomit again.
“Johnny, what the hell are you doing?!” Bill demanded. “You need to go lay down!”
“No, Roy needs me!” Johnny panted, clinging to Roy’s stokes so he wouldn’t fall over.
“Squad 18, what is going on there?” Rampart questioned.
Meanwhile, back at the site of the fire, the crew was doing clean-up. Cap was once again questioned Chet about the incident.
“Are you sure Johnny said that he heard a kid?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said.”
“That is not like Johnny to make a mistake like that,” Cap said with concern.
“I know Cap, but I guess we all make mistakes sometimes, even Johnny.”
“Yeah and if Roy doesn’t survive Johnny will never forgive himself,” Cap frowned.
Once Roy’s heart rhythm was back to normal, Johnny still refused to lay back down and clung onto Roy’s hand, sweat trickling down his face as the ambulance backed into the bay.
The attendants opened the door of the ambulance and unloaded Roy. Johnny staggered to the door and attempted to jump down, only he didn’t quite stick the landing and ended up on his hands and knees.
Bill grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet.
“Johnny, let’s get you on a gurney,” he suggested.
“No! I’m fine!” He said, pulling his arm roughly out of Bill’s grasp.
Bill rolled his eyes and ran to catch up with Roy’s gurney.
Johnny staggered in behind them doing the best he could to keep up.
Dr. Morton walked down the hall in time to see Roy being whisked into treatment 1 with Bill quickly following behind. Staggering behind them was Johnny, his head thickly bandaged with blood seeping through. His face beaded in sweat, and covered in soot and blood. His arm was bleeding from where he ripped out his IV. He was filthy from head to toe.
“What the hell?” Morton questioned as he ran to Johnny’s side.
Johnny looked at him as if he did not know who he was.
“Gage! What the hell? You need to be on a gurney. What is wrong with you?! Dixie! I need some help over here!” He grabbed Johnny’s arm.
Dixie grabbed a gurney and quickly made her way to Johnny’s side.
“Got to help...Roy...my fault…” Johnny muttered and then his knees buckled, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he blacked out. Morton and Dixie managed to catch him and get him on the gurney. They then made their way into treatment room 2.
It was several hours later that Johnny came to. He slowly opened his eyes to see the familiar surroundings of a treatment room at Rampart, with Dixie smiling sweetly at him. His head felt like it was being split in two with an axe.
“Hey tiger,” she smiled, “it’s about time you woke up. You don’t have a skull fracture, but you do have 15 stitches, as well as a concussion. How do you feel?”
He licked his dry lips, his head feeling like it was being torn apart. “Hurts...what happened?”
“You were in a fire when part of the ceiling came down and…”
Before she had time to finish, he remembered.
“Roy!” He then bolted upright. Suddenly the room spun wildly and he stated to dry heave again.
“Johnny! You need to rest! Roy is doing ok...now calm down and I will tell you… but first I need to give you something to help your stomach. Dr. Morton told me if you were sick again, this might help.” She inserted some meds into his IV port to help with nausea.
Johnny laid down and squeezed his eyes shut. “Please, tell me about Roy...please...tell me the truth.”
Dixie could tell he was in a lot of pain both physically and emotionally. She took his hand.
“Roy is in ICU. He has had a normal heart rhythm since he was brought in but they are keeping a close eye on him. The last I knew, he was not awake yet. Sometimes with a blow to the chest like that, you can continue to have an irregular heartbeat which is why he needs to be closely watched. He does have some cracked ribs as well.”
“It’s my fault.” Johnny stated flatly, pulling his hand away from hers. “I don’t deserve to have you be so nice to me. He might die and it’s because I thought I heard something that wasn’t even there.” Tears formed in his eyes as he looked at her. “You can leave now. I will be ok.”
She saw the despair in his eyes. “Johnny, you were just doing your job...you…”
“Stop!” He interrupted her, his head pounding, “I don’t want to hear it...please...just go…”
Dixie knew he was upset, but he was also being rude and she did not appreciate being treated that way.
“Now you listen to me John Gage,” Dixie began firmly, “just because you are feeling guilty about what happened doesn’t mean you have permission to be rude to me, or anyone else. The rest of the guys want to come see you and I believe that you should let them and be polite!”
“No...I don’t want to see them...please tell them to leave me alone.”
“Fine...you stay here and feel sorry for yourself...Dr. Morton will be in soon to check on you again.” With that, she turned and made her way out of the treatment room.
Johnny nodded curtly, but did not look at her as she walked out the door.
A short while later, Johnny stared at the white rectangular lights on the ceiling in his hospital room, replaying over and over in his mind how he and Roy had ended up there, wishing he could change what had happened...
The family had been removed from the burning home but just as Roy and Johnny were about to exit the building, Johnny thought he heard a child crying at the end of the hallway, possibly in a bedroom. Chet was at the opposite end of the hallway, manning the house.
“Did you hear that?” Johnny yelled to Roy through his mask.
“No, what is it?”
“I think I hear a kid crying, I’m going to go check it out!”
Roy nodded and started to follow Johnny. While they were talking, Chet noticed how unstable the ceiling was starting to become.
“Guys! Roy! Johnny!” He yelled. They couldn’t hear him. He put down the hose and jogged down the hall to join them.
“We need to get out of here! The ceiling!” He pointed up.
Roy nodded, “I know but Johnny hears a kid. Let’s check it out!”
“I think it was from here,” Johnny said as he made his way into the last bedroom down the hallway. Chet and Roy followed, the room filled with smoke, but no flames. Together, they searched the room.
“I don’t see anything!” Chet yelled, “We need to get out of here!”
“Alright,” Johnny admitted but he could have sworn he heard a kid earlier.
As they were making their way down the hallway towards the exit, there was a loud groan, then a portion of the ceiling crashed down upon them. Chet, who was first, managed to miss getting hit by any debris, but Roy and Johnny were not so lucky.
Chet looked back in time to see a beam strike Roy squarely in the chest and knock him flat on his back. Johnny received a glancing, but powerful blow, to the front of his head, knocking him off of his feet as well. Both men lay still.
“Johnny! Roy!” Chet yelled, racing to their side, clearing away the debris to reach them.
Johnny was moaning and gingerly touched his forehead. A large gash across his eyebrow and part of his forehead was already flowing freely with blood. His helmet lay beside him, knocked off by the beam. He struggled to sit up, removing his mask as he did so.
“Johnny!” Chet raced to his side, supporting his back.
“Man...what happened?” He asked, trying to blink away his blurred vision.
“ The ceiling came down. Take it easy. I’ll call for help once I check on Roy.”
“Roy?” Johnny asked, forcing himself to become more alert. “Where is he?!” He struggled get up, his head throbbing, blood running down his face. Together he and Chet went to check out Roy.
Roy was out cold. Johnny felt for a pulse and was shocked to find out there wasn’t one!
“He doesn’t have a pulse! Dammit!” Johnny and Chet quickly removed Roy’s gear and then began CPR.
Joanne stood by Roy’s bed in the ICU gently holding his hand, tears in her eyes. Roy was hooked up to numerous tubes, wires and IVs. He looked so still and lifeless, the oxygen mask still resting against his pale face.
Dr. Brackett stood by, looking at his chart. “Looks like his heart rhythm has been normal since they brought him in,” he said with a small smile. “That is a good sign.”
“So do you think he will be ok?” She asked hopefully.
“Well, we need to keep a close eye on him. Hopefully he will regain consciousness soon and will continue with the normal heart rhythm. Dr. Unser, our cardiologist, will be here soon to examine him.”
“How is Johnny?” Joanne asked, concerned. She cared for Johnny like he was a little brother. He was a member of the family after all.
“I have not had a chance to see him myself, but from what I was told he has a moderate concussion and is awake if you’d like to see him. But I also heard he is not in the best of moods.”
Joanne nodded and smiled slightly. “If I know Johnny, he is blaming himself for Roy’s condition…what did happen anyway?”
“I heard something about a ceiling collapse but that’s all I really know. I have been swamped...guess best thing to do is ask him.”
“I will do that. Thanks doctor.”
“Sure thing...I’ll be back soon to check on him again.” He gave her a small smile and made his way out of the ICU.
“That twit!” Cap said to Dixie in the waiting room of Rampart. “What do you mean he doesn’t want to see us?”
“Yeah, why is he being so stubborn?” Chet wondered out loud. “It was an accident.”
“I think we should go see him anyway,” Marco encouraged. Mike nodded in agreement.
“That might not be a good idea guys,” Dixie began, “he is really blaming himself. It is probably best to let him cool down. Give him a day or 2 and then try again.”
Reluctantly, the men agreed and asked Dixie about Roy’s condition.
“He is holding his own. Now we are just waiting for him to wake up. Hopefully that will happen soon. You can go see him if you’d like, but only 2 at a time since he is in ICU. Joanne is with him now.”
“Sounds good, thanks Dix,” Cap said. Cap knew Dixie was right and he knew how stubborn Johnny could be. He also knew it was not like Johnny to make a mistake in a fire like that. He was one of the best rescue men in the county. If there really wasn’t a kid trapped in that fire, no wonder he was taking it so hard. Cap would give Johnny some time to himself, but after that he was going to go see him, whether he liked it or not.
“Just leave me alone! You don’t need to keep checking on me...I’m fine,” Johnny said gruffly to the nurse trying to take his vitals.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gage, but I need to…”
“Get out!!” Johnny screamed at her. Distraught, the young nurse gathered her supplies and quickly left the room.
Johnny’s head burned and throbbed. He was still dizzy and slightly nauseous but he wasn’t about to admit that to anyone. He didn’t deserve anyone to help him. He almost killed his best friend. Heck, Roy still might die.
Johnny didn’t want anyone checking on him, not the nurse, doctors or his crew mates. He wanted and needed to be alone. He glanced down and saw the IV still attached to his arm. He reached over and roughly ripped out the needle, blood seeping from the wound. He pushed aside the covers and swung his legs over the bed. The room began to spin, his head aching. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the room to stop spinning. He slightly opened his eyes. It was still spinning, but not quite as much. He stood up and staggered to the door. He cracked it open and peeked down the hall. Coast was clear. He would make his way to the supply closet and try to find some scrubs to slip on.
He made his way quietly down the hall, keeping his hand braced against the wall, trying to keep his balance. Finally, he slipped into the supply closet. He wiggled out of the patient gown and grabbed some scrubs. He tried to balance on one foot to get the pants on, but he couldn’t do it. Exhausted and dizzy, he had to sit down to get them on.
“Dammit!” He wished the dizziness would go away. He wanted to get out of there as quickly as he could.
At last, he was dressed. He cracked open the door to peek in the hall once again. Coming down the hallway, were 2 nurses, engaged in conversation that Johnny could not help but hear as they passed by the closet.
“You know a similar thing happened to my cousin,” one of them was saying, “he got hit in the chest in a work accident and he was never the same again. In fact, he could never return to work and has a weak heart.”
“Oh how terrible,” the other nurse replied sadly.
Johnny quietly shut the door and slumped to the floor.
If Roy lived he would probably never work again. He had either killed him or destroyed his life, over something that wasn’t even there! Johnny rested his throbbing head on his knees and cried.
Joanne had left Roy’s cubicle in ICU and was determined to go visit Johnny, whether he wanted her there or not.
She knew he was in room 212 which was one floor below the ICU. She made her way to the elevator.
Once she was at his door, she gently knocked and peeked in, just in case he was sleeping. But instead of Johnny she found an empty bed with a few drops of blood splattered on the floor. She checked the restroom but that was also empty.
She quickly made her way to the nurse’s station.
“Excuse me, do you know where John Gage is? He wasn’t released was he?”
“Of course not ma’am, has a pretty serious concussion. He was in his room a short time ago. Maybe he’s in the restroom?” The nurse questioned.
“No, I looked,” Joanne admitted.
Both women once again looked around the empty room.
At that moment, Dr. Brackett came around the corner, heading towards Johnny’s room and were met with the confused women in the hallway.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Dr. Brackett,” the nurse began, “John Gage is missing.”
“About 30 minutes ago I went to take his vitals and he yelled at me and kicked me out of the room, so I left. I assumed he was still in there.”
“Why didn’t you page me?” Bracket scowled. “You can’t let a patient order you around, especially someone who needs to be monitored closely with a head injury, like this patient. Now let’s see if anyone has seen him. Hopefully he didn’t go far. Joanne, do you think he might have gone to see Roy?”
“I don’t know, I just came from there and didn’t see him, unless he went a different way. Do you think he’s ok?”
“You never know with Johnny,” Brackett admitted. “But from what Dr. Morton told me, he’s in no condition to be out of bed. Let’s just hope we find him soon.”
Johnny pushed himself up from the floor, his eyes red and puffy. He wiped at them with the back of his hand and once again peeked out into the hallway. His head pounded to the rhythm of his heart.
He cracked open the door and peeked down the hall to see Dr. Brackett, the nurse, and Joanne talking about something, probably him. Once they all had their backs to him and were walking away, he slipped his way out of the closet and made his way to the stairwell. He figured there was a less of a chance running into anyone, instead of taking his chances in the elevator.
He clung to the handrail with both hands as he began to descend the 2 floors. It was a slow process with the dizziness and aching head. One floor down, one more to go. He was halfway down the stairs when he lost his footing and tumbled the rest of the way, head over heels.
He lay there at the bottom, panting in pain.
“Shit!” He groaned and gingerly touched his head. He could feel blood seeping through the bandage. He glanced at his elbow, seeing a large scrape along his arm, beading with blood. ‘Well at least no broken bones this time,’ he thought to himself.
He pushed himself up and fought the dizziness. Finally, he managed to make his way to an exit normally used for deliveries, trying to avoid as many people as he could.
On his way, he passed a delivery man who eyed him with concern. “Doc, you ok? You’re bleeding.”
“Huh?”Johnny asked confused, as to why he was being called doc, then remembered he had on scrubs.
“Oh yeah, fine...going to get cleaned up now…thanks.”
Finally, he made his way out into the parking lot, staggering as he walked. He tried to stay on his feet.
‘I need to get out of here. Roy is going to hate me. The guys won’t trust me. They don’t deserve to work with me. Heck, I don’t blame them.’
At last, he hailed a cab. He opened the back door and slid in the back seat with a groan.
The driver eyed him suspiciously. “Are you ok? You are bleeding quite a bit there.” He said pointing to his arm.
Johnny glanced down and saw the blood was running down his arm and dripping onto his scrubs.
“Yeah, uhh...sorry...just tripped in the parking lot. Got any napkins or something?”
“Sure,” the driver replied, and handed Johnny a bunch.
“Looks like your head is bleeding too. Are you sure you want to leave? Looks like you should go back in. Are you a doctor?”
“Look,” Johnny said frustrated, his arm burning and his head throbbing. “I appreciate your concern, but just drive please. I’m fine.”
The driver shrugged his shoulders and drove to the address Johnny gave him, which was Johnny’s apartment. Occasionally, he would glance in his rearview mirror and see Johnny with his eyes squeezed shut, holding his head.
“Are you sure you’re ok mister?”
“Fine!” Johnny answered, without opening his eyes. He was afraid if he did, he would puke all over the back seat of the cab.
At last, he was at his address.
“Just wait here,” Johnny panted, swallowing frequently. He could feel himself breaking out in a sweat. “I need to get money inside.”
“No, we’re cool man...you need to rest. This one is on me. Will you be ok?”
“Thanks man...yeah...thanks again.” Johnny stumbled out of the cab and managed to wait until it drove away before he doubled over and vomited on the sidewalk.
Roy began to stir. He could hear the beep-beep of the heart monitor. His chest ached and his ribs throbbed. He could feel someone gently holding his hand.
“Roy? Can you hear me sweetheart?”
Roy cracked open his eyes to see Joanne on one side and Dr. Brackett on the other.
“How are you feeling Roy?” Dr. Brackett asked with concern.
Roy took a painful breath. “Chest hurts...a lot,” he whispered. “What...happened?”
“You were in a building collapse and got hit in the chest with a beam. They had to do CPR on you for quite some time. We have Dr. Unser, our cardiologist monitoring your progress. He will be in to talk to you later.”
“I’m so happy you are ok sweetheart,” Joanne said with teary eyes. “I was so worried.”
“How is… Johnny? And Chet?” Roy asked winded and concerned.
“Chet didn’t have a scratch and Johnny has a concussion and some stitches but will be fine.” Dr. Brackett stated. He did not go into detail about Johnny missing and he gave Joanne a warning glance not to say anything either. Roy needed to rest, and not worry about his friend.
“Thank God,” Roy whispered softly. “I’m really...tired…”
“You have been through alot Roy and you need to heal. Go ahead and sleep. You need to,” Dr. Brackett added.
Joanne held his hand as Roy slipped into a healing sleep.
“What do you mean he is not here?” Cap asked the nurse on duty as he stood outside Johnny’s room.
“I’m sorry, but I guess he left. When we went to check on him, he was gone.”
“What kind of hospital just lets their patients wander away?”
The young nurse blushed and began to get teary.
“Never mind,” Cap said with disgust and made his way down to the ER to try to find Dixie or Dr. Brackett.
Once Johnny was in his apartment he staggered to the fridge, reached in and grabbed the milk container. He took a few sips, trying to get the nasty taste out of his mouth. Next, he went to his medicine cabinet and popped in 4 aspirin, washing it down with more milk. He washed his arm, dabbed it dry and wrapped it with a gauze bandage. Then, looking in the mirror, he unwrapped the bandage on his head. He could see the black stitches making their way across his eyebrow and towards the center of his forehead. Some of them had been ripped open, probably from his fall down the stairs. He grabbed a couple of bandaids and tried to close the gap the best he could. Blood still oozed slightly from the wound.
He gazed at his reflection. His eyes were red and puffy, rimmed with black from bruising as well as lack of sleep. His normally tanned skin looked pale and slick with sweat. His black hair disheveled. He was also in need of a shave and shower. None of that mattered. He didn’t care.
He wiggled out of the scrubs and put on jeans, a t-shirt and a flannel shirt. He rolled up the sleeves above his elbows, exposing his bandaged arm.
Johnny knew he should probably rest but he needed to get away. He knew that before long either one of the guys or one of the doctors would be coming to his apartment to check on him and he didn’t want to deal with it. He didn’t deserve their friendship any longer.
He opened his closet door and took out his camping gear. In his living room the phone continued to ring.
“So has anyone tried to call him?” Cap asked Dixie and Dr. Brackett in the ER at the nurses station.
“Yes, we have tried and so has Joanne but he is not answering or he is not there. Are you going to go over and check on him?”
“Yes,” Cap answered, “now that I know that Roy is going to be ok, I am sure Johnny will want to hear that and come see him. I can’t believe he hasn’t been there yet. I thought he’d be jumping out of his hospital bed clamoring to see him.”
“That is usually the way Johnny is, but he is really blaming himself this time,” Dixie admitted,“he was very angry at himself and to be honest, down right rude.”
“Johnny?” Brackett asked in disbelief, with raised eyebrows. Dr. Brackett knew how much Johnny respected and admired Dixie and was astonished that he would be so rude to her.
“Yes, he was not himself. I’m worried about him. He’s in no condition to be out of the hospital.”
“Yeah,” Cap admitted, “and if I know Johnny, he is not taking care of himself.”
Johnny slipped the letter into the mailbox near his apartment and made his way back into his Rover. He knew he probably shouldn’t be driving since he was still fighting the dizziness but he wanted to get out of town as soon as he could.
The sun was starting to set as he drove out of the city, casting a purple hue across the horizon. The breeze from the open window blew through his long dark hair as he headed towards the mountains, deep in thought. He hoped that Roy was ok. The last he knew was what Dixie had told him. He wanted to call and find out, but then he knew he would have to deal with the fact that he left the hospital and he shouldn’t have. Even if Roy was going to make it, the chances are he would never be able to work again and that weighed heavily on Johnny. He would never be able to forgive himself or expect Roy to. He would have to leave station 51 behind him. Maybe he would head back to Montana, or maybe head out East. Maybe he would get out of the paramedic program altogether. Whatever he decided, he would have to try to forget the best friends he ever had. Tears clouded his vision as he drove, and he quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand. It was done. It was his fault and he would have to live with his mistake, somehow.
Two days later, Roy was still in ICU and Dr. Unser, the cardiologist, had run several tests. He stood by Roy, holding the clipboard, occasionally glancing at the test results. Joanne stood on the other side, hopeful wide eyes waiting for the doctor’s explanation. Dr. Brackett stood at the foot of the bed.
“So, Mr. DeSoto,” Dr. Unser began, “the test results look good. So far your heart rhythm has remained normal and you have not had any pain, or shortness of breath correct?”
“I am really sore, but no abnormal pain. I feel pretty good.”
Joanne smiled and took his hand. Dr. Brackett looked relieved.
“Well, I see no reason why you can’t be moved to a regular room and begin some physical therapy. We will still need to monitor you as your heart begins to work harder. It’s important that you let us know immediately if you feel ill in any way, shortness of breath, etc.”
“I understand, thank-you doctor.”
Dr. Unser nodded and made his way out of the cubicle.
“Great news Roy, I’ll tell the nurses to start getting you ready to move.” Dr. Brackett smiled and began to leave.
“Hey doc,” Roy began, “before you go...is Johnny ok? The nurse told me he was still resting. I haven’t seen him. How badly is he injured?”
Brackett frowned and Joanne squeezed his hand a little harder.
“What is it? What are you not telling me?” Roy pleaded. “Is he ok?”
“Roy,” Brackett began, “Johnny snuck out of the hospital a few days ago and we are not sure where he is.” Brackett’s lip twitched.
“What?! Didn’t you say he had a concussion?” Roy’s heart monitor began to beep faster.
Brackett placed his hand on Roy’s arm. “Now take it easy Roy. This is why we didn’t tell you sooner. You need to rest.”
“My best friend is God know’s where and hurt and I need to rest?!” Roy growled, the heart monitor continued to beep loudly. “Has anyone looked for him?”
“Yes, Hank and Chet have been calling and they stopped by his apartment. The Rover is gone. We are not sure where he went,” Brackett explained.
“Roy, sweetheart, you need to relax,” Joanne soothed. “If I know Johnny he probably has gone somewhere to think and he’ll be back. I am sure he is worried about you.”
“Yeah, I know Johnny too…” Roy admitted. “He is hurt, stubborn and probably took off to the mountains. I am sure he is blaming himself for what happened.”
“Right now you need to take care of yourself Roy,” Brackett suggested. “Getting yourself worked up is only going to keep you in ICU.”
Roy sighed… “Yeah, I just hope he doesn’t end up here himself.”
Johnny lay on his back, his hands tucked behind his head. The full moon shone brightly, casting sparkles across the nearby stream. Stars twinkled against the blackness of the night sky. He could hear the gurgling of the stream and the occasional hooting of an owl. Other than that, it was silent.
He had chosen a remote campsite that he had not brought anyone else to. It was located a couple of miles from a public campground. He had found the beautiful spot when he was out hiking one time and knew he wanted to come back to it someday. He thought this was the perfect time. He had to leave the Rover a mile or so from the spot and with his throbbing head and dizziness, it had taken him a long time to hike in, especially with his gear loaded onto his back.
In the past two days he had done a lot of thinking and still was unsure whether he should keep working as a paramedic or not. He put his friends in danger. What if it happened again? How could they ever forgive him for his stupidity?
He had tried to do some hiking during his stay, but found he couldn’t go far without his head throbbing and the dizziness returning. The cut was starting to heal and he knew by the reflection in the stream that he was now sporting 2 very black eyes to go along with the large gash. He just wished he wasn’t dizzy so often.
Pushing himself up, he rummaged in his backpack for some beef jerky. He had eaten very little since his injury and knew that might be one of the causes of his dizziness, but he just did not have an appetite.
He broke off a piece and began to slowly chew, wondering what the reaction of the crew was once Cap told them about the letter.
“He did what?!” Chet demanded once Cap had informed the crew about Johnny’s decision.
“It seems he is taking an extended leave. The twit never even talked to any of us about this. Do any of you even know where he took off to?” Cap asked concerned.
“No, but I know he likes to take off to the mountains. He has brought Roy and I there a few times, but there are so many different places he camps, I wouldn’t begin to know where to look. Roy might though. Has anyone told Roy that Johnny took off?” Chet asked.
“Yeah, I guess Dr. Brackett told him. Roy gave me a call and asked if any of us had heard from Johnny. Of course Roy is worried sick but the good news is that he is now in a regular room and out of ICU. I think we should all stop by tomorrow when we are off.”
The guys agreed, relieved that Roy was on the mend, but continued to worry about Johnny.
Johnny went into his tent and bent down to unzip his sleeping bag. He was once again overcome with dizziness. “Shit!”
He sat down and grabbed his aching head. Finally, the dizziness started to fade. He crawled into the bag, closing his eyes, trying to will himself to get some rest. He had not slept much since the injury either. His mind was just too active replaying everything that had happened. How could he have made such a stupid mistake?
In the distance, he could hear what sounded like a child crying for help. ‘What?’ He thought out loud. ‘Now I am hearing it out here in the middle of nowhere? I am losing it!’
Angry with himself, he rolled over roughly and put his hands over his ears, thinking it was probably some kind of animal. He clamped his eyes shut and tried to block out everything else. At last, he drifted into a restless sleep.
“Cap, someone has got to go look for Johnny and tell him that I am fine,” Roy pleaded as the crew of 51 gathered around Roy’s bedside. “He needs to come back so we can talk about this. It was just an accident.”
“I know Pal,” Cap admitted, “But where do we begin to look? You know Johnny knows those mountains like the back of his hand, but the rest of us don’t.”
“We aren’t even sure that is where he went,” Marco piped up. “He could have gone to Montana or maybe to visit some friends.”
“No…” Roy began, “Johnny usually likes to be by himself when he’s upset.”
“Maybe I can take a ride up to where we went fishing last time and ask the rangers if anyone has seen him around? I remember a couple of other trails he has mentioned too.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” Cap agreed. “But it might be a long ride for nothing though.”
“Well it beats sitting around wondering,” Roy admitted. “I just wish I could go with you.”
“Now listen Pal,” Cap began, “I know you are worried but you need to get yourself better. It’s not the same without you and Johnny around the station.”
Roy nodded, wishing he could somehow talk to Johnny.
“I’ll take a ride with you Chet,” Marco offered. “Why don’t we head out and take our gear to spend the night since we are off tomorrow too?”
“Sounds good...let’s get going.”
“Thanks guys… and keep us posted,” Roy added, relieved that someone was going to try to find Johnny.
“And for Pete’s Sake… be careful!” Cap suggested as Marco and Chet made their way out of Roy’s hospital room with a quick wave.
Johnny awoke the next morning to the sound of chirping birds and the babbling brook. It was just after dawn when he made his way out of the tent and stretched to get the kinks out of his back.
That’s when he heard it again...in a child’s voice… “Help!...Help!”
Johnny was really beginning to question his mental state. Had he been on the job too long? Was the stress causing him to hallucinate? Still...what if there was someone there? He started walking towards the sound.
“Hello?” He called, hoping to hear the child again.
Johnny made his way through the trees, scanning and listening, all the while trying to ignore his pounding head. He staggered along.
“Here!” Came a frantic voice. “Over here! Please help me!”
Then Johnny saw him. A small blonde boy, around 6 years old. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, which had been torn by the brush he had struggled to walk through. His dirty face was streaked with tears. He was sitting on the ground, clutching his ankle, blue eyes wide with fear and hope.
“Hey there,” Johnny said as he approached, trying to sound friendly and not scare the boy. “What are you doing way out here? Are you hurt?”
The boy looked at Johnny, unsure of what to think. He desperately wanted help and to find his Dad, but the man before him looked scary. He looked like a skinny frankenstein. He had stitches sticking out across his forehead and his eyes were all black underneath. His arm was wrapped in a dirty bandage. His hair was greasy and sticking up everywhere. He even walked kind of funny.
“Umm…” the boy began, “I went to get some firewood for my Dad and I got lost. Then I fell and hurt my leg. It hurts a lot. Can you help me find my Dad?” The tears began to fall again. He sniffled and wiped at his nose.
Johnny knelt next to the boy and smiled. “Sure I can. My name is Johnny, what’s yours?”
“My name is Ryan...what happened to you? Did you get beat up by a bully?” Ryan asked with the curiosity of a child.
Johnny smiled, wishing that was what had happened instead of the truth.
“No, I had a little accident, but let’s worry about you. Where does your leg hurt?”
“Kind of all over, but mostly there.” Ryan answered, pointing at his ankle. “I tried to get up and walk but it hurts too much. I kept calling for someone to come, but no one did...until you. I’m so scared. I just want my Dad!” Ryan again began to sob.
“Hey now, just calm down,” Johnny soothed. “I am going to get you out of here. I am a paramedic and I’m going to try to help you with your ankle ok?”
“What is a para….what?” Ryan asked, wide eyed, sniffling.
“I help people when they get hurt,” Johnny explained.
“Like a doctor?”
“Kind of, but I help them before the doctor does. I’m also a fireman.” Johnny began gently feeling Ryan’s ankle as he talked to him, hoping to distract him from the pain. Ryan winced but was also very intrigued.
“You mean you get to ride on the big red firetruck?”
“No, I ride in a smaller truck, called a squad, but I help put out fires sometimes too.” Johnny knew that Ryan had broken his ankle and would have to be carried back to his campsite, then to the Rover. It was going to be a long haul, especially since Johnny had trouble just maneuvering himself through the woods with his aching head.
“That is so cool! OUCH.. that hurts!”
“Sorry Ryan, but you broke your ankle. My camp is pretty close by and I have a first aid kit so I can splint your ankle. After that, I am going to take you to my Rover and get you some help. Where were you when you got lost? Were you camping with your Dad?”
“Yes, the campground with the neat waterfall.” Ryan grinned, revealing two missing front teeth. He was trying to be brave for Johnny, after all, Johnny was a cool fireman.
Johnny smiled, knowing exactly which campground he meant. It was called Crystal Lake Campground. It was about 2 miles south of where they were. At this point he knew there must be search parties out looking for Ryan. He would try to get him back to the campground as quickly as he could.
“Ok buddy, are you ready for a piggyback ride?”
“Sure thing!” Ryan said, excited, trying not to show how much pain he was in.
Johnny stood up and then bent down to pick up Ryan when suddenly he fell flat on his face.
Ryan gasped, concerned for his new friend. Johnny lay there, face down for a moment before he groaned and rolled over, revealing part of the cut on his forehead re-opened and bleeding again.
“Mister, are you ok?”
“Aghhh…” Johnny gingerly touched his forehead and felt the wet stickiness of blood. “Dammit,” he mumbled.
He pushed himself up, still feeling dizzy. “Yeah, I’m ok. Just a little dizzy is all, it will pass in a minute.”
Taking out his pocket knife, he cut a piece of his shirt and used it to put pressure on his head. Luckily only a small portion of the cut had begun to bleed again.
After a short time, the bleeding had stopped enough for Johnny to once again try to get Ryan back to his camp.
Johnny scooched down and told Ryan to hop up, on his one good leg. Ryan wrapped his arms around Johnny’s neck and Johnny struggled to stand up, while supporting Ryan under his legs. The 6 year-old felt like a 200 pound man. Johnny knew it was going to be a long walk back to his campsite but he put on a brave face for the boy.
“Ok buddy, here we go.” Johnny began to make his way back to the campsite, hoping he would not collapse again while carrying the boy.
“I haven’t seen Johnny for awhile. I guess it was a few months back that he came up here hiking, but I will keep an eye out. Have you tried Luther’s Ridge trail? I know that’s one of his favorites,” Ranger Campbell was explaining to Marco and Chet.
“Yeah, in fact we just came from there. We have been looking since yesterday,” Chet admitted. He knew they might not find Johnny, but he had to keep trying. “Do you mind if I use your phone?”
“Sure, no problem.” Ranger Campbell led Chet and Marco to the phone where Chet dialed Roy’s hospital room.
“Roy, it’s Chet. We have checked out 3 of Johnny’s favorite spots so far with no luck. Marco and I are going to keep looking for today but we are going to have to head to the city soon. I’m sorry man.”
“Chet, thanks so much for calling. I appreciate you guys looking. Let me know if anything turns up.”
Roy hung up and looked glumly at Joanne. “Why did he have to leave Jo? What if he never comes back? He’s my best friend. I just with he would come and talk to me.”
“I know honey. Hopefully he will come to his senses and realize it was an accident and come home.”
“I hope so Jo...for his sake and for mine.”
Johnny had finally made it back to his campsite with Ryan on his back. He gently put him down and sat back, panting, sweat running down his face, his head throbbing. It had only been a short distance. He wasn’t sure how he was going to carry the boy a mile back to his Rover.
“You ok mister?” Ryan asked concerned.
“Yeah...I’m ok...don’t worry.” Johnny swallowed, trying to keep his stomach at bay. “I’m going to go get the first aide kit.”
He made his way to his backpack and took out some water, as well as the kit. It did not have many supplies, but it did have a roll of gauze bandages, which he would wrap around a couple of small pieces of firewood to try to support Ryan’s ankle the best that he could.
Ryan eagerly drank the water and then handed it to Johnny. “Here mister, I think you need some too. You are really sweaty and smelly.”
Johnny smiled at the honesty of the child. “I think you’re right.” Johnny took several sips of the water and began to splint the ankle.
“Now Ryan, this might hurt, but you have to be brave ok?”
Ryan nodded, biting his lip as Johnny carefully wrapped the ankle.
“Great job! Now we need to get you to my Rover so I can bring you back to your Dad. How does that sound?”
“Great!” Ryan replied eagerly. “But I am kind of hungry,” he added.
Johnny realized he had not eaten either and knew that he needed energy for the hike. “Ok, let’s see what I have.”
Johnny dug into his bag and took out more beef jerky, some cheese and some bread. “Here you go big guy… eat up!”
Johnny grinned at the way Ryan began stuffing the bread, cheese and jerky in his mouth all at the same time.
“Hey slow down...you’ll end up choking.”
Ryan grinned and nodded, all the while, stuffing in more food.
Once they had eaten, Johnny packed up his gear. He knew he would have to leave the tent and most of his supplies there since he couldn’t carry all of that and Ryan too. He packed food and water and would have to get the rest of the supplies some other time.
Ryan hopped onto Johnny’s back and together they began the long hike back to the Rover.
Roy had just finished his latest round of physical therapy and was getting settled back in his room when Dr. Unser came in.
“Well, Mr. Desoto, I see that you have been doing well with therapy so I think we should be able to discharge you soon. How have you been feeling?”
“Pretty good...I get tired easily, but I am ready to get home.” Roy missed being with Joanne and the kids and the comforts of his own home but what was really weighing heavily on his mind was Johnny.
“I think if you rest at home and continue going to therapy, you should be able to recover. But again, report any feeling of being ill right away. I also think it is important for you to gradually increase your physical activity so I am recommending that you take 12 weeks off from work, and then see how things stand at that time. You will need to get a clean bill of health from me before returning to work.”
“Twelve weeks? Isn’t that over reacting?” Roy questioned.
“Mr. DeSoto, you had a serious injury and almost died. Your body needs time to recover.”
Roy knew he almost died but he also thought 12 weeks of doing next to nothing would drive him crazy. Reluctantly, he gave in.
“Ok, thanks. I am sure my wife and kids will be glad to have me back home.”
“I bet… remember, rest and take it easy.” Dr. Unser cautioned. “I will have my office schedule a follow-up visit with you in a week or 2.”
Once the doctor left, Roy picked up the phone to call Joanne to tell her the good news. He only wished that he could also share it with Johnny.
Johnny staggered along, occasionally tripping over the roots or brush, but managing to stay on his feet. They had been traveling for about 15 minutes, but it felt like much longer for Johnny. He struggled with the weight of the boy and the backpack, which he had slung over his arm. His head continued to pound. Normally he could carry a man pretty easily but with his concussion he was finding it difficult to carry a small boy. Frustrated, he continued, determined to get to the Rover as soon as possible.
Ryan could tell Johnny was struggling. He was breathing heavily and would occasionally stumble. He was worried about him. “Mister, we can rest if you want to. I know you are hurt.”
“I think maybe that’s...a good idea,” Johnny panted and carefully set Ryan down on the forest floor. He then dug the water out of his bag and offered some to the boy.
“Thanks.” Ryan took the drink then handed it back to Johnny. He noticed how pale Johnny was. “So what happened to your face? Did you get in a car crash?”
Johnny grimaced, not really wanting to tell Ryan the truth.
“We were in a fire, and there was a ceiling collapse. I got hit in the head with a beam.” Johnny left out the rest. He didn’t feel like the child needed to know.
“That is cool! A fire? Was it a big one? Did you ride in the ambulance? Did it hurt when you got stitches?”
“Whoa! Slow down! Yes, it was a big fire and we put it out but it did a lot of damage to the house. Yes, I rode in the ambulance.” Johnny tried not to get teary as he re-lived the image of Roy lying unconscious. “And no, I didn’t feel it when I got the stitches because I was asleep...so enough about me, how is your leg feeling?”
“Hurst some, but it feels better now that you put the wood around it. Will I need to go to the doctor? Will it hurt?” Big blue eyes gazed at Johnny with concern.
“Yeah, you will need to go get a cast on it. They will take a picture of you leg and then they will fix it all up. It might hurt some, but you are a brave kid right? You’ll do fine.”
Suddenly Johnny was struck with a sharp pain across his forehead. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Are you ok mister? You look really white...kind of like a ghost.” Ryan gently put his small hand on Johnny’s arm.
“Yeah, headache is all…” Johnny opened his eyes once the pain passed. “So, we should get going. Are you ready?”
“Yup, but we can rest more if you want.”
Suddenly, from a distance they could hear people calling… “Ryan!...Ryan...where are you? Ryan?”
Johnny and Ryan looked at each other and smiled. They were going to be found!
“Here!” Johnny hollered, hoping they were heard.
As they were about to start to make their way towards the voices, they heard an ominous low pitched growl.
Chet and Marco had checked 2 other places where they knew Johnny had hiked in the past but no one had seen him. Reluctantly, they knew they had to make their way back to the city later in the day. It was late morning and they had time for just a couple of more stops.
“Man,” Chet began in a disappointed tone, “I was hoping someone would have at least seen him.”
“I know,” Marco replied, “Roy is going to be really disappointed.”
“I am too,” Chet continued, “I was in that fire with him. I know it was just an honest mistake but it must be tearing him apart knowing that he almost got Roy killed.”
“Yeah, and that’s why he took off. I just hope he’s ok.”
Chet nodded as they pulled up to their next stop, Crystal Lake Campground.
“Don’t move!” Johnny whispered to Ryan, standing protectively in front of him. Johnny froze in place and glanced to his left. Lumbering out of the woods towards them was a large grizzly bear. To his right he could hear a high pitched whine and quickly glanced over to see a baby bear. His heart leapt into his throat, knowing that they were between the mother and the baby.
“I am going to pick you up and we are going to back up slowly,” Johnny whispered urgently to Ryan, who was wide eyed and panic stricken. Ryan nodded.
In the meantime, they could hear the voices in the distance calling for Ryan.
Johnny bent down to pick up Ryan and at that moment, the momma bear charged at them. Johnny shoved Ryan behind a tree and ran towards the bear. “Run!”
Ryan hobbled the best he could through the woods. The pain was immense but he was too scared to care. He ran a short distance before he could go no further and collapsed. He hid behind a tree and watched the horrific scene before him.
Johnny had charged towards the bear, trying to distract it from Ryan. He had intended to try to run in the opposite direction from where Ryan had run but his weakened body was just not fast enough. He stumbled, and in that time the bear’s huge claws swiped at his back, tearing the fabric from his shirt and the skin beneath it.
“Arghh!!” Johnny collapsed onto the ground and turned to see the bear’s huge mouth open towards his throat. Instinctively he reached up with his arm. The bear clamped down on his forearm. Johnny felt the bones easily break as the teeth sank into his flesh. He screamed.
At that moment, Ryan’s rescue party had heard the commotion and had broken through into the clearing of the attack. One of the rangers fired his gun in the air which was enough to distract the bear. She turned and looked at the group before running to her cub and together, they trotted into the woods.
“Ryan?!” The distraught father, Scott, scanned the area with his eyes as several of the rescue team gathered around Johnny who was writhing in pain, blood pouring out of his arm, and seeping from the gashes on his back.
“Here Dad!” Ryan hollered as he hopped from behind the tree. He began to sob with relief from seeing his Dad and grief for what he had just witnessed.
“Oh thank God!” Scott ran to his son and scooped him up in his arms, hugging him closely, tears streaming down his face. “Are you ok?”
“I hurt my leg, but Johnny found me and helped me. Dad, I’m so scared! Will Johnny be ok?” Ryan clung onto his Dad and sobbed.
“I don’t know son,” Scott answered as he looked at the rescue workers putting pressure on Johnny’s wounds and talking to him. “I really don’t know…”
At Crystal Lake campground Chet and Marco were in the office talking to one of the owners when there was a call over the 2-way radio.
“Base camp, this is Ranger Jones. We need you to call in to dispatch for an ambulance. We have a victim of a bear attack and we also found the boy. He is hurt, but he will be ok. The victim of the bear attack is critical. Have the ambulance meet us at end of Foxrun road.”
“Will do,” Responded the owner. He looked at Chet and Marco. “Sorry fellas, I need to call this in.” He quickly picked up the phone and made the call to dispatch.
Once he hung up he said, “ Like I said, I haven’t seen your friend.”
“We are trained firemen, can we be of some help?” Marco offered.
“I’m sure they would appreciate that...here is a map of the roads nearby which will lead you to Foxrun road.”
“Thanks.” Chet took the map and as they were making their way to the truck, he glanced at Marco and asked, “You don’t suppose the victim of that bear attack could be Johnny?”
“Nah...what are the odds?” Marco answered.
“Remember, we ARE talking about Johnny here Pal.”
Marco glumly nodded. “Well, I guess we are about to find out…”
“We are going to get you out of here but we need to carry you. I’m sorry, but it’s probably going to be painful,” Sam, one of the rescue men, was explaining to Johnny.
Johnny nodded and swallowed, trying not to vomit. He was covered in blood and the pain was immense. His back burned and his arm was in agony. The man talking to him continued to put pressure on it to control the bleeding but Johnny could feel the bones move as he did so. He panted, trying not to scream in pain. He knew they were trying to help him. “Ryan?” He asked weakly.
“He’s ok, he’s with his Dad. We’ll get you both out of here. Help is on the way. Hang in there.”
Johnny nodded as he began to shiver and felt very light headed. He knew he was losing a lot of blood. He gazed at Sam with a pleading look. “Tell Roy...I’m so...sorry.” And with that, he passed out.
“Who’s Roy?” One of the other men asked.
“I don’t know, but let’s move, I don’t know how much longer he can make it,” Sam suggested.
Ryan overheard that and began to sob and scream. “Johnny!!! No!!!”
“Easy son… they will try to help him.” His Dad soothed while he rubbed his back and carried him out of the woods. The men followed behind them, carrying an unconscious Johnny while they continued to put pressure on his arm.
Chet and Marco arrived just in time to meet the ambulance on Foxrun road. Being in the mountains, squads were not available in that area.
A short time later, the men could see the group coming towards them. Chet, Marco and the ambulance attendants jogged over to meet them. Marco gasped when he recognized Johnny. He was covered in blood and ghostly pale.
“Johnny!” Chet ran over. “My God! Johnny?? I’ll take over,” he said to the man that was putting pressure on Johnny’s arm. The man was relieved since his hand was cramping from holding the pressure for so long.
Marco got on the other side of Johnny and supported his back as they made their way to the ambulance and gently put him on the stretcher. The ambulance attendants strapped Johnny in and got out pressure bandages to cover his wounds. Johnny did not stir.
Chet released his grip on Johnny’s arm for a moment while the pressure bandage was applied. Blood instantly spurted out of the wound. Chet once again clamped down on it, getting into the ambulance beside him. He asked an attendant, “Can you start an IV?”
“Sorry, we are not authorized to do that. We have to wait until we get to the hospital. We will be taking him to Lakeside Hospital. It is about 20 minutes from here.”
Chet grimaced and scooted over, making room for Ryan and his Dad to get in the back with them. Marco peered in and told Chet, “I’ll follow you to the hospital in the truck.”
Chet nodded and turned his attention back to Johnny. He was a mess. The gash on his forehead still oozing slightly from his fall earlier, his face ghostly white, causing his black eyes to be more pronounced. And then there was the blood. His whole body was soaked with it. Chet had no idea how he was still alive. “God Johnny, hang on...you have got to hang on,” Chet whispered, his eyes filling with tears.
“Is he going to be ok mister?” Ryan asked quietly from his side of the ambulance. His Dad was sitting beside him, with Ryan’s leg propped up on his lap.
Chet did not look at the boy because he did not want Ryan to see his tears, but he did say, “I hope so Pal… I hope so.”
At last they were at the hospital and were met with 2 doctors and several nurses who were waiting for them to arrive.
“I can take over now… you need to wait in the waiting room,” one of the doctors informed Chet as he gently shoved him out of the way and replaced Chet’s hand with his own.
“No, I want to go with him. He’s my friend. I’m a fireman,”
“Sorry, but you are not a trained doctor. You will need to wait in the waiting room. We will find you. Betty, get him out of here.” The doctor was gruff and was not about to have a fireman tell him what to do.
“But…” Chet began. Betty grabbed his arm and guided him down the hallway to the waiting room. She noticed his hands and shirt covered in blood. “Why don’t you get cleaned up? I’ll try to find you a shirt to wear. The men’s room is around the corner.”
Chet looked down at his bloodied shirt and at that moment Marco walked in from parking the truck. Johnny had been whisked into a treatment room. Ryan had been brought into another treatment room.
“How is he?” Marco asked.
“I don’t know man...he didn’t wake up on the ride in. I tried to go with him but they wouldn’t let me. He looks bad Marco… he looks real bad.” Chet again was teary.
“I know Pal,” Marco put a supporting hand on his shoulder. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up, and then we need to make a call.”
“Yeah, how we are going to tell Roy that we found Johnny but he might not make it?”
“I don’t like how low his blood pressure is. Start another IV wide open and he needs blood. Betty, type and cross it and get as many units as you can find. We are going to need it.”
Betty nodded as she made her way to the lab and blood bank. The other nurses began to strip away Johnny’s clothes while the doctors examined his wounds.
“Yeah, I wonder how long ago...looks like some of the stitches have come out but my biggest concern is his arm. We need to get him into the OR and get this bleeding stopped. It’s a miracle he is still alive. Let’s get him upstairs right away.”
“I agree...he might not be strong enough to make it through surgery, but if we wait, he’s going to die for sure. Let’s clean out these wounds and stitch him up. We also need ortho to look at his arm, assuming he makes it through the surgery.”
Roy hung up the phone and ran his hand through his thin hair, a look of despair on his face. He took a deep, shaky breath, his ribs and chest aching. At that moment, Joanne walked in with coffee in hand. Roy was about to be discharged and they were just waiting for the final paperwork.
She saw the look on his face. “Roy, what is it?”
“They...found Johnny,” he began quietly… “and he might not make it.”
“What?! Where is he? What happened?”
Roy explained the ordeal to her and she placed the coffee down and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m so sorry honey. Are the guys going to stay there and keep us posted?”
“Yes, but I am going there too.”
“What?! Roy DeSoto you are not even out of the hospital yet...Dr. Unser said…”
“I don’t give a shit what he said! My best friend might die and I am going!” Truth be told, he did feel like hell. He was sore and exhausted but he wasn’t about to admit that to his wife.
Joanne’s mouth fell open and she looked at Roy in disbelief. He hardly ever raised his voice to her.
“I’m sorry Jo… I need to be there.” Roy could see Joanne tearing up.
“Ok if you insist but I am going with you. I can have my parents watch the kids. You are NOT going alone.”
“Thanks Jo, but I think Cap and Mike might want to be there too. I need to call them and fill them in.”
“I care about Johnny too you know. He is like a little brother to me...I’m going.”
Roy knew how stubborn his wife could be so he agreed. The next thing he needed to do was to call Cap. He knew the crew was on duty the next day but all of them had vacation time and he knew they would probably use it. They had found Johnny and needed to be there for him.
Roy reached for the phone.
Back at the Lakeside Hospital Betty found Marco and Chet in the waiting room. Chet had washed up and had on a fresh shirt that she had given him earlier.
“So...how is he?” Marco questioned with concern.
“He is in surgery. His blood pressure is very low and they are pumping him with fluids and blood. It is really too soon to tell . As you know, he lost a great deal of blood. I will let you know when I hear anything else.”
“Yeah, thanks…” Marco and Chet continued to pace the waiting room.
A short time later, Ryan came out of the treatment room with his father. He was walking on crutches and had a splint on his leg. Together, they made their way over to Chet and Marco.
“Hey pal, how are you doing?” Chet asked while he knelt in front of Ryan.
“I’m ok. The doctor said I have to go see another doctor in a couple of days and I’ll get a cast put on. He said that I can even have people sign it! Can Johnny sign it?” He asked, blue eyes wide with hope.
“Ummm….sure pal,” Chet answered, not really knowing what to say. “When he is feeling better, I’m sure he would love to.”
Ryan grinned up to his Dad, who looked at Chet with doubtful eyes. Chet grimaced. Both men knew Johnny might not make it, but didn’t know how to tell that to Ryan.
“Good luck to your friend. Can I give you my number so you can call me to tell me how he is doing? I know I want to thank him...if I can...for all that he did for my son.”
“Dad, can we stay and see Johnny?” Ryan asked hopefully.
“Sorry son, the doctors are still helping Johnny and we have a long ride home. Your Mom misses you and is worried about you. This has been quite a camping adventure, but we will call to check on him ok?”
Ryan frowned but knew he had to listen to his Dad. “Ok.”
Chet hoped when he called them, it would be with good news, both for Johnny’s sake, and Ryan’s.
Roy had filled in Cap, Mike and Dr. Brackett on what was going on with Johnny. As he was making his way out of the hospital, Dr. Brackett walked along beside him. Brackett was encouraged that Johnny was at Lakeside Hospital. “There are some good doctors there Roy but we want him here at Rampart when he’s stable enough. Let me make some calls and find out what I can do. If I need to, I’ll go up there myself.”
“Thanks Doc,” Roy said as he and Joanne made their way to the exit.
“And Roy,” Brackett added,“You take care of yourself.. Remember, you are still recovering.”
Roy nodded. He knew he was supposed to rest, but also knew he wouldn’t be able to do that until he saw Johnny and knew he was going to be ok.
Cap, Mike, Roy and Joanne drove to the mountainside hospital together. On the way, everyone encouraged Roy to try to sleep but all he wanted to do was see his best friend. The 3 hour ride felt like 12. At last, they arrived.
The group was met with Marco and Chet in the waiting room.
“How is he?” Roy asked hopefully. “Any word?”
“No man, he is still in surgery.”
“Still?” Roy blew out a shaky breath, his chest aching.
“Did you get to talk to him at all?” Mike asked.
“No, he was unconscious the whole time,” Chet frowned. “He doesn’t even know any of us are here.”
“But we ARE here Pal,” Cap comforted, “and that’s what matters.”
Joanne glanced at Roy and saw how pale he looked. She grabbed his arm. “Roy, sit down honey.”
“Joanne I’m fine! Stop hovering! I have been sitting down for 3 hours in the car!”
Joanne stepped back, embarrassed and hurt. “I am going... to find coffee,” she stammered and made her way down the hall.
The guys looked on, embarrassed for Roy and Joanne.
“Oh shit,” Roy said, “Now I’ve done it… I’m just worried about Johnny.”
“Of course you are Pal,” Cap put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Joanne will be fine.”
Roy nodded and joined Marco and Chet in their pacing. Mike and Cap followed the direction that Joanne went, looking for some coffee for themselves.
It was a couple of hours later when Betty found the group in the waiting room. Roy had since cooled down and had apologized to Joanne, who accepted it. She knew he was concerned about Johnny.
The group surrounded Betty, eager to hear the news.
“He is out of surgery. He is in recovery right now and they are continuing to give him blood and have started him on antibiotics. He will need further surgery on his broken arm when he is more stable, but for now it is in a temporary splint. He has numerous stitches from the wounds. He will hopefully be awake soon. Who is the next of kin?”
“I am,” Roy said stepping forward. “When can I see him? Can I see him now? Please!”
Betty saw the desperation on his face. “Well, normally we wait until he is out of recovery, but I think it will be ok, as long as it is only you.”
“Yes, just me...thank-you.” Roy sighed and followed her to the recovery room. He was feeling very tired and sore but was not about to admit it to anyone. At least not until he saw Johnny.
Once inside, Roy saw several patients being monitored after their surgeries. He made his way over to Johnny’s bed and gasped at what he saw. Johnny’s face was gaunt and ghastly white, black, bruised eyes against translucent skin. His gash across his head had been re-stitched and his hair was still damp from being recently cleaned. Strands of it clung to his forehead. His arm was heavily bandaged. Tubes and wires stuck out from beneath the thin blanket. Fluids and blood flowed into his arms. Roy also noticed that he had lost weight. Roy’s eyes filled with tears.
“Oh Johnny…” he whispered quietly while gently taking his hand. “What have you done now Junior?”
The heart monitor beeped in a constant rhythm.
A nurse stood by, keeping a close eye on Johnny and monitoring his vitals. She tried to give Roy as much privacy as she could, but she had to stay near them.
Tears formed in her eyes while she listened to Roy talk to Johnny and saw what a close bond that they had.
“Johnny, can you hear me?” Roy asked hopefully. No response. “You need to wake up and be ok. All the guys are here, and Joanne too...you know how stubborn she can be.” Roy chuckled lightly, the tears slipping down his face. “I’ll be here for you Junior. I need to talk to you. You are not getting out of my life that easily.” Roy squeezed his hand and sat beside Johnny as the tears continued to fall.
After several hours in recovery, Johnny was moved into ICU where Roy continued to sit by him. The rest of the group had been allowed to see him also, but just one or 2 at time. They were all shocked to see how thin and pale he was.
The surgeon, Dr. Robbins was talking to Roy quietly about Johnny’s condition. “To be honest, it is a miracle he survived the trip out of those woods and the ride to the hospital. Of course now our main concern is getting his blood pressure up and fighting off infection. With an animal bite, there is almost always infection that goes along with it, but we have put him on a strong dose of antibiotics. When did he receive that head injury?”
Roy looked up from his chair beside Johnny, his eyes were heavy from lack of sleep and were rimmed with red.
“Umm….it was about a week ago now. He was in the hospital and had a concussion but he ended up leaving and heading up to the mountains...”
The doctor looked at him with confusion and surprise.
“Long story…” Roy replied, too tired to go into all of the details. “I’m just thankful he is still with us. When do you think he will wake up?”
“It’s hard to say...between the recent head injury and the blood loss, it could be today, or it could be in several days. We need to keep monitoring him closely. I know Dr. Brackett called and asked me about moving him to Rampart, but I really don’t think that is a good idea yet. He is just not stable enough.”
“Ok,” Roy sighed a heavy sigh, his chest throbbing as he did so.
“I was also told by Dr. Brackett that you recently got out of the hospital yourself, and to be honest, you look like hell. Why don’t you use one of our empty rooms and get some rest. I’ll let the staff know. If there is any change I will let you know right away.”
Roy didn’t want to leave Johnny, but he was exhausted. He knew he really should rest, and felt relieved that he did not have to leave the hospital.
“Ok, give me a minute,” Roy agreed. Dr. Robbins nodded and left the cubicle.
Roy lightly placed his hand on Johnny’s arm.
“Hey Junior, I am going to go get some rest but I will be back. You take it easy and wake up soon because we still have a lot to talk about.” Roy squeezed his arm gently, then left the cubicle.
At that moment, Johnny cracked open his eyes. “Roy?” He whispered…but no one was there.
The next day the group had gathered at a local diner for breakfast and coffee. Roy had gotten some rest but spent most of the night tossing and turning. Johnny’s condition had remained the same during the night and as far as everyone knew, he had not woken up yet. Joanne had been allowed to sleep in the room with Roy but the men had rented a cabin at a nearby campground for the night. They knew that as much as they didn’t want to leave Johnny, it was time to go home to their own families and responsibilities. They would head home and be back on shift the following day. Joanne also agreed to head home to be with Chris and Jennifer, but only because Dr. Brackett was on his way and had promised to look out for Roy.
As they left the diner Joanne gave Roy a warm embrace.
“Roy, please promise me that you will rest. I am so worried about you. I know you care about Johnny but you need to take care of yourself too.”
Roy looked into her soft brown eyes, “Yes honey, I promise. I will call you if anything changes with Johnny. Give Chris and Jen a hug and kiss for me ok?”
Joanne nodded, and followed Marco and Chet to the truck.
Cap and Mike dropped off Roy at the hospital and Cap said to him,“I heard what Joanne said to you and she’s right. We are all worried about Johnny Pal but don’t overdo it. Keep us posted and take care of yourself.”
“I will Cap. Dr. Brackett should be here in a couple of hours. I’m going to go see Johnny now...thanks.”
He got out of the car and made his way back to ICU, hoping Johnny would wake up soon.
Roy sipped at his coffee as he sat by Johnny’s bed in ICU.
He was deep in thought about how Johnny had ended up there and all of the events of the past week when he heard Johnny whisper something.
“Johnny?” Rode stood up, coffee cup still in hand, leaning closer. “Johnny? Did you say something?”
“Smells….good,” he whispered again and cracked his eyes open to see Roy hovering over him.
At first Roy was confused then realized Johnny was talking about the coffee. He laughed out loud.
“Johnny! I’m so glad to see you awake!” Happy tears formed in his eyes.
“Roy...are you...ok?” Johnny asked in a faint voice, tinged with concern.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine!” Roy put the coffee cup on the table and grabbed Johnny’s uninjured hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Hurts…” His arm throbbed and his back burned. He was sore all over. “How is…Ryan?”
“He’s fine… Chet told us the whole story. You are amazing Johnny.”
“No…” he panted, “almost got you killed...you...should go.” Johnny looked away with mixed feelings. He was happy to see Roy, but angry with himself for his stupidity in the fire.
“Johnny, look at me.” Johnny slowed turned his dark brown eyes to meet Roy’s blue.
“I am fine. What happened was an accident. You are my partner and best friend. Ok, so there wasn’t a kid in the fire. We have all made mistakes at one time or another. We all want you back at the station. I want my best friend back.” Roy looked at Johnny with a pleading look.
“But...you can’t work...anymore...because of...your heart…” Johnny wanted to talk to Roy but he was also in immense pain. He tried to focus on the conversation.
Roy could tell Johnny was struggling and reached over to call the nurse.
“I am fine Johnny. I am going back to work in a few months. Right now you need to get some pain meds. We can talk more later. Dr. Brackett is on his way up here too.”
The nurse entered and was happy to see Johnny awake. “Well hello there,” she smiled sweetly. “I will get you some pain meds right away. I’ll also page the doctor to check on you. How are you feeling?”
“Hurts…” Johnny squeezed his eyes shut.
The nurse nodded and left to quickly get the drugs and to page the doctor.
Johnny once again looked at Roy, “But I heard...the nurses…they said…you couldn’t work… anymore.”
“What?! That is ridiculous! You must have just heard some rumors that were not true. I will be fine. I want you back there with me partner, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Johnny was silent. He had some thinking to do but at the moment he hurt too much to do anything. At last, he felt the soothing effects of the morphine as it was inserted into his IV port. He felt like he was on a fluffy cloud, gently floating away, then all was black.
A few hours later, Dr. Robbins, Dr. Brackett and Roy were standing near Johnny’s bedside as he slept.
Dr. Brackett was studying Johnny’s chart and noticed that his temperature was elevated but his blood pressure was getting stronger.
“Looks like he might be starting with that infection we thought would probably happen.” Dr. Brackett stated, his mouth twitching. “But at least his blood pressure is on the rise.”
“Yes,” Dr. Robbins agreed, “ it looks like he is getting more stable. We do need to operate on that arm as soon as possible before there is permanent damage. Do you have a doctor at Rampart that you would recommend?”
“Yes, we have a great orthopedic team who, unfortunately, know Johnny quite well.”
Roy nodded in agreement, knowing all of the fractures Johnny had suffered over the years.
“Then I would recommend transporting him to Rampart as soon as we can, now that he’s becoming more stable. Should I call for the helicopter?” Dr Robbins suggested.
“Yes, the sooner we get him there the better,” Brackett stated, “And the sooner you can get some rest too Roy.”
“I’m fine doc. Let’s just get Johnny home.”
It was 2 weeks later when Johnny sat in his hospital room at Rampart, gazing out the window. He had still been contemplating with what to do with his life. He didn’t understand how the guys could still care about him or trust him, or why they would want to still work with him. He had almost cost Roy his life. He was just thankful that Roy would be able to continue with his career, but would he really want Johnny there by his side? He seemed to, in fact in the past week, he had kept asking Johnny to give him an answer and kept saying how much he wanted him back.
In the time that he had been at Rampart, he had his arm operated on and had to have the bones fixated with screws. The infection had been held at bay thanks to the strong doses of antibiotics he had been given. His wounds were still very sore and it was a struggle to move without being in pain. Still, he hoped to be discharged within a few days and to begin physical therapy.
The guys from the crew had come by often and brought him milkshakes and lots of home cooked meals, trying to fatten him up. He appreciated the gesture but he still had not told them if he was going to return to station 51. He knew it was driving Roy crazy, not knowing.
Just as he was thinking of Roy, Roy pushed the door to his room open and entered with a big smile. He had on sweatpants and a t-shirt and looked a little sweaty.
“Hey Junior...I tell you, that woman is going to do me in with my physical therapy. I’m going to be in better shape when I get back to work than I ever was before! Thought I’d stop by after my session before I headed home.” He pulled up a chair, wiped his brow and sat down beside Johnny. “So how are you doing today?”
“Fine, getting stir crazy...can’t wait to get out of here.”
“Johnny, I don’t want to keep bugging you, but…”
“I know…” Johnny hesitated, then knew he had to tell Roy how he was feeling… “I just don’t know if I trust myself around you guys,” Johnny finally admitted. “What if I make a mistake like that again and this time it DOES get you killed? I don’t know if I can live through that again man...what it did to you and Joanne and the kids...I don’t know…” Johnny bit his lip, trying to fight back the tears.
“Look Junior, how many times do I have to tell you I TRUST you. We all do...please, come back to us. Come back to ME...I need you.” Roy pleaded, blue eyes wide with anticipation for Johnny’s answer.
“I want to Pally, I really do...I just don’t know…I just need more time to think.”
“I’m sorry Johnny, I don’t mean to pressure you, I just want you back….Listen, I’m going to go home and shower. I’ll stop by tomorrow.” He got up, gave Johnny a small smile and made his way out the door.
A couple of hours later there was a soft knock on Johnny’s door. “Come in.”
Scott pushed open the door and held it for Ryan as he came in, hobbling on crutches, sporting a bright white cast.
“Ryan!” Johnny smiled and sat up in bed straighter, grimacing at the pull of the stitches on his back. “How are you? Nice cast buddy!” Scott grinned while he watched the exchange between the two.
“Johnny!” Ryan hobbled over to Johnny’s bed. “You have a cast too!” Ryan said, pointing to Johnny’s arm.
“Yeah, I do! So good to see you!”
“I asked my Dad if I could come see you so you could sign my cast and he said he wanted to come see you too. I brought a black marker and I wanted you to be the first one to sign it. Can I sign yours too?” Ryan asked with his big toothless grin.
“I would love it if you did,” Johnny answered, thinking the kid was way too darn cute. Ryan scooted carefully beside Johnny in the hospital bed and propped his leg up beside him. Luckily Johnny’s writing arm was not the one that was broken. He carefully signed “Johnny” and then handed the marker to Ryan. “Now your turn.”
Ryan set his mouth in a firm line as he concentrated and very carefully wrote his name in big shaky letters of a 6 year old. It took up the full length of Johnny’s cast. Johnny grinned. “Perfect!” Johnny stated with a big smile.
“Ok Pal,” Scott said and scooped Ryan off the bed. “Dixie said she would take you to the caf for an ice cream while I talk to Johnny ok?”
“Sure Dad, but I want to visit some more after ok?”
Once Scott had found Dixie he returned to Johnny’s hospital room and pulled up a chair.
“I can’t even begin to thank-you for what you did for my son,” Scott began becoming teary eyed. “You saved his life. I can’t ever repay you for finding him and then the whole thing with the bear…” Scott was choked up and found it difficult to continue.
“Hey man...I would have done the same for anyone. Ryan is an awesome kid. I was just glad to be there when he needed me.”
“Yeah, but you risked your own life...you must be amazing at your job,” Scott continued.
“Ha, not really… in fact I am thinking of transferring to New York or getting out of this line of work all together.”
“What?! Are you crazy? You are born to help people. You put others first...I am sure you have saved many people throughout your career.” Scott was shocked this brave man was thinking of ending his career.
“I just made a mistake lately and I don’t know if I can forgive myself,”Johnny admitted.
“I think you really need to think about that decision. People like us need you. Ryan needed you. What would have happened to him if you weren’t there?”
Johnny thought about that and about some of the other victims he had saved. Scott was right. There had been way too many to count. Was he making the right decision about leaving station 51 or about quitting altogether?
Johnny and Scott talked for a bit longer, then Ryan came in, with Dixie following behind.
“This young man had 2 ice creams and I must say, gobbled them up pretty quickly! Is it ok for him to come in now?”
“Sure…” Johnny patted his bed with his good hand, “Come on over and tell me all about what it was like getting your cast on.”
Ryan and Scott had stayed for a couple of hours and Johnny was becoming tired. They said their good-byes and promised to keep in touch.
Johnny didn’t sleep much that night, remembering some of the victims that he had saved over the years, replaying how grateful people had been for saving them or their loved ones. The guys at the station seemed to really want him back too, and they had forgiven him for his mistake. Maybe he should stay? Maybe people did need him after all?
The next morning Johnny had a phone call to make...
The phone rang 3 times before Roy picked up.
“Roy? Can you come by so we can talk?”
Posted To Site 7/10/17
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