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Bridge Over Troubled Water
Saturday November 18, 1978
It was a sunny fall day in Agoura, California. Daniel Hightower, a handsome young retired champion rodeo rider, was looking over several grills with a multitude of meats cooking that he was preparing for a group of friends that would soon be gathering at the invitation of his wife.
Daniel had been injured at a rodeo during a festival held on an Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana back in 1975. His father had sent him to stay in California with his aunt, Dr. Martha Hightower, who worked with clients affected by Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, and Traumatic Stress Disorder. He met one of his aunt’s employees, Rosemary Smith, at a party that was given by his aunt on New Year’s Eve.
Rosemary Smith, a gorgeous fair skinned girl with sparkling dark eyes and a smile that would make you do anything she asked, had just arrived in California from London to begin working with Daniel’s aunt and was overseeing the construction of an Equine Therapy Center in Agoura California that she was going to run as an alternate therapy especially for children that didn’t seem to respond to the current traditional therapies. Rosemary had spent her childhood in London at a boarding school that was run by the Hughes Foundation of California. She knew little about her family accept that she was born in the United States.
The wife of Geoffrey Hughes, CEO of the Hughes Foundation, Rosemary Gage Hughes, always spent time with Rosemary Smith when she was in London. Mrs. Hughes would tell her young friend stories about her brother, Roderick Gage, who had married an Indian girl from Lame Deer, MT named Red Moon. Her parents and the girl’s parents were not at all pleased with the marriage. The couple had a son named John. Her brother, Roderick Gage, had died in an oil rig fire when John was 8. Her sister-in-law, Katie Red Moon Gage, had died of cancer right before John’s 12th birthday.
When John was 14, his maternal grandfather, Daniel Sun Walker, had written Mrs. Hughes family and asked them to come get John because he was dying and would no longer be able to protect John from his family. Mrs. Hughes found the letter at her parent’s house. Mrs. Hughes went to Montana and brought her nephew to California to live with her. Mrs. Hughes wasn’t sure what these people had done to her bother Ricky’s son but she was going to do everything she could for the frightened young man. Rosemary Gage Hughes learned quickly that her nephew had many issues that needed to be addressed. After many trips to doctors, it was determined that John suffered from Aspergers Syndrome complicated by Traumatic Stress Disorder which she suspected was due to John being abused.
Rosemary Smith would tell Mrs. Hughes about the constant dreams she had about a small young boy with pleading eyes reaching out to her stuttering “h h e p peas…” Other images were of a man who reeked of alcohol, and hurt children in ways Rosemary never wanted to discuss with anyone because it would send shivers down her spine. Other times she saw images of the little boy laying close or holding her hand and stroking her hair stuttering, “JJ… JJ”…giving her an overwhelming feeling of love. Mrs. Hughes always surmised this was the reason Rosemary Smith had close friends call her JJ.
It was the discussions about California, John and his Aspergers Syndrome, and the frequent dreams JJ had about the small young boy with pleading eyes reaching out for help and her love of horses that made Rosemary Smith determined to open an Equine Therapy Center in California. She hoped one day she would get to meet Mrs. Hughes’ nephew who she knew was now a firefighter/paramedic at Station 51 in Los Angeles County.
Daniel and Rosemary Smith were married on New Year’s Eve 1977. They opened the Equine Therapy Center in the spring of 1978 and came close to losing everything almost a month ago in an arson wildfire now being called the “Agoura-Malibu Firestorm” that was started on Monday October 23, 1978 by a 15 year old Agoura youth using a lit cigarette wrapped with a matchbook. The wildfire destroyed 230 homes in Agoura and Malibu, killed 3 people and injured 50 before being declared under control on Friday October 27, 1978. Rosemary Hightower was among the 50 hurt during the wildfire as she tried to help a spooked horse that had jumped the fence from their neighbor’s ranch.
John Gage was the paramedic that rode with Rosemary Hightower to the hospital after she was injured by the horse. While the doctors at Rampart General rushed to get blood for Rosemary due to internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen, it was discovered she had John Gage’s blood type down to a rare antibody. John got confirmation from Edward Devane, who worked for his aunt, that Rosemary Smith Hightower was in fact his twin sister, Johnna Rosemary Gage.
Rosemary Hightower looked over the table filled with side dishes and desserts that was set up between the family and dining room in her spacious ranch house for a get together that she had planned after her release from the hospital so she could get to know her twin brother, John Gage, better along with his friends from the fire station.
The first to arrive was her brother’s paramedic partner and best friend, Roy DeSoto, along with his wife Joanne, and their daughter, Jennifer. Their son, Chris, was away on a camping trip. Rosemary had gotten to know Roy and his wife while she recovered at Rampart. Roy and Joanne had visited her often while she was in the hospital after finding out she was actually Johnny’s twin sister.
“How ya feelin JJ”, Roy asked as he kissed her on the cheek and quickly gave her a quick look from head to toe as he did when he was trying to find out if his partner, Johnny, was sick or injured.
“I’m fine, Pally….don’t fuss…” she replied to Roy using her brother’s favorite nickname for Roy all the while flashing him that smile that could make you do anything she wanted.
Roy winked at her and grabbed a drink and made his way to the family room to wait for the rest of the crew to arrive. Joanne asked if there was anything she could do to help but Rosemary said everything was ready accept for the meat which her husband Daniel was grilling outside. Joanne joined her husband in the family room and Jennifer went outside to see the horses.
One by one the rest of the crew from Station 51’s A-shift arrived. Captain Hank Stanley with his wife Emily arrived next. Their daughters were out on their own. Next to arrive was Engineer Mike Stoker and his wife Melissa. Their son Mike Jr. was at a friend’s house for a sleep over.
Lineman Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez arrived next talking about a girl Chet had his eye on.
All of them were in awe of the ranch and therapy center. They had heard Johnny talking about the place even before he found out Rosemary was his sister. John and Roy had visited the therapy center right after it first opened with Dr. Martha Hightower and Johnny even volunteered at the therapy center when he had free time.
Last to arrive was junior paramedic, John Gage. Being the last to arrive was normal from what the guys had been telling Rosemary while they waited for Johnny to arrive. It seemed Johnny often got latrine duty at the station for being last for roll call. Johnny had his children, twins Roy Joseph and Kathleen Joanne, with him.
Rosemary met her brother at the door to help him get his twins out of their jackets. Their mother, John’s wife, Danella, was at the Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana tending to her mother who was sick. The twins peeked at Rosemary shyly from around their father’s long lanky legs until she flashed them her smile. When they saw the smile that looked so much like their father’s, they relaxed and smiled the same smile back with their dark brown eyes sparkling. It was if they knew just from the smile she was family.
“Roy Joseph….Katie….can you say hi to your Aunt Rose……” the words caught in Johnny’s throat.
Rosemary caught the look on Johnny’s face and she jumped in saying….”say hi to your Aunt JJ…” and then she tickled them both. They were led off giggling by Jennifer DeSoto who had agreed to watch them for her Uncle Johnny during the get together.
Daniel Hightower came in the door shortly after with a huge platter of grilled meat and he and his wife urged everyone to grab a plate and dig in.
As they ate and discussed current events, stories about the station 51 phantom, Daniel’s days with the rodeo, Rosemary’s life in London and other topics, the phone rang. Rosemary excused herself and picked up the extension on the wall near the door.
“Randy …” her quieted guests heard her exclaim. “It’s so good to hear from you…. I’m fine…No it doesn’t hurt much anymore……Please don’t apologize..........How are you? I heard the fire destroyed everything at your place? Were you at home or on a TV set shooting? …… I’m glad to hear you were with your brother and sisters and not at the ranch. I agree family is much more important than material things….. Thank you for calling…. if you need anything, just let Daniel and I know….”
As Rosemary Hightower hung up the phone, the tears that welled up in her eyes during her phone conversation with her neighbor that had lost his entire 13 1/2 acre ranch slipped past her long dark lashes and down her fair skinned cheeks.
Johnny went from the table to his sister and drew her into his arms and stroked her hair saying…”JJ…shh….. Don’t cry please….”
Rosemary Hightower took a deep breath trying to compose herself before she spoke….”almost thirty days ago I was running from this home thinking I was going to lose everything again just like I had lost my past when I was a child. Today my home is safe, I have my loving husband, and I’ve been given back part of my past ….I have my brother and he has given me a great set of new friends...”
The crew from Station 51 remembered the conversations that they had in the past about their families and how uncomfortable the youngest member of their crew was with the conversations. They had seen evidence and heard stories about how some of John’s extended family treated him badly. To now see him with his sweet and caring sister made the crew extremely happy. Everyone in the room was having a hard time keeping their emotions in check as they watched Johnny and his sister together.
The door bell ringing broke the moment. Everyone in the room did a quick swipe with the backs of their hands to clear away the tears. Johnny stepped back a couple of steps as Rosemary Hightower opened the door to allow an older distinguished woman that the guys from Station 51 recognized as John’s Aunt Rose to enter the room.
Rosemary Hightower greeted the woman first. “Mrs. Hughes it’s so good to see you again…”
Rosemary Gage Hughes embraced the young girl and corrected her saying, “Sweetheart, please call me Aunt Rose….”
Rosemary Hughes turned to her nephew…”Na-háahketa” (my little one)……she whispered as she reached out to embrace Johnny.
Instead of embracing his aunt, who appeared tired and pale to him, Johnny knocked her arms away with an intense look of anger in his dark eyes.
” WHAT OTHER SECRETS HAVE YOU KEPT FROM ME? …. DO YOU HAVE DAD AND MOM HIDDEN SOMEWHERE TOO...GET OUT OF MY LIFE!!!!........” Johnny’s words poured from his mouth like venom.
Before his aunt could respond, Johnny turned and stormed away. Everyone in the room heard the door to the den slam shut. Roy started to get up to go check on his best friend and partner but JJ stopped him saying…. “Roy give him some time alone. This is my fault. I’ll go talk to him in a few minutes. I should have told him Aunt Rose was coming”
Rosemary Hightower noticed how tried, pale, and shaky her aunt looked so she turned to her husband Daniel who had come up beside her wrapping his arm around her small waist….…
”Daniel..”, she instructed, “ Aunt Rose looks knackered (British slang for tired)…can you show her to the guest room so she can freshen up and get her bags from the boot, please?.... Joanne, would you mind getting coffee for everyone…Roy, there are cards and games in the cabinets on either side of the TV….”
She then excused herself and went to the den.
As she opened the door, she heard the last of her favorite song “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers playing softly on the radio. As she sat next to her brother on the plush leather sofa in the den and took his hand in her hand, “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel began to play…..
When you're weary
They both sat in silence until the song finished and the radio announcer started giving the weather report for the next day.
“Johnny”….his sister spoke softly….”I’m so sorry…. I should have told you Aunt Rose was coming…… I….I… was just so happy to finally have a past and a family that I wanted us to be together.”
Johnny ran his free hand through his thick sable hair and laid his head back against the back of the sofa as if willing the anger to go away and the right words to come to him…. “JJ”…. his voice quivered with emotion…”I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am to find out that you are my sister, but I’m not sure I can get past and forgive the fact that you were taken away and kept from me….”
“Johnny”…his sister replied….. “I know from what Mrs. Hughes… I mean Aunt Rose… told me on visits to London along with what you have shared with me since we met in March and especially over the last month; your childhood was hell to put it mildly. Aunt Rose wishes she could turn back time so different decisions would have been made after Dad and Mom got married and we were born but that’s just not possible. All we can do is learn from history and make sure we don’t make similar decisions that will cause others to be harmed. I know your hurt and I was too but I think we both know Aunt Rose was the one person that tried her best for us and our family. I also know she would give everything she owns to hear you say you love her but she knows the Aspergers makes that difficult for you.”
With a twinkle in her eye, JJ flashed her famous make you do anything I want smile toward Johnny and said, “the birth certificates show I was born first so that makes me big sister and you little brother…..” “Junior”, she continued, “I’m not going to pressure you to talk with Aunt Rose, but being the wiser older sibling, I think you should.”
Johnny replied with a crooked grin, “Call me Junior again and you’ll see how quickly I go from being the world’s best little brother to being the evil twin. You got a glimpse of him earlier.”
After JJ had left to talk with Johnny in the den, her husband, Daniel, had shown Rosemary Gage Hughes to the guest room and retrieved her bags from the trunk of the car she was driving. She asked Daniel to advise the others she was extremely tired from the trip and was going to retire for the evening.
When Daniel arrived back in the family room, the other ladies were taking care of clearing the table. Roy was on the sofa looking at the TV but you could tell his mind was on his partner.
Captain Stanley was sitting in the recliner looking at albums of Daniel’s days on the rodeo circuit. Chet was closet to cabinet when JJ told Roy it contained cards and games. He took out poker chips and a deck of cards and asked Daniel to join him, Marco, and Mike for a game of cards and offered Daniel one of the beers he had brought.
Daniel agreed to join them but said, “Poker may not be the best choice of card games. I would rather ride the meanest bull in the drawing than deal with my wife if she catches me gambling and getting drunk”….. Daniel exclaimed with a shutter. Chet assured Daniel no one in the Station 51 crew drank more than one or two beers and the way they played cards would not set off what the Station 51 crew called a Gage Rage.
When Johnny and JJ stepped back into the family room, Johnny joined Roy on the sofa. They bumped shoulders and looked at each other and carried on an entire conversation without saying a word. Johnny assured Roy with a look he would eventually be okay and yes he needed to talk.
JJ stopped abruptly and placed her hands on her hips. The twinkle in her beautiful dark eyes was replaced with flashes of anger as her husband picked up the poker chips in front of him counting them out to see and raise a previous bet. JJ was about to erupt when she heard her husband ask with his best poker face on if Chet had any aces and Chet reply “GO FISH” and then exclaim without missing a beat , “Yup that’s the look that begins Gage Rage… Do you get the Gage Rant that normally comes with Gage Rage...? I’ll see your….” Chet’s bet was drown out as the entire room broke into laughter as JJ said, “Chester B.... You twit...keep it up and I WILL throw a wobbly (British slang for tantrum).”
It was close to 11:00 pm when the DeSoto’s station wagon pulled into the driveway of their home followed closely by John Gage in his Land Rover. Joanne and Jennifer DeSoto met Johnny beside his vehicle and helped take his sleeping twins into the house.
Joanne knew that the night’s events had left the young man that she treated as her own brother drained so she advised Johnny as they stepped into the house that she was going to sleep in his room with the twins and that Johnny could sleep in Chris’s room so he could get a good night’s rest even though she knew Johnny and Roy would probably be up for some time talking.
Johnny’s room had actually been Joanne’s sewing room but ever since Johnny had become Roy’s partner and best friend it had become “Uncle Johnny’s” room for his use anytime he spent time at the DeSoto home. Joanne had long since moved her sewing equipment out of the room and had Roy put in a double bed after John and Danella were married. She even insisted that Roy set up Chris and Jennifer’s old crib in the room after the twins were born so that Johnny would know nothing had changed now that he had a family. The room was still his room and his family was always welcome at the DeSoto home.
John helped Joanne get the twins down for the night and grabbed a pair of grey sweat pants, a t-shirt, and clean boxers that he kept at the DeSoto’s and went to Chris’s room to shower. When Johnny came out of the shower back into Chris’s room, he was carrying his t-shirt in his hand and had a towel wrapped around his neck to catch the stray drips of water coming from his wet thick sable hair. Roy was sitting on one of the twin beds in the room waiting for him. Roy had also taken a quick shower and was wearing light blue running shorts and a white t-shirt.
John didn’t even bother to put on his t-shirt, he just fell onto the other bed on his stomach and let his T-shirt drop to the floor beside the bed. Roy came over to the bed and removed the towel from his partner’s neck and began to lightly touch is neck and back. What Roy was doing was nothing untoward or sexual in nature it was a technique Roy had been taught by Dr. Martha Hightower known as touch therapy.
Touch therapy was designed to help people with Aspergers find and define their own feelings. To be in touch with themselves and to learn to overcome the abuse, the hurt, mistrust, and whatever else drove them and let someone build a bond of trust with them. It was usually a first step toward learning to feel again after a trauma or other emotional problems and open up.
Roy felt Johnny’s tense muscles begin to relax, so he began to ask him questions to get him talking about how he was feeling. Due to the abuse both verbal and physical at the hands of his mother’s family prior to being taken in by his Aunt Rose and the mild Aspergers Syndrome, Johnny found it hard to trust people and talk about how he was feeling at times.
“Johnny”, Roy said quietly, “have you been able to remember any time that you and JJ were together?”
“Maybe”, Johnny finally replied with a sigh.
“Ever since the day we met JJ back in March when we toured the therapy center, I’ve been having dreams, but I can’t seem to remember what I was dreaming about when I wake up other than someone was hurt and needed my help…”
“Does JJ have any memories of when you were young?”….. Roy asked
“The only thing JJ mentions remembering is a small young boy with pleading eyes reaching out stuttering h h e p peas… and a small boy holding her hand and stroking her hair saying JJ JJ….. Johnny replied softly with a yawn.
“Why are you so upset with your aunt..?” Roy asked knowing his young friend was more relaxed due to the touch therapy
“I dunno...” Johnny replied with a sigh “My head tells me JJ is right…. Aunt Rose is the person, who always tried to help my family, but my heart doesn’t understand why JJ was taken away and I was left behind ….”
Roy felt Johnny start trembling and the last thing Roy wanted was for his best friend to get upset so he gave his friend’s shoulder a sympathetic pat and squeeze and reached on the floor and handed Johnny his t-shirt.
Johnny was asleep within minutes after putting on his t-shirt and rolling over on his back and pulling up the covers. He wasn’t even aware that Roy got into the other twin bed in Chris’s room. Roy and John were so in tune to each other’s moods and feelings that Roy knew his partner and best friend was going to have a restless night.
A little before 3:00 am Roy could hear the young man that Roy treated like a little brother start moaning and becoming restless. Roy knew from past experience his best friend was having a nightmare. As Roy lay awake listening, he heard Johnny talking like a small child having a conversation with someone.
“No… mommy be mad if we go see horses. Only go with namêšéme (Grandfather)”
“Cause ownwy men kin werk wit horses”
“Girls sew and queen house. Day don’t werk wit horses”
“JJ n n no w w w wait. Mommy be mad. J J sow down”
“JJ where you go... JJ Mommy gonna be mad JJ”
Oh, Junior you were saying the wrong things to the girls from the very beginning. Roy thought to himself with a smile as he continued to listen to his friend as he was talking in his sleep.
“JJ a a are you in hewr?”
“JJ why you cwothes teared? Oh no you beedin”
“Shh JJ I hep you…I get Gampa”
“JJ Daddy werkin I d d d on’t know how to fine DD Daddy. JJ JJ Shh Don Cwhy peas. “
“h h e p peas”
“JJ wet me go I can’t bweathe. It just Thomas… He gonna git Mommy”
Roy gasp and his stomach turned wondering if this was when Johnny’s Uncle George hurt his sister causing his parents to send her away.
At that moment, Johnny woke up with a start trying to catch his breath. Johnny was trembling all over and trying to orient himself to where he was and why he was so scared and who needed his help.
“Junior take it easy….. Talk to me Junior…. It was just a bad dream….,” Roy said as he tried to calm his trembling partner.
Once Johnny caught his breath he looked at Roy and noticed Roy was pale.
“Roy what’s wrong?” Johnny asked.
Roy told his young friend about what Johnny had said during his dream and what he thought it meant. Johnny didn’t know what to say. He knew the one person that could probably answer if the dream was real was the person he yelled at earlier and told her to get out of his life.
It was 7:00 am Sunday morning. Rosemary Hightower was sitting in her kitchen drinking coffee. Daniel was outside with the staff tending to the horses. She was tired. She had a restless night. She felt guilty about both Johnny and her Aunt Rose being upset. Anytime she was upset she seemed to have nightmares about the little boy with pleading eyes.
The night before, Joanne DeSoto told Rosemary that Johnny was going to their house and that she was going to watch the twins for the evening so Johnny could get some rest. She invited Rosemary to meet her and Jennifer at church at 9:00. Joanne suggested she bring her Aunt Rose along and then come to the DeSoto’s for lunch so they could all talk about what happened between Johnny and his aunt and try to put a “Bridge over Troubled Water”
Rosemary Hightower startled as she realized her aunt had sat down next to her and had put her hand over hers.
“I’m sorry sweetheart... I didn’t mean to startle you…” Rosemary Gage Hughes said softly patting her niece’s hand ...”I’m sure you have lots of questions for me”
JJ had so many questions but she didn’t know where to start and she could see that her aunt still looked very tired and pale.
Her aunt decided to ask the first question. “You’ve told me before about the couple memories of a little boy calling you JJ and stroking your hair and about the little boy with pleading eyes asking for help and the man hurting children. What is the next earliest memory you have?”
JJ had to think hard to come up with a memory from when she was young. It was as if her childhood had been erased. She vividly remembered conversations with Mrs. Hughes after her nephew had come to stay with her when she was 14. She liked to pretend that Mrs. Hughes was her mother and her nephew, John, was her brother so she would have a family. She knew Mrs. Hughes had two children but the times she met them they reminded her of the spoiled rich kids at the boarding school.
“I remember being 8 years old and holding tightly onto the hand of a pretty lady as she took me to a room that had pictures of horses on the walls. She told me that was going to be my room while I was there going to school. The lady said I didn’t need to be afraid because the smelly man couldn’t find me there. She also took me to a place nearby and let me ride and brush a horse named Spirit. She said Spirit was a mustang and would help me find my spirit again.”
JJ gasped as the realization came to her that the pretty lady was actually a young Mrs. Rosemary Gage Hughes.
“You were the pretty lady...but who was the smelly man and where had my spirit gone?” JJ asked
“Yes, sweetheart, I was the lady with you when you saw your room at the London boarding school for the first time…,” Rosemary Gage Hughes replied quietly.
“The smelly man...” she continued, “was someone who hurt you when you were 3. I was told you were taken to a hospital in Sheridan and treated by a Dr. Sean Carlton then transferred here to California with the help of Dr. Steve Hahn, a friend of my family, to the newly opened Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego because you screamed anytime anyone came near you. Your mother said you even screamed when your Dad made it to the hospital in San Diego to see you. It was if your little mind could only see the person who hurt you and no one else. I found this out when I went back to San Gabrielle to visit your family. I had been in Santa Barbara. You and John would have been 7. John and was out hiking with your Dad. I never got a chance to see my brother again. After your Dad died when you and John were 8, your mother agreed to let me take you out of the hospital and take you to London with me to the boarding school my husband had started since it was near centers that had established themselves as being experts in the field of animal assisted psychotherapy. Traditional therapies were not working for you. She and I both knew you loved horses when you were little.”
JJ didn’t know what to say or how to respond. What had happened that was so bad that caused her to be in a hospital from the time she was three until she was eight. Why couldn’t she remember her past? After what her aunt had just told her she wasn’t sure she wanted to remember.
Looking at the clock she realized it was 7:30 am already and it was a 60 minute drive to get to Carson. The church where Joanne attended was near the office where Rosemary had worked with Daniel’s aunt, Dr. Martha Hightower, when she first arrived in California. She was glad her Aunt Rose agreed to go with her to church and agreed it was okay that they would be going to DeSoto’s for lunch even after finding out Johnny would be there.
It was 8:00 am and Joanne DeSoto with the help of her daughter, Jennifer, had Johnny’s twins bathed, fed, and dressed for church. Jennifer was with the twins in the living room trying to keep them entertained and quiet while Joanne sat down to drink a quick cup of coffee and eat of bowl of cereal. As she went to the sink to rinse her cup and bowl, she felt her husband snuggle in behind her and kiss her neck.
“Um you smell good….” she heard her husband whisper in her ear as she turned to greet him.
“You look tired…” she said as she kissed her husband good morning, ”Is Johnny okay? I noticed you must have slept in the other bed in Chris’s room since our bed was still made when I got dressed earlier.”
Roy explained to his wife that he knew as upset as Johnny was that he was going to be restless and that normally meant he would have nightmares. Roy told Joanne about what Johnny said while he was dreaming and his thoughts on whatever Johnny was dreaming about was the event that caused JJ to go away.
Joanne wished she had more time to talk with Roy but it was already 8:30 and it was a 10 minute drive to the church they attended. She told Roy that JJ planned to meet her at church and was coming over for lunch. She also told Roy that JJ was hoping her Aunt Rose would come as well. She asked Roy to prepare his partner for the possibility of his aunt coming so there would not be a surprise like the night before.
Joanne gave her husband one last kiss as she grabbed her purse and the keys to the station wagon and went in the living room to gather up her daughter and Johnny’s twins.
Roy went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and then into the living room and sat in his favorite easy chair reading the Sunday paper.
Soon after Joanne walked out the door, Roy’s young partner came into the living room rubbing his eyes and his temples and flopped down on the sofa. Roy knew without asking, his good friend was in need of a cup of coffee and a couple of aspirins.
JJ looked at her watch as she drove from Agoura into Carson. She estimated they would be at the church in about 15 minutes. It was now 8:30 am. She and her aunt had both been quiet. Both were lost in their own thoughts of the events of the night before and the conversation that had taken place earlier that morning.
JJ noticed her aunt was sweating and starting to cough and she appeared to be short of breath. Her aunt was also rubbing her hand across her breast bone back toward her upper back.
“Aunt Rose…” JJ asked with concern in her voice, “are you feeling alright?”
After another brief coughing episode, Rosemary Gage Hughes, answered her niece “I’ll be okay. I think I’m coming down with a cold.”
“Aunt Rose you look really pale and your voice sounds very hoarse. Rampart General is just up the road. Why don’t we stop and have one of the doctors take a look at you.”
As much as Rosemary Gage Hughes wanted to say no to seeing a doctor she really was getting short of breath. Maybe she was more run down than she thought and she was getting bronchitis.
Dr. Joe Early noticed JJ as she entered the doors of the emergency department of Rampart General Hospital. With concern in his voice he asked, “Rosemary, you haven’t got a problem with all the handiwork that Dr. Brackett and I did on you a month or so ago, do you…?”
JJ smiled warmly at the silver haired doctor just as Dr. Brackett stepped up to the group. “I’m just fine she replied to both of the doctors. It’s Mrs. Hughes, I mean my aunt, Rosemary Hughes, she’s not feeling well.”
It had been a while since either doctor had seen Johnny’s Aunt Rose. Both doctors noticed Mrs. Hughes was very pale and diaphoretic and seemed to be having trouble breathing. The doctors showed Mrs. Hughes into a treatment room and asked JJ to wait for them in the staff lounge.
After Roy, had gotten his partner and friend a cup of coffee and some aspirin he told him what Joanne had said about his sister and Aunt Rose coming over for lunch. Roy could tell his friend was uneasy about the idea but he didn’t go off into a rant. Roy wasn’t sure if that meant he was ready to hear his aunt’s side of the story or if he was just still too tired to comment about the plan.
Roy offered to make Johnny something to eat but he instead opted to take a nap on Roy’s sofa hoping the aspirin would soon take care of his aching head.
Roy knew is partner had woke from his nap without looking up from the crossword puzzle that he had started working on in the Sunday paper soon after he knew by the sounds from the sofa that his friend was asleep. Roy and Johnny spent enough time side by side they were in tune to each other by sound and sight.
“Head feelin any better, Junior….?” Roy inquired
“A little...” his friend replied quietly. “What time is it, Roy?”
“10:15” Roy answered
Johnny stretched and sat up right on the sofa rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands and then ran his hands through his tousled sable hair willing himself to get up and go out to his Land Rover and grab a duffle bag that he kept in it that had a pair of jeans, a thermal shirt, a black t shirt and his red shirt that he often wore when he went fishing or camping.
Roy also needed to get dressed since Joanne, the kids, JJ, and Johnny’s Aunt Rose would be arriving in about an hour for lunch. He wasn’t sure how his partner and best friend was going to react to his aunt considering the outburst that had occurred the night before.
Roy had just finished brushing his teeth when he heard the station wagon pull into the driveway. He looked at his watch and it was 11:15. Roy sighed and walked from his bedroom down the stairs and met his wife and daughter at the front door each of them was holding a sleeping Gage twin.
Roy followed his wife and daughter into Uncle Johnny’s room as the twins were put down in the crib for a nap.
Jennifer smiled brightly at her Uncle Johnny as she met him coming out of Chris’s room as she entered her room to change clothes and do some reading until lunch was ready.
As Johnny got near the kitchen, he heard Roy ask his wife when JJ and his Aunt Rose would be arriving.
“Roy…. Joanne replied with a bit of concern in her voice, “they didn’t make it to church. I was just getting ready to give JJ a call to make sure everything is okay”
Just as Joanne reached out for the phone on the kitchen wall, it began ringing. She noticed two very concerned and tired dark brown eyes looking at her in the kitchen doorway as she picked up the phone receiver and said “Hello”
“Is everything okay?” ……..”Why are you at Rampart?”…… “Hang in there, Johnny and Roy will be there as soon as they can”
As soon as Roy and Johnny heard the word Rampart, both of them went into paramedic mode wanting to know who was at Rampart and why.
“That was JJ on the phone…” Joanne replied to the two anxious men in front of her. “Johnny your Aunt Rose is sick. JJ said she started sweating and coughing on the way to church this morning. JJ said she was also short of breath and appeared that maybe her chest was hurting so JJ decided to have her checked out at Rampart. Your aunt thought maybe she was just run down coming down with bronchitis.”
Roy noticed the blood draining from his friend’s face and reached over to the table with his foot and brought a chair over and told Johnny to sit down as Joanne walked over and got a glass of water for him.
When Johnny finally found his voice it was full of fear…”Joanne can you watch the twins for me, please? Roy do you mind driving? I’m not sure I can at the moment.”
As Johnny and Roy entered the staff lounge, which is where the nurse at the admissions desk had directed them, the look on the doctor’s faces and the tear slipping from JJ’s dark long lashes let both of them know the news was not going to be something as simple as bronchitis.
“Roy….John…..” Dr Joe Early greeted as Johnny moved to the sofa to be near his sister. Roy walked to the lounge chair back by the window.
“I was just telling Rosemary that we just reviewed Mrs. Hughes chest x-ray that was taken to rule out pneumonia due to the chest pain and shortness of breath. The x-ray is showing Mrs. Hughes has a rather large thoracic ascending aortic aneurysm. Based on her symptoms we also feel the aortic valve is leaking. We will have to do echocardiography to confirm. The shortness of breath and hoarseness is from congestive heart failure. She also advised she had an angiogram back in March and has some blockage. We are waiting for her doctor to call us.
JJ looked at the men around her and with tears streaming down her face she asked, “What is an aortic aneurysm and how serious is it?”
Dr. Bracket explained, “An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of a weakened area of the aorta. Aneurysms which involve the ascending aorta, aortic arch and descending thoracic aorta are called thoracic aortic aneurysms. Aneurysms in these regions are prone to rupture. Fifty percent of patients who experience a rupture of a thoracic aortic aneurysm die before reaching the hospital. Furthermore, surgical repair of a ruptured thoracic aneurysm carries a 25-50%
mortality as opposed to 5-8% mortality when such aneurysms are treated prior to rupture.”
Dr. Early could see the fear in both Johnny and JJ’s faces and the concern in Roy’s so he added, “Mrs. Hughes seems to be in good health otherwise. She has a good chance of a complete recovery since there has not been a rupture. Peter Waltz, our best vascular surgeon, is on his way in.”
When the doctors left the room, Roy didn’t know what to say to his two friends that would be of any comfort to them. The anguish of the news was written on both their faces especially after being told they would not be able to see their aunt prior to surgery. She had already been taken to an OR for the echo and to be prepped. Roy knew Johnny was feeling guilty about the way he treated his aunt the night before and you could see how much Mrs. Hughes meant to JJ by how upset she was.
Roy thought maybe the two needed a few minutes alone so he told Johnny and JJ that he was going to go call Cap to see if he could get a replacement for both of them for tomorrow’s shift. He also needed to call Joanne.
As he walked to the payphones near the ER waiting room area by Dr. Brackett’s office, Daniel Hightower walked through the ER doors. Roy filled him in on what the doctors had found and confirmed for him that Johnny and his wife were both in the staff lounge and were both very upset and agreed with Daniel’s assessment that it was going to be a long afternoon.
Roy called Joanne to give her the news and promised he would let Johnny and JJ know she had them both in her thoughts and prayers along with Mrs. Hughes. Roy also put a call into Edward DeVane, who was a long time employee of Johnny’s aunt, to let him know that she was in the hospital. He found out Mrs. Hughes children, Joshua and Tiffany, were away on a cruise so there was no way to reach them.
When Roy returned to the staff lounge, he found Johnny alone still sitting on the sofa with his head resting in his hand so he sat on the sofa next to him and put his hand lightly on his knee. Roy suspected the man he treated as his kid brother had been crying since he refused to move his hand away from his eyes.
“Junior where are JJ and Daniel….?” Roy asked quietly.
“Daniel made JJ go with him to the cafeteria…” Johnny replied in a husky voice trembling with emotion.
“You should’ve gone with them as well since you’ve only had a cup of coffee and some aspirin. You and I both know your aunt will be in pre-op for at least an hour and at a minimum it will be a 4 hour surgery…” Roy advised.
“Roy, right now if I ate anything you would be holding the waste can in front of me...” Johnny replied with a sigh.
Roy gave his friend’s knee a knowing squeeze. As he did Johnny whispered, “Roy what am I gonna do if she doesn’t make it? I I I was so awful to her last night. I’ve also never told her I love her.”
Roy could feel is friend trembling beneath his hand placed on his knee. Suddenly the soft whimper Roy heard turned into a heart wrenching sob. Roy pulled his best friend into his shoulder and just held him while he cried. Roy knew his friend was crying over the realty of how sick his aunt was and at the thought of it being too late to tell his aunt how he felt about her and that he was sorry about last night.
“Aw Junior”… Roy began, “Rose knows how you feel about her and she knows you didn’t mean what you said last night.”
Roy could tell Johnny was trying to pull his emotions back under control as the door to the staff lounge opened and Daniel and JJ returned. One look at JJ’s red eyes and moist cheeks and Daniel’s clenched jaw confirmed for Roy that Daniel and he both were dealing with two very upset individuals.
Roy moved back to one of the lounge chairs by the back window and Daniel joined him. JJ sat next to Johnny with her head resting on his shoulder and her hand on his heart.
The rest of Station 51s A-shift arrived a little after 1:00. Soon after they arrived, a surgical nurse came in and advised Dr. Waltz had arrived and just started the surgical aneurysm repair. She advised this procedure is also known as an "open" aneurysm repair. She explained during the procedure, an incision is made in the chest to reach the aneurysm. The diseased part of the aorta is removed and replaced with an artificial device called a graft that is the same size and shape as the healthy artery. Alternatively, fabric patches will be used to strengthen the artery wall, preventing the aneurysm from growing or bursting. She also advised Mrs. Hughes was now on pump meaning on a heart-lung machine. A Foley catheter has been placed for urine collection and a nasal gastric tube had been passed into her nose and down her throat to stop liquid and air from collecting in the stomach, to help prevent her from feeling sick and to keep her from being bloated when she wakes up. The bypasses would be done using the beating heart method and be done “off pump”.
The guys from Station 51 faces all showed the concern they were feeling for their youngest crew member and his sister and their thoughts and prayers went out to them and to Mrs. Hughes.
Chet Kelly’s way of showing someone he cared for them was by teasing them. It probably wasn’t an appropriate time for teasing but you could feel the tension and stress in the room and it made him nervous.
“Hey JJ, babe…, he sang out, “how come you don’t talk like you lived most of your life in London? I heard a couple of words that were British slang last night but you talk like you have always lived in southern California.”
“CHET”…. the entire Station 51 crew exclaimed in unison.
JJ smiled weakly at the men around her, took a breath and answered, “Well Chet, as you know, the boarding school I went to was run by the Hughes Foundation based here in California. I remembered this morning that Aunt Rose was actually with me when I got to London. She said I was 8 when we went. She said she took me after my Dad died. Most of the staff was from California. Since I had no family in London, it was the staff I talked with most of the time along with Mrs. Hughes when she visited. There were also a lot of spoiled American kids at the school and some very rich British kids so I learned both American and British slang while I was growing up. Aunt Rose said she was told I was in San Diego from age 3 – 8.”
Johnny’s eyebrows arched a bit when he learned that JJ had been in San Diego for 5 years. He could tell from the look in JJs face that there was more to the conversation but he respected her privacy and decided that he would wait until they were alone again to discuss it with her.
The guys tried to pass time by reading the out of date magazines that were in the lounge. The TV had been turned on just for background noise because no one was really watching it.
The stress of the day and the restless night before had caught up with JJ and her head slid from Johnny’s shoulder to his lap. Daniel moved over to the sofa to help get his wife into a more comfortable position as Johnny took off his red shirt and placed it over his sister’s legs since she was wearing a dress.
Johnny began to stroke JJs hair and cheek with his hand as he realized she appeared to be having a nightmare.
“Jawn ‘mon wets go see horses”
“Why grampa not wet me go”
“If you kin be fireman, when I grow up, I werk with horses. Daddy says I kin”
I show you girls can werk with horses Jawn Roderick Gage
There was a long time before JJ talked again but her movements made it appear she was running and then she held her breath for a long time and then moaned as though she was in pain with a look of sheer terror showing on her face.
“Smelly man touch me an hurt me. Hep peas”
“NO Gampa scarwy. I hewr Gampa yellin when smelly man touch me. Den smelly man run away. I want my Daddy”
The crew of Station 51s A-shift were sickened by what they were hearing especially knowing the abuse their youngest crew member had endured. None of them were prepared for the next part of the nightmare.
JJ screamed in a way that made them all jump and cause their hearts to skip a beat as they watched her wrap her arms around Johnny so tightly that they were sure he couldn’t breathe as she said,
“Go way don touch me. Don hurt me gin”
Johnny finally found some air and implored. “JJ let me go I can’t breathe”
As Johnny tried to break her grip on him, he continued to say “JJ JJ”
The lounge door flying open and Dr. Morton, Dixie, and Dr. Early rushing in brought JJ awake with a start. As her eyes focused and she tried to slow her breathing, she relaxed the grip on Johnny and noticed several sets of concerned eyes looking at her.
Captain Stanley could tell this was a situation that was going to require someone to take the lead so he quickly let Dr. Morton, Dixie, and Dr. Early know that everything was okay. JJ had just had a very bad nightmare and asked if there was any update on Mrs. Hughes since he noticed it was already 5:00.
Dixie advised at this point no news must be good news. Once she, Dr. Morton and Dr. Early were assured that JJ and everyone else in the room was okay and needed nothing they left the room.
Johnny had gotten up from the sofa and knelt down in front of his sister. The look on her face told him that she was starting to remember the past. He found himself also remembering things after hearing what JJ said during her nightmare. Daniel had moved from the lounge chair and was now sitting next to his wife with an arm wrapped protectively around her.
“JJ, sweetheart, say something….” Johnny urged as he gazed intently at his sister with his deep brown eyes.
“We were 3 years old and were living on the reservation. Dad was away at work. I wanted to go see the horses. You said Mom would be mad and we could only go with Namêšéme (Grandfather). I asked you why Namêšéme wouldn’t take me with you when you went to work with the horses…. The edges of JJ’s lips gave a slight smile as she continued, “you told me only men could work with horses. I told you if you could be a fireman I could work with horses when I grew up because Dad said I could. Dad told me I had the spirit of a wild mustang like Aunt Rosie and no one could stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. You then told me girls were supposed to sew and clean house and only men could work with horses.”
“Damn Gage...” Chet roared trying to break the tension in the room. “you were saying the wrong things to chicks at age 3. No wonder you struck out with so many girls. It’s a wonder Danella ever married you.”
“Shut up you twit...” Hank Stanley ordered.
“After I told you I would show you I could work with horses, I took off running toward the corral. You ran after me telling me Mom was going to be mad. You called me JJ because you had a stutter and normally could never get Johnna out especially if you were upset….” JJ explained.
“When I got near the building that was in the center of the reservation...”JJ continued…”Hešeho (uncle) caught me and took me inside the building. His breath smelled….He smelled… I wanted to puke. To this day I still get sick if I smell alcohol on someone’s breath.”
There was a pause and you could see JJ starting to tremble. She closed her eyes before speaking again…..
“Hešeho picked me up and pushed me down hard onto a table that had poker chips and cards laying on it.”
Johnny felt like his heart was about to beat out of his chest. He wanted to run from the room but he knew his sister needed him to be with her.
“He um um brought his face toward mine so I kicked hard and butted him with my head because he smelled so bad. He got real mad…..”
“OH Spirit Oh Spirit Oh Spirit…” JJ panted, “Hešeho ripped my dress and started touching me. Then I heard Grandfather yelling outside to someone that he saw me running from the house. He was going to the corral and he told the other person to go back toward our house and look for you. I was scared. Hešeho ran out the back door and you came in and wanted to know why my clothes were torn and said I was bleeding. I told you the smelly man touched me and hurt me and I asked you to help me. You wanted to get Grandfather. I said Grandfather frightened me because he was yelling then I told you I wanted Daddy. I was crying and you kept stroking my hair saying JJ JJ shh. Then you said help me please to someone who had come in. I saw Uncle George coming toward us. I screamed and grabbed onto you for dear life. You said you couldn’t breathe and said Thomas was going to get Mom. You stroked my hair again and said JJ JJ.
Aunt Rose told me this morning after this event, I had been seen by a Dr. Carlton in Sheridan and then taken to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego with the help of a Dr. Hahn. She said I screamed anytime anyone came near me even Dad. She said Mom agreed to allow her to take me to London right after Dad died because she had heard about animal-assisted therapy which started back in the 18th century in England and traditional therapy wasn’t working for me. Based on stories Aunt Rose told me when I got older, I’m guessing my constant screaming that day made your Aspergers symptoms get worse. I’m also guessing that due to your emotional state when Aunt Rose took you from Montana to California when we were 14 is why she decided to keep us apart when you moved in with her. Once I started talking about coming to California and building a therapy center, I think she just decided to let the spirits guide our destiny since neither of us seemed to have a memory of each other.”
This time JJ decided to lighten the mood herself before Chet had a chance. She looked her twin brother directly in the eyes, and exclaimed, “I told you I was going to work with horses when I grew up John Roderick Gage and Chester B Kelly I apparently lived on an Indian reservation and that’s how come I know some Native American words.”
It was already 6:00 pm. The Station 51 crew except for Roy said their goodbyes. Daniel told his wife he was going to get her more comfortable clothes since she was still in a dress & heels. Roy sat vigil over Johnny and JJ as the exhausted pair drifted off to sleep leaning on each other for comfort.
Dr. Kelly Brackett had scrubbed in with Dr. Peter Waltz. He had just looked at the clock and realized they were 5 hours into this surgery on Johnny and JJ’s aunt and were not even close to being complete.
The echo that had been done prior to starting surgery gave them the exact location, size, and shape of the aneurysm and confirmed there was leakage around the aortic valve. A call from Mrs. Hughes doctor had confirmed she had been advised back in March she needed bypass surgery after an EKG as part of a routine physical showed irregularities and the angiogram confirmed some mild blockages.
Kel had to laugh when Dr. Waltz exclaimed soon after making the incision through the length of Mrs. Hughes sternum and moving the muscle and other tissue away that the aneurysm was huge and it appeared the aorta was now almost completely blocked and would require several vessels to be harvested from her legs for bypass grafts. He exclaimed that this lady before him was going to make him use every bit of his 25 years of knowledge to save her because there was no way he could continue using typical surgery techniques. Kel just nodded and replied, “She’s a Gage, I would expect nothing less” and promised to fill Peter in later about how a Gage with a medical issue will always keep you on your toes.
Kel looked up at the clock as his eyes scanned the monitors showing Mrs. Hughes current vital signs. It was almost 10:00 pm. Mrs. Hughes was going to have to be taken off the heart-lung machine soon. 6 hours was the normal time frame for a person to be on pump but in extreme cases patients have gone as long as 10 hours. Peter had completed the valve repair and was almost complete with the aneurysm repair. The plan was to then remove Mrs. Hughes from the heart-lung machine and then do the bypasses for the blockages shown on the angiogram using the beating heart method instead of having Mrs. Hughes remain on pump.
Kel was snapped back from his musing when all the monitors in the room started going off. There was a leakage around the heart-lung line for the distal aorta. A leakage can cause a patient to rapidly bleed out.
The hymn “Where the Roses Never Fade” was playing softly in the background of the funeral home. All of Rosemary Gage Hughes contacts and friends had filed past the casket to pay their last respects. John’s hand ached from all the people that wanted to shake his hand, offer their condolences, and introduce themselves to him, his sister, and Rosemary’s children Joshua and Tiffany.
During the service the minister talked about how well Mrs. Hughes had lived her dash. He talked about her wild mustang spirit and of the many people she had helped even after her husband had passed away soon after he and Mrs. Hughes took in her nephew John Gage. The minister reminded everyone how Mrs. Hughes did all she could to ensure her niece Rosemary could fulfill her dream of building an Equine Therapy Center in California.
John knew it would soon be time for him to say his final goodbye to the woman who took him in without question and tried her best to help him through the scars that he had carried with him. She also made sure his dream to become a fireman became a reality. He knew once Roy, Joanne, Daniel and his friends from Station 51s A- shift filed past the casket and out the door it would be time for him to go in front of the casket. He had avoided going near it the entire day. He wasn’t ready for her to be gone. He never got to say he was sorry and that he loved her and now he would never have the chance. A part of him thought if he refused to go near the casket then she wasn’t dead and this was all just a horrible nightmare.
The funeral director was now standing by his chair motioning for the family to pay their final respects. John felt like he couldn’t breathe. He felt the need to throw up and run all at the same time. As he got almost too where he could see inside the casket, Johnny exclaimed “I can’t do this” and bolted to the side door. The minister caught him as he got to the door and told him it was okay. She was in a better place now and was free of all pain. She knew you would be okay and be cared for. She loved you very much.
“JOHNNY WAKE UP” Roy and JJ shouted for the third time.
As soon as Johnny’s eyes came open, Roy recognized the look on his face and grabbed the waste can beside the sofa and was able to get it placed in front of Johnny as his stomach rebelled the coffee he had drank during their wait in the staff lounge for Mrs. Hughes’ surgery to be completed.
Dixie McCall was just about to open the door to the staff lounge when she heard the familiar sound of a John Gage stomach rebellion and changed directions to get a towel, wet cloth, and cup of water from the treatment room across the hall.
Johnny’s dry heaves had stopped as Dixie walked into the lounge. She took Roy’s place in front of her favorite paramedic as Roy got up to move the soiled waste can to the other side of the room.
“Here Tiger”, Dixie cooed, “let’s drink some water and get you out of that soiled t-shirt and get you cleaned up a bit.”
JJ was now wearing jeans and sweater that her husband had dropped off. “Are you okay?”
Johnny’s worried sister asked once she could see his breathing and color were returning to normal.
“I will be.” Johnny replied. “You’re the one that just remembered a traumatic event but I’m the one with my head over a waste can. I should be comforting you not you having to hold my hand to comfort me. What time is it anyway?” He continued with a deep sigh.
“It’s 11:30 pm.” JJ replied. “You remember the story the guys told me last night about when you had to treat yourself after you got bit by the rattler?” JJ asked her brother. “I am a licensed therapist and I specialize in the treatment of Child Traumatic Stress (CTS). I have to admit you were right last night. You can treat yourself if you have to but it’s not easy especially when the patient is a might squeamish. You want to tell us about the nightmare? It must have been a bad one. I didn’t think Roy and I would ever get you awake.”
Johnny took a deep breath and told his sister, Roy, and Dixie McCall his dream about Aunt Rose dying and getting sick to his stomach when it was time to file past the casket for the last time and trying to run out the side door. “Dix, it’s been over 10 hours have you heard any news?” Johnny asked.
Dix paused and looked at her hands and it appeared she was trying to hold back tears. Johnny’s breath caught afraid his nightmare was about to come true… his aunt was dead.
Dix finally gained control of her emotions and told them about the leakage around one of the heart-lung lines. She told them Mrs. Hughes had lost a lot of blood but they were able to stop the bleeding and have taken her off the heart-lung machine and are starting to harvest vessels from her legs for the bypasses that are needed. She gave the group a warm smile and left the room with the soiled waste can after she was sure they were all okay and didn’t need anything.
Roy felt a tear run down his cheek as he watched Johnny and JJ hold each other in a tight embrace. Roy was glad they had each other to lean on. He prayed that things would turn out alright for Mrs. Hughes because he wasn’t sure Johnny or JJ would be able to handle any more traumatic events this evening.
Roy convinced Johnny and JJ to both sit at the table and eat a sandwich and a muffin that Joanne had sent with Daniel after he had dropped some of Johnny and JJs clothes off at the DeSoto home. Roy, Joanne, and Daniel all knew if they could convince Johnny and JJ to leave the hospital that Roy’s house was the closet to Rampart.
It was after 2:00 am when two very sweaty and tired looking doctors in scrubs entered the staff lounge, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at the table to talk with 3 pair of very anxious eyes looking intently at them. Dr. Brackett introduced Dr. Peter Waltz to the group. Roy and Johnny couldn’t read Dr. Brackett’s face. They knew by the mouth twitch things didn’t go as planned.
JJ found her voice first and finally asked in almost a whisper, “Please tell us she’s still alive.”
Dr. Brackett confirmed she did make it through surgery but there were complications. He told them it took several units of blood when the heart-lung line leaked. He also explained Mrs. Hughes went into cardiac arrest soon after going off pump and onto a ventilator when the beating heart bypass surgery was started. She also arrested after one of the bypass grafts collapsed and had to be redone.
Roy asked what the prognosis was. Dr. Waltz explained Mrs. Hughes made him use every bit of his 25 years of knowledge during surgery. He advised if she made it through the next 24 hours her chance of survival went up to 25%. Johnny and JJ were both hoping to get to see their aunt but the doctors explained they were taking her to CICU and she was in a coma.
Dr. Brackett had heard about the events that had taken place during surgery so he urged Johnny and JJ to go home with Roy and get some rest. He promised if there were any drastic changes, CICU would call.
It was after 3:00 am when the weary group arrived at the DeSoto home. They had decided to leave Roy’s sports car at Rampart and opted to drive the Mercedes that JJ had driven to Rampart since it had more room. The Mercedes belonged to Mrs. Hughes. Joanne had been in Johnny’s room with the twins and heard the group come in. She put on her robe and went out to greet them.
Roy filled Joanne in on Mrs. Hughes condition as Johnny and JJ stepped into his room to see the twins. Daniel had filled Joanne in about the revelation that JJ had during her nightmare. Roy told Joanne about Johnny’s dream about his aunt passing away.
Joanne’s heart went out to both Johnny and JJ for all they had endured over the past 24 hours. When Roy and Joanne went to check on their guests, they found them lying on top of the covers together asleep. Johnny with his left arm over his eyes and JJ had her right arm over her eyes. Joanne went out to grab a blanket from the closet and Roy took off Johnny and JJs boots and set them at the foot of the bed.
After looking in on Chris and Jennifer, Roy undressed and dropped wearily into his bed beside his wife and welcomed her embrace as he sent up a silent prayer that his best friend and his beautiful sister would be spared further nightmares and there would be no phone calls from Rampart so they could all get some rest.
Monday November 20, 1978
It was 9:00 am. Roy was sitting at the table twirling a cup of coffee in front of him watching his wife wash dishes. He had gotten up and ate breakfast with Chris and Jennifer before they left for school. Without turning around, he knew by sound his friend and partner was walking up behind him. As he turned, he saw 3 heads of tousled sable hair. One belonged to his very tired looking partner. The other 2 heads were laying on each of Johnny’s shoulders with their little arms wrapped around his neck as he held them on each of his skinny hips.
“Junior you look like you got your hands full.” Roy exclaimed with a smile as he reached out for Roy Joseph who was on the hip closet to him. Joanne had dried her hands and brought Johnny a cup of black coffee as he sat down at the table in the chair next to Roy moving Kathleen Joanne from his shoulder to his lap.
“Where’s JJ?” Johnny asked as Joanne took Katie and moved her to a high chair beside her brother and gave them each a bowl of oatmeal and some milk in a sippy cup and sat a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast along with a glass of milk in front of Johnny.
“She left about 8:00.” Roy answered “She said she was going to take your aunt’s Mercedes back to her house, make sure all the schedules for sessions at the therapy center were done, and then she was going to go by and talk with Daniel’s aunt, Dr. Martha Hightower.”
“JJ called Rampart”, Roy continued, “your aunt had some blood pressure issues during the night but it was expected and Dr. Waltz had ordered meds for it before he and Dr. Brackett left the hospital. She said to tell you she would be back around noon.”
Johnny just nodded and swirled the eggs around on the plate before him. He did finally manage to at least drink the milk and eat part of the eggs, a half a piece of toast and a couple of bites of bacon before looking at his watch and telling Roy he was going to go take a shower so he would be ready when JJ returned.
Roy heard him stop in the living room and talk to the twins who had finished their breakfast and were now playing with toy horses that Rosemary Hughes had given to Daniel to give to them when he had brought in her luggage Saturday evening.
Johnny looked at his watch and noticed it was almost noon so he went to retrieve his boots that he noticed were at the foot of the bed earlier but he was still in the jeans and shirt he had on when they got in at 3:00 am when he awoke. I guessed he had fallen asleep with his clothes on and someone took off his boots. He looked out the window and noticed a 75 Mustang was now behind his Rover. He assumed it belonged to JJ.
“Nice car.” Johnny said to his sister as he walked into the DeSoto’s living room and joined his twin sister on the sofa. He noticed his sister was pale, her eyes were red, and she had the same dark circles under her eyes that he had.
“It was the car at the airport for me when I arrived in California back on Christmas Day 1975.” JJ answered. “When I called the Hughes Foundation the next day asking what rental agency I should return the car to, they told me it was mine to use while the therapy center was being built. When the center was complete, I received a call from the Hughes Foundation saying a benefactor had donated the car to the center. Knowing what I do now, I’m guessing the car was actually a homecoming gift from Aunt Rose.”
As Roy, Johnny, and JJ were saying their goodbyes to Joanne and the twins so they could get to the hospital, the phone rang. Roy picked up the receiver of the phone hanging on the kitchen wall. Based on the conversation, Johnny figured the caller was Captain Stanley checking in to see how things were going. Roy confirmed this after hanging up. He told Johnny Dwyer and Bellingham were working for them and that Cap and the guys said to call them with updates on Mrs. Hughes and let them know if there is anything they can do.
It was 1:00 pm when Johnny, JJ, and Roy walked by the nurse’s station of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit on the 6th Floor at Rampart General Hospital. Normally only two people are allowed in the room at a time for 15 minutes on each hour but Dr. Brackett had left notes at the nurse’s station that Mrs. Hughes was a VIP and that it was okay for Johnny, JJ, and Roy to visit her together.
JJ gasped when she saw her aunt and buried her face in Johnny’s chest. Tears welled in Johnny’s eyes as his left hand moved to his mouth as if to will his stomach not to rebel and his right arm went protectively around his sister as Roy put a protective arm around the shoulders of the man he treated as his kid brother.
Rosemary Hughes was on a vent, deathly pale, and extremely bloated. She had 2 chest tubes draining fluids that had collected around her heart during surgery. She still had the NG tube and Foley catheter. A large Swan-Ganz IV was in place as well which allows the staff to monitor critical heart functions and infuse medications when needed.
Johnny transferred JJ into Roy’s strong arms and moved closer to his aunt’s bedside. When he moved back the sheet to expose her arm so he could hold her hand, he could see her leg nearest him was extremely swelled and bruised from where the bypass grafts were harvested.
Johnny said nothing. He just held his aunt’s hand in his and allowed tears to flow down his cheeks. He knew by the shaking of JJs shoulders even though he heard no sound that she was sobbing into Roy’s shirt.
Thursday November 23, 1978
It was 9:00 am Thanksgiving Day. Johnny and JJ were once again at their aunt’s bedside. She was still in a coma but Dr. Brackett had assured them considering what she went through during surgery this was not unexpected. The fact that she was still alive was actually a bit of a surprise. He told Johnny and JJ that Dr. Waltz was calling their aunt his miracle patient.
JJ was sitting in a chair by the wall with Roy beside her. Johnny was pacing back and forth beside his aunt’s bed. The only other sound in the room was the steady beep of the heart monitor and the hiss of the ventilator.
**Johnny finally stopped pacing and placed his hands in his jeans pockets and looked at the still body of his aunt laying in the hospital bed and said in a deep husky voice, “You know Dr. Brackett says even if you’re in a coma you can hear me.” Johnny then gave a nervous chuckle as he continued speaking to his aunt. “You remember the day I fell off the scaffolding that was up around your house because it was being painted? You thought I got hurt….but I really didn’t...” He sat down on a stool by his aunt’s beside and continued. “I was faking it. I scared you to death. I had seen photos of firemen repelling in the firefighter academy brochure you gave me and decided to try it. I figured if you thought I had gotten hurt you wouldn’t be mad when you caught me. I suppose that was a little cruel.” Johnny said running his hand through his thick sable hair which was a sign he was nervous.
Johnny’s voice was now starting to tremble. He took in a deep breath. “It’s hard to comprehend how much someone really means to you until you face losing them. Sure makes you think…. I don’t know how… Johnny’s voice hitched with emotion… I can’t fathom my life without you.”
Tears were now flowing. “Oh God I love you. I want us back together again. I want the chance to tell you that I love you and that I’m sorry for what I said on Saturday and for causing you so many problems when you took me in…. So I’m going to ask you to do something for me if you can really hear me. It’s not going to be easy but I want you to try really hard for me. I want you to open your eyes and tell me that you love me. Johnny now had his arms on either side of his aunt on the bed looking down at her. Come on Aunt Rose. Now you’re not even trying. Johnny was now leaning almost face to face with his aunt and pushing down on the bed with his fists.
Come on your not even trying. Open your eyes and tell me you love me. Come on sweetheart open your eyes. Johnny’s words were now almost too faint to hear through the emotions. Through a sob you could faintly hear “please please open your eyes……… please….
(** borrowed and adapted from a Loving episode found on You Tube in a Randolph Mantooth Acting Demo Reel (fanmade) posted by paramedic51)
Johnny could no longer control his emotions and sat back down on the stool beside his aunt’s bedside, held her hand in his and wept.
Roy had noticed Mrs. Hughes was raising the arm opposite the hand Johnny was holding but before he realized what she was doing; Mrs. Hughes had pulled the vent tube from her throat. Roy ran from the room to find a nurse and Dr. Brackett. JJ jumped to her aunt’s side and brought her hand back down before she could pull out her NG tube as well.
Johnny looked up in shock. Tear stained dark brown eyes met his aunt’s green eyes as she whispered….…”Na-háahketa” (my little one) love you. Knew faking. No sorry. Everything …. happen…. water under bridge.” She then turned to her niece and said “Remember mustang spirit.”
“Oh Aunt Rose,” Johnny voice was filled with emotion, “I love you. I love you so much. I’m so sorry for all I’ve put you through. Thank you for taking care of me and JJ.”
Rosemary Gage Hughes didn’t have the strength to reply but she squeezed her nephew’s hand in response and sent up a silent prayer of thanksgiving. She didn’t think the day would ever come that she would hear the words “I love you” from her nephew considering everything he had endured.
It was 6:00 pm when Roy, Johnny, and JJ arrived back at Roy’s home. They noticed Daniel’s pickup was out front as well as all the cars from the rest of the crew that made up Station 51’s
A - Shift. The smells of a Thanksgiving dinner greeted them as they got out of Johnny’s Rover and walked toward the house.
As the trio walked in the door, all eyes turned to them to get a sense of how Mrs. Hughes was doing. Roy finally spoke for Johnny and JJ and told everyone that Mrs. Hughes woke from her coma and was off the ventilator. He went onto tell them that both Dr. Waltz and Dr. Brackett now felt she was going to make a full recovery.
There were hugs and tears from everyone as they moved toward the table to eat the meal that had been prepared by Joanne, Captain Stanley and Mike Stoker’s wives, and Marco and Chet’s mothers.
Roy asked Captain Stanley to do them all the honor of carving the turkey before them after the blessing was given. As food was being passed around the table, Jennifer and Chris both exclaimed how thankful they were that their Uncle Johnny’s aunt was going to be okay.
JJ kissed her husband and brother and told everyone how thankful she was that she had these two wonderful men in her life as well as the friends before her and she was thankful for the wonderful aunt she had that did everything in her power to protect her.
Before Johnny had a chance to say what he was thankful for, the front door opened and his wife Danella walked in. He jumped from the table and grabbed his wife and held her in a tight embrace as she cooed, “Hello Mé’oo’o, (sweetheart). The spirits have directed me to come home to you.”
Johnny quickly filled his wife in on all the events that had taken place over the past few days and then took his turn to say what he was thankful for. He told everyone that he was thankful for his family and friends and on this day of thanksgiving he was most thankful that he was given the chance to tell his aunt how he felt about her.
Author’s Notes: This story is dedicated to my maternal grandmother that died on Saturday April 21, 1984 of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Right before my wedding was to begin my grandmother came in the room where I was waiting. She hugged me, told me she loved me, and said she was happy I was going to have someone to care for me. She left the room as the song started that was the queue for my brothers escort our grandparents and mother to their seats.
The next thing I heard was CPR being done. My mother came into the room with me and my aunt blocked the door so I couldn’t open it. My last memory of my wedding day is mom trying to tell me everything was okay. I told her, “I know what CPR is. I wanted to be a paramedic, remember…I’m going to nursing school in August. Let me out. I need to help her.”
Just recently my aunt told me my grandmother had been told not to attend my wedding and was being urged to do another round of open heart surgery to repair blockages but she did not want to go through surgery again.
The funeral home scene in this story was based on my actual thoughts and actions at my grandmother’s funeral.
To this day I can’t remember if I ever told my grandmother that I loved her. My immediate family never openly shows our feelings for each other. I know my parents and brothers love me and they know I feel the same for them but we don’t ever say the words out loud.
I love you Grandma and I miss you.
With a heavy heart, I must do another dedication. On March 30, 2013 my 22 year old nephew drown due to a boating accident during a night bow finishing tourney. Mercifully God allowed the sun to come out on Easter Sunday and he and his friend were recovered.
Grandma, please take care of your wonderful great grandson for us until we can meet with you again.
Special thanks to Tammy Billings for allowing me to use her wonderful back story to enhance my stories. All photos are simply meant to bring the fictional characters to life and were found through image requests through internet search engines. All medical errors are mine. The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. Music lyrics and other highlighted items also do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made.
Posted to Site 04/05/13
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