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“Mmmm,” Johnny murmured softly.
“Shhh Junior…Just rest…I’m right here,” Roy soothed, stroking the dark hair back from John’s face.
John might not remember much but the feel of this person’s touch felt familiar and natural…His eyes drifted closed and the blonde paramedic continued his conversation as the younger man slept.
“You can get encephalitis from having the measles?” Roy asked incredulous.
Kel nodded. “Like I said…It’s rare but it does happen and it would explain the symptoms he’s having.”
“What exactly is it?” Joanne asked worriedly.
“It’s an inflammation of the brain Joanne,” Kel replied. “An infection between the Myelin lining and the brain itself.”
She grew a bit more pale at those words and she reached out to let her finger’s sweep through the sable hair of her young friend. “Well if that is what he has, then what can we expect?” She questioned fearfully.
“Could he be uh…Brain damaged?” Roy asked. “I mean he…he’s aphasiac and having seizures and…” The blonde paramedic trailed off.
“We’ll do our best Roy to get this fever and the virus under control. We’ll keep him on anti seizure drugs and get him on a cooling sheet while we wait for the results and as far as brain damage Roy…That’s a wait and see issue. We need to see what’s been affected after the swelling goes down. Ninety seven percent of the people who get it make a full recovery as long as they're treated immediately and they’re not…,” Kel stopped
“They’re not what doc?” Roy questioned warily. Kel wanted to bite his tongue. “Doc?” Roy prompted looking a little scared now.
“Having seizures and hallucinating,” he finished quietly.
“You mean like Johnny’s having?”
Kel nodded as he folded his arms across his chest.
“Oh God,” Jo whispered as she took John’s hand.
“Now settle down you two…Johnny’s still conscious and he does seem to know you Roy so let’s not jump ahead of ourselves here okay?”
“Yeah…Yeah alright,” Roy agreed hopefully. “I mean he’s been through worse right?” But still…He knew the other fevers hadn’t affected the brain as directly as this one did. He chewed his lip worriedly.
The door opened and the X-Ray technician Malcolm, backed in, pulling his machine in along with him. “Let’s step outside and let Malcolm do his job. I want to check with Joe on the results of the EEG and find out where the rest of the lab reports are.”
Roy nodded as he leaned down close to his friend’s ear. “I’ll be right outside Junior okay? I won’t be far away I promise you.”
John’s eyelids fluttered but he didn’t wake even when Jo leaned down and kissed his forehead gently. “I love you baby…We’ll be right back,” she promised softly.
They stepped out the door and the couple turned to Dixie and Kel. “We have to check on the kids,” Roy told them. “We’ll be in the doctor’s lounge.”
“I’ll call my sister and ask her to come pick up the children…I want to stay with you and Johnny.”
“I’ll send Roper back to the station with the squad and call Cap and tell him to get a replacement for a few hours. I have to stay with Johnny until we know for sure what's going on in case there are any decisions that need to be made.”
The two made their way to the doctor’s lounge. The young aide glanced up as they came inside and smiled. Jen was asleep on the couch but Chris quickly abandoned the TV and ran to his parents.
“Is Uncle Johnny okay?” He asked worriedly as he pressed against his father.
Roy wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders and hugged him against him. “Johnny may have something called encephalitis Chris.”
The boys blue eyes widened in fear. “Can he die from that?”
At nine Chris was just really starting to understand what death was all about, having lost Joanne’s grandmother not too long ago. Even though he’d witnessed the attack on John by the bear two years ago and had been afraid his uncle would die…He hadn’t really understood the finality of it until he’d actually lost someone he loved.
He was also realizing just how dangerous his father and his uncle’s job really was and that they could potentially die doing it. Death had been a foreign concept before then and not something the boy contemplated but now…He did and having witnessed the seizures John had suffered, he was terrified.
Roy never believed in sugar coating things for his kids…If they were old enough to ask a serious question then they were old enough for an honest answer…At least up to as much as they could understand at that point. He squatted in front of his son and gripped his shoulders.
“Chris...What Johnny has is very serious and yes it could have killed him but we caught it quickly and the doctor’s are going to put him on medication. Dr. Brackett said most people recover from it completely so let’s not get worried just yet okay?”
“How did he get it?”
“It was a complication from having the measles.”
The boy’s eyes widened once more. “Could I have got it too?” He asked.
“It’s very rare that this happens Chris. It’s just that Johnny got hit by that car a few months ago and he lost his spleen and that’s what helps him fight off things like this and his being half Indian...It could make him a little more susceptible…We don’t know for sure.”
“I gave it to him,” he whispered as tears welled in his eyes.
“What?” Roy asked at the softly spoken words.
“I gave it to him…Me and Jen…He wouldn’t be sick if we….”
“Stop it,” Roy said sternly as he gave the boy a light shake. Chris looked at him with watery eyes. “Johnny might have got it from anyone of those kids that day not to mention from someone else out there down the road…You didn’t know Johnny could get it…None of us did, so beating yourself up over something you had no control of isn’t going to help Chris okay? So don’t go there.”
“That’s right,” Jo chimed in. “Besides…You’re starting to sound just like your father,” she teased them both.
Roy smiled ruefully, knowing he’d felt responsible for John being sick as well. “That’s right Chris,” He said, hugging him to him. “I felt guilty too but none of us knew, not even Johnny.”
The boy nodded sadly. “Will he be alright dad?”
“I think so. Uncle Johnny’s very strong but he might need some help from us while he gets better…He’s a bit confused right now and a little uncoordinated.”
The door opened a few minutes later and Eileen came inside. She hugged her sister and Roy before she dropped a kiss on Chris’ blonde head. “How’s Johnny?”
“He’s pretty sick right now Ell,” Roy replied.
“Could you handle the kids for a couple of days until we can get this under control and see just how bad this is and what we can expect for a recovery time?” Jo asked.
“Sure Jo…Do you know what’s wrong yet?”
“The Doctor thinks it encephalitis from having had the measles. Johnny was having hallucinations and seizures when we brought him in. He was burning up with fever and he could barely talk,” she explained, leading her away from Chris. “His memory might be a bit impaired too…He only seemed to recognize Roy and that was only for a second.”
“That’s awful Jo,” she said quietly, knowing how close her brother in law and his partner were. She couldn’t imagine how Roy would feel if Johnny couldn’t remember him.
“The doctor thinks he’ll make a full recovery…Most people do and we’ve seen John bounce back from so many other things,” she replied, trying her best to sound hopeful.
“He’s been through so much,” Ell said quietly.
“My poor baby,” she mumbled drawing a grin from her sister and a chuckle from her husband. Jo sometimes forgot John wasn't her own child. She slapped his arm in annoyance at the smirk on her husband’s face. “Oh shut up,” she growled.
“I didn’t say anything,” he protested with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh yes you did…You just did it the way you and Johnny usually do,” she shot back as she yanked the door open and headed down the hall to John’s room.
“Give me a call when you know what’s going on,” Eileen told Roy as she scooped her sleeping niece up in her arms. Chris followed her out.
Jo pressed a gentle kiss on John’s cheek as she stopped beside him. The young paramedic’s eyes blinked open at her touch but they held the vague and glassy glint of fever. The dark eyes looked unseeingly toward her before wandering away aimlessly.
“Oh baby,” she whispered softly. “Look at me sweetheart…It’s Jo.”
There was a brief look of confusion in the dark eyes, as if he should know her but couldn’t quite catch hold of the memory. “Jjjooo?” he repeated with a frown.
“That’s right baby,” she assured him as her fingers trailed through the dark hair soothingly. “Roy and I are both here.”
Roy leaned over his partner as the chocolate colored eyes swiveled toward him. “Hey junior.”
The eyes lit with recognition briefly…His mouth moved soundlessly several times before the word slurred from his lips. “Rrrroooy.” The dark eyes filled with fear as Johnny seemed to suddenly realize that there was something wrong with him but then it was gone again.
John looked up into a set of blue eyes that he knew he should know well but the name eluded him. The pretty woman leaning over him spoke gently and swept her fingers through his hair tenderly, speaking softly. Her mouth moved and he focused on it as words slipped from her lips. “Baby…Sweetheart…” She’d called him that many times before he was sure of it… Why couldn’t her remember her?
“Jo,” she said. That was it…The thought tried to flit away but he hung on. “Jjjooo?” He managed to get out. She spoke again and a face he knew as well as his own suddenly swam into focus. He spoke to him as well. He didn’t understand the words but then he didn’t have to. He struggled briefly to talk and then he managed to force his mouth to move. “Rrrroooy,” he breathed out, wanting the older man to hold his hand and promise him he’d be okay but he couldn’t make his hand move.
Roy saw the dark eyes look at him with pleading and the fingers twitched slightly. He smiled in understanding as he reached out to grip his partner’s hand. John settled back.
“Oh my God,” Joanne whispered fearfully as she watched him struggle. “Is Kel sure he’ll be alright?”
“You heard him yourself. He said most people make a full recovery.”
“Johnny isn’t ever in the ‘most people’ category honey,” Jo reminded him. “Most people don’t get encephalitis from the measles either…Johnny’s the lucky three percent.”
She reached over to pick up a damp rag and began to wipe the sweat from John’s face. The gaze drifted back to her and once again there was only vague recognition. Her eyes teared up at her inability to help this young man who was so dear to her heart.
Her stomach felt hollow at the thought that John could potentially lose his memory of them or even be unable to function as a paramedic. Her blue eyes lifted to Roy’s and she saw the same fear in his that warned her that he was worried about the same thing.
They just couldn’t lose him from their lives no matter what it took. She brushed the tears away and returned to dabbing at the sweat soaked brow.
The door opened and Kel, Dixie and Joe Early entered the room. They all looked pretty grim.
“What is it Doc?” Roy asked Brackett worriedly, glancing at Johnny quickly. He seemed pretty oblivious to his surroundings.
“I’ve got the results. John has encephalitis. Joe’s going to do an EEG to determine just how bad and what part of the brain is being most affected. We want to start him on Ribavirin right now along with Phenytoin to try and control the seizures and ibuprofen for the fever,” Brackett explained looking to Roy for his approval…As John’s medical surrogate, the decision was his.
Roy nodded. “Okay…Um…How long will he be sick?” He asked, remembering John’s bout with Malaria.
“I won’t kid you Roy…You could have a very long road here.”
“Why?” He questioned, shooting a worried glance toward his wife.
“The virus will run its course in about a week but…”
“But…?” Roy prompted.
“Full recovery could take weeks or months depending on just how bad he gets.”
“Oh my God,” Jo whispered, looking scared.
Kel looked at his hands as he worried his lower lip with his teeth. He looked up and Roy knew there was more by the grim look in his eyes. “There’s also the possibility of a secondary infection,” he added as gently as possible.
“Like what?” Roy asked looking horrified by that piece of information. How much more could his young friend take?
“Meningitis is a possibility.”
“Oh damn…,” he began, catching himself. He looked to his partner and noted John’s dark eyes were wandering aimlessly about the room. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes…,” Roy assured him. “We’ll take care of him,” he vowed, squeezing John’s hand.
“Well,” Kel began hesitantly, “If it comes to a long recovery we can discuss those options.”
“There’s nothing to discuss Kel,” Jo protested. “John will stay with us.”
“Roy…Jo…I don’t think you understand. Johnny could potentially develop some severe problems here. Learning disabilities, lack of muscle coordination. Speech impairments, memory loss…They could require a lot of therapy sessions and that could be quite a strain on you, Jo and the kids…Especially when you’re not home Roy,” Kel explained as gently as he could.
Roy’s blue eyes looked to Jo. “It’s a lot to ask,” he admitted softly.
“You have to ask?” She replied, leaning down to kiss John’s forehead.
John gave a softly whispered sound that might have been her name but there was nothing more.
Roy smiled. “Not really,” he answered, turning back to the dark haired doctor. “We’ll take him home with us until he’s able to be on his own.”
“Well…,” Brackett began. “Let’s just take this one day at a time alright? We’ll just hope for the best.”
“That being?” Joe Early asked.
“That Johnny will pull off another amazing comeback.”
Roy smiled and gently smoothed the damp sable hair from Johnny’s forehead. “Hang on Junior,” he urged softly. “We’ll get you through this,” he promised.
John’s eyes drifted closed under his fingers soothing motion.
They moved John into the ICU a while later. The EEG results gave them cause for concern and Kel and Joe exchanged worried glances.
Roy gave his young partners hand a final squeeze before laying it on the bed and dropping a kiss on his wife’s lips. “I have to go back to the station but they’ll call me if anything happens.”
“I’ll stay with him honey. Eileen’s gonna keep the kids for a couple of days.”
“Great…I really hate the idea of leaving him alone right now.”
John felt as if he’d been fighting a fire for hours. His face was bathed in sweat and his back and neck hurt as if he’d been hauling a ton of hose. Nausea niggled in his belly.
He blinked his eyes open as a cool damp cloth swept across his face. He squinted against the light that made his eyes hurt and a moment later the lights dimmed.
He reopened them, looking up into a pair of soft blue eyes gazing back at him. Her mouth moved and a soothing voice spoke to him and while he couldn’t seem to get his mind to wrap around what it was saying, there was vague recognition. He knew this person, he was sure of it but he couldn’t remember the name right now.
It didn’t matter…It would come back to him. He just took comfort in the caress of her hand and cool wetness sweeping across his skin. The face leaned down and pressed a soft kiss against his cheek. The brown eyes drifted slowly shut.
Jo’s fingers continued to sweep through the damp sable hair as Johnny drifted off to sleep once more.
The door opened and she glanced up as Dixie came to her side. “How’s our boy?” She asked with a small poignant smile.
“He was awake a minute ago. He just went back to sleep,” Jo informed her. “I don’t think he… recognized me,” she said with a slight hitch to her voice.
“Try not to worry Joanne…That happens sometimes but most people make a full recovery.”
Jo nodded but she threw Dix a rueful look. “What about the ones that don’t?” She whispered forlornly.
“Try not to dwell on that Jo…It’ll come back…He’ll come back,” the older woman assured her.
Jo threw her a wan smile. “Okay Dix.” The blonde nurse gave her a brief hug before dropping a light kiss on John’s cheek. She turned and left.
John had no idea how long he’d been asleep. The cool clothes had been keeping him comfortable but suddenly it was no longer enough. He felt as if the fire that burned out of control earlier had been stoked up once more. The soft sound he’d been hearing turned to the crackling roar of flames.
His head began to pound and nausea surged like a wave through his belly. He hurt so bad he couldn’t breathe and he began to pant. What was happening to him? He was on fire…He needed to get out…Right now. The flames flared…Taking on the face of some hideous monster trying to eat him alive.
John swung blindly, trying desperately to hold it at bay.
Jo was bathing his face and speaking in soft reassuring tones. At first it seemed to calm him but suddenly his head began to toss fretfully. He shifted restlessly beneath the covers as though he were having a nightmare. Lord knew…Joanne had witnessed them enough times.
Sweat began to bead his face almost faster than she could wipe it away…Trickling in rivulets down his temples and into his hair.
She touched his face and was shocked at how hot he was. She hit the call button. “Hold on baby,” she whispered but John suddenly began to flail wildly. His hands slammed into the rails and latched on as his breaths came in rapid, rasping pants. Soft whimpers kept time with the gasping breaths.
John struggled to pull himself over the bars…To escape the fiery dragon bent on devouring him. Joanne grabbed hold of his shoulders and hung on as the nurse ran in. She took one look at the situation and quickly turned to a second nurse. “Call Dr. Brackett STAT.” She moved quickly to help Jo.
Johnny moaned softly as nausea continued to build. He swung at the beast as it came toward him and tried to get away but he couldn’t move. His hands hit something solid and his fingers clutched at the bars. Agony lanced through his head. A keen of pain slipped from between his lips followed by rapid whimpers.
He felt bars…He was in a prison with the flames and the serpent and he couldn’t escape. His fingers gripped the bars as the fiery beast drew closer. John’s body grew warmer and his head pounded until he thought he’d explode. He tried to climb over but his limbs felt so heavy and suddenly something was holding him down. He needed someone to help him…Who…The blonde man…? The one who’d been here earlier…What was his name?
Roy…? That was it…He was almost sure. “R…r…ro…,” he sobbed as he gripped the bars tightly.
Roy delivered the victim from his last run to Dr. Morton in treatment two. His temporary partner, Dave Roper shot the anxious blonde paramedic a knowing grin as Roy casually glanced at his watch and then the elevator.
“Hey…Why don’t I get the supplies while you go check on Johnny?”
Roy smiled at the younger man gratefully. “Thanks Dave.” He headed for the elevator. He’d just pushed the button when he heard the sound of running feet. He hit the hold button just as Dixie, Joe Early and Brackett rounded the corner at a run.
“ROY?” Kel gasped in surprise as he punched the button for the second floor.
“What’s goin on Doc?” Roy asked worriedly as he noted Brackett’s selection.
“We were about to call you. They just informed us that Johnny’s fever has spiked again. He’s delirious and combative.”
“Oh God,” Roy breathed out worriedly at the slow progress of the elevator.
They charged through the doors before they finished opening and raced down the hall to the ICU. Kel hit John’s door and ran inside. The others followed to find Joanne De Soto and two nurses trying desperately to hold on to the wildly thrashing young fire fighter.
“Hang on sweetheart,” Jo was pleading. “Helps coming baby.”
“Ggg…ta ge ou,” he gasped incoherently. “Uhhmm,” a moan of fear quickly followed. “R…R...Ro Helme,” he whimpered.
They weren’t sure what else he’d said but Roy’s name had been obvious. “Roy…Get in here,” Brackett called urgently. “Calm him down.”
Roy moved quickly to his friend’s side, taking Joanne’s place…She backed away with her hands pressed over her mouth as John continued to fight…Tears of fear rolling down her cheeks.
“Johnny…It’s Roy…Can you hear me junior?” He said loudly as he tried to pry John’s fingers loose from the side rails. “Johnny stop! Let go of the rails,” He commanded, as he finally pried his young friend’s hands free.
“Rrrro…F...re on fi…re,” he panted breathlessly. “Go way…Make…go…way…Helme…,” he pleaded, looking around frantically. “drag….fi…re…gons…,” he mumbled…The words were garbled and confused.
“I’m gonna help you,” he promised. Astounding the others that he’d even understood what John had said. Roy saw nothing of course and realized John was hallucinating. He took the young, frightened face between his hands. “It’s gone," he reassured his terrified friend …"The dragon’s gone…I made it go away. I won’t ever let anything hurt you.”
“Nooo,” he wailed. “Dra…ons.”
“It’s gone…I promise you junior it’s gone.” The dark eyes searched vaguely about him then back to Roy. He couldn’t remember the name again but he knew the face…It was him. He’d protect him from the dragons and the flames.
“Fi…eer,” he panted.
”The fires out…,” he assured him, pulling him into his arms and rocking him slowly. “Can you hear me? It’s out…They’re all gone and you’re okay and I won't let anything hurt you Ha'keta," he whispered against the sable hair.
“Stiw Hhh…ot,” he mewled pitifully.
“I know you are,” Roy murmured. “We’re gonna fix that okay?” He promised him, holding the dark head securely against him.
John’s breaths were rapid…Roy felt the warning tension of his body seconds before John began to convulse once again. “Damn it…He’s having a seizure,” he shouted laying the younger man against the pillow as Brackett moved in quickly, whipping a heavy rubber wedge from the bedside table where it had been placed for just this possibility. He quickly jammed it between Johns’ teeth.
John’s eyes were rolled back as his body bucked and shook beneath them. “Oh baby,” Jo whimpered fearfully. The frothing of saliva accompanied the wordless moans that trembled from his lips.
“Dilantin…Stat,” Brackett bellowed but Dixie was already moving. She returned within moments. Getting it set as the others held John down. She plunged it quickly into John’s arm.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the young paramedic’s body slowly began to relax. It was short lived.
“Let’s get him on a cooling sheet,” Kel ordered. “We have to get his temperature down. I may need to go with an ice blanket if this doesn’t work,” he said tiredly.
John’s body twitched…Shifting restlessly as he tried to regain consciousness. Joanne returned to stand close to him as low whimpers of misery slipped from his lips. Roy threw a worried look at Brackett as he leaned over to smooth the sweat dampened, sable hair back from Johnny’s forehead.
“I’ll increase the Ribavirin and Phenytoin,” he told Roy, looking as frustrated as the blonde paramedic was. “I don’t know Roy. Your partner doesn’t seem to know how to come down with anything as simple as a common cold,” he grumbled.
“Believe me Doc…I know,” he replied as the nurse returned with the cooling sheet. They rolled John on his side to place the sheet beneath him. It was the last straw for his already roiling stomach.
A rapid pant was their only warning that he was about to present them with a new concern.
Roy was sitting next to him and he didn’t get completely clear in time but he didn’t care. He held John as one of the nurses finally got the emesis basin under his chin. John’s body spasmed several times before it eased. “Aw Junior,” he said softly as he held his head and rubbed his back until he was done.
The dark eyes lifted tiredly to meet Roy’s for a long moment before the dark lashes settled against the high cheek bones.
“Is this normal for encephalitis Doc?” Roy questioned worriedly as he took the cloth from Joanne to wipe at his pant leg.
Brackett’s eyebrow arched wryly. “When has John Gage ever done anything normal Roy?” He replied answering the question with a question. Roy grinned ruefully as the dark haired doctor continued. “But yes…Sometimes…Rarely…A patient will get this bad…And with Johnny’s history and no spleen…”
“Will he be alright doc?” Roy asked as his grin faded.
Kel looked solemnly back at him. “I honestly don’t know Roy…Jo. Sometimes when a patient gets this bad, there can be impairment. Some may be on anti seizure drugs for the rest of their life. Kel gave Roy a helpless shrug. “We’ll just have to wait and see how he is when the fever breaks.”
Roy sighed and nodded as he leaned down close to his young friend’s ear. “Okay junior…I need that stubborn Gage attitude of yours to kick in here okay?” He urged, flicking the sable hair of his forehead.
Joanne took the cloth from him and set it aside before picking up a fresh one. She wrung it out and wiped the perspiration from John’s face. “When has Johnny not been stubborn?” She teased.
Roy nodded his agreement. “My partners waiting for me downstairs…I have to go but you’ll call me if anything else changes?”
She nodded. “I think I’ll spend the night here. I’d like to stay with him.”
Roy grinned…Jo loved John as much as he did and he was grateful that she felt that way instead of being resentful as a lot of women might. He’d feel a lot better knowing she was with Johnny. He hated leaving him alone.
He leaned over him until their foreheads were almost touching. “I gotta go junior,” he said softly. “But I’ll be back in the morning,” he promised.
Roy backed the squad into the bay and his partner threw him a glance. “You’re gonna need to change clothes Roy,” he teased looking at the stained pants.
“Sorry,” the blonde fireman said with a chuckle, knowing he probably didn’t smell too good right now.
Dave grinned as he climbed from the cab. Roy followed. The others were in the rec room as they came in.
“Lunch is almost ready,” Marco announced from the counter where he was cutting salad greens.
“Great,” Roy said with a tired smile.
“What took you so long at Rampart?” Captain Stanley teased, knowing full well that his senior paramedic wouldn’t have passed up a chance to see Johnny.
“Yeah…How is he?” Mike asked.
“Yew…What’s that smell,” Chet complained with a nose curl of distaste.
Roy grinned. “That was a parting gift from my partner,” he said drily.
“Is John okay?” Cap questioned as the others gathered close to hear.
“He’s really sick. His fever spiked and he was hallucinating…I don’t know for sure what he was seeing but it scared the hell out of him. I managed to get him calmed down but then he had another seizure like this mornings and then he threw up on me,” he explained drily.
“Dear Lord,” Hank muttered.
The others exchanged worried glances. “Um…Roy,” Mike began hesitantly. “Is Johnny uh…”
“Is Gage gonna get better?” Chet finished the unspoken thought.
“Brackett’s not sure,” Roy answered truthfully.
Their faces fell. “He has to come back,” Marco said softly.
“We can’t have station 51 without Johnny,” Mike said.
“It just wouldn’t feel right without Gage,” Chet muttered.
“God…If I’d only thought to ask him if he’d had the measles,” Roy said miserably.
“Hey guys,” Cap interjected. “Let’s not count John out just yet huh? You know how tough the kid is okay? And Roy…Knock it off. You couldn’t have known that those kids had the measles when you picked up your son…John didn’t either so quit.”
They nodded but their faces didn’t reflect that confidence. Roper’s heart went out to them at the sorrow in their eyes for their friend and the idea that the young paramedic wouldn’t be able to return.
“Guess I better go change,” Roy muttered.
Joanne remained at John’s side throughout the night. Speaking quietly and swapping the rapidly warming clothes for cooler ones. Her soft voice seemed to sooth the restless young man.
Johnny was still hot. His temperature still high but not dangerously so. He felt the cool wetness that fell against his flushed skin. He heard the gentle voice that spoke close to his ear or sometimes sang softly.
He knew the sound but he couldn’t make the connection with the person speaking or singing to him. He knew he should but it simply wouldn’t come.
He connected it with someone else as well. He wanted him…Needed him to come but he couldn’t make his mouth cooperate to say the word that hovered tantalizingly out of reach. The only sound that slipped from his lips was a whispered moan.
He shifted restlessly, his movements uncoordinated and sluggish. His hands seemed to have no strength even when he could get them to close around the small hand that held his so gently.
Roy pushed the door open the next morning. The tired blue eyes of his wife met his. “Morning babe…You okay?” He asked.
“Fine honey, just tired.”
“How is he?”
“He was restless most of the night but he hasn’t been sick and his temperature hasn’t gone back up. It’s still around 102°,”
“Still high but at least it isn’t climbing,” he replied with a sigh. “Why don’t you go on home and get some rest. I’ll stay with him.”
She nodded tiredly. “Okay but you’ll call me if I need to come back?” She asked as she leaned down to brush a kiss on John’s lips. “I’ll see you later baby,” she said softly, letting her fingers trail through the sable hair.
She turned and wrapped her husband in a tight hug. “He’ll be okay…He has to be,” she assured him. Roy arched a blonde eyebrow at her curiously. “You wouldn’t be the same without him. None of us would,” she replied to the unspoken question.
Roy smiled ruefully but nodded his head in agreement. “You’re right babe,” he said softly as his fingers closed around John’s.
The younger man seemed to know instantly who now held his hand even before Roy spoke. The restlessness ceased. John’s head turned toward him. “Rrrrr…,” he slurred tiredly, just above a whisper. The dark eyes fluttered open. He tried to squeeze the hand that held his reassuringly but he couldn’t make his hand move. The other flopped uselessly before John gave it up.
The blonde paramedic leaned close to his friends ear… “I’m here junior…You just rest and I’ll be right here with you, I promise.”
“Mmmm,” he murmured in response. The brown eyes held a frightened glint…He was disoriented and delirious but somewhere in that confused fog he knew something was very wrong. He knew he wanted Roy to stay but why wouldn’t his mouth or body co-operate?
“S…t..a,” was all he could manage but as always…Roy seemed to understand his young friend.
“I’ll stay junior…Don’t you worry okay. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
The fever bright eyes drifted closed and Roy looked at Joanne. Her worried blue eyes locked with his own before looking at Johnny. “He will be okay when this fever breaks won’t he?” She asked fearfully, having heard the slurred speech and watched the uncoordinated movements.
“I don’t know babe,” he replied softly. “Brackett says most people recover completely…,” he let the sentence hang.
“But what if he doesn’t?” She asked, placing a cool clothe over John’s brow. The younger man shifted restlessly.
Roy worried his lower lip. What would they do if Johnny couldn’t come back from this? He supposed it would depend on how disabled John became. Would Rosemary insist on taking him away as she’d wanted to do when John had been in a coma? Or worse…Would he end up in some institution somewhere?
Roy would take care of him himself if he was alone but he couldn’t ask that of Joanne and the kids. Everything they might have to give up to care for his disabled friend.”I don’t know babe,” he whispered. “I don’t know…I guess I’d have to figure out what was best for Johnny if that happens.”
She looked at him in surprise. “You wouldn’t bring him home?”
Roy grinned. “I was afraid it might be too much to ask,” he replied, looking relieved. “It could get very difficult…We’d lose our privacy, our alone time…So would the kids. You’d be alone with him at least every third day.”
“I don’t care about that and I doubt the children would either…They love Uncle Johnny but we may have to fight Rosemary for him,” Joanne teased.
“Well…Let’s not get ahead of ourselves okay…I still think he’ll bounce back. John’s young and strong and nothing if not determined besides, Even if he couldn’t come back to work he might still be well enough to live on his own…Just not as a fire fighter,” he assured her though that thought clearly worried him.
She nodded a bit dispiritedly herself. “That would tear him up. He loves being a paramedic so much…Being with you and the guys.”
“Then let’s pray that it won’t come to that.”
She nodded her agreement before dropping a gentle kiss on John’s overly warm forehead and then headed for home.
The next two days passed slowly and the infection along with the fever seemed to have taken a firm hold.
The station crew and Hank and Mike’s wives Emily and Melissa stopped by several times but John was rarely awake and when he was, his recognition of them was questionable. The vague gaze when he looked at them was a bit frightening.
They were talking with Roy on their third visit when Hank noticed John’s eyes were open and watching them. He moved to the bed. “John? It’s Captain Stanley son…Do you know me?” He questioned gently.
John’s eyes rested on the figure beside him. Who was the tall man at his side? He was familiar and someone John should recognize…At least he thought he should. Why couldn’t he remember…? His eyes shifted to the blonde man…He knew his name too…Didn’t he? He opened his mouth but nothing much came out.
The dark eyes traveled over him apprehensively before shifting to Roy in confusion. “Rrrr….rrr…?”He slurred, unable to get his mouth to cooperate. His eyes carried a definite look of frustration at his inability to articulate his thoughts.
“Shhh…I’m here junior,” he reassured the younger man. John seemed to recognize Roy at least, though there was definite uncertainty at the others.
Emily and Melissa exchanged worried glances. They were both very fond of the young paramedic.
“What’s wrong with him?” Chet asked, looking very scared. “Why doesn’t he know us?”
“Why can’t he talk?” Marco added worriedly.
“Encephalitis is an infection in the brain…Between the myelin sheath and the tissue…Unfortunately it can affect the whole brain or single portions of it…It disrupts the neurons and their transmissions from one to the other that pass information from place to place.” The others looked a bit baffled at the medical jargon.
“The what?” Chet questioned.
Roy sighed. “The signals are blocked by inflammation and swelling and can’t get through,” he said a little more simply. “John’s seems to be in several areas. It’s affected the frontal lobe where his motor capabilities are stored. The parietal where his speech center is located…that’s causing the aphasia and the temporal where most of his short term memory is….”
“Aphasia,” Mike questioned.
“His ability to form words properly is compromised. It’s also causing ataxia.” He sighed at the blank looks. “It’s affecting his motor skills,” he explained again. “And his memory to a lesser degree…So he can remember some things…Like me but not everything…Like what he had for dinner five minutes ago. The problem is he can’t tell me what’s going on in his head right now either so I don’t know what he’s thinking or if he’s understanding any of this,” he said with a sigh.
“Is it permanent?” Cap asked quietly as he absently smoothed the dark hair of his youngest crew member away from his sweat dampened forehead as he’d seen Roy do a hundred times. Hank’s wife gently took John’s hand in her own. The dark eyes swiveled toward her warily.
“We hope not and Brackett says most people recover from it completely but it sometimes takes weeks or months, especially when they’ve had it as bad as John did. He’ll probably require therapy for speech and stuff,” Roy added with a frustrated breath.
“What happens if it doesn’t come back? Chet mumbled, watching John and the slightly confused look he wore as his dark eyes moved from face to face aimlessly.
“I’m trying not to think about it but if it happens well…Jo and I talked about it and if Rosemary will let us without a fight, then we’ll bring Johnny home with us…I mean if he can’t be on his own,” he corrected.
“God,” Marco whispered in an almost prayer that it wouldn’t come to that.
John’s eyes began to drift closed under Hank’s fatherly ministrations, Captain Stanley smiled at his senior paramedic. He’d never doubted for a minute that Roy would take responsibility for his young friend…the relationship was that close and yet… “That’s a lot of stress on your family Roy,” he warned softly.
“I know Cap…I can’t let Johnny get stuck in some institution or have Rose take him two hours away where we can’t be with him.”
Cap nodded. “I’m sure me and the guys can help you out as well if you need it.”
There were nods of agreement all around. “Anything you need Roy,” Mike promised, speaking for all of them.
The blonde paramedic was touched by their feelings for Johnny but he knew they’d all be embarrassed if he called them on it so he just nodded. “Thanks guys…I may need to take you up on it.”
They all patted his arm or back reassuringly but they’re eyes were on John.
Cap squeezed John’s hand while his wife Emily leaned down to place a soft kiss on John’s cheek. She’d become very attached to the young fireman a couple of years ago when he’d stayed in their home for a night.
The plane Roy and his family had been on had crashed and Johnny had become very distressed dropping into withdrawal from his Aspergers disorder. Hank had brought him out of it but the ‘damage’ was done and Emily was hopelessly caught in the magic of John Gage’s enigmatic spirit. She’d never tried to escape. “Get better sweetie,” she instructed softly.
The others patted John’s hand or arm with a gentle touch before they left but he didn’t stir.
John’s Aunt Rosemary arrived the next day. “I’m sorry Roy, Jo…I came just as soon as I could get a flight out of London. Heathrow’s been socked in for days.”
Roy nodded. “That’s okay Rose, he’s been pretty out of it anyway. I doubt he even knows who’s been here and who hasn’t,” he added quietly, the distress in his voice was evident.
She looked at him sharply as she set down her purse and sat next to him. “Tell me what’s happening and what we can expect,” she demanded without mincing words.
Roy shot a glance toward his wife and heaved a sigh. “Johnny has encephalitis. He got it as a complication from the measles which he apparently never had as a child and caught from our kids,” he confessed miserably.
She nodded without any accusatory looks. “Go on…”
“It’s an infection of the brain,” he explained very basically. “It’s affecting John’s speech and some of his motor skills as well as his memory.”
“Is it permanent damage?” She questioned quietly.
“Not usually but it can be if it’s bad enough.”
“And is John…Bad enough?” She questioned hesitantly.
Roy looked at the floor. “He’s had a couple of seizures and his fever has been dangerously high a couple of times over the last few days. They’re treating him aggressively with antibiotics and there is some potential for a secondary infection like meningitis.”
“Oh dear God,” she whispered in horror.
“It seems to mostly be in the frontal lobe…To a lesser degree in other areas but that’s what’s compromising his motor skills and speech right now.”
She nodded as she smoothed the wet hair from her nephews sweat soaked face and leaned down to gently kiss his cheek. “Na’háahketa…I’m here my sweetheart,” she assured him quietly.
John stirred briefly but he didn’t wake… Her green eyes turned to Roy. “What happens if there is permanent damage?” She questioned, her eyes sweeping over the young couple flanking her nephew’s bed.
“That depends on how bad the damage is and what’s affected. He could still be able to take care of himself even if it wasn’t as a paramedic,” he explained, looking depressed at that thought.
“And if he can’t?” She asked with an arched brow as she folded her arms over her chest.
Jo and Roy exchanged a worried glance, both of them expecting a fight. “Um Rose…Johnny’s been like a kid brother to me…You know that?” She nodded, knowing where this was most likely going. “He’s been at my side for so long now and I’d be pretty lost without him?” She smiled in anticipation of the suggestion that Roy had been dancing around. “Rose…I don’t want to lose him…I know you love him too but Joanne and I would like to bring him home with us if he can’t be alone anymore.”
Rose looked at the floor and missed the nervous looks that passed between the couple. She loved John so much but she knew in her heart what he’d want. “I guess I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t,” she replied softly. “I know what he means to you both but I want you to understand…” Roy tensed and bit his lip, prepared for the argument he was afraid was coming and to remind her that he had John’s Power of Attorney if it came to a legal battle...His was the final say and he’d use it if necessary but her next words stopped him cold. “I intend to help you anyway I can. If you need a vacations or just money to cover so you can take a vacation…Money to help Jo hire someone while you’re working…Are we clear?”
Roy heaved a relieved sigh and smiled at Jo. “We’re clear,’ he breathed out.
“Good,” she replied.
They turned the conversation to more pleasant things.
Roy returned to work the next day. The guys were waiting anxiously for him as he entered the rec room. “How’s Johnny?” Three voices chorused.
Dave Roper smiled and shook his head. Gage must be pretty special to this crew from the way they worried over him.
Roy poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down before he answered. “Still running a fever and he’s sleeping most of the time… He still can’t talk much when he is awake and he still seems a bit uncoordinated in his movements.”
“How’s his memory Roy?” Hank asked from behind him.
The younger man turned to face his Captain as he came into the room to join them. “I dunno Cap. He’s been really out of it and I’m not really sure how much he remembers. He seems to recognize me.”
“That’s a relief.”
“His Aunt got here last night. She and Jo are with him now.”
“Good,” Cap replied, glad that Johnny wasn’t alone.
“Did you uh…Talk to her about who he’d um…Live with if uh…,” Mike questioned hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Roy answered the unfinished question. “She agreed that Johnny would probably be happier with me and Jo. She said she’d help us anyway she could.”
“That’s great,” Hank replied, sounding relieved. “Now that we’ve all had our concerns for John’s welfare put to rest,” he said, rubbing his hands together briefly and giving a smile to his small second family. “Let’s get to roll call and get some work done,” he suggested.
They all climbed to their feet and headed for the bay.
Joanne and Rosemary sat on either side of John’s bed. The two women had become close over the last few years and Rose had come to think of Roy and Joanne as family, adopting them in place of her brother and John’s mother Kate…Knowing that they often filled that roll in John’s life as well as siblings and friends.
Johnny heard the quiet sounds of conversation. His eyes cracked open, blinking away the cobwebs and confusion of fever ridden sleep.
His eyes scanned about him for the source of the voices, coming to rest on the two women in the dimly lit room. There was a vague awareness that he should know them but the names wouldn’t come.
His eyes flicked around, checking for the blonde man who’d been here before. His name…What was his name? ROY…The name seemed to pop into his memory. That’s who he wanted but what about these women? He knew them, he was certain…The faces were familiar and well loved…Why wouldn’t their names come?
One of them leaned over him and smiled gently as she spoke, brushing the sweat dampened hair from John’s forehead with her fingers.
JO…The name popped into his mind.
“He’s awake,” the pretty auburn haired woman said softly, noticing the fluttering of John’s long, dark lashes as she leaned over the young man. “Hey baby,” she said gently.
“Jjjj…,” the quiet whisper of sound slipped from his lips.
“That’s right baby…It’s Jo,” she agreed, kissing his cheek. The eyes turned toward the other but the name wouldn’t quite come. John frowned in confusion…“Rrrr,” he groaned. Why wouldn’t his mouth cooperate?
Rose frowned and fear filled her green eyes. “Does he know me?” She asked anxiously.
“I don’t know Rosemary. I can’t tell if he doesn’t know you or just that he can’t say it…Or he’s calling for Roy,” she said with a shrug.
She pushed the call button before looking back to the older woman. “His fever is definitely down though. I’m going to get Kel up here to check him out.”
Rose nodded, still looking worried that her beloved nephew didn’t recognize her.
John licked his lips as he continued to try and remember the name. The two women continued to talk but John’s foggy brain was still having trouble following everything. The door opened and the chocolate brown eyes drifted slowly toward it hoping it was….Um…Roy…That was the name…Hoping Roy was coming back. He always felt safe with him near.
He was disappointed. Another woman came in. He was certain he didn’t know her. “Can I help you?” She questioned the auburn haired woman…What was her name? Jo…That was it…He’d remembered a short time ago…Why was he having so much trouble holding on to his thoughts?
“Can you let Kel…Uh…Dr. Brackett, know that Johnny’s awake?”
The nurse nodded and left.
Another nurse abruptly pushed her way into the room. Her cold blue eyes sweeping over the two women…Her obviously bleached blonde hair slicked back into a tight bun at the back of her neck. The blue eyes settled on Johnny.
‘Him again.’ She shook her head at the idea of having the hot shot paramedic back under her care. ICU wasn’t normally her domain but she’d been called in as a replacement when one of the other nurses got sick. Chances were that when the young fireman got moved… She’d have him on her floor.
She hated those soft hearted nurses who coddled their patients but even worse she couldn’t stand these hose jockeys, as Dr. Brackett called them, horning in on her territory. Trying to tell her how to do her job…She’d taught the young man a thing or two the last time.
John’s dark eyes settled on the woman. He didn’t know why but he recognized this person…Though no name would come but something else did…FEAR. He didn’t remember why he should be afraid, but he was.
His heart began to pound and his breathing became distressed as the woman marched toward them. “Nnnn…o Jjjjj,” he slurred in a panic, trying to hitch his body away from the approaching nurse. He didn’t get far. Even if he’d been able to produce more than a weak movement of his torso, the bed rails would’ve brought him up short
The pretty auburn haired woman looked to John… “What’s wrong baby?” She questioned worriedly as she leaned over him. She watched the wary brown gaze settle on the nurse.
The woman stopped with her arms folded over her ample bosom… “You two…Out…,” she barked in a no nonsense tone as she pulled the syringe and tourniquet from her pocket. “Visiting hours are over.”
Rosemary drew herself up indignantly, unaccustomed to being ordered about. Joanne bristled in displeasure as well but was more concerned by the fear in the dark eyes of her young friend.
“I BEG YOUR pardon,” Rose replied softly but the frigid green eyes didn’t match the polite tone. That should have been warning enough.
“I said out…You need to leave,” the unwise nurse reiterated.
“I’m his Aunt,” she growled warningly. “She’s his sister.”
“I don’t care who you are…I’m his nurse,” she barked snidely. She reached for John but the young fireman’s hands struck out in a vain attempt to hold her off…Flopping loosely with the effort.
“Nnnnn…oooo…,” he panted fearfully.
Rose’s head cocked to the side at the terrified reaction of her nephew…Just who was this woman?
Jo suddenly remembered Roy, Johnny and Marco telling her about a nurse who’d been almost brutal with Johnny when he’d been hit by that car several months ago. From the reaction it was certain that John surely remembered her and that was warning enough for Jo…For him to remember this woman when he could barely remember her and Rosemary…To show that kind of fear, she had to have scared him pretty bad at some point. “Well not this time…,” she muttered as she rounded the bed.
The blonde nurse smiled smugly, thinking Joanne at least was about to comply. The smirk faded as Jo approached her, moving close enough to nearly step on the woman’s toes.
Rosemary was right beside her. “I don’t care if you’re his nurse or not,” Jo snarled in her face. “We’re his family. Kelly Brackett knows we’re here and we’re NOT leaving until we’re damn well good and ready and if you’re here to draw blood…I suggest you use the utmost care NOT to hurt him.”
The woman’s eyes widened in shock that these two delicate females were actually standing up to her. “I've been a nurse for twenty years. I was in Korea,” she began, drawing herself up huffily.
“So was I,” a voice drawled from the doorway. “And I still manage to get the job done without being brutal and terrorizing my patients.”
They all looked to the door where Dixie and Kel were both standing, listening to the exchange and trying not to laugh at the stance of the two smaller women who looked for all the world like a couple of lionesses protecting their cub.
“Miss McCall…Dr. Brackett…These two… ladies,” she explained condescendingly, “Refuse to leave so I can do my job,” she explained self righteously.
“Abuse him in private is what she means,” Joanne shot back.
“Well then it’s a good thing they didn’t then because if I’d walked in and caught you abusing my patient I’d have had you fired,” Kel barked. “But since I didn’t I’ll let Dixie explain to you just how I expect John to be treated,” he snapped angrily as he stepped around the woman and headed to bed where Jo and Rosemary had retreated to try and soothe the distressed paramedic. The nurse’s mouth hung open in shock.
Jo held the long, slender fingers in her own as she let her fingers trail through the sable hair. “It’s okay sweetheart,” she assured him… “No one’s gonna hurt you.”
Kel stepped up beside them and the three of them eased him back to the center of the bed. Rose gripped his other hand tightly…John glanced toward her briefly, somehow sensing that she was protecting him as well. “How is he?” Kel questioned as they heard Dixie’s voice take on her ‘hard as nails’ tone behind them.
The pretty blonde nurse had her arms folded over her chest and her golden eyebrow raised in what most people who knew her well recognized as a warning sign of things to come.
“We are aware that John’s family is here outside of normal visiting hours. We are also aware of the reasons why which do not concern you,” she emphasized. “Further more you are not to ever order a family member from a room like that again unless the patient is in trouble. The patients in this hospital are here because they’re sick or injured and the last thing they need is some heartless nurse making them even more miserable. Leave Korea behind you…This is not a M.A.S.H. unit and these people are not soldiers. ARE WE CLEAR?” She barked like a drill sergeant.
“Yes Ma’am,” she mumbled contritely.
“Furthermore…You may leave whatever resentments you have for paramedics at the door as well, especially this one. John is a special case to both Dr. Brackett and me as well…So you handle him like he’s my ‘baby brother’,” she snapped in low tones.
The woman nodded her head quickly. Dixie extended her hand for the syringe and tourniquet the woman held. The other nurse handed them over and Dixie moved to the bed.
The dark eyes watched her warily as she approached. “Hi handsome,” she greeted softly.
Johnny frowned. He knew her…He half remembered hearing this from her many times but once again…the details of how, who and why he remembered were eluding him. He didn’t understand what was happening to him but he did know he had nothing to fear from this woman. He let his mouth quirk up at one corner, earning a smile from the four people for his effort.
Dixie quickly and efficiently drew the blood sample. She dropped it in the other woman’s hand. “OUT,” she barked, using the woman’s own form of invective.
“Yes ma’am,” the now cowed woman replied as she hastily made her exit.
Dixie winked at Rose and Joanne as she returned to join them at John’s bedside.
“I think his fever is down,” Joanne told them. “But he still seems to be having trouble talking and moving,” she said worriedly.
“Don’t worry about that too much Just yet Jo. That could last for several weeks after the fever passes. Remember that the virus may have run its course but that doesn’t mean the inflammation is gone. His brain is still healing and the swelling is still there blocking all those pathways…Okay?” He explained patiently. They nodded worriedly. “The good news is that the acute phase of this disease is close to being over and Johnny will start to heal,” he assured them with a smile.
“Do you still think he’ll be okay?” Rose asked hesitantly.
“If this were anyone else…? Well I’d give them less of a chance as bad as he was but this is John Gage. We’ve all seen how determined and resilient John is…I think he will be again with time and therapy. Joanne…You and Roy may want to consider sending John upstairs to the Long term inpatient rehabilitation ward for the first couple of weeks.”
“NO,” Jo protested. “Why would we do that?”
“It would save you and Roy from carting him back and forth to therapy…They’d be able to handle it right on site.”
“I don’t think Johnny would like that…you know how much he hates hospitals,” Jo protested quietly as her eyes slid to where John was watching them with a frown. How much of this was he understanding right now…if any…? She wondered silently. Would he be upset or not even care that he wasn’t at home?
“Maybe but it might be better for him too, at least until he gets some of his basic mobility back and his speech and memory skills improve.
John watched them all with a frown…Not understanding all of what they were saying but knowing they were talking about him. He wasn’t sure he liked them talking about him as if he weren’t in the room but couldn’t hold on to the indignant thought long enough to try to protest it either.
Jo glanced between Rose and Dixie hesitantly before looking back to Kel. “I don’t know…We’ll talk about it.” Was the best she could offer, knowing Roy would be just as resistant as she was to the idea.
She was right. Roy was shaking his head before Kel even finished vocalizing his suggestion. “Johnny would hate that,” he said simply as they sat around in the small waiting room near John’s room. His partner waited at the base station and Roy juggled the HT between his hands.
“I know Roy and under normal circumstances I would agree with you but...”
“John hates being handled by strangers,” Roy interrupted. “It makes him uncomfortable.”
“You saw his reaction to that nurse today,” Jo piped in.
“That was different Jo…He knew her and she’d already hurt him in the past,” Dixie reminded her.
“What happened?” Roy asked suspiciously.
They explained, finishing by telling them about the dressing down the horrid woman had received from Dixie.
Roy grinned. “Man…I wish I coulda seen that,” he said unrepentantly, remembering her brutal treatment of his seriously injured young partner.
Kel smiled back before he continued. “Anyway Roy…At this point we’re not even sure how much Johnny is really grasping and what he remembers or who for that matter.”
“He knows me and Jo…,” he argued.
“To some degree but we’re not sure how much, so admitting him upstairs for a couple of weeks might be a good idea for all of you until he regains some of his mobility.”
Roy bit his lip in indecision. How would John feel…If he was thinking clearly he’d be miserable and unhappy but right now…Would he understand that he wasn’t with his friends downstairs anymore? That he wasn’t going home with them? Would it matter to him? Roy was rather surprised that he hadn’t asked to go home already so he had to wonder just how much was his young partner grasping at this point. He hated the idea of abandoning his friend into the hands of people who didn’t know him even for a couple of weeks. Not to mention that they wouldn’t let him and Jo stay with him up there either…
He supposed it wouldn’t be much different than being down here except that Johnny knew most everyone in this part of the hospital…He’d be with strangers up there but then again…Did he remember these people now either?
The blonde paramedic sighed in frustration. It would be tough on Joanne and the kids when he wasn’t home, especially if John couldn’t walk.
He looked into his wife’s blue eyes and then to Rosemary. “What do you think?”
“I’d rather have him home,” Jo murmured. “But I’ll go with whatever’s best for Johnny.”
Rose nodded… “Same here I guess.” She didn’t want John dumped in some institutional setting…It just went against everything she’d fought so hard against when he was a teenager and a couple of doctor’s had suggested she send him away because of his Aspergers. She’d been furious but this wasn’t the same…He was still at Rampart, just not down here with his friends.
She guessed it might be a bit much for Joanne and the kids to handle until John was at least on his feet again. She understood and it wasn’t the same kind of ‘hospital’ they’d recommended in their ignorance. She frowned a bit as she continued. “Why don’t we try it for a couple of days and see how he does and if he’s okay then we’ll decide on when we can bring him home. It’ll be easier on Joanne.”
Jo splayed her hand over her chest. “Don’t keep him here for my sake,” she argued. “You know I want him home.”
“It’ll be harder on the kids too,” Roy added quietly.
Jo sighed…That could be a problem. Chris was old enough to understand but Jen wasn’t. She’d be heartbroken if her beloved Uncle Johnny didn’t recognize her as his ‘princess’ anymore…To have him look at her without recognition. Could they explain it to a five year old? Maybe it would be better to wait until they were sure his memory was intact.
“Will he get his memory back Kel?” She asked plaintively.
Kel smiled gently, knowing how badly this was tearing this family up…The idea that John might not remember them and all that they’d been to each other was devastating. They needed to be reassured.
“Jo…Roy…Rose. His memory’s are ALL still there. They’re trapped inside a brain that’s simply not able to send those impulses right now. Some area’s are getting better already and some of those signals are getting through so some of his memory is returning…He recognizes you Roy and you Jo, at least to some degree,” he replied as he let his eyes sweep over all of them. “He may have some impairment to his short term memory but long term…? It’s all still in there,” he assured them. “The pathways just aren’t clear yet to send those messages properly,” he explained a little less technically for Rose and Joanne’s sake. “His brain is not passing signals with his body and his mouth at this point.”
“How long?” Rose asked bluntly.
“His memory should return very quickly once the inflammation and swelling begin to recede and we’ll see rapid improvement but the frustration levels he may experience in other area’s as he relearns all of those functions…It may be hard for you to deal with.”
“Why will he have to relearn if he’ll remember on his own?” Jo asked.
“Remembering is one thing but not everything. I’d recommend physical therapy to improve his balance, flexibility, strength, motor skills and mobility and also speech therapy to help him to regain the muscle control and coordination to speak properly.”
“Will he get all of that back?” Roy asked, worried that if Johnny couldn’t speak clearly or lost that coordination and balance that he was notorious for, that he could lose his partner.
“Roy…,” Joe Early piped in. “We can’t guarantee that he won’t have permanent damage but like Kel…I’m optimistic…Most all patients who get this make a full recovery but it could take a few weeks...It really does depend on how fast it clears his system…How long his brain takes to heal and how hard he wants to work to get better.”
Brackett nodded. “I’m putting my money on Johnny.”
Roy nodded his agreement. “That won’t be a problem if I know Johnny,” he added confidently as they all climbed to their feet and headed for the door.
Joe moved to stand with his friend as the other’s left. Kel grimaced as he looked to Joe…There was always the possibility that the scar tissue left behind could rework the pathway’s in the young man’s brain altering John’s abilities…his thought patterns or potentially even leave him with epilepsy but he didn’t want to frighten them all with that at this point.
“That was the old Johnny…,” he said quietly to Joe. “Let’s hope the one we get back is just as strong.”
Joe nodded in understanding.
Roy returned to John’s bedside the next morning. The younger man was sleeping and it finally appeared that the infection was under control. Jo threw him a tired smile and stood up to let him have the chair. “I’m gonna get us some coffee,” she said as she stretched and headed for the door.
The blonde paramedic blew out a sigh of relief that even the fever had dropped to around a 100°. He slipped into the chair and gripped the still fingers. He smiled as they curled loosely around his. Still lacking the strength or coordination to squeeze properly but it was a start.
He leaned in close to the younger man’s ear. “Hey junior…Can you hear me? Are you awake?”
The dark lashes fluttered at the sound of his voice.
Johnny heard the quiet sound of someone speaking close to his ear. He knew the voice…The blonde man. The one he trusted was close by. His eyes slowly cracked open and a face swam before him for a moment before his bleary eyes forced it into focus.
The name seemed to leap into his head. ROY…For some reason he knew this was a good thing…Something important but he wasn’t sure why. He opened his mouth to greet him but nothing more than a groan came out. “Rrrrr,” slipped from between lips that wouldn’t move at his command.
He frowned in confusion…Why couldn’t he talk? He tried again. “Rrrro…” A little better but still not right. Okay…He gritted his teeth and tried to squeeze the fingers holding his. Again…His fingers barely moved. He couldn’t close his hand. What was happening to him?
The dark eyes grew frightened as they looked into gentle blue.
Roy saw his friend’s mouth move. Heard what sounded like an attempt at his name. “Rrrrr,” He saw the look of uncertainty in his young friend and then the fear that followed the second failed attempt. “Rrrro.”
“Shhh…It’s okay. You got it right junior…It’s Roy,” he assured him softly, his mouth turning up at the corners.
Okay…This was good. He had the name right and it seemed to make the man happy with that development, though he hadn’t been able to say it right so he didn’t know why he looked so pleased.
The door opened and the pretty woman from the day before stepped inside. He knew her too… JO. The name flooded his mind and his lips curled triumphantly. “Jjjjj….ooo,” he slurred.
She smiled as she set the cups down and leaned over to kiss him gently on the cheek. “That’s right baby,” she praised him with a smile.
Okay…Things were definitely getting better but why couldn’t he talk? “R…rrr…on…g?” He gasped out after several seconds of effort.
“What junior?” Roy questioned the barely recognizable word. “What are you trying to say?”
“Wrong? What’s wrong?” Roy questioned. There was a barely perceptible nod. “You’ve been very sick Johnny. VERY sick,” he stressed. “Do you remember?” He asked hopefully.
Flashes of memories assaulted his brain. Dragons…Fire…Bombs and drowning. People…The people here…Roy and Jo. Other women…One that frightened him…The dark haired man. People he knew but couldn’t remember their names at the moment. Not whole remembrances just pieces…Tiny moments that came like snapshots in his mind. He remembered Roy holding him and telling him he’d be okay.
He blinked away the frightening images. “Sss…ooom,” he said indistinctly.
“Good junior,” Roy said with a smile, seeming to understand what he’d been trying to say. John felt the man’s fingers slip through his hair. The gesture was familiar and comforting. He still didn’t have all the answers yet but he was tired…So tired. He heard the deep voice murmur quietly. “Just close your eyes…You need to sleep John.”
The dark eyes drifted closed under Roy’s gentle persuasion.
“He knew us both,” Jo said with a smile, despite the tears that filled her eyes.
Roy grinned back. “Brackett said they were still there…”
“Maybe that means that he’s finally got this infection beat.”
“Most likely honey but just remember,” he said warningly. “He’s still got a long fight ahead of him if Brackett’s right.”
She nodded her head, remembering the barely recognizable words he’d spoken but it was a start.
Jo headed for home soon after. She was tired and needed a break and a long soak in a hot bathtub. Roy took her place at John’s side, taking the long fingers in his hand. He’d come off a long shift himself and it didn’t take long before his eyes began to droop tiredly.
His fingers gave one final reassuring squeeze before he drifted off.
John’s dark eyes drifted open a short while later. For the first time in what seemed like a long time he felt cool. No fire raged… No horrible, throbbing pain in his head, just a dull ache. No dragons threatened, no bombs or serpents but still…Troubled thoughts seemed to permeate his mind.
He felt a hand holding his and his chocolate brown eyes swiveled to the right. Roy was asleep in the chair next to him.
John smiled tiredly and tried to squeeze his friend’s fingers to let him know he was awake. The long fingers twitched but that was all. John frowned. What was wrong?
“Rrrr….rrr,” he panted in a bare whisper.
His eyes widened in shock before the memories began to assail him. He’d been sick, That’s what Roy had told him. What did he have and how bad was it? Would he be alright? Would he be able to speak again? He didn’t know…He needed to know.
John face screwed up in a look of determination. “RRRR…OOOY,” he gasped out as his fingers squeezed briefly.
It wasn’t loud but it was enough. Roy’s eyes shot open and he sat up quickly. “Hey junior,” he said softly as leaned over him. His fingers rested on John‘s forehead and he grinned. “Fever’s broken finally,” he informed him with a smile. He saw the look of fear in John’s eyes. “What is it?”
“Okay…Just relax. You’re gonna be okay junior. Do you remember what we talked about earlier?”
John frowned as the memory flitted into and almost as quickly tried to flit out of his mind. He caught hold of it. “Ssss…k?”
“Right…You’ve been very, very sick. You’ve had encephalitis.”
John frowned, “N cef…tis?” He questioned.
Roy sighed. The signs of aphasia were still there, though getting better. At least the words were almost recognizable now.
“Yeah Junior…You had an infection in your brain from having the measles. Do you remember having the measles?” There was a tiny negative shake of his head. “Okay …That’s alright if you don’t. It’s normal alright? Now there’s nothing for you to be worried about. Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early assured us that most people who get this recover completely.” John’s eyebrow rose in concern. The older man chuckled at the look. “I know junior…You’re never most people,” he teased.
A small crooked smile curled the corners of John’s lips for a brief moment. “You’re gonna be okay partner…We’re gonna get you through this. I promise. We’re gonna get you into speech and physical therapy and you’ll be good as new,” he encouraged.
John was looking more alarmed with each word. “What?” Roy questioned at the look.
“Therapy?” John nodded. “Certain areas of your brain have been affected by this junior. Therapy will help you regain your sense of balance as well as your coordination and strengthen your body and speech therapy will help you make these muscles cooperate,” he teased, patting Johnny’s cheek gently. “You wanna be able to talk my ear off again right?” John frowned a bit. “C’mon junior…It won’t be that bad. You’ve been through both before right?”
Was he right? Had John had been through this before? He struggled to remember, concentrating hard and then suddenly it was there…The memory of it popped into his head. Yes…Yes he had…He’d had speech therapy both as a teenager with a stutter brought on by trauma and AS and then again after he’d been hit by Frank Benjamin’s car and been in a coma. He’d been through physical therapy several times to rebuild his strength after an illness or injury. He could do this. His mind began to drift and he had to fight to keep it on track here. Damn it…What was happening to him? Fear welled up but he tamped it down as the man…wait…As ROY…continued.
“Brackett says you’ll get better and stronger and things will start to return more quickly as your brain heals from this infection.”
“Ho l ng?”
Roy bit his lip. “A few weeks maybe,” he said softly.
John’s eyes widened in distress. “W ks?”
“It’ll be alright…You’ll be back to normal soon okay?”
The door was pushed open and Kelly Brackett stepped into the room, Dixie was close behind. “Good morning Roy,” They both greeted before their eyes shifted to the younger man in the bed.
“Morning Doc…Dixie,” he returned.
“How is he?” Kel questioned as he noticed the brown eyes open and almost alert.
“Fever’s broken and he’s been trying to talk some.”
“That’s great,” Kel said with a half smile as he pulled his penlight to check John’s eyes.
“I don’t know exactly how much he’s getting really,” Roy admitted softly. “But he seems to be able to follow most of what I’m saying. Brackett sent him an understanding smile.
Dixie came around to the side of the bed and lifted John’s hand to get a pulse. Her blue eyes scanned his face. “Hey tiger…Do you remember me?” She asked casually.
John looked baffled for a long moment. The pretty nurse was someone he knew…He was sure of it but the name wouldn’t come. He gave a hesitant nod but the perplexed frown negated the gesture.
She glanced at Kel before wrapping the BP cuff around John’s arm. He smiled and shook his head. “Don’t tell him…Let him remember on his own. It’ll give us a better handle on where he is in his recovery when he starts to remember names on his own.”
Dixie was clearly unhappy with that but she nodded as she gave the doctor her findings. “Pulse is 100, respirations 18 and his BP is 120/80,” she reported.
Kel leaned over the younger man. “Johnny? Can you tell me my name?” He asked quietly.
John tried to answer but he couldn’t remember it…He should know…He wanted to scream out loud. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ but his body and mind betrayed him again. He couldn’t make his mouth move. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes.
Brackett patted his shoulder gently. “It’s okay if you can’t…It’s normal after what you’ve been through so don’t get upset alright? It’ll come to you just like Roy’s did…I promise you.”
“He remembered Jo earlier this morning,” Roy informed him.
“Good…That’s a good start Johnny. It’ll come back to you a little at a time.”
John nodded but he still looked unhappy and frightened.
Kel touched Roy’s arm as he turned to leave. “When you and Joanne and Rose have time…We need to talk about John’s recovery and therapy program. Just have the duty nurse page me.”
“I will…Thanks doc.”
John turned his dark eyes toward Roy after they left. The look in them tore at his heart. It was very clear his young partner knew something was terribly wrong and was very afraid.
Roy plucked a tissue and casually brushed the tears from John’s cheeks. “I’ll be with you every step of the way Johnny… I promise…You’re not alone.”
Roy heaved a sigh a couple of hours later. He and Joanne and Rose sat across from Kelly Brackett in his office as he explained what he thought the best plan of action for John might be.
He looked at the pamphlet Kel had handed them. ‘Rampart inpatient Rehabilitation Department,’ he read. It looked nice enough on paper but Roy wasn’t sure. How would Johnny feel about it?
“I don’t know Doc…I’m still not sold on this idea,” he said softly.
Brackett blew out a sympathetic breath. “I know Roy…But it would be much easier for all of you in the long run.”
“What if John doesn’t want to?”
“Roy…Right now you’re in control. Johnny isn’t capable of making an informed choice right now. He doesn’t understand what’s best for him. He’s doing well to remember you and Jo and even his own name. He’s still very confused and disoriented.”
“But he’s remembering…,” he argued. “He’s always recovered at our house without a problem.”
“I know he’s remembering…Slowly and those times he was in possession of his mental faculties and capable of at least helping Jo with the physical transitions from bed to wheelchair and such. He can’t do that this time. I’m suggesting this for a couple of weeks until his memory improves and he gets back on his feet and becomes a little more stable. I’d hate to see him take a fall because Jo can’t lift him or worse…Possibly suffer a serious injury.”
Jo chewed her lip and looked to Roy and Rosemary. “I don’t want him to get hurt,” she said softly.
Rose sighed… “We talked about this Roy. He’d have twenty four hour care and on site rehab.”
Roy nodded…His head told him it was best for John but his heart was telling him something quite different. He’d gone through this before except that time John had been in a coma with a vindictive and vengeful man bent on killing him. He’d planned to send him to another hospital to protect him but then John had wakened and pleaded with him not to send him away. He wasn’t exactly sending him away…Just not bringing him home but still…
He sighed again. This time John might not even grasp the difference in his change of venue. Roy just wished he knew for sure what was going on in his young friends mind… “Can I look it over?” He asked.
“Sure Roy…It’s on the seventh floor and you can see him anytime during visiting hours.”
“I guess,” he acquiesced.
“Good…I’ll take you all up there this afternoon to look around and meet the director, Dr. Graham…Relax Roy…I’ve sent other patients up there. John will be fine.”
Over the next couple of days John began to slowly improve. His memory seemed to be returning in gradual stages though the occasional look of confusion still entered the dark eyes as a thought flitted away from him, unfortunately his recovery didn’t extend to being able to communicate it so it was still difficult to know what was going on inside his head.
Kel had him moved to a room downstairs on the second day which made it easier for him to receive visitors. Some he remembered instantly while others took a few moments to catch the fleeting name…Some still wouldn’t come at all.
Improvement still didn’t extend to his motor skills either…John still suffered from ataxia but he could at least nod or shake his head, move his arms and hands, twitch his toes and squeeze a hand if he concentrated hard. It wasn’t very coordinated yet but it was a small reassurance that he was at least…slowly getting better.
Roy presented him with a soft rubber ball. John looked at him curiously. “Wa f r?”
Roy didn’t understand the words but knew his young partner well enough to guess what he was asking.
“To help you regain your strength in your hands…You’ll have to able to hold those bars for therapy junior,” he teased him gently. The smile faded from the older man’s face a bit as he thought about what Johnny’s reaction would be to being moved to the rehab wing full of strangers. He hoped he wouldn’t be too anxious about it. “You just squeeze that over and over again until your hands get stronger okay?”
“Ka….,” he slurred, looking confused. “G o hmmm Ro?” Johnny asked.
“You’re not ready to go home yet junior,” Roy replied evasively.
John frowned. He was feeling much better. The pounding headaches he’d been experiencing had faded to a dull throb. The fever was gone completely though he was still weak. He knew something was still wrong with him…He still had trouble talking and controlling some of his movements but they’d assure him that that would get better as well, so why couldn’t he go home? He didn’t want to stay here.
His brows knotted in confusion as he tried to concentrate…He always went to Roy’s when he’d been sick didn’t he? He blew out a frustrated breath. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore but he thought he remembered that.
“Naaa si k an mo Ro Hmmm?”
Roy smiled and ruffled the sable hair affectionately. “You’re not running a fever anymore and you’re definitely getting better junior but you’re still having some problems understand?”
“Hommm,” he replied stubbornly. “Naa sta h…r.”
Roy sighed, his partner’s willful nature was definitely back to normal. He’d known this moment would come and he wasn’t going to like it. “John…,” he began.
The door opened, interrupting his attempt to reason with his partner who sometimes wasn’t reasonable even when he was well. Rosemary breezed in and blew out a breath of relief when she tossed a glance toward her nephew who was sitting up in bed. His smile rewarded her as she came in. “Well…look at you sweetie,” she teased gently as she came to the bed.
“Mrn An Ro…,” he managed.
Rose threw Roy a questioning look. “I think he said good morning to you,” Roy filled in with a laugh.
“I’m glad you can understand him,” she shot back. “Sounds a bit like a cartoon character,” she teased.
“I have small kids at home…I’m pretty good at cartoon characters,” he replied with a grin.
She set the small bag on the bedside table. “Ice cream,” she told John as he eyed it curiously.
John smiled appreciatively, not at all happy with the variety of half pureed food they’d been giving him but they couldn’t risk his being unable to chew it properly. The battle to get him to eat it was frustrating so Rose took pity on both Roy and John and bought some ice cream.
“Want some junior?” Roy asked, relieved at the reprieve he’d been given.
He managed to nod eagerly. “Well…I guess he communicated that well enough,” she said as she pulled the treat from the bag.
“I understand him alright,” Roy answered.
“YOU understand him when he doesn’t speak at all,” she replied with a poignant smile.
“Yeah,” the blonde paramedic replied. It was true. He and John frequently communicated by eye contact, a nod, a touch, an expression…A squeeze of a hand. It amazed a lot of people who saw it happen for the first time. Rose was used to it now.
She peeled the lid off the small container of ice cream. “Here we go Na’háahketa,” she said, using the endearment she’d called him by for years. Both of John’s parents had called him that as well. She could tell he remembered the word by the crimson stain that crept over his cheeks and she laughed in delight… Certain that her nephew was finally on the mend. A few weeks of therapy and John would be fine. Roy confirmed it with his next words.
“Brackett and Early said his last EEG looked good and there was marked improvement most especially in the temporal lobes…That’s why his memory’s getting a little better but it’s still affecting parts of the frontal and parietal lobes which is why he’s still having trouble talking and moving as well as he should. That’s what the therapy will concentrate the most on.
She looked to Roy as she fed Johnny a spoonful of ice cream. “Are they still moving him this afternoon?”
Roy’s blue eyes shot to John worriedly before he answered. “Yeah…But I still haven’t um…Told him about it yet,” he replied quietly. “He wants to go home.”
She nodded but let it drop, ignoring John’s questioning look as she scooped another spoonful vanilla ice cream into his mouth.
John’s brows knotted in frustration. He understood that they were talking about him but couldn’t hold on to the conversation long enough to ask the question. Thoughts and memories swirled in his brain in a chaotic dance until they made him dizzy. He was at least pleased with himself that he seemed to be able to remember most people now and hold onto their names for more than just a few moments.
Rose spooned the last of the ice cream into his mouth. She pressed a kiss on his forehead before tossing the small container away and turning to Roy.
“When do you plan to explain it to him?”
Roy bit his lip in indecision. “I was about to when you came in…But he wants to go home so I don’t know how he’ll react.” Roy was completely against this idea but he also had to take into consideration what was best for Johnny not to mention that having his young partner at the house with all of his limitations could be very stressful for Joanne and the kids. Roy sighed in frustration, feeling as if his hands were tied…If he could be there every day to help it wouldn’t even be an issue but he had to work.
Rose grimaced at the idea herself, hoping a unit full of strangers wouldn’t upset John too much. It wouldn’t be a problem at all if Johnny were firing on all cylinders perhaps but at the moment how much he was comprehending and retaining was questionable. Rose was very worried that he wouldn’t understand that it was for his own good but the decision was Roy’s.
Brackett had assured them that he would get better and stronger with each passing day and so far he’d been correct. They were seeing improvement already even though they were small victories.
The door opened a moment later breaking their quiet personal contemplations. Joanne peeked in. She planned to go with them when they moved him later today. She frowned when she thought about it. She hadn’t really been happy with the idea of moving him up there. She wanted him home but she didn’t want to upset Roy and Rose by being negative about it.
“Good morning,” she greeted the group as she stood on tip toe to kiss her husband’s lips before moving over to John’s bed and leaning down to kiss his cheek. “Morning sweetheart…How are you today?”
John frowned as he struggled to make his mouth cooperate with his brain. “Bbb B tr,” he finally managed to sputter after several tries.
“Good,” she replied as she stroked the dark hair back. “When are they coming for him?” She asked turning to Roy and Rose.
“About four,” Roy replied quietly as he came to join his wife at his friend’s side.
John’s dark eyes shifted from one to the other…His eyebrows knotted in a frown. He was pretty sure they were talking about him but why were they always talking around him instead of to him? He knew something had been very wrong with him but he didn’t know what for sure and wanted to ask but it was so difficult right now. He sighed in frustration…Trying desperately to hold onto the gist of the conversation that was taking place but it was hard…His thoughts fluttering away once more…
Roy caught the guarded look and reached out to pat John’s hand. The long, slim fingers curled around his own bringing a smile to Roy’s lips. “You’re doing better junior…Don’t worry okay. Everything will be fine.” John gave a nod.
Kel and Dixie joined them shortly before four. Kel gave them a nod as he held the door open to let two men pushing a gurney come inside. John frowned a bit in confusion…Did he know them? He didn’t think so but he knew he was still a bit foggy about that just yet…He understood at least that he’d been sick and that they’d promised him he was on the mend but it didn’t always feel like it when he couldn’t get his body and brain to connect.
The perplexed look deepened as they moved to his bed. “Hey junior,” Roy said softly as he took his hand. The dark eyes swiveled toward him nervously before returning quickly to the strangers. “It’s okay…We’re all gonna go for a walk okay so don’t worry. We’ll be right with you,” he promised, afraid that upset John would be upset about this...He had no idea how much.
“G…ooo?” He questioned hesitantly as the two men quickly reached out to transfer him onto the gurney. Where were they going? What was happening here? The anxious eyes swiveled to Roy once again as they covered him with a blanket and pulled the straps across his body.
John stiffened fearfully…His short term memory might be lacking at the moment but his long term memory was working just fine. His memories of being held down rushing at him out of nowhere…Frightening images that brought terror and pain. “It’s okay Johnny…I’m right here and I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Roy assured him, thinking John was just anxious over the two strangers, he didn’t understand the fear and confusion John was feeling right now and his young friend couldn’t articulate it.
Dixie gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and Kel patted his shoulder. “We’ll come to see you soon Johnny,” the dark haired doctor assured him.
Come see him where? Where were they taking him? His eyes turned to Roy once again.
Roy smiled down at his friend wishing he knew where John’s head was at right now and how much he could understand…John was also wishing he could tell him but only a low moan of fear slipped from his lips.
They arrived upstairs a few minutes later. John’s eyes searched his surroundings frantically as they pulled the gurney from the elevator.
They were followed by Roy, Joanne and Rosemary. John’s gaze widened as he took in the strange surroundings. Where was he? This didn’t look familiar at all. Where were they and why? He darted a worried look toward his friends and his Aunt. “Ww r?” He questioned with difficulty.
Roy grimaced. This was it…He had to tell him. “It’s a long term unit junior…Just a different part of the hospital. It’s okay,” he said reassuringly as he took John’s hand.
John shook his head adamantly even as they wheeled him inside. “Noooo,” he managed quite clearly. "Hmmm."
Rose and Joanne exchanged a glance at the anxious look that was clearly in John’s eyes…He looked up at Roy, feeling helpless and unable to even protest what was happening.
They were met by a tall, older man and an older dark haired nurse as they entered. “Mr. and Mrs. De Soto, Mrs. Hughes,” he greeted them. “This is John I assume,” he said with a forced smile that reminded Joanne more of a wolf with its teeth bared.
“Yes…,” Roy replied turning to his young friend. “Johnny…This is Dr. Graham. He’s the director up here.”
John didn’t respond but his eyes were locked on Roy. The older man could feel the tremor of fear in John’s hand. John was fighting to speak now. He was upset and that only made concentrating worse.
“W Y?” He managed to gasp.
“Dr. Brackett thought it would easier on you and your family if you were here for long term rehab Mr. Gage,” Graham explained for Roy as he waved the nurse over. “This is Mrs. Lewis. She’s the head nurse and she’s going to get you all settled in while I talk to your family so there’s no need for you to fret,” he said, sounding a little condescending to Joanne and Rose. John was ill and a bit confused…He wasn’t stupid. “Take him to his room,” he said to the nurse as he turned back to the others, dismissing John completely.
The woman nodded a bit curtly as she plucked John’s hand free of Roy’s. “This way,” she directed curtly as she turned and walked away. She hadn’t even spoken to the young fire fighter.
John shot Roy one final terrified look as they whisked him away. What was happening? Oh God…Roy was abandoning him here….Just dumping him off with a bunch of strangers. John didn’t want to be here…. He just wanted to go home… Didn’t Roy understand? He needed to tell him.
He tried to call out to him…To ask why but by the time he’d got his thoughts together it was too late. He tried anyway. “Rrrr…oy….Nooo.”
Mrs. Lewis threw him a scowl as she directed them into a room. “Now Mr. Gage, there’s no need to upset yourself. You’re here because you need help and that’s what we do here. You don’t want to be a burden on your family do you?”
John froze…He remembered that term. Burden…His aunt had called him that hadn’t she? Is that what he’d become to Roy and Jo…To his Aunt as well? He felt his heart sink a bit. He was too much trouble to have around…They didn’t want him. his confused brain told him.
A new worry crossed his mind and then tried to flit away but John caught hold of it once again…Concentrating hard and forcing his mind to follow the train of thought. They’d told him he would get better. That he’d be fine. Was that a lie? Was this all he was going to get back and that was why they were leaving him here? He’d be too much trouble for them to handle. Did he want to live like this the rest of his life if that was the case? Long term they’d called it…Was it permanent?
A thousand questions circled in his brain…Colliding with one another and he couldn’t ask any of them. He tried to pull the swirling chaos together in his head but the more upset he got the less easy it was to hold onto any one thought long enough to ask. Nothing came from his mouth but a frustrated groan.
The two attendants moved him quickly to the bed and departed as the nurse stepped up beside him. She efficiently got the young man situated with a cold manner and tugged the blankets over John quickly.
“There we are Mr. Gage. Your family will be here shortly and then I’ll introduce you to your aide. Tomorrow we’ll have you meet your therapists,” she explained rapidly, without giving John a chance to think or catch up with what she was saying. “Breakfast is at seven…Lunch is twelve thirty and your dinner is at five thirty,” she finished rather brusquely.
John’s head was spinning with too much information being thrown at him too quickly. All he wanted was Roy…He had to tell him he didn’t want to stay here. To beg him to take him home.
John finally shook his head… “Nooo Rrr…oy,” he stammered. “Naa…St…y.”
She folded her arms across her bosom and scowled at the handsome young man. “I don’t know what you’re saying,” she snapped with a shrug. “Now…your dinner should be here shortly so let’s take a look at this catheter and be sure everything is in order before it gets here,” she said as she tugged the sheets away.
John didn’t want her looking at anything at this point…He didn’t want dinner…He just wanted to go home. He pushed weakly at her hands with a shake of his dark head. “Nooo.”
She stepped back with an ominous scowl. “You’re not going to give me any trouble are you,” she stated rather than asked.
John’s heart pounded a bit at the warning tone but he wasn’t sure how to answer even if he could get his brain and his mouth to cooperate. He didn’t want to stay here. His dark eyes shifted to the door. Had they left him? God…Where were they? What had he done wrong? Why were they doing this to him?
Dr. Graham sat across from the young couple and John’s aunt. He glanced from face to face, anxiety clearly written on each one. It was very obvious that they weren’t happy about this one bit but Kel Brackett had obviously thought that the young man needed to be here so he tried to reassure them. “Mr. and Mrs. De Soto, Mrs. Hughes…I can assure you that John will be quite alright here. He just needs time to adjust.”
“I suppose,” Roy said quietly, wanting to beg Joanne and Rose to reconsider and take John home but was it fair to Jo and the kids? He couldn’t be home every day and even when he was he’d have to be right there handy to assist John or be carting him back and forth to his therapy appointments. Jo certainly couldn’t lift him in and out of bed or the car when he wasn’t home, not to mention that John would need some very delicate care… He knew she loved John like a brother but how would Joanne feel about having to be THAT personal with his young partner…How would Johnny feel once he started becoming more aware of everything going on around him? He blew out a frustrated breath. “Johnny doesn’t adjust quickly…He can be a handful,” he said with a half joking smile.
“I promise you Mr. De Soto…We know how to handle behavioral issues,” he replied with a smile of his own.
Roy wasn’t quite sure he liked the sound of that… “Can we see him before we go?”
“Of course.” He stood up and led them down a hall…Their eyes noting several open doors with patients in the beds. Jo frowned at the sound of moans from another room which nothing to dispel her fears about leaving Johnny here.
Rose was of the same opinion. Several people in the hallways were dressed only in hospital gowns and weren’t in her opinion decently covered as they hung halfway off. She frowned pointedly as she passed them.
They entered Johnny’s room…The nurse was standing at John’s bedside with her arms folded over her chest as she scowled down at him. Hope flared in his eyes as they came in but it was quickly dashed.
“Hey partner…We just wanted to say bye before we left…I’ll try and get up here whenever I get a run tomorrow but Jo will come by and see you for sure okay?”
John’s dark eyes caught and held Roy’s. The look of betrayal tore at Roy’s heart…He knew Jo had seen it too by the hitched breath behind him. “Nnn…ooo. Y… Rrr…oy?” He slurred plaintively. Rose closed her eyes to block the sight of the hurt in her nephew’s face.
“Johnny…? Try not to be upset okay? It’s only for a few days…A couple of weeks tops. I promise.” John didn’t believe him…They were leaving him…Just like everyone else. Roy came and sat next to the bed. “It’s just that I gotta work and Jo can’t handle you alone yet. You need to stay here and build up your strength some.” John shook his head, his eyes darting to the nurse. “I know you don’t understand but this is best for you right now…” his voice trailed off at the look of abject rejection in John’s eyes.
He understood enough…He remembered his childhood and growing up with his mother’s family. It was the same…They didn’t want him…Just like his family…When he needed them the most, they were gonna just dump him here…Abandon him.
John turned his face away. Roy looked ready to weep. Graham patted his arm reassuringly. “You’re doing the right thing for Mr. Gage,” he promised.
Roy didn’t look like he believed him. “Johnny?” He tried again as he reached out to try and turn John’s head toward him but the dark haired paramedic pushed weakly at his hands, resisting the contact and refusing to turn his head. His heart was breaking.
“Ch…us ko,” he slurred, barely audible.
“Let’s give him some time,” Graham tried again, frowning at the stubbornness of the young man in the bed.
“Yeah,” Roy agreed somberly. “Johnny…We love you,” he assured him.
‘No you don’t…You’re dumping me here and I had no say…Not about anything. You didn’t even ask what I want,’ his mind screamed the words his mouth couldn’t speak and tears burned behind his eyes. He was still him…John…Just because his words were trapped in his head didn’t mean he wasn’t still here. He just couldn’t tell them so.
He wanted to weep but he wouldn’t give them that power over him…To see that weakness. He didn’t cry…He was pretty sure he remembered his grandfather telling him that. ‘Don’t show them any weakness or they can use it to hurt you.’
Well he’d been right and John had screwed that up too. He’d opened his heart to these people and they were abandoning him when he needed them. Now…While he was helpless and confused and weak.
Well he didn’t need them…He didn’t need anyone. He knew in his heart that that wasn’t true and he didn’t want them to leave him. He turned his head to beg them not to leave him here but it was too late. They were already gone and the only one who remained was the cold faced nurse.
“Now Mr. Gage…Let’s get a few things straight,” she said with a smirk.
Roy and his companions drove in silence most of the way home. They’d stopped to pick up the kids from Eileen and Craig’s but they seemed to sense the somber mood of the three adults and sat silently next to Rose. They cast occasional anxious looks at each other but stayed quiet, unsure of what had caused it.
The adults seemed oblivious of the look’s, each one lost in their own thoughts but all of them on the same subject…The look of hurt and total rejection in Johnny’s dark eyes tore at their hearts.
Roy felt horrible but what could he do? Would his home life survive his being tied up with Johnny every moment when he was home even for a couple of weeks? He was sure the kids wouldn’t understand why daddy wasn’t available to them…And Joanne…His honey do list would certainly take a vacation and she’d be stuck with all that extra work to boot. He sighed heavily in frustration.
Jo glanced over. “What is it honey?” She questioned.
Roy threw her a glance. The reddened eyes and nose was a giveaway that his wife had been crying quietly.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he admitted quietly. “You can’t handle his care alone and it wouldn’t be fair to the kids and I can’t be home either,” he said despondently, voicing his private worries.
“I know honey but…God…His face when you said we were leaving him there. He thinks we don’t want him…He thinks we don’t love him,” she said with a hitched breath.
“I know,” he murmured.
“I don’t like the idea of leaving him with that nurse…She looked worse than the other one,” she mumbled.
“You noticed that too,” Rosemary chimed in from the back seat. “The whole thing just made me uncomfortable.”
“I don’t think they’d hurt him or anything…I think we’re all just worried about him…Maybe being too fussy,” he said quietly but he still looked concerned at the thought. John could be extremely stubborn even when he had all his wits about him. He was even worse when he was sick. He shook his head to dismiss his fears.
Chris looked concerned. His parents had explained what they were doing and why but he hadn’t had any say in any of it and Jen was really too young to understand what was going on but he’d heard his father…Had they left Uncle Johnny somewhere because of him and Jen…He wouldn’t even be in this mess if they hadn’t given him the measles in the first place. Oh he knew it wasn’t his fault but still…
“Maybe,” his mother agreed with his dad. “But I’d rather have him HOME where I can take care of him,” she said stubbornly.
Roy shot her a look. “It would mean giving up our privacy…No time for just the two of us or the things I do with the kids,” he added as he pulled into their driveway. He put the car in park and turned to face the others.
“I wouldn’t mind dad,” Chris piped in with his two cents worth. “Uncle Johnny would do anything for us,” he reminded them, remembering himself how many times his uncle had laid himself on the line for him…For all of them.
“Out of the mouths of babes,” Roy murmured, chuckling at the dark look his nine year old threw at him. “What about Indian Guides… Soccer …Baseball?” He questioned wanting his son to understand that until John was well…His father would be unavailable for those activities.
Chris shrugged. “Uncle Johnny’s more important than any of those things.”
“It could mean possibly getting up close and very personal with John,” he said meaningfully to Joanne.
Joanne smiled wryly and looked at Roy. “Look…I know there could be some embarrassing moments till he’s strong enough to get to the bathroom and bathe on his own and things but John’s a part of this family Roy. I’ll do whatever it takes for him.”
“What about lifting him…?”
“I’ll hire someone,” Rose interjected from the backseat. “I’ll get whatever we need to bring him home and get that look off his face,” she said, remembering the hurt that had been reflected in his eyes…She hadn’t seen that kind of pain in five years…Since he’d met this special family and become a part of it.
Roy grinned at Jo… “I don’t know how we’ll work this all out either but I know I want him home.”
“Go get him you two…Chris and Jen and I are going to get his room ready and make some phone calls,” she told them as she and the children climbed from the car.
Roy didn’t waste any more time on arguments. Brackett may give him hell and that rehab center may not appreciate the change of plans but the decision was his to make and he’d done it. Johnny was coming home.
Nurse Lewis wasted little time. The De Soto’s had barely left the room before she turned back to John. “Alright Mr. Gage…No more nonsense… I have other patients to take care of,” she snapped as she whipped the covers back.
John desperately wanted to tell her to feel free to go see them but he knew he’d never get that out of his mouth. He did the only thing open to him…He shook his head. “Nooo,” he slurred pushing weakly at her hands. He just wanted to be left alone.
“Quit that,” she barked, slapping his arm hard enough to leave a reddened mark that was sure to bruise. John winced but his jaw set stubbornly. His head shook in the negative once more.
She set her hands on her rather ample hips…Alright Mr. Gage…So you want to be difficult?” She turned and exited the room.
Johnny breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived. She returned a few moments later with several restraint bands. John watched her warily as she returned to the bed, uncertain what she planned to do to him now.
She didn’t waste time explaining as she reached out to none too gently grab one arm and efficiently tethered it to the bed. John’s eyes widened in terror… He remembered being tied down and held against his will by his Uncle on several occasions as a teenager as well as Scott Jackson and George Fulton…His memory might be foggy but he remembered that well enough.
His head shook adamantly as he tried to hitch his weakened body away from her and fend her off with the only free hand he had left. He couldn’t let her do this but his body simply wouldn’t cooperate quickly enough. “Nooo,” he breathed fearfully.
He struggled to keep the second hand free but it was no use…She quickly caught that as well. She stood looking down at him smugly. “Now,” she said with a smirk. “Let’s just calm you down some.”
John’s eyes widened at the syringe she pulled from her pocket. “Nooo,” he moaned.
Roy and Joanne drove back to Rampart in a much better frame of mind than they had leaving it. Happy and anxious to pick John up and take him home.
“I wish we hadn’t waited til now to have this discussion,” he said, tossing her a rueful glance. “Johnny wouldn’t have even had to go through all of this upheaval if we’d really told each other how we felt about this sooner.”
“I know honey and I know you’re concerned about my having to perform some of those more personal aspects of John’s care but don’t be…You know how I feel about Johnny and Rose will bring a nurse in for the things that I can’t handle but John means more to me than a little embarrassment if it comes down to it.”
Roy nodded, hoping it would only be a few days to get Johnny coordinated and built up enough to assist in transferring himself from bed to wheelchair and back. Then he could use the bathroom and it wouldn’t be an issue. He knew he had nothing to worry over when It came to Jo and John…They’d already been this route and Roy trusted their relationship completely.
Roy smiled at his wife. He hadn’t been sure up til now how he’d feel about Jo being THAT up close and personal with his young and very attractive partner but she’d reassured him with her words that her feelings were sisterly and occasionally almost motherly toward the younger man but still had it been anyone but Johnny…He’d have never have allowed it. Besides…John would be more embarrassed than she was if it came right down to it.
For all John’s reputation of being a womanizer, the young paramedic could be very shy when it came to the ladies he was closest to…Joanne, Rosemary, Emily Stanley and Dixie.
They stepped from the elevator and spotted the administrator talking to nurse Lewis a short distance up the hall. They both looked up as they approached and as a trained observer, Roy was sure he saw the man’s face blanch as they drew closer.
“Mr. and Mrs. De Soto,” he said, sounding a bit alarmed as he quickly came to meet them. “What are you doing here?” He questioned worriedly before catching himself. “I mean uh…Um…I thought you’d already gone home and we wouldn’t be seeing you again until tomorrow,” he sputtered.
Roy looked at him suspiciously. “Is there a problem?” He questioned with concern.
“No…No of course not uh…It’s just that…Well Mr. Gage became…Agitated and a bit combative after you left…He simply wouldn’t cooperate with Miss Lewis here,” he said directing their attention to the nurse who still stood a few feet away with her arms folded smugly over her chest.
Roy frowned at the woman and without another word spun on his heel and headed for John’s room…Jo followed closely.
“Mr. De Soto…Please wait,” Graham called after him but Roy didn’t slow down. He pushed the door open and his mouth dropped open in shock. Jo almost plowed into the back of him before catching herself and stepping around him.
Her breath caught sharply. “Oh my God,” she whispered in horror.
Roy’s mouth snapped shut to clench his teeth in anger. He turned to look at Graham in a rage as Jo pushed past her husband to run to John’s side. “Is this your idea of how to handle a behavioral issue?” He asked in low growl that Jo knew from experience was Roy’s temper being carefully controlled before the impending explosion of rage.
The blue, fury filled eyes moving over his partner. The signs were obvious that a struggle had taken place. John’s body was hitched to the side and the gown was disheveled and rucked almost to his hips, leaving him nearly exposed to anyone who’d entered the room. A wide strap held him pinned to the bed. He was obviously drugged and tethered to the side rails with both wrist and ankle restraints.
His head lolled loosely on the pillow and the normally expressive dark eyes were heavy lidded and barely cracked open.
He pulled irritably at the straps that held him, while small moans of distress slipped from between his lips.
“I assure you…It’s just a mild sedative to help settle him down,” he tried to explain.
“And I guess he’s just mildly restrained as well?” He barked, moving to John’s side where Joanne was already tugging the gown into place.
“How dare you…? Why would you do this to him?” She growled at the older nurse, her blue eyes shooting fire.
“He wouldn’t allow Miss Lewis to check the catheter…he was pushing her away and …,” Graham tried to explain.
“Roy?” Jo interrupted angrily as she turned John’s arm. A bruise was already blossoming on his forearm.
“How did that happen…It wasn’t there when we brought him in?”
“He was being difficult,” the nurse snapped back.
“He’s recovering from a brain infection…Did you expect him to be all glued together here?” Jo asked in disbelief. “Did you hit him?” She asked ominously.
The nurse felt a hint of fear from this seemingly demur woman standing in front of her. “I…I um…Reacted badly when he shoved my hands away,” she stuttered.
Jo took a single step toward the woman but Roy reached out to grab her arm. “Just get the restraints off of him Jo,” he said soothingly before turning to Graham. “I don’t know what kind of paperwork you people require to discharge my partner here but you better go and get it,” Roy barked as Jo pulled the restraint straps free.
She sat beside him, tenderly stroking his brow as she spoke softly. “It’s alright baby, we’re here now,” she assured him gently.
“I wouldn’t recommend that Mr. De Soto,” he advised warningly. “Your friend will still require a great deal of care and therapy…” He trailed off at the look Roy directed at him.
“I wouldn’t let you give therapy to my dog much less someone I love. Johnny won’t be staying here and he won’t be back for therapy. I’ll take him to the short term therapy department downstairs.”
“Mr. De Soto,” he tried again.
“Get the damn papers and you can expect a visit from the Licensing Board and Kelly Brackett…Count on it,” he snapped ominously as he leaned over and lifted his half conscious partner in his arms. Jo unhooked the collection bag from the bed and shot a final glare at the pair as Roy carried John out. His young friends head drooped to lie against his shoulder. Roy rested his cheek on it. “I’m so sorry junior…I hope you can forgive me for leaving you in here,” he whispered against the sable hair.
There was an unoccupied wheelchair in the corridor and Roy settled John in it. Graham’s face was wan as he stepped into another office and pulled John’s file. It only took a moment for Roy to sign them.
“We’re done here…But you better pray he doesn’t remember any of this but you can bet that I will and I’ll be sure to let Brackett know just what kind of hell hole you people are running here,” he snapped as he wheeled Johnny out the door.
Authors note...I hadn't intended for there to be four parts to this story but encephalitis is such a complicated (pardon the pun) disease. It attacks a different part or parts of the brain in each patient and the symptoms can vary widely in each person from none to extreme and that makes it difficult to write what some describe. Some like Johnny feel trapped in their own minds and simply can't articulate it and others said they couldn't remember hardly anything. Hallucinations vary...So it took a bit longer than I planned and so I split it to four parts. Johnny's therapy is yet to come. Hope you enjoy this part and thanks for being so patient.Excuse me for putting that nasty nurse from 'The Nuisance' in this story but I always felt as if there were unfinished business. I always thought if Dixie had seen what she did to Johnny she'd have flayed that woman with her tongue so I gave her her chance. LOL. Also...Nurse Lewis is modeled after a nurse I had an unfortunate encounter with...This is exactly her style and I wanted to clock her one. Thankfully she never came near me or a member of my family or I might have. I apologize to every good nurse out there (my youngest sister is one of you) and bless your heart but not all are angels of mercy and this woman was one of them. I hope she reads this and recognizes herself. HA HA.
Posted to 04/07/12
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