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Saturday March 3, 1979
LA County Firefighter/Paramedic, Roy DeSoto, was sitting with a cup of coffee watching the pacing figure before him go to the window for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past five minutes. The men next him looked at him as though they were expecting him to know how to make the person in front of them sit down and quit pacing.
“Johnna Rosemary Gage Hightower, will you please sit down…. You’re making me nauseous watching you pace back and forth!!! LA County Firefighter/Paramedic, John Gage, exclaimed as the attractive young lady with blond hair and dark chocolate eyes stopped and looked at the three men sitting at her dining room table.
Roy DeSoto just smiled and thought to himself, Junior that never works with you. How do expect it to work on your twin sister? You must be rubbing off on her. I’ve never seen JJ so hyper.
Retired rodeo champion, Daniel Hightower, got up from the table, guided his wife to the chair beside him, sat her down, and with his best cowboy smile on his face said, “ Sweetheart, you remember when we got married December 31, 1976, I promised I would always stand by you, I would hold you tight, and never let go?............. If you don’t sit down, I swear I will get my lasso and take you down like a calf so you can’t pace anymore”
Roy DeSoto and John Gage were both expecting a Gage Rage & Rant to begin but JJ simply flashed her husband that smile that would make you do anything she wanted and said, “I would like to see ya try it cowboy,” as she got up from the chair and went to the back door once again.
“She’s here!! C’mon guys!! Aunt Rose is here!! Let’s go!!!” JJ shouted as she flung open the door and ran toward Johnny’s Land Rover.
JJ gave her aunt a twirl and a quick kiss on the cheek and asked, “How ya feelin?,” but kept on going before her aunt had a chance to reply and jumped in the driver’s seat of the Land Rover.
A stunned Rosemary Gage Hughes turned with a confused look toward the Land Rover expecting to see her overly exuberant nephew, John Gage, but instead saw that it was his normally calm twin sister, Rosemary Hightower, that had just ran past her.
Daniel, Roy, and Johnny walked out of the house and met Mrs. Hughes on the sidewalk. Johnny flashed his aunt a sheepish grin as he gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He knew how his aunt felt about over exuberance. He had been chastised many times while living with his aunt for such displays.
“I see you have been teaching your sister your bad habits, Na-háahketa (my little one)….. Just don’t teach her how to talk with her mouth full,” Mrs. Hughes said with a wave of her finger and a chuckle as she lovingly moved a stray lock of hair from her nephew’s forehead.
Daniel and Roy both tried to keep from laughing as Johnny blushed at what his aunt had said and her very public display of affection. Roy was impressed that his best friend and partner had made such great strides in overcoming his Aspergers Syndrome Disorder that he didn’t pull away from his aunt when she reached out to touch his hair. Roy knew from his touch therapy sessions with Johnny how much he wanted to allow his aunt to show her affection toward him especially since she had almost died at Thanksgiving during a long and difficult heart surgery to repair an aneurysm and clear several blockages.
Daniel looked at his brother- in- law as they began walking to the parking lot of the Equine Therapy Center toward Johnny’s Land Rover that was sitting next to the Center’s pickup that had a horse trailer attached to it and said, “I’m so glad JJ‘s ridin with you. She’s been like a chipmunk on caffeine all morning.”
JJ was excited because she, her husband, their ranch foreman, Larry, her twin brother, John Gage, his partner, Roy DeSoto, along with her and Johnny’s aunt, Rosemary Gage Hughes, were going to a horse auction in Mira Loma, California. Horses were the one thing that made the normally quiet and calm Johnna Rosemary Gage Hightower ramble and bounce like her twin brother often did when he latched onto an idea or a scheme.
The group got to witness a Gage standoff as Johnny tried to move his sister out of the driver’s seat of his Land Rover. Johnny had no intentions of allowing her to make the hour and half drive from the Equine Therapy Center in Agoura, CA, that his sister had opened to assist clients of Autism, Aspergers, and Traumatic Stress Disorder that did not respond to conventional therapies, to Mike’s Livestock Auction in Mira Loma, CA. Daniel Hightower finally intervened and got his wife to move to the passenger seat so they could be on their way.
JJ was practically bouncing in the seat as the group pulled into the parking lot at the auction. JJ was the first one out of the vehicle and was quite a bit ahead of the rest of the group when she suddenly stopped, turned pale and swayed as if she had just seen a ghost. Roy and Johnny both went into paramedic mode and were both reaching out to JJ as they heard her say, “Spirit”, in a breathless whisper with her eyes transfixed on a pasture in front of them where workers were rounding up horses to go into a paddock area to be brought into the auction arena to be sold.
Before Johnny or Roy could take hold of JJ, she was running at full speed toward the pasture. Johnny was the first to react and took off after his sister yelling, “JJ, slow down…...Please stop... You can’t go in with that horse, you’ll get hurt again.”
The group that had arrived with the normally reserved and quiet Rosemary Gage Hightower gasped in fright as she jumped the pasture fence and raced at full speed toward a white mustang mare that was now angry and bucking in an attempt to get away from the man in the pasture trying to force the mustang toward the holding area for the auction. From the corner of the pasture, a buckskin mustang stallion was also racing toward the white mare at full speed along with a chocolate colored female.
JJ stopped in front of the bucking, white mustang and started talking softly. “Spirit, I know you’re in there and you won’t hurt me. I won’t let anyone hurt your baby. You stood by me and wouldn’t let go when I felt so lost and alone. I promise I won’t let go of your baby or ever allow her to be alone. I’ll always stand by her. ”
The buckskin stallion had slowed his charge at the sound of JJ’s voice and the white mare was also settling down. By the time John Gage and a winded Daniel Hightower reached JJ, the two angry and anxious mustangs were nuzzling against each other.
Daniel stopped beside his wife and willed his breathing to slow down. He didn’t know whether to hug his wife in amazement or grab her and shake her for pulling such a dangerous stunt especially since it was just the past October when his wife had been seriously injured by a spooked horse during the “Agoura-Malibu Firestorm.”
Johnny was on the opposite side of JJ. He was daily amazed by the things he learned about his twin sister. Even though they were apart for many years due to his sister being at a boarding school in London because their Uncle George hurt her when she was young, they were a lot alike. They both had a great ability to work with horses that Johnny felt would have made his maternal grandfather very proud. They were also both very fast runners. They also seem to share a knack for being very impetuous and jumping in without thinking about safety first which by the look on Roy and his Aunt Rose’s faces was something they both probably needed to work to improve.
As the auction workers, led the three horses from the pasture to the holding area, Johnny and Daniel led a pale JJ back over the fence to where Roy, Rosemary Gage Hughes, and Larry, the center’s foreman, were standing. JJ looked at her Aunt Rose with tears streaming down her cheeks and said in a whisper, “I need to go stand by her. I can’t let her go or be alone. I promised Spirit.”
JJ took off again in a sprint toward the paddock area where the horses would be available before the auction to view. Daniel and Johnny both started to go after her but were stopped by Rosemary Gage Hughes. “Guys let her go. She’ll be okay.”
Johnny turned to his aunt with his hands on his hips and gave her the arched eyebrow look that she saw often when he was confused and upset. “Na-háahketa (my little one),” Johnny’s Aunt Rose said softly. “You told me while I was recovering from my heart surgery that JJ told you about remembering I was with her when she went from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego to the boarding school in London. One of the first things she and I did together was go to a stable nearby that was well known for equine therapy. Your sister was so sad, quiet, and withdrawn until her eyes met the eyes of a white female mustang named Spirit. This wild horse looked at the lost little child that was holding my hand so tight willing me not to let go with such gentleness. She seemed to know that someone had taken the child’s spirit and she was determined to give it back to her with just a look. I think that horse is the only reason your sister is here with us today.
JJ thinks that white mustang she just ran after was foaled by Spirit and she won’t let it go.”
The guys all felt lumps of emotion well up as they listened to Rosemary Gage Hughes talk of her niece’s younger days. Roy’s heart ached that his best friend and his sister had such a rough life when they were younger. Daniel was amazed at how much his wife had overcome. Larry had renewed respect for his boss who today was very strong and confident. Johnny shuddered at the thought that he and his sister may not have ever met if she had not overcome the ramifications of having their Uncle George throwing her on a card table at the reservation and tearing her clothes and touching her when she was three even though his Aspergers had blocked his memory of the event until recently.
Larry broke the silence by looking at Daniel and said, “I guess we better get inside and get our bid card because I’m pretty sure we will be taking home a wild white female mustang this evening and I’m not referring to that feisty, pretty wife of yours,” he said with a devilish smile. The others laughed and nodded knowingly. It was no secret that Larry had a soft spot for his boss. Larry was in his 60s, had grey hair, and was excellent with children and horses. He treated JJ, as well as Daniel, like they were his children and not his employer.
JJ stayed in the paddock area with the three horses even when the auction began. She watched as several horses were led into the auction arena. As the black horse in the stall next to the one she was standing in front of was led to the auction ring, she looked at the two horses in front of her that were nuzzled together over the rail separating the stalls they were in and said softly, “Ghost – Eagle, I won’t let go.” JJ then went to the auction ring to make sure the guys knew the mustangs would be up for sale next.
It was after midnight when the group got back to the parking lot of the Equine Therapy Center. JJ got out of the center’s truck and went to the back of the horse trailer to lead Ghost, Eagle, and Sierra into the stable. Larry offered to do it but JJ refused to let the horses go.
Tuesday March 6, 1979
Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage made his way to the dayroom to get morning coffee started. The members of 51s A-Shift had all went in different directions after Captain Stanley acknowledged the wakeup klaxons. Johnny stopped short when he saw his nemesis, “The Phantom,” aka Firefighter Chet Kelly, already sitting at the table looking intently at a piece of paper. Chet jumped when Johnny exclaimed with a crooked grin, “I thought you could only read comic books, Chester B.”
Johnny then noticed the worried look on Chet’s face as he continued toward the stove. Johnny started the coffee and leaned back against the counter looking at Chet surprised that he had yet to retaliate for John’s earlier comment.
Johnny was about to say earth to Chester B Kelly when Chet looked up at him and stuttered, “J J John, I have a delicate problem, babe.”
John Gage had been Chet Kelly’s alter ego, The Phantom, pigeon for so long that he was sure Chet was setting him up for some kind of a prank especially since he had stuttered and they all knew when John was upset he often fell back into a childhood problem of stuttering. It had taken quite a bit of speech therapy for him to control it.
His twin sister even had friends call her JJ because for many years the only thing she remembered about her early childhood was a little boy who stuttered and called her JJ. It wasn’t until October of last year that she found out the little boy was her twin brother and her real name was Johnna Rosemary Gage not Rosemary Smith. Her brother called her JJ because he had a hard time saying Johnna.
“What’s up Kelly, did ya find out one of your dates is suing you for child support?” Johnny said with a snort.
He then saw the scared look in his friend’s eyes and went over to him and grasping his shoulder said, “Hey man, I’m sorry what’s wrong? What can I do to help?”
Chet’s blue eyes met Johnny’s chocolate brown eyes and handed him the paper he had been looking at so intently. Johnny looked at the paper and back at Chet and said, “Ah Chet, ya do realize this is prep for a colonoscopy not a new mixed drink. Don’t cha?”
Johnny knew most people didn’t have a colonoscopy before age 50 unless there was a family history or symptoms that needed to be checked. He also knew Chet was scared and that was why he cracked a joke instead of showing Chet how worried he was for his friend.
“Yes Gage, I know what it is but look at what I have to do today. There’s enough water and sports drink on that list to float the ark. There’s pills, and powders, and I don’t know what the hell magnesium citrate is or where to get it,” Chet exclaimed in exasperation.
“Well my friend,” Johnny responded as he looped his arm over his friend’s shoulders. “You get magnesium citrate from a drug store. It’s known as liquid dynamite because it is guaranteed to rid your body of all your bad cooking that is “stuck” in your system.”
Chet dropped his head on the table and moaned knowing it was going to be a one looong day. Just the thought of where he would be spending most of his day made him sick to his stomach and even more scared.
Johnny knew Chet was scared. He was due to go to the Equine Therapy Center to help his sister work with the horses the Center had purchased at Saturday’s horse auction in Mira Loma. He sighed and said, “Chet let me give JJ a call and let her know I have friend that needs someone to stand by him and not let go for the day…. Okay? …… Then, I’ll go with ya to the drug store to get the stuff on the paper.”
Chet kept is head in his hands but did manage to shake his head yes so Johnny knew he was okay with the plan. Johnny gave his friend a pat on the back and walked out of the dayroom to go to the dorm to call his sister so his other crewmates would not overhear the conversation.
When 51’s A-Shift replacements arrived, John Gage followed Chet Kelly to his apartment and then they left together in Johnny’s Rover to the nearest drug store to get the items outlined on the prep sheet. Chet revealed on the way to the drug store that his grandfather had gotten colon cancer when he was 40 and his Dad had some issues with polyps at an early age so that was why Chet was having a colonoscopy done the next day as part of his yearly physical.
Chet had actually fallen asleep against the door frame on the way to the drug store so Johnny quietly got out of the Rover and went into the drug store to get the things his friend needed. Chet didn’t even wake up when Johnny got back in the Rover. Johnny figured Chet had been awake all night worrying about today’s prep and the actual test the next day. He had hoped to tell Chet that JJ was worried about him as well and told Johnny to bring him out to the Center. She told Johnny, Chet could use her and Daniel’s room since they had a TV and a large bathroom in their bedroom. She also said Daniel and Larry were going to be in the house all day doing paperwork so they would be able to holler at Johnny if Chet had problems with any of the prep.
Chet yawned, stretched, and opened his eyes just as Johnny was pulling into the lane of the Equine Therapy Center. Chet turned to his friend. His blue eyes huge and flashing with anger as he exclaimed in a voice two octaves higher than normal, “GAGE… YOU TOLD YOUR SISTER WHAT I HAVE TO DO TODAY. HOW COULD YOU! SHE’S…SHE’S A HOT CHICK.”
Johnny had pulled the Rover into the driveway near the ranch house as Chet’s last statement sank into his brain. As Johnny snapped his head around looking at his friend and nemesis, Chet blushed and gave Johnny his most apologetic Kelly grin but didn’t have a chance to say anything because Rosemary Gage Hightower had just come from a barn nearby and was getting close to Johnny’s Rover.
Chet got out of the Rover and leaned against the closed door but kept his gaze on the top of his shoes instead of looking up as JJ got closer and greeted her twin brother with a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. JJ gave Johnny a perplexed look when she noticed Chet staring at his shoes and Johnny simply shrugged his shoulders. JJ took Chet by the arm and led him to her and Daniel’s bedroom and gave him instructions to holler at Daniel and Larry if there was anything he needed. Chet stripped down to his boxers and began following the instructions on the colonoscopy prep sheet.
Chet Kelly could feel a soft hand patting him on the cheek, but he was in a deep fog and couldn’t quite get his brain to comprehend what he should do next. As the fog begin to lift, he could hear a feminine voice close to his ear urging him to wake up and his brain was now
registering the soft scent of a sweet lilac perfume. He wondered why he couldn’t remember being with a girl the night before, but oh well whoever it is she smells nice was the thoughts going through Chet’s mind. Without opening his eyes, Chet reached his arms around the being by his ear softly urging him to wake up and said, “Umm babe, you smell so good.”
The next thing to assault his foggy brain was a deep male voice saying, “Kelly you better get your hands off my sister before I deck ya and then you’ll have to deal with her husband.”
Chet Kelly was out of bed with his feet on the floor as though the station klaxons had went off at 2:00 in the morning. John Gage was in front of him with his hands on his hips moving toward him. A wide eyed Chet Kelly was still trying to wrap his mind around where he was and what was going on but he realized he was in a bedroom and quickly moved his hands to make sure he had clothes on since he remembered hearing a female’s voice first. He then realized John Gage was nose to nose with him looking a bit angry. Before he had a chance to say anything, Daniel Hightower appeared in the doorway dressed in white boxers with his jeans in one hand, his boots in the other, with his cowboy hat on his head. Larry, the Center’s foreman, was behind his boss. He had on jeans and a white t-shirt but had shaving cream still on half his face and a razor in his hand.
The four males in the room finally realized the one female was on the floor gasping.
Thinking JJ was hurt, the four men all began to go to her at once. Before they reached her, she rolled on her side facing them with her hand over her face laughing so hard there were tears rolling down her cheeks. She was finally able to gasp out between laughter and tears, “Chet the polyethylene glycol powder mixed in sports drink made you sick so you and Johnny spent the night here. Johnny helped you into a pair of Larry’s sweats and one of his T-shirts late yesterday afternoon. You need to be at Rampart by 7:00 since your colonoscopy is at 7:30.”
John Gage got to the nurse’s station at Rampart General with a cup of coffee in each hand in time to hear his twin sister share the morning’s events with Nurse Dixie McCall and his partner and best friend, Roy DeSoto, who was working overtime that morning with Charlie Dwyer.
….”I’m tryin to get Chet awake and I’m leanin down by his ear tellin him to wake up and he rolls over without opening his eyes and tries to pull me into a hug. My little brother comes in and decides he has to defend my honor and yells at Chet he better get his arms off me. Chet jumps out of bed trying to cover himself as though he is not sure he has clothes on. Then my brother goes nose to nose with him. Before either of them say anything, my wonderful husband comes in the room. He did manage to get his cowboy hat on when he heard the commotion but I’m still not sure what he intended to do with the boots in one hand and the jeans in the other. I guess he planned to beat Chet with his boots and then tie him up with his jeans. My foreman comes to the “ruckus” with shaving cream on half his face and a safety razor in his hand. I ended up on the floor on my behind laughing until I cried. My sides still hurt.”
Johnny knew Dixie and Roy and were waiting for his side of the story, he simply looked at them and said, “Whaaat……?” Dixie, Roy, JJ, and Johnny all broke out laughing as each had images of the morning “ruckus” going through their minds.
Johnny had just looked up at the clock in the doctor’s lounge when Dr. Kelly Brackett walked through the door.
Dr. Brackett reported that Chet was in recovery and doing well. Dr. Brackett advised Chet’s blood pressure was a bit high when he first arrived but responded well to the 7 mg of Midazolam and the 70 mg of Meperidine given through the IV as the procedure started. His vitals remained stable throughout the procedure. The colonoscopy revealed multiple medium-mouthed diverticula in the sigmoid colon and in the descending colon. A 6 mm polyp was also found in the descending colon and was resected and retrieved along with two 4 mm polyps in the sigmoid colon. The polyps were removed with minimal blood loss and sent for testing but they didn’t appear to be malignant. A 4mm polyp at the recto-sigmoid colon was ablated by fulguration. Dr. Brackett advised Chet would have to add fiber to his diet to make sure the diverticula did not turn into diverticulitis. With a sly smile on his face Dr. Brackett looked at Johnny and JJ and said, “Dixie is making sure your hose jockey friend is fully awake and dressed. I understand that’s why his blood pressure was a bit high this morning.”
Johnny and JJ thanked Dr. Brackett after the three of them had a good laugh over the morning “ruckus”. Dr. Brackett gave Johnny Chet’s discharge papers and instructions. JJ got up and got ready to leave. She had driven to Rampart in her mustang and Johnny had brought Chet in his Rover since Chet was a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable after all that had taken place that morning. JJ gave her brother a hug and a kiss and thanked him for “defending her honor.” She wondered if she could have a t-shirt made for the Irishman so the Phantom would go easier on his pigeon from now on.
Sunday April 1, 1979
“SPRONG…..ARRRRGH….. Kelly, would you please just disappear…..SLAM….. BOOHAHA” was the recurring “melody” being heard throughout Station 51 since the shift had begun at 0800.
Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has the Easter Bunny, Halloween has witches, ghosts, and goblins, and at Station 51, April Fool’s Day has the Phantom.
Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage thought seriously about calling in sick when his alarm went off but thoughts of Roy being strapped with Craig Brice for an entire shift kept him from doing so. Johnny’s wife, Danella, arched an eyebrow at her husband as he walked past her with all 7 of his uniforms in his hand. Normally he only took 3 for a 24 hour shift.
Firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto looked at his watch as he heard “SPRONG… ARRRRGH…Kelly, would you please just disappear…..SLAM…BOOHAHA” once again. He sighed as he realized it was only 1100 and during the last three hours since the shift started that was either the 3rd or 4th time he heard the “Phantom/Pigeon melody”. Roy dropped the bed linens he was changing in the dorm and went into the locker room to check on his partner.
“Junior, you okay?” Roy said softly as he entered the locker room and saw his best friend sitting on the bench in front of his locker with just his boxers, socks and duty boots on with his head bowed and resting against the door of his locker with his arms on his legs. There was a pile of uniforms at his feet and a shirt and t-shirt that were dripping wet in his hands.
There was no sound but Roy saw the unruly sable hair shake back and forth signifying no that he was not okay. Roy went behind his partner and begin to lightly touch his shoulders and neck hoping a bit of touch therapy might help his partner. Once Roy felt Johnny’s shoulders relax under his ministrations, he tried to get is quiet partner to open up to him by saying, “Come on Johnny talk to me. What can I do to help?”
After a long silence, Johnny quietly said, “Just make him disappear forever. I’ve taken all I can over the last 7 years. Hell, I even thought about calling in sick today…… Roy, I only got 3 more uniforms left. At this rate, Cap is going to give me a reprimanded for not being properly dressed.”
Roy gave his friend a pat on the back and said, “Sorry, Junior, ‘fraid I can’t make the Phantom disappear forever but I can have a talk with Cap and see if he can make him disappear for the rest of the day before you embarrass us both by going to calls dressed only in boxers, socks and your duty boots.
As Roy left Captain Hank Stanley’s office, the tones sounded sending the squad out on their first run of the day. Roy sent up a silent prayer of thanks that the Phantom and Pigeon were finally going to be separated for a bit.
That first run became four back to back runs for the squad. It was 1300 when Roy backed the squad into the apparatus bay. Thankfully all the runs had been minor. The first run was a young boy with a minor cut on his hand that bled a lot and frightened a babysitter. The 2nd run was a jogger at the park with a twisted ankle. The 3rd run was a man with his hand stuck in a drain. The 4th run sounded serious at first but the elderly woman with difficulty breathing was just upset because her kitten was missing.
The elderly lady explained to Roy and Johnny that her little kitten named Phantom played often with the little Chihuahua next door named Pigeon. She said Phantom liked to tease Pigeon by swiping his paw toward Pigeon’s face. She said normally Pigeon just ignored Phantom but today Pigeon growled and snapped at Phantom and Phantom scampered away scared and wouldn’t come when she called for him. Roy had a real hard time keeping a straight face as the elderly lady was telling her story. He kept thinking that he knew another Pigeon that was about to growl and snap at a Phantom. Johnny gave Roy a look as he was taking the woman’s vitals indicating he was going outside to try and find the elderly lady’s scared kitten.
Johnny found a small Chihuahua turning circles and whimpering in front of a thick bush in the back yard. Johnny reached down to pet the dog behind the ears. Roy heard his partner say, “Good for you for not putting up with the teasing anymore but I see Phantom is still your friend and your standing by him. Is your scared friend hiding in the bushes there?” Roy then heard Johnny say, “You should be thankful Pigeon is still your friend the way you treated him. One of these days, you are going to pay for all the teasing.”
Johnny knew he was behind with his assigned chores but he also knew Cap would not be happy if he skipped lunch so he cautiously entered the dayroom to see what had been left for them for lunch. His nemesis, the Phantom, aka Chet Kelly, was sitting at the table. As soon as Johnny entered the room Chet looked at Johnny and said, “Ok, Gage you win give me the antidote.”
Johnny stopped and stared at his nemesis with his mouth open but no sound would come from his throat. Johnny finally found his voice and snapped, “Kelly, what in the hell are you babbling about? I just spent the last two hours on runs and before that I spent the first three hours of our shift changing my uniform because of you.”
“Johnny please,” Chet begged with tears welling up in his blue eyes. Johnny finally realized Chet appeared pale and febrile.
The minute Chet had said “Johnny” instead of Gage, Johnny went into full paramedic mode. Johnny sent Marco out to get their equipment as Roy went to get Captain Stanley to call in a still alarm and request an ambulance. Chet complained of being nauseated and advised he felt like he was about to pass out. He was experiencing severe pain in his lower abdomen just above his bladder. His temperature was 100.9. His pulse was 117, respirations 20, and blood pressure was 134/86.
Rampart ordered an IV but requested that pain meds be withheld until Chet could be further evaluated. If the pain had been over to the right, Roy and Johnny would have considered acute appendicitis. If he had been vomiting, a bowel obstruction might be the issue. Pain further on the left could be a diverticulitis attack.
Chet knew Johnny was as scared as he was when Johnny started cracking jokes. On the ride to Rampart, Johnny tried to lighten his and his friend’s mood telling Chet maybe he was pregnant. Chet tapped Johnny on the knee at one point and thanked his Pigeon for standing by him even though he had been relentless with the water bombs all shift.
Chet was whisked into Treatment Room 2 and a new set of vitals showed his temperature and pulse were both up. His temperature was now 102 and his pulse rate was 128. His respiration remained 20 and his blood pressure was holding steady at 134/86. Dr. Brackett ordered a pelvic CT and a series of blood tests. As Johnny was getting ready to leave the treatment room to meet up with Roy, Chet grabbed Johnny’s arm and said, “Hey man, please say April Fools and tell me you got the Phantom good on his day.”
Johnny gave his friend and nemesis a pat on the shoulder and a quick squeeze on the hand that was on his arm and softly said, “I wish I could buddy. I wish I could.”
After Chet was taken to CT, doctors Early, Morton, and Brackett along with nurse Dixie McCall met with Johnny and Roy in the hallway of the ER. Dr. Morton was telling the group that he felt they were going to find acute diverticulitis and that he thought Chet may have a perforation as well based on his lab results. The labs were showing an elevated white count of 15.0 and his platelet count was 405. Dixie reached over and took Johnny’s hand in hers because she could tell her favorite paramedic was getting upset by what he was hearing. “Now Johnny, she said softly, don’t get yourself worked up. A perforation can wall off with some strong IV antibiotics.”
The look on Dr. Brackett and Nurse Dixie McCall’s faces told the story. The CT scan had found something serious. Dr. Brackett explained to Roy and Johnny that there is haziness and stranding in the fat at the midline including immediately subjacent to the rectus abdominis muscles. There is fascial thickening and evidence of diverticulosis. The report went on to say the findings are consistent with acute diverticulitis. In addition, the area of maximal inflammatory-type change also contains several air bubbles. This is consistent with a contained perforation with developing necrosis/abscess. The recommendation was for Chet Kelly to have an immediate colostomy before the perforation ruptured causing severe sepsis which could be fatal. Roy and Johnny knew their friend’s firefighting career would come to an end that day due to the ostomy.
Roy and Johnny rode in silence back to the station. Both of them were dreading telling their shift mates about the unforeseen turn this day had taken. Chet’s life, their lives would all change because of one event. They both wondered how they would feel if it had been one of them instead of Chet.
Roy and Johnny’s hearts broke as they watched their friend sob when Dr. Brackett told Chet he was going to have surgery that would route his colon outside his body and require him to wear a plastic bag to collect waste material. Dr. Brackett finally had to give Chet a sedative to calm him down so they could stabilize his vitals before taking him to surgery.
Johnny found himself too numb to move from the edge of the squad as Roy told Captain Hank Stanley about Chet’s test results and the recommended treatment. Like Chet, Hank Stanley was wishing someone would yell April Fools because he knew if this wasn’t a prank, Station 51’s A- Shift would never be the same again and there was nothing he could do to stop it. The only thing he could do was stand by Chet and his crew and not let go of them until they made it through this storm.
Chet Kelly could feel a soft hand patting him on the cheek, but he was in a deep fog and couldn’t quite get his brain to comprehend what he should do next. As the fog begin to lift, he could hear a feminine voice close to his ear urging him to wake up and his brain was now registering the soft scent of a sweet lilac perfume. He wondered why he couldn’t remember being with a girl the night before, but oh well whoever it is she smells nice was the thoughts going through Chet’s mind.
Chet wanted to lean toward the voice but his mind stopped him as he remembered that he almost got decked by Gage, Daniel Hightower, and a ranch foreman the last time he smelled that sweet lilac perfume and reached to embrace it. Chet decided maybe he should open his eyes this time. When they focused, there was Johnna Rosemary Gage Hightower looking down at him with her dark chocolate eyes and that smile that would make you do anything she asked.
“Rosie Gage. How ya doin babe? Wha’ time‘s it? Did ya check to make sure they only took out what they were ‘posed to? Chet slurred out. JJ was trying her best to keep a straight face as she said,
“Well Chester B, I’m fine and I’m glad you’re finally awake.
Surgery only took about two hours. It’s 8:30 pm now. ‘Fraid I can’t help with what is and isn’t there. That wouldn’t be covered under my training and license. I’ll be happy to have Johnny and Roy check for ya when they come back.”
“Hey no problemo babe. I can check myself.” Chet exclaimed as he slipped his curly head under the blanket and sheet before JJ had a chance to stop him. Johnny was just opening the door to Chet’s room when Chet’s head come from under the blanket and sheet and cried out, “DAMMIT ROSIE WHY??!! WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME?!! AM I BEING PUNISHED FOR ALL THE PRANKS I’VE PULLED!!!
Johnny saw his sister sit on the edge of the bed and carefully pull Chet into an embrace since Chet was once again sobbing.
Johnny backed out of the room and turned so quickly from the door that he didn’t see Captain Stanley and Roy in front of him. “Whoa there pal. Where’s the fire?” Captain Stanley exclaimed as he steadied Johnny and himself to keep from falling backwards into Roy.
“It’s.. It’s.. I.. I.. he.. he….aww Damn…I’m sorry,” stuttered Johnny as he turned away from his boss and partner and went quickly down the hallway toward the men’s room. “Go.” Hank Stanley said to Roy when he saw Roy looking back and forth between Chet’s door and down the hallway at the back of his retreating partner.Chief McConnike had given Captain Stanley permission to have both the engine and squad available from Rampart after getting a replacement lineman so they could be at the hospital during Chet’s surgery. Johnny had called his sister to see if she had any insight on how to help Chet through all this once he woke up from surgery since he knew the Center was on a two week break.
The members of C-shift heard about Chet and agreed to come in at 2000 so A-shift could stand by Chet.
Captain Hank Stanley took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and quietly opened the door to his former lineman’s room. Dr. Brackett had advised him Chet did well enough during surgery that they felt he didn’t need to be in ICU overnight. They felt having a regular private room on the surgical post op floor where family and friends could come be with him would expedite the healing process and Chet’s acceptance of the surgery that had to be performed.
Hank Stanley heard Chet’s muffled voice sob, “I’m worthless… damaged …defective. I’ll never get another job or have another date with a chick again.”
“CHET KELLY… HOW DARE YOU!!! Is that what you think of the kids I treat? You think they are worthless, damaged, and defective?” JJ snapped as she pushed Chet back from her chest to look at him straight in his blue eyes with her chocolate eyes that were now flashing with anger. Chet looked down ashamed and shook his head no. “You better believe they are not worthless, damaged, and defective. They are special. They just learn things in special ways or they have to do tasks in different ways because of an appliance they have to wear. If you’re worried about a job after you recover from your surgery, come see me. I’ll give you a job. I hear you’ve had lots of practice cleaning “stalls”. I have several barns full of “stalls” that could use your “expertise” daily.
Furthermore Chet Kelly, if I wasn’t married, I would go out with you. You’re still the same kind, fun loving guy you were before the colostomy. Trust me. I’m not just saying all this to make you feel better. I mean every word I’m saying.” JJ declared as she laid Chet back on the bed and handed him some tissues.
Chet realized Captain Stanley was standing by the door and said, “Hey Cap, what cha doing here? Did one of the guys get hurt?”
“Everyone’s fine, Chet.” Hank Stanley replied. “C-Shift came in at 2000 for us so we could come check on you. How ya doin there, Pal?”
Chet yawned and simply shrugged his shoulders in reply. Captain Stanley and JJ took that as their queue to allow Chet some time alone so he could sleep off the effects of anesthesia and the post op pain medicines he had been given.
As Captain Stanley and JJ walked toward the family waiting room on the post op floor, he asked JJ, “So what’s your professional opinion. How’s he really doin”
JJ ran her left hand down her face and back through her blond hair and said, “I’m not sure yet, Captain Stanley. I think if we can get him healed quickly and working somewhere right away, he’ll be okay.”“Johnny will love knowin the Phantom is still nearby if he comes to work for you at the Center, but I think it’s probably a good thing you’re already married cuz I don’t think the Pigeon would allow the Phantom to date ya.” Captain Stanly replied trying hard to keep a straight face.
“Speakin of Johnny…… Where is he and the other guys?” JJ questioned. “Johnny was the first one back to the hospital when we got off shift. In fact, he just about knocked me and Roy over as he made a hasty retreat from Chet’s room just before I came in. Roy followed him to the men’s room. Marco and Mike went to Chet’s apartment to get some of his personal things.” Captain Stanley replied.
Captain Stanley and JJ grabbed a cup of coffee and settled into to the family room to flip through out of date magazines and wait for the rest of 51s A-Shift to join them.
Roy entered the men’s restroom on the post op floor and found his best friend and partner with his head bowed in front of a sink with the cold water running. Roy walked up to his friend and lightly touched his shoulder and for the first time in a long time Johnny flinched and pulled away like he did when Roy first met him.
Roy sent up a quick silent prayer, “oh please, God, don’t let what happened to Chet put Johnny back to square one.” Roy quickly moved his hand from Johnny’s shoulder and moved to lean back against the sink next to the one Johnny was using.
“John, please don’t do this. Look at me. Talk to me buddy.” Roy urged.
Johnny knew Roy wasn’t going to let him go since he called him “John” instead of “Johnny” or “Junior”. Johnny finally moved his right hand away from his eyes and pushed back from the sink and met his partner’s worried blue eyes with his red-rimmed chocolate eyes.
“Chet bein here is all my fault. I kept wishing for him to disappear all day and I even wished he’d pay for all the teasing.” Johnny replied sadly.
“Junior, you are a man of many talents I’ve learned over the years, but you had nuthin to do with Chet bein here. His heredity, diet, and a bit of bad luck brought him to this point.” Roy replied softly.
“Do you want to share with me what is really going on with you today?” Roy questioned.
“No.” Johnny replied with a sigh but continued on. “Dani wants me to take the Captain’s exam coming up in June a couple of weeks before we go to the Paramedics Convention in San Francisco. That stress along with what is going on with Chet……God Roy I’m fighting the urge “to go away” bad right now.” Johnny cried as he began to rock slightly.
Roy wanted badly to put his arm around his stressed partner, but he knew Johnny was fighting his Aspergers Syndrome. “To go away” was Johnny’s term for zoning out.
People with Aspergers Syndrome have trouble handling severe emotional stress. It can cause them to pull into themselves and withdraw into their own mind.
A soft knock at the men’s room door and JJs voice asking, “Is everything okay in there?,” stopped Johnny’s rocking for a second but Roy saw the signs that his best friend and partner was losing the battle with his Aspergers and the grey walls were going up.
JJ recognized the rocking immediately and was in front of her twin brother and had her hands around his wrists pulling Johnny toward her before Roy had a chance to move. Johnny immediately started to twist and try to break away from the hands that were holding him but JJ held him firm and said, “John Roderick Gage you open those chocolate eyes and look at me this instant. There is nothing so bad that you need to “go away”. I’ll always stand by you and you know I’m not going to let go.”
A single tear slid down Johnny’s cheek as his long lashes fluttered from his high cheek bones exposing a very red and tired set of chocolate brown eyes to a matching very worried set of dark chocolate eyes belonging to his twin sister.
Roy knew his friend and partner was drained both physically and emotionally. Johnny was still leaning against the bathroom sink but his head was now resting against his sister’s chest. Roy placed his hand on his friend’s back and rubbed small circles as he did for his children when they were upset as JJ held her brother.
Johnny was finally able to regain his composure and with one look Roy knew Johnny was ready to go home and get some much needed rest. JJ watched as Roy led her brother toward the exit. Roy and JJ agreed they would take care of getting the Rover back to Johnny later the next day.
It was almost 11:30 pm when JJ crawled into bed with her husband. The minute Daniel Hightower wrapped his strong arms around his wife she lost the composure she had been holding onto all day and sobbed into her husband’s chest.
Daniel allowed his wife to release all the tears she had been holding all day and then allowed his wife to understand he was not going to let her go by spending the rest of the night allowing her to release her pent up frustrations and emotions by making love to her into the early hours of the next morning.
JJ could tell without looking at the clock that her husband, Daniel, had turned off the alarm so that she could sleep in. The day before had been both exhausting and exhilarating. She was exhausted from worrying about both Chet and Johnny as she reflected on how a single event can change a person’s life forever, but she was still feeling the exhilaration of the night that she and her husband had just spent. JJ so wanted to stay hidden under the covers all day but she knew Ghost was probably already looking out of her stall wondering where she was and why her morning grooming was being delayed.
Saturday June 2, 1979
“I would rather try to grab an outta control charged hose than do what you’re doin’, exclaimed the short, stocky, curly haired man with the thick mustache and blue eyes that had finally found the pretty blond haired lady with dark chocolate eyes that ran the Equine Therapy Center in Agoura, CA.
Rosemary Gage Hightower looked up from the hoof she was working on and exclaimed, “CHESTER B KELLY!!! How ya’ doin’? When did you get back? Johnny said you had went east with your Mom to spend time with your family.”
“Rosie, ya need to stay away from Gage, babe. You’re startin to ramble like him. He hasn’t taught you how to talk with your mouth full yet has he? Chet smirked as JJ slapped him on the arm and grabbed him in a hug.
“You’re still the same ole twit and always on my brother’s case. Aren’t ya?” JJ shot back as she kissed his cheek.
“Yeah, I kinda miss my pigeon, but I’ll deny it if you say it. Is the offer for a job for an out of work hose jockey still on the table?” Chet asked quietly with sad blue eyes.
JJ fought back the tears that welled in up in her dark chocolate eyes as she took Chet by the arm and said, “Sure. Let’s go in the house. While you fill out some paperwork for me, I can change into my stable clothes and show you what you’ll be doin’.”
“C’mon Rosie. You’re kidding aren’t you? This isn’t what you expect me to do?” Chet exclaimed as his voice raised two octaves higher than normal.
“JJ is that who I think it is?” asked John Gage with his eyebrows arched and hands on his hips.
“Yep.” his twin sister giggled with her dark chocolate eyes sparkling.
“You’re seriously makin him muck the stalls? I thought you were going to have him greet the kids as they came in for therapy, help with getting their helmets on, and be a side walker if he came and asked you for a job?” Johnny questioned.
“Chet Kelly may be the Phantom but the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and is getting a little revenge.” JJ exclaimed with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
John Gage blushed, shook his head and asked, “Is the Phantom going to survive the Shadow?”
“Only the Shadow knows……,” JJ responded in her best deep voice of how her father used to imitate an old radio show and comic book that she recently remembered him doing during a therapy session to regain some childhood memories.
“Man I’ve not heard that in years, Johnny replied sadly. “Do ya mind if I take Eagle out for a ride?”
Johnny saw the concern sweep across his twin sister’s face and said, “Everything’s okay. I was with Roy at headquarters this morning takin’ a test and I just need to clear my head before I go home.” Johnny replied with a sigh.
“You know I will always stand by you in anything you do.” JJ said has she slid her arm around Johnny’s elbow and guided him to the stable.
Tuesday June 26, 1979
C’mon Junior. You ready to go get something to eat? That cold burger from Gail’s husband, Gordon, at the fire just didn’t do it for me.” Roy called out to his paramedic partner.
“I’m comin. I’m comin.” Came the muffled reply from John Gage through the bathroom door of the hotel room he and Roy were sharing in San Francisco while attending a Paramedics Convention.
The LA County paramedics had just returned to the hotel after assisting with a mutual aid request in Marin County at a lab explosion with their friends from San Francisco, paramedics Laurie Campbell, Gail Warren, and Joe Marshall and Laurie’s firefighter captain boyfriend, Pete Delany.
“Bout time you got out here, Junior.” Roy declared. “I was about to send in a search and rescue party after you.” Roy said as he grabbed his jacket.
“Sorry, Pally.” Johnny mumbled quietly.
As Johnny and Roy started walking down the hall, Johnny grabbed Roy by his jacket to stop him and said, “We need to go back to the room. Something’s wrong at home.”
“Okay Junior, what did you breathe in at that fire?” A confused Roy asked his partner.
“C’mon Roy. Humor me. I’ve got a bad feeling. I had it while I was taking a shower and it’s really getting bad now.”
“Alright Junior. We’ll go back to the room and I’ll order room service for BOTH of us this time so you won’t eat half my sandwich like you did the night we watched the movie.” Roy replied sarcastically.
“Dr. Martha Hightower’s Office.” The receptionist greeted as she answered an incoming call.
“Brother Mark….. It’s been forever since you called me. Have you finally forgiven me for helping Daniel and Rosemary elope?” Dr. Hightower asked her twin brother, Mark Hightower.
“Sis….” The voice on the other end of the line hitched. “Can you get in touch with Daniel’s wife?”
“Sure I can, Mark. She’s running classes at the Center this afternoon.”
“Martha, you need to get her here to Wyoming right away. Daniel’s at Sheridan Memorial. They are talking about lots of blood being lost which caused his heart to stop and he stopped breathing. He is in a coma now and on a respirator.
“What the hell happened, Mark?” Martha exclaimed.
“He apparently wasn’t feeling well and stopped at a gas station just outside of Sheridan. Someone apparently found him unconscious but instead of calling for help went through his wallet for his money and just left him lying on the floor. We aren’t sure how long he was down before the station attendant went to clean the restroom and found him. He wasn’t breathing and had no heart beat when the ambulance arrived.” Mark Hightower replied with a waver in his voice.
“Oh my God. I’ll get Rosemary there just as soon as I can, Mark. I love you and I’ll be praying for Daniel.”
Dr. Hightower rang her receptionist and asked her to get in touch with LAX and find out when the first flight to Wyoming was available and get two tickets reserved. She then looked up Dr. Kelly Brackett’s home number in her rolodex.
“Kel this is Martha. Can you get in touch with John Gage? I think Rosemary mentioned he and Roy were going to a Paramedics Convention in San Francisco.
“Yes, I have the number to the hotel, Martha. What’s wrong?”" Dr. Kelly Brackett asked with his voice filled with concern.
“My brother just called. Daniel’s at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Wyoming and things don’t sound good Kel. He has apparently lost a lot of blood, went into cardiac and respiratory arrest and is now on a vent. I just talked with Rosemary. She and I will be taking the first flight we can get from LAX to Sheridan.”
“Martha, give me a call back when you get to Wyoming and give me an update. I’ll get in touch with Johnny right away.”
Johnny heard the phone in their hotel room begin to ring as he opened the door. Roy could tell by the look on his partner and best friend’s face that the news wasn’t good as Johnny had feared.
Roy had his hands on his friend’s shoulders when he hung up the phone. He gave Johnny a moment to collect himself and asked quietly, “Tell me what’s happened, Junior.”
“That was Dr. Brackett. Daniel is at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Wyoming and it doesn’t sound good. Martha and JJ are on their way to LAX now to fly to Wyoming. Dr. Brackett has two tickets on reserve for us at San Francisco International.” Johnny replied with his voice full of emotion.
Roy patted his friend on the shoulder and said, “I’ll call Joanne to let her know and call down to the front desk to arrange for transportation to the airport while you pack. You can call Danella while I’m packing.”
“Um….o o o kay.” Johnny stuttered as he ran his hands down his face and up thru his unruly sable hair which was a gesture he made often when he was upset or stressed.
Within ten minutes, Johnny and Roy had their phone calls made and their bags packed and were headed to the airport to fly to Sheridan, Wyoming. Roy had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach that once again their lives were going to be changed forever.
Dr. Martha Hightower and JJ arrived at Sheridan County Airport at 8:20 pm. They got their bags quickly and went to get a rental car. The hospital was located about 10 minutes from the airport. JJ knew from what Martha explained to her on the phone that odds were not good that her husband was going to recover. She was also extremely nervous about seeing Daniel’s parents again.
The last time she saw them was in December of 1976. Daniel had convinced JJ to go to Wyoming for Christmas so she could meet his parents and they could tell them they were getting married. JJ knew Daniel’s mother was already upset that her son had stayed in Los Angeles instead of coming home back on January 1, 1976 as he had promised to help on their ranch. Daniel had been sent to LA by his father to stay with his aunt in 1975 after sustaining a career ending injury at a rodeo in the spring of 1975.
He met Rosemary Smith at a New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1975 that was hosted by his aunt and fell in love with her at first site. JJ had just arrived in Los Angeles from London to work with Daniel’s aunt and was making plans to build and Equine Therapy Center in Agoura, CA.
Daniel’s mother was beside herself when Rosemary seemed to have no past other than her time spent at a boarding school in London and no family. The meeting was so stressful that JJ went riding in the mountains for hours the next day. When she returned, JJ told Daniel she would no longer marry him and begged Daniel to get her a flight back to LA. Daniel refused to let JJ go. After a lengthy conversation watching a sunset sitting on a corral gate, Daniel convinced JJ to elope. They were married on December 31, 1976 with Martha Hightower along as their witness.
JJ ran her hands down her face and through her blond hair in a gesture that mirrored the gesture made by John Gage when he is stressed or upset. Martha Hightower smiled at the gesture and then caught a glimpse of a tall, thin, sable haired gentleman coming in the door doing the same gesture. Roy recognized Dr. Hightower from across the building. JJ turned and as soon as she say her twin brother the lock that she had kept on her emotions since hearing the news about her husband came unlocked and she crumpled in her brother’s arms sobbing, “Oh god, help me. I don’t think I can do this.”
Johnny replied in a whisper, “Shh JJ…. I’m here. I’ll stand by you and I won’t let go.”
After arriving at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, the group from California was led to a consultation room near the ICU waiting room. Martha greeted her twin brother, Mark Hightower, and his wife Patricia with a hug.
Martha could see that Patricia was already shooting daggers at Rosemary. Johnny and Roy picked up on the tension and immediately moved to either side of JJ with all intentions of protecting her from her in-laws if needed.
Martha Hightower decided to break the tension by saying, “Mark…. Patricia, I would like you to meet the best paramedic team in Los Angeles County…. Roy DeSoto and John Gage. John is Rosemary’s twin brother. Johnny…..Roy, this is my twin brother, Mark Hightower, and his wife Patricia.
Patricia’s eyebrows arched to her hairline when Martha said the tall thin man with obvious Native American heritage was Rosemary’s twin brother. Before she had a chance to say anything the door opened and a doctor walked in the room reading a chart as he came in the room.
As he looked up from the chart and back down at it again, you could see a confused look cross his face as he said, “Johnny….Roy?”
Roy broke the silence. “Dr. Sean Carlton, the pretty blond with the dark chocolate eyes is Johnny’s twin sister, Johnna Rosemary Gage Hightower. Her friends call her JJ. Daniel’s parents may have told you her name is Rosemary Smith Hightower. I would also like you to meet Daniel’s aunt, Dr. Martha Hightower.”
I wish we were seeing each other under better circumstances. Dr. Carlton then directed his attention to JJ. “Mrs. Hightower, your husband is in very critical condition. We’ve had to give him nine units of blood and two units of frozen packed cells to counter act hypovolemic shock that occurred from what we suspect was a stomach ulcer that perforated. The massive blood loss caused both respiratory and cardiac arrest. It’s not known how long your husband was down. Based on his neurologic responses, we feel your husband has suffered a massive anoxic brain injury which means he was down for some time. He is not brain dead. His brain stem is functioning but we feel that he is in a persistent vegetative state and has little chance of a meaningful recovery. It is our recommendation that you consider withdrawing care and allow nature to take its course.”
Johnny and Roy both wrapped their arms around JJ because they could feel her trembling as Dr. Carlton went onto to say, “I know I’ve thrown a lot of information at you and you have a lot of decisions to make. Let me take you back so you can see Daniel for a few minutes.
As Dr. Carlton led JJ back to see Daniel, Martha, Roy and Johnny all took seats in the consultation to room.
As soon as the door closed, Patricia Hightower directed her intense gaze toward Johnny and Roy and said, “You both seem to know this Dr. Carlton.”
Roy replied, “He treated Johnny a couple of times when he was young and I met him when I joined Johnny to assist with an influenza B outbreak that happened here in the area.”
“If you’re from California, why would you come here to help a bunch of people you don’t know who have the flu?” Patricia questioned.
Johnny answered this time. “Our mother grew up in Montana.”
Patricia knew without Johnny telling her that he was probably referring to the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, but she was determined to hear this from him so she said, “I have family in Billings. Where in Montana did your mother live?”
Johnny quietly replied, “Lame Deer.”
“Everything makes sense now. No wonder that girl wouldn’t give her real name and didn’t want to tell us about her family. She’s one of them half breeds.” Patricia Hightower exclaimed furiously.
Mark Hightower had the good sense to look embarrassed especially since JJ and Dr. Carlton had walked back into the room just in time to hear his wife’s outburst.
Johnny was used to this kind of verbal abuse but his sister had never experienced this before. Johnny watched the events of the day catch up with his sister and was able to reach her side just as her legs buckled and she started to crumple to the floor.
Johnny was able to get his sister to a chair and her head down so that she didn’t pass out as Dr. Carlton caught Dr. Hightower’s eye and got her to understand she needed to get Mark and Patricia out of the room.
“JJ, sweetheart,” Roy said softly, “here’s some juice. Try drinking it for me, please. Your blood sugar’s a bit low.”
JJ drank the juice and then put her head back down in her hands with her elbows on her knees and said in a low voice, “If I had just left in 76, Daniel wouldn’t be here now and you would have been spared that “loving” display of affection.”
Dr. Martha Hightower had walked in the door in time to hear what JJ had said and sat down beside her and said, “Rosemary, if you had left, Daniel would have never come out of the depression he had been in since the rodeo injury. You gave him his life back. I’m so sorry for what my sister- in- law said. Please know my brother and I both know you were the best thing that ever happened to Daniel. Patricia is just upset and she is taking it out on you.”
Dr. Carlton and Daniel’s parents came back into the room and Johnny and Roy immediately went to stand by JJ. Johnny could tell by Sean’s face it was time for some difficult decisions to be made.
“Mrs. Hightower,” Dr. Carlton said with a slight tremor in his voice. I need to know how you want to proceed. Do we continue with the vent and begin artificial nourishment or do we exudate your husband and pray for the best as we allow nature to take its course?”
“Daniel wouldn’t want to live like this.” JJ said with tears running down her face. “I think we need to let God take over and discontinue everything. I do want Daniel’s organs to be donated if at all possible.”
Daniel’s mother couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How could this girl who professed to love her son be giving up on him. His body just needed time to heal from the trauma.
As Dr. Carlton started to hand Rosemary the necessary forms to sign to turn off the vent, Patricia Hightower knocked the papers out of the doctor’s hand and directed her gaze at her daughter- in- law.
“You are a cold hearted witch.” Patricia Hightower hissed. “How can you give up on Daniel? You seem more interested in killing him so someone can have his organs than you do in giving him time to heal.”
Dr. Carlton tried his best to explain to Daniel’s mother why he felt Daniel would never make a meaningful recovery but Patricia Hightower refused to listen. Dr. Carlton advised JJ and Daniel’s parent’s their next step if care was going to be continued would be to perform a tracheotomy and a percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy. Dr. Carlton advised the decision to go to a trach and peg would have to be made in 14 days and then Daniel would have to be transferred to a different facility that handles brain injured patients that are in a persistent vegetative state. He advised the closet facilities were in Chicago or Atlanta.
JJ knew she would never agree to have Daniel live in a facility away from her and she knew Daniel would not want to live with a permanent trach and feeding tube. She agreed to waiting 14 days even though she knew the 14 days were going to agonizing, but if it would give Daniel’s mother peace, she was willing to wait.
Dr. Carlton had seen Johnny’s strength many times and realized his sister was just as strong. He advised the group that they would be able to stay with Daniel as much as they wanted even though he was in ICU.
As Daniel’s parents and aunt went back to see him, Rosemary Hightower looked at her brother and his best friend and said, “Please tell me this is all just a bad dream and it is not really happening. Tell me I’m not going to have to turn off that machine and watch my husband die in 14 days.”
Johnny and Roy reached an arm around JJ to show her they were in full support of what she was doing and they had all intentions of standing by her.
Tuesday July 3, 1979
Johnny was trying to listen to the speech the chief was giving but his mind kept wondering back to the events that had taken place over the past ten months. He found out in October he had a twin sister, he almost lost his aunt in November, his wife made it clear she didn’t want him working as a paramedic, the Phantom disappeared from the station, his sister was going to lose her husband, and he was now sitting beside Roy at headquarters waiting to receive his captain’s badge.
When Johnny received his badge it was both a happy and sad moment. He was happy that he was able to pass the captain’s exam but he was sad that once again everything in his life seemed to be changing.
After receiving their badges, Johnny and Roy spent some time outside at headquarters talking.
Roy asked, “How’s it going with Chet working at the Center?”
“He’s replaced the water bombs with straw or horse feed bombs. Dani keeps accusing me of going to the Center and sleeping in a stall all day instead of working since I seem to come home each night with straw or horse feed in my hair.” Johnny replied with a shake of his head and just a hint of his famous crooked grin.
Roy just smirked. Even though Chet was always on Johnny’s case, Roy knew deep down Johnny and Chet were both happy that they were working together again.
“How’s JJ holding up?” Roy asked.“It’s rough. After demanding they wait 14 days, Daniel’s mother hasn’t been back to the hospital. JJ stays in the room with Daniel 24/7 just listening to the vent because she
knows her husband is no longer there. Daniel’s dad has at least come to terms with everything and told JJ he supports her.” Johnny replied sadly.
“Other than the Phantom making his appearance at the Center, how are things going with both Daniel and JJ being gone?” Roy asked.
“Aunt Rose has come in to help with the financial stuff such as keeping the bills paid and handling payroll. Larry and I are handling the horses and the ranch and Martha is handling the staff that works with the clients along with the therapy scheduling.” Johnny replied.
Roy and Johnny spent the remainder of their time remembering and laughing about some of their more memorable rescues.
Johnny needed to get to the Center and Roy needed to get home to Joanne and the kids, but neither wanted to leave headquarters. They knew when they left that things would no longer be the same. This made both of their hearts very heavy.
“Junior,” Roy said. “Remember I will always stand by you and I’m always here for you and JJ.” I know you won’t start working at the “frog pond” until October when Agoura’s Engine 89 captain retires but nothing has changed. We’ll still do our touch therapy sessions and I’m only a phone call away day or night as I’ve always been. We just won’t be working together anymore.
“I know you will always be there for us and I will always stand by you as well. I just wish I could turn back time and go back to that Saturday in March when our biggest worry was watching JJ pace the floor waiting for Aunt Rose to come so we could go to the horse auction and Daniel wanting to lasso her.” Johnny replied with crack in his voice and a slight chuckle. “C’mon, Pally, I’ll walk you to your car.”
Sunday July 15, 1979
Rosemary Gage Hughes stood at the bottom of the stairs at the Church of Christ in Agoura as her niece’s husband, Daniel Hightower’s, casket was brought out from the church by several of Daniel’s rodeo buddies. She looked at the top of the stairs and saw Larry, the foreman for the Equine Therapy Center, watching with his hat off and tears streaming down his face.
Rosemary Gage Hightower was already in the wagon that was going to take her husband to his final resting place.
Daniel Hightower passed away on Tuesday, July 10 at 6:25 am with only his wife being in the room with him.
A rider less horse with Daniel’s boots led the procession to the cemetery followed by JJ in a wagon that carried Daniel’s casket. JJ had decided to stand on the wagon to show her continued commitment to stand by her husband.
Monday July 16, 1979
Rosemary Gage Hightower’s life had been put in a holding pattern since that horrible call saying Daniel was in the hospital. Having to make the decision to turn off the vent was horrible. Waiting 14 days to turn it off was agonizing for JJ.
The days after Daniel’s death had been filled with making arrangements for Daniel’s funeral and with preparations for the bereavement dinner that was to be held at the Center after the funeral. Today, however, JJ had to go back to her normal everyday life and all of its normal routines even though things would never be normal again. JJ was now missing the person that meant the world to her and everywhere she looked there were reminders of Daniel.
JJ managed to get half a cup of coffee down before having to go throw up. She had been throwing up every day since July 1st. She hoped that once she got back into her normal routine her stomach would settle back down. She brushed her teeth again and chewed a couple of Tums before going to the barn to get Ghost for her morning grooming.
Johnny, Chet, and Larry had been taking feed into the barn that housed the horses the clients rode when they saw JJ go into the barn that housed Ghost, Eagle, and Sierra along with the black horse that Larry had purchased for himself at the auction that he named Thunder.
The men watched as JJ quietly groomed Ghost. Chet finally asked, “Johnny? How do think JJ is really doing? I don’t think I’ve seen her cry yet and I’m worried about her.”
Johnny shook his head and replied, “Every time I or anyone asks her how she’s doing, she just says I’m fine. She seems fine but I think she is hanging onto her emotions by a thread. When that thread breaks, she is going to fall apart.
After grooming Ghost, they saw JJ take her into the barn that held the Center’s therapy arena. They knew JJ had been wanting to get Ghost used to the therapy arena and start using her with clients. Once they heard the radio in the therapy arena go on, Johnny, Chet and Larry continued on with their chores.
Chet was walking by the Center’s therapy arena when he heard a 1977 Bread song begin…..
Lost and all alone
The remainder of the song lyrics were drowned out by an agonizing scream. Chet could see Johnny and Larry running toward the therapy arena as he pulled open the door and rushed into the arena.
Ghost was standing in the middle of the arena and JJ was on her knees in front of the horse screaming and sobbing, “WHY ME GOD? WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN TO ME? I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE AGAIN…………”
Johnny and Larry entered the therapy arena and saw Chet pull JJ up into his arms and said, “Rosie, you are not alone. I will always stand by you and I won’t let go and so will God. God has a plan for all of us. We just have to trust in that plan and know that farther along we will understand why……
For those of you that stuck with me to the end of this story, I thank you. I hope you’ll forgive me for playing with the Emergency episode timeline. I never understood why Greatest Rescues wasn’t the last episode. For those of you who feel there was a reference in Greatest Rescues that inferred Chet died, I just couldn’t go there.
I’m sorry this story went in so many different directions but that has been the theme of my life since my last story. The diverticulitis and colonoscopy happened to me after my nephew’s boating accident. The diverticulitis came first for me. If my family physician had not trusted in prayer and granted my wish to wait 24 hours, I would have had a colostomy in April 2013. God was merciful and the perforation walled off. I had the colonoscopy fun in June 2013 along with colon resection with anastomosis surgery but I was able to begin college to become a paramedic in August 2013. God, however, didn’t grant my prayers to save my Mom or my only child. I lost my mom to metastatic breast cancer in June 2014 and then my son to a GI bleed with anoxic brain injury in November 2014. Their deaths along with injuries compliments of a drunk driver on the way to EMT class back in Dec 2013 and my dad going into renal failure in August 2014 that now requires dialysis has put paramedic classes on hold until August 2015. But……………
Special thanks to Tammy Billings for allowing me to use her characters and “tweaked” versions of her back story to enhance my stories. All photos are simply meant to bring the fictional characters to life and were found through image requests through internet search engines. All fire department rule errors and medical errors are mine. The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. Music lyrics and other highlighted items also do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made.
Posted to Site 12/14/14
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