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Don’t own em but grew to love’em and am grateful I can still enjoy em.
It had been a quiet night at station 51 but the three alarm fire they had responded to just before bed had taken enough out of them that it was still hard to throw their covers off when the wake up tones sounded. Still everyone at the station managed to pull their feet onto the floor, stretch for the ceiling and yaawwnn. Everyone that is except Chet Kelly who lay on top of his blankets with full turn outs on staring at the ceiling as if he were in a trance.
Across the isle the station’s two paramedics noticed his lack of movement and John Gage was quick to walk over and was about to slap the bottoms of his boots to rouse him when he noticed the way Chet’s arms were guarding his right chest area.
“Chet, Are you all right?” John asked and his partner Roy was quick to try and see what would invite such a response.
“I’m fine,” Chet declared unconvincingly as he quickly threw his feet to the side of the bed and sat up still holding his side.
“What d’ya do to your ribs?” Roy asked but he also noticed the moisture around Chet’s bloodshot eyes.
“Nothin,” Chet snapped, “Absolutely nothing, I’m fine.” He got to his feet and headed for the locker room when Captain Stanley who had overheard the conversation stopped him.
“Sure you don’t need to be checked out?” He asked. “I seem to remember you going down on your knees during that fire last night. Did you get hurt when no one was watching?”
“No Cap,” Chet tried to move his arms away from his side but even that effort seemed stiff and unnatural. “I really need to use the facilities,” He tried to push past his crewmates and leader but they were reluctant to move. “You wouldn’t want to cause me to have an accident now would you?”
At that John turned and allowed him passage but once he was out of the room the remaining five shift mates shared questioning looks with each other. Their normally joyous, prankster of a shift mate had been extra quiet all shift.
Having just returned from vacation he spent most of the shift off on his own anywhere his crew mates weren’t and quiet. Everyone had been afraid that he was planning some great joke on all of them and they were all walking on egg shells being extra careful when ever they opened a door or a cupboard the whole shift but now as they thought back on the shift they realized he really hadn’t been himself.
Now as they looked at each other they were all in silent agreement of one thing, something was wrong.
The morning coffee was made and everyone was keeping a careful watch for their worrisome shift mate but the next time they saw him was when the Claxton’s chimed calling them to an MVA with injuries. That’s when he came running from the dorm dressed in his uniform and climbed on the engine.
Johnny kept a watchful eye on his friend as he pulled his equipment from the squad and thought there was something amiss in his movements but the victims were the higher priority and it took everything they had to get the patients to the hospital alive even though one of them didn’t make it long after they arrived.
John had deliberately requested Kelly bring the squad in for them in hopes of getting him checked out but he refused and the doctors couldn’t force him to accept treatment.
Back at the station the rest of the shift was changing into their street clothes except for Captain Stanley who was standing in the door way to his office waiting for his remaining crew to return.
Roy recognized the hopeful look in the captain’s eyes and shook his head negative to the unasked question as he got out of the squad.
“Kelly, how about coming into my office for a moment,” Hank asked hoping to get the young man to open up and feeling guilty for not having done so a lot sooner.
“A cap, I a, really need to go,” Chet stammered.
“Chet, I’d really appreciate it if you’d come to my office,” Hank persisted, “It won’t take long.”
“Cap,” Chet gasped, “I really can’t talk about it right now, I have an appointment I really have to go.”
“Can you at least give me a clue what’s going on here?” Hank pleaded.
“Not right now cap, Please.” Chet was begging and Hank reluctantly gave a nod releasing him to go get changed.
The two paramedics and their captain leaned on the hood of the squad in worry as Chet jogged into the locker room. Soon Mike the quiet engineer joined them but no one knew what to say.
“Well,” Hank broke the silence. “We have twenty four hours off and then at the beginning of the next shift he will talk to me or, or I’ll call in the department shrink.”
“Guys come quick it’s Chet,” Marco called running from the locker room and pulling the compartments of the Squad opened.
“What is it?” Hank asked as his paramedics joined in grabbing some of their equipment followed by the medics from the next shift.
“I don’t know, he’s doubled over grabbing at his chest and can’t catch his breath.” Marko reported in shear panic.
They all raced into the locker room carrying gear to find the place empty. Chet’s locker was standing open and his uniform shirt was tossed uncharacteristically reckless in the bottom of it but there was no Chet to be found. While they were checking the shower and toilet stalls they heard a car started in the drive and hurried out to see Chet’s van pull out with Chet leaning on the steering wheel as he drove wearing his t-shirt.
“Do I try and follow him?” Johnny looked to his captain for advice, orders, anything.
There was a moment of silence as the Captain thought, “He doesn’t want to be looked at you’ll never catch up to him. You’d probably cause an accident trying.”
It didn’t really feel like they were off duty, each one of them made several phone calls to Chet’s home all of them stopped by once and four of the five of them made two trips to their friends apartment. John had managed to get the manager to open up and let him in and had just swept the place looking for his friend when Cap and Marco came by ready to do the same.
“Do you think he wrecked his van someplace?” John questioned remembering how Chet was slumped over the steering wheel while he was trying to drive.
“I’ve already called the police they don’t have any reports of an accident with his license plates.” Hank answered.
“He has been complaining of heart burn off and on for a while do you think it’s his heart?” Marco asked.
“He was favoring his right side,” John tried to remember; “if it was his heart it would be more likely that he would be favoring his left but it’s not impossible. Do you know when his last physical was?” John looked to his captain who didn’t readily know.
The three of them stood outside Chet’s apartment in frustration for several more hours. Finally when the sun went down they gave up and went home but each of them still made several more phone calls before they gave up at midnight and tried to get some sleep in preparation of going on shift the next morning.
Hank arrived early as usual to get a jump on his paperwork when he drove into the back lot he was surprised to see Chet’s van. After making a quick check to see if anyone was in the van Cap hurried into the locker room and looked around. He quickly changed into his uniform as he mentally prepared himself to be firm with Chet until he got some answers. As he buttoned his shirt and tucked it in he swept the dorm area incase Chet was hiding out there. From there he entered the bay area meeting up with Ron Tollins the preceding shift’s Captain.
“One of yours is in the office,” Ron greeted him, “And it looks like he needs to talk.”
“It’s about time,” Hank responded with a guarded feeling of relief as he moved with haste to his office. “Thanks Ron.”
Standing in the doorway to his office Hank could see Chet standing in full uniform with his back to the door looking out the window.
“You have the entire crew worried sick about you after that stunt you pulled last shift,” Hank bellowed, “Are you ready to tell me just what is going on here.”
Chet didn’t say a word he just turned to his Captain and handed him the folded piece of paper he had been holding in his hand.
Ron had heard the outburst from the next shift’s captain and thought it best to give them some privacy and was just pulling the door closed when he heard the sickening gasp from his colleague “Cancer?”
The rest of A-shift filtered in, each one slightly relieved to see Chet’s van in the lot but each still worried about their coworker.
“Where do you think he is?” Marko asked as he pulled his uniform on.
“I’m sure Cap already has him in the office,” John answered.
“He is,” Mike answered coming through the door. “I saw them in there when I came in and it looks like he’s really pouring his heart out.”
Everyone in the locker room let out a sigh of relief and proceeded to change in to their uniforms.
“Maybe we can get to the bottom of this now,” Roy said to no one in particular.
As each man filed out of the locker room they were met by the captain from the preceding shift who was quick to usher them into the common room with the promise of a fresh pot of coffee and they each noticed the previous crew huddled in the far corner of the bay with confused looks on their faces.
They really felt a rock in the pit of their stomachs when Captain Tollins pulled the door to the common room shut with only the four of them in there.
Ron quietly knocked on the door to the office and entered at the quiet, “Come in.”
The scene inside was solemn with both men sitting facing each other one still in total shock the other showing some resolve, both in tears.
“The rest of your crew are gathered in the common room,” Ron spoke softly, “My men will hang around for a while and cover what ever comes in, give you a chance—“He stopped. He had only heard the one word but that was enough to know the team would need some time to regroup when the word was given out with what ever other information went along with it. “I have the replacement with me; do you think an hour will be enough?”
“Thanks Ron,” Hank managed to croak out, “I really appreciate this.”
“I guess I better go say good-bye,” Chet stood and proceeded to compose himself to the best of his ability. Hank wanted to chew his underling out for even thinking of such a word but there were no words in him.
Ron stepped back out into the bay and waited until Hank and his man were able to leave the office at which point he offered his hand to Chet. “If there is anything I can do for you, just ask.” He said and watched as they proceeded to the closed door to the common room and paused to take in several deep breaths before entering.
“What’s going on here?” Roy asked as soon as Chet and the captain walked through the door together, Captain Stanley’s hand on Chet’s shoulder as they walked. It was easy to tell by the look on both of their faces that their fears were well founded.
“Let’s all have a seat here, and a, yeah, let’s start by all taking a seat.” Captain Stanley managed to get out as he pulled a chair out and guided Chet into it before taking one himself. John, Roy and Mike quickly followed suit, Marco was already seated.
“Chet, Chet here has something to tell us,” Captain Stanley spoke again and then you could hear a pin drop as Chet took a deep breath and swallowed hard.
“I’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” he said matter of factly looking straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with everyone, “It involves the pancreas, lungs and the liver,” Every mouth in the room fell open and every face began to blanch. “They can’t tell where it started with out more testing but at this point it doesn’t really matter. The Doctor says I have between three months and a year.”
Slowly Chet pulled to his feet and faced his totally devastated friends. “My replacement is already here waiting for you guys to be ready to go to work, I just wanted to say good-bye, and,” Chet’s eyes over flowed with tears as he slid his tongue to the teeth in the back of his mouth and took a couple of deep breaths. “And tell you all that it’s been a great honor and privilege to serve with each one of you.”
Chet silently turned and started walking toward the door, “Chet!” Cap stopped him and then fought with his emotions. “Buddy, don’t go. Don’t leave like this. Give, give us all a minute to catch our breath.”
“How long, how long have you known?” Johnny was first to find his voice.
“I’ve been feeling a little off my game and having some chest pains for a while, my physical was inconclusive so they sent me to a specialist, I spent my vacation having some tests run, the Doctor told me the results two days before I came back.” Chet slowly moved back to his chair and sat down, “And then yesterday I went to another Doctor to get a second opinion.”
“So that’s where you went when you left here.” Roy finally found a voice but the news was clearly still registering with him.
“And you’ve been living with this all by yourself.” Johnny’s face was starting to show understanding in his friend’s behavior during last shift.
“Man, why didn’t you tell us.” Marco exclaimed still stunned himself.
‘You should have told us,” Mike added. He was going to add that he could have been putting himself and the team in danger by not informing them but he didn’t want to say anything against the man right now.
“I tried once, but I just couldn’t get it out.” Chet answered, “I needed time to deal with it myself, I kept hoping the second doctor was going to say it was all some big mistake.”
Chet looked down at his trembling hands clasped together on the table. “I knew that wasn’t going to happen when I had all those attacks last shift, I just wasn’t ready to talk about it so I couldn’t let you guys work on me. I saw John, Marco and Cap at my apartment and heard all the phone messages, I didn’t mean to worry ya, I just, I just had to have some time.”
A call came in requesting station 51’s attendance at a rubbish fire and four men got up from their chairs in response before Captain Stanley motioned for them to sit back down. “Ron, Captain Tollins said he’d cover us for a while and give us a chance to regroup.”
Hank stood and turned his back on his men as he watched with great appreciation the previous shift racing into action once again through the window of the still closed door, mouthing a thank you again to his colleague as he trotted off to the engine.
As they listened to the sirens start up and then fade into the distance the men in the room could finally understand their friend’s actions but they also ached for him for so needlessly suffering alone.
“So what happens next?” Roy asked as the bay doors closed behind the engine and squad that mercifully left without them.
“After last shift it’s clear I can’t work anymore. I have an appointment this afternoon to discuss treatment options,” Chet answered, “I don’t want to die,” he sobbed and chewed on his tongue, “But I don’t want to spend a year puking up my toenails and watching my hair fall out either.”
Tearfully Chet looked at each one of his crew mates, his friends through think and thin, his brothers.
“I’m Scared,” he finally admitted and broke down sobbing as John Gage was the first one to scoop him into his arms and hold on tight as the other four men in the station moved in to grab a shoulder or place a hand on his head or back in a show of comfort and support.
When Johnny was able to control his emotions enough to speak he stepped back and held Chet’s head in both of his hands forcing the young fireman to look at him.
“Chet, you listen to me, this is not good-bye, not yet, what ever you and your doctor decide today you’re not going to go through this alone.” John took a deep breath and swallowed hard, “I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we’re going to be there with you to the end.”
“That’s right Chet,” Mike spoke next, “We’re here for you.”
“And me too man,” Marco added.
“All of us,” Roy spoke up.
“What ever we can do for you buddy,” Hank added while gently grabbing a hand full of hair in his hand.
As emotions were lost again John pulled the little Irishmen back into his chest and wrapped his arms around him and the A-shift of station 51 stood in the common room in one emotional heap.
They heard on the in station radio that the rubbish fire was out and knew by the time requested for clean up that the last shift would be returning in a few minutes. Knowing they couldn’t keep those men around to cover for them all day Hank was able to encourage his men to go to the locker room and wash their faces a little in hopes of pulling themselves together.
“Have you told your family yet?” Captain Stanley spoke from the bench in the locker room as his men took turns washing their faces and blowing their nose. Chet sat next to him slumped and solemn but somewhat composed still noticeably guarding his right side.
“No, No not yet,” Chet stammered as he thought about what he was saying. “My, my mom’s birthday is in a couple, a, in a, two and a half weeks and I think I want to wait till after that to tell her.” “I just don’t want to ruin the last birthday we’ll have together.”
Chet sat next to his Captain and surrounded by his crewmates and he felt strength in numbers, borrowed strength but strength none the less, strength he needed to take into his next appointment.
“I was kinda thinking of doing some fishing, for a couple of days and get out in the fresh air. Depending on what the Doctor says this afternoon.” Chet continued to ramble feeling uncomfortable with the silence of his still stunned crewmates.
“That sound’s like a great idea,” Johnny smiled. “After next shift we’ll have four days off. I could take you up to that place you really liked, that place with all the good fishing.”
“Could, I come with?” Marco asked also wanting to spend some time with his friend before his health got any worse. “I’d agree to do the cooking.”
“Yeah, I’d like to go,” Mike added.
“Wad ya say we all go,” Roy suggested.
“That sounds like a great idea. Let’s get Chet to come back here after his appointment and then if the doctor approves we can plan a camping trip.” Captain Stanley solidified a plan as he heard the bay doors opening to admit the returning crew.
“Are you guys ready to let last shift go home?” Hank asked as he eyed each his men.
“Yeah cap,” came the call from everyone and Mike suggested that they move into the dorm while the last shift change into their street clothes.
Captain Stanley gave Chet’s shoulder another good squeeze before heading for the bay.
“I think now we can take it from here,” Hank spoke emotion still affecting his voice. “Ron, I can’t even begin to thank you for what you did this morning, Please thank your men for me, for all of us, will you.”
“I gathered the men before we came back and I told them that you were all dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Of course they’d already figured out it’s Chester B.” “The a, statement he made when I came into your office, is that the prognosis?”
Once again that morning Captain Stanley’s emotions canceled out his voice and all he could do was bite his tongue and nod his head. Ron reached up and placed his hand on Hank’s shoulder.
“Maybe a year if he’s willing to fight,” Hank managed to get out of his mouth and Ron managed to drag him into the office and shut the door, “Damn I feel like, like--”
“You’ve been kicked in the gut by a mule?” Ron added, “Are you sure you’re ready to take over here?”
“Yeah, , to both questions,” Hank was managing to calm himself, “and hopefully it’s a busy day, I didn’t think I would ever be wishing for a four alarm fire.”
“Have you called the crisis counselor in yet?” Ron asked.
“No, not yet,” Hank sat on the corner of the desk to relieve the weight on his legs. “I just haven’t thought that far yet. This is the first time I’ve left Chet since he told me. We’ve all been worried about him since last shift but I had no idea--”
“Let me go send my men on their way then I’ll be right back,” Ron offered, “Do you think it would be alright if they checked in with Chet before they leave?”
Hank thought for a moment then looked at his colleague, “He’s really overwhelmed right now but I think it would do him good to be reminded he has friends. I think the guys have him in the dorm if your men want to check in with him.”
Most of the men didn’t know what to say so slipped out with out saying anything but a few sought Chet out to tell him they were there to help with anything he might need, just call. Ron slipped back into the office and helped Hank get his paperwork caught up and saw to it that both the Chief and crisis intervention councilor were called to offer support.
Shortly after A-shift took over Squad 51 was called out to assist station 110 with a construction accident with injuries. They welcomed the situation that commanded their thoughts. Once their patients were in the capable hands of the medical staff however it all came crashing back to them. They knew they needed supplies but they hadn’t yet done inventory because they had spent their morning rallying around a friend. So instead of producing a list of the items they needed they pulled the drug box from the squad and did their inventory at the nurse’s station.
“You must have had a rough morning,” Dix commented on the new approach of ordering supplies,
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two so unorganized.”
“Yeah you could say that,” Johnny responded feeling the weight of the world again.
“Your patients are going to be fine,” Dr Bracket responded to the long faces of the men now leaning on the counter. “There must have been a lot more to that rescue than I realized.”
“It wasn’t the rescue doc.” Johnny let out a deep breath, “instead of roll call this morning Chet Kelly dropped a bomb shell on us all.”
“What kind of a bombshell?” Bracket asked troubled by the troubled looks on his paramedic’s faces.
“He has Cancer,” Roy gave the news while Johnny fought to regain control of his voice.“Prognosis of three months to a year,” John added with a forced blank expression and the grimace on Dr. Brackets face said he understood.
“It just so happens I was planning to talk to you two about him today.” Bracket spoke with one arm across his chest holding his other elbow and his other hand in his chin.
“Are you the one who gave him the bad news?” Roy asked.
“NO,” Bracket spoke softly, “I didn’t know till just now but he was brought in last night.”
“IN Here?” John straightened up.
“Yeah,” Bracket confirmed with a look that commanded the paramedic’s attention, “The police brought him in, they’d pulled him off the roof of a high rise and were convinced he was planning to jump.”
“Oh Chet,” Johnny sighed quietly as he closed his eyes imagining again the pain and anguish his friend must have been feeling.
“He claimed he was just finding a quiet place to think, I let him go after he told me if he wanted to kill himself all he had to do was be a little slow pulling out of a structure fire, but I wasn’t totally convinced he hadn’t at least considered both options, now I know why.”
“Now that you mention it, he was the last one out of that structure fire last shift.” Johnny sighed and turned away to hide his tears as Roy solemnly leaned against the other counter and chewed on his lip.
“Now that I think about it I remember thinking we were going to have to go back in for him.” Roy added after a few sighs.
“You know we deal with death everyday,” Johnny talked again keeping his back to his friends.
“Every time we come to work we know something could happen to one of us at any moment but how can you prepare for something like this. How can--- I’m, I’m trained to help people to save their lives but I can’t, what do I do for Chet. I can’t--” Johnny’s eyes were moist as he closed them tightly and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and fingers to dam up any leakage.
“Let’s take this discussion to my office.” Dr. Bracket suggested as he took hold of Johnny’s arm and started him in that direction before turning back to place a guiding hand in the middle of Roy’s back.
Once in the office both men refused to sit as they stood with their hands on their hips taking deep breaths trying to get a firm hold on their emotions.
“What I don’t understand is how it could have gotten so advanced with out us knowing something was wrong?” Roy exclaimed. “I mean we’re required to have an annual physical and we’re always together. Is this something that’s grown since his last physical or have we just been so unobservant that we’ve missed all the signs?”
Kell was quick to register the guilt associated in the ‘we’ part of Roy’s question.
“An Oncologist could take weeks to answer that question but I think the only answer you need right now is that it happens. We do physicals to check for warning signs of trouble but there are some forms of cancer that just don’t show up until it’s too late. And other forms of cancer that just don’t have much of a success rate no matter how early you catch it.” “Did he tell you where the cancer is?”
“Liver, Lungs and I think he said Pancreas,” John listed, “The conversation after he said cancer is kind of a blur right now.”
“All three of those are hard to detect with out specifically looking for them and hard to fight, it sounds like he’s metastasized and once that happens the cancer can spread very rapidly. What could have been nothing more than a few cells when he had his last physical could have under the right conditions become what he is facing now in a very short amount of time.”
“So he could really be gone in just a few weeks.” Johnny finally sat down and let out some sobbing sighs.
“I’m sorry to say that is a possibility.” Kell Bracket spoke solemnly, “There are things that can be done to buy some time but it’s not always quality time, if you know what I mean.”
“He has an appointment this afternoon to discuss treatment options,” Roy informed blankly keeping his emotions to himself better than his partner, “But from what he said this morning I don’t think he’s going to opt for anything aggressive.”
“Do you think he’s still suicidal?” Bracket asked carefully.
Both men looked at each other and took in a deep breath and let it out before turning back to their friend.
“He’s not trying to deal with this all alone now, He’s talking about stuff he wants to do while he can,” Roy offered, “Said something about spending his mother’s birthday with her in a couple of weeks,”
“We’re all going fishing, if his doctor approves,” Johnny added, “the whole crew together.”
“He’s not still working is he?” Bracket asked in alarm.
Both men shook their heads.
“He had several bouts of extreme pain that he managed to hide from us last shift and knows he would just be putting us at risk.” Roy informed because Johnny couldn’t at the moment.
“Hasn’t he been medicated for the pain?” Bracket inquired in surprise.
“HE said they gave him something yesterday but he doesn’t want to take it yet because he wants to have a clear head to think things through when he talks with the Doctor this afternoon.” Roy added still the more emotionally controlled of the two paramedics, something that worried the Doctor just a little.
“I can tell you that it will be a couple of days before you catch your breath again but it will get better” Dr. Bracket tried to sooth, “It might seem strange knowing what lay ahead but from talking with many of the patients and their families that have gone through this kind of thing the next little while is going to be the hardest part. Once you have a game plan set it will get easier.”
“Don’t try and do this all on your own, there are resources available not only to Chet but to you too. If you’d like I can gather some information and have it available for you at the nurse’s station later today.”
“I guess we’d be fools not to take you up on it doc.” Roy spoke again, “I know Cap has called in the department crisis team.”
“Yeah, they’ll probably be waiting for us when we get back to the station,” Johnny added.
“If there’s anything I can do please ask,” Dr. Bracket added, “And that goes for helping the rest of you also.”
“Thanks Doc,” the two men replied then slowly returned to their supplies.
“Do you think Chet’s still at the station?”John asked as they drove.
Roy looked at his watch then back at the road, “Yeah probably,”
“I hardly know what to say to him.”
“You’ve said all the right things so far.” Roy commented as he kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead, “While you were telling him we were all going to be there for him, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how all this happened.” “While you were telling him you’d take him fishing, I was wondering if it was caused by all the chemicals we come in contact with on our job and if we were all at risk.”
“About what Bracket said,” John spoke hesitantly, “Knowing what we know now if Chet tried to commit suicide would you try and stop him?”
“Yeah, Yeah I think I would,” Roy answered, “I still haven’t accepted that he’s really dying yet and I think he still has some quality time left.”
“But what about all the pain he’s in?”
“I’m sure they can help him with that.” Roy paused and looked back at his partner, “But if they can’t help him with that then that would be a different story.”
Back at the station the rest of the guys were getting into their regular routine with the exception of an extra fireman just hanging around. When the squad backed into the bay Chet was sitting on the running board polishing up the hose nozzles and smaller pieces of equipment that Mike would hand to him. Everyone watching him could see him grimacing and pushing his elbow in to his right side but no one wanted to make much of it under the circumstances everyone understanding his wish to be clear headed for his appointment. No one even dared joke about him never being clear headed but they all thought about saying it at least once to try and lighten the mood.
When Roy and John got out of the squad Roy walked around from the driver’s side to stand next to his partner between the two trucks.
Taking Chet in, they could see behind his mustache that he was pale and clammy and lacking in energy. There was no question in any ones mind that he wasn’t a well man. Every fiber in their body wanted to call in for permission to start and IV and put him on oxygen. It wasn’t long before Roy had held back as long as he could and he walked over and took hold of Chet’s wrist to count a pulse.
“When you can’t find that anymore are you going to be able to walk away and not do anything about it?” Chet asked his friends knowing full well how they will fight with everything they have to save a patient.
Roy swallowed hard and turned an emotional eye to his patient. Finally he gave out a deep sigh and answered. “I couldn’t do it today but when it’s time...I’ll be able to.”
“That goes for me too,” John echoed and then they heard Chet’s stomach growl.
“Hey, buddy when was the last time you had anything to eat?” Johnny asked as he gave a gentle slap on Chet’s shoulder.
“A, well, I a, , I guess it was dinner, last shift.” Chet admitted.
“Are you sick to your stomach?” John asked as each person in ear range turned a surprised and slightly panicked look to their sick friend as they remembered that he didn’t eat much that meal either.
“No, No I’m not sick to my stomach I just haven’t felt hungry, I guess I’ve just had a lot on my mind and haven’t taken the time to eat.”
The two paramedics looked at each other and sighed.
“I’m sure there’s something in the refrigerator let’s see what we can find.” Roy said as he took hold of one of Chet’s arms.
“If nothing else I know there’s a can of soup we can warm up for you.” John added as he took hold of the other arm and together the paramedics pulled Chet to his feet and walked him into the kitchen setting him down at the table.
Every left over in the refrigerator was placed before Chet as his crewmates slowly trickled in to encourage him to eat. Even Captain Stanley had seen the paramedics dragging their patient into the common room and left the paperwork putting Chet on Medical leave and setting things up so that he would have the medical disability coverage he was going to need.
As he slowly ate, color returned to Chet’s face and he looked more alert.
“You’re looking better there pal.” Captain Stanley commented feeling some relief and it came out in his voice.
“Yeah, I feel better,” Chet commented, “I guess that was stupid of me to go so long with out eating.”
“It’s kind of understandable under the circumstances,” Roy responded probably feeling more relief than most in the room that his patient was looking so much better.
“I’ll have my mom make you some dinners to keep in your fridge so that you can just warm them up.” Marco suggested.
“You don’t have to do that Marco.” Chet objected.
“I want to,” Marco was nearly pleading, “I need to do something buddy. I can’t just sit around feeling worthless.”
“You’re not worthless Marc-ooo,” Chet grabbed at his chest and started taking some deep breaths. Apparently turning to talk to his friend had triggered something.
“You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you,” John asked fighting with everything he had to keep from running for his equipment just a few feet away.
“It’s been worse,” Chet grimaced as he leaned back into his chair and took a few deep breaths. “It’s starting to ease up now. I’ll be alright.”
He was anything but alright and it was tearing everyone up not to try and fix what was wrong. Truth was there was nothing they could do to fix it and that was the worst feeling of all.
“I bet you didn’t get much sleep last night Pal.” Captain Stanley thought. “Why don’t you go lie down on your bunk for a while, until it’s time to go to your appointment.”
Chet looked appreciatively at his captain and sighed, “It’s not my bunk any more Cap. I really should be moving on, I’m just keeping you guys from doing your work.”
Their attempts to challenge his statement were drown out by the call to duty as the klaxons toned then sent them running to investigate a fire alarm in a warehouse just a few miles down the road. As the squad and engine pulled onto the street they all looked back to see Chet standing in the middle of the bay waving to them and when they returned several hours later, he was gone.
“He’s cleaned his locker out,” Marco reported to the group after changing into a clean uniform, “it’s completely empty, He even took his name off the door.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at watches and the clocks on the wall. Every time the phone rang they all jumped to attention. Steve Hill, Chet’s replacement really felt like the odd man out but he understood where his temporary shift mates were coming from, he just had no idea how to help them, nor did he know Chet well enough to feel as they did.
After another kitchen fire and a few hydrant inspections they all returned to the empty station and checked again for any sign of their friend while Johnny picked up the phone and called his apartment.
“What time was his appointment,” Mike inquired.
“At one o’clock” Captain Stanley let out a deep sigh. “That was a good two hours ago, you don’t think he could still be there do you?” His question was turned to the paramedics whom he thought would be the best ones to answer him.
“It’s possible,” Roy answered, “He’s got a lot of things to discuss and a lot of choices to make.”
“I just hope he doesn’t go off on his own again,” Johnny voiced his concern, “all the stuff he’s going to get hit with more than anyone should have to sort through alone.”
There was more pacing and Roy handed out the information that Dr. Bracket had gathered for them. Every one glanced at it but no one had it in them to study it thoroughly. Dinner was reluctantly fixed and was slowly going on the table when the phone rang again.
“Chet!” Captain Stanley’s remark instantly brought the station in a half circle around him as he talked on the phone. “It’s good to hear from you, we were afraid you tried to call while we were out on a run.” “That’s good to hear I’m glad your feeling better. Do you need some one to come drive you home? That’s nice, yeah sure he’s right here.John he wants to talk to you Pal.”
As he handed the phone to John, Captain Stanley turned to the rest of his hovering men to report, “He spent a lot of time talking before they sent him somewhere to get his pain management set up. They’ve given him a couple of liters of IV fluid because he was dehydrated and got his pain under control and then let him rest for awhile and now their going to have someone from the clinic there drive him home.”
“Hey sure Chet anything you ask,” John took over the phone conversation as everyone else sighed a ‘that’s good’ to Caps report in the background. “Sure Chet, how many nurses do you want and what hair color?” John smirked and everyone knew what the other half of the joke was.
“O kay...Okay...Yeah sure. I understand Chet and I respect your decision,” John answered glumly as he closed his eyes to stave of the tears before continuing. “Sure I’ll be there as soon as I get off shift in the morning.” “O Kay,”
There was long pause punctuated by John’s emotional sighs as every one else waited and held their breath. “No, “I’m a Fireman Paramedic and I’m trained to give shots and have done so lots of times and my partner will also be there with us I’m sure we can handle it.” John then covered the mouth piece of the phone and turned to Roy, “We can handle giving him his pain shots don’t you think?”
“Of course,” Roy answered, “We’ll just need orders,” and John turned back to the phone.
“I’m already planning to be there tomorrow, I’m sure I can handle things once you’ve shown me how it works. All right I’ll see you then, can I talk to Chet? Hey Chet Are you going to be alright? Are you sure you don’t need some one to stay with you tonight? Okay I’ll come strait from the station when I get off. Call if you need anything....Night or day, All right I’ll see you in the morning.”
John hung up the phone and rested his head against the wall for a moment before he turned to face his crew mates. “He’s going to forgo any kind of Cancer treatment and a, just go straight to Hospice. He needs some help filling out the treatment guidelines and his living will and someone to witness his signature and a, hospice wanted to know if they needed to send one of their people along on the fishing trip to monitor and administer his pain meds. They’ve set him up on a continuous feed pump for maximum pain management.”
Knowing their friend was now free of pain made dinner more palatable and the night a little less nerve wracking but they were all still reeling from the news and what it would mean to them, a now empty locker serving as a haunting reminder of the reality of their day.
The next shift started trickling in earlier than usual the next morning and question of “Is it true what I heard about Chet Kelly,” not only gave the reason for their early arrival but let everyone know that word was spreading.
True to his word Johnny went straight to Chet’s apartment when he was relieved stopping only to pick up a couple of fast food breakfast meals on his way.
When Chet opened the door his friend was pleasantly surprised at what he saw. Chet looked good, really good and he didn’t look drunk or totally doped up. A Close examination showed his pupils were slightly dilated but John expected a lot worse. A lot worse.
“Is that pancakes and sausage I can smell,” Chet greeted with a smile.
“Yeah, it is, Hey Chet you look great.” John exclaimed. “What ever they gave you must really be helping.”
“Yeah I slept better last night than I have in weeks. Feel a little hung over this morning but not nearly as bad as I thought I would considering how many times they had to increase the dosage yesterday.”
Chet’s statement sent red flags up in John’s mind but he tried not to let it show. The two men sat down at the kitchen table and ate. Chet only managed to eat half of his breakfast and offered the rest to John which he inhaled. Then came the daunting task of filling out all the papers Chet had been sent home with. there was a whole lot more to making a living will that just saying do not resuscitate, he needed to state his wishes on what religious practices and leaders he wanted involved, feeding tubes, respirators just at night, having his lungs drained, whether he wanted to die at home or in a hospital, should he allow them to put him in diapers toward the end.
Many of these choices he didn’t completely understand but had a pretty good idea what would be involved John was a great help in explaining the process involved and the benefits of the procedures in question and when all was said and done Chet agreed to anything that would make it easier for someone to take care of him but nothing that would prolong his life. Then came the questions he really felt uncomfortable about.
“Since I’m not letting them experiment on me while I’m alive should I donate my body to science after it’s all over?” Chet asked his friend.
John thought for a long moment and after several sighs and blowing out several deep breaths he finally looked Chet head on, “I really don’t know what to tell ya there buddy, what do you think your Mom would want?”
“I didn’t really want to burden her with this decision,” Chet answered, “I guess my only real question is do you think there is a real chance that my diseased body could make it so that someday they can stop this from happening to someone else.”
“Yeah,” John answered slowly, “Their pulling chemicals off the market all the time because their learning that they cause cancer I’m sure it’s the study on cadavers that help them make that determination not to mention the new treatments that are coming out all the time.”
“Will you help my mom understand?”
“I’m sure your mom will understand but of course I’ll talk with her.” John assured and then there was the issue of the funeral arraignments.
“Chet it’s not a burden, you’re going to be buried with full honors and that’s that.”John was tearfully yelling at his friend after a lengthy conversation. “And I know the rest of the guys at the station feel the same way. You can ask them yourself when we go fishing in two days.”
That’s where they were when the Hospice representative was heard knocking at the door.
John welcomed the change of discussion it was all starting to ware on him but what happened next wasn’t that much easier.
After adding the hospice workers witnessing signature to the treatment plan she began to show John how the device that Chet was now wearing on his belt worked and how and when to refill it. Slightly different from what John was used to but not difficult to learn. She then showed him the standing orders which he understood better than he wanted to and together they went through the supplies that she brought with her.
They were just finishing up when Chet opened the door to Mike and Marco. Mike had brought a stack of DVD’s to watch and Marco brought the food, which included several individual sized dinners to be put aside for Chet when he was alone.
The four of them spent the rest of the day together watching movies and eating popcorn. Chet got sick once and threw up everything he had eaten but after he had settled back down and showed that he could keep some liquids down he was able to eat again.
Finally much later than they should have John, Mike and Marco tucked a sleeping Chet into his recliner and headed for home.
Roy and Hank were the first ones to arrive at the station the next morning at the start of the next shift. They had both spent some serious time in their wives’ arms being drained of their grief and refilled with strength and energy to go on with. Their camping gear was already loaded in their trucks in anticipation of the fishing trip that they were both dreading and eagerly looking forward to.
They had both called to check on Chet while they were off and been pleasantly surprised by the party atmosphere in the back ground making it easier for them to face the new shift and answer the questions of the ones who had so appreciatively given them the time to learn how to breath again just last shift.
As they mingled with the previous shift members the question of how Chet was doing was repeated, It was Captain Tollins who was interested in how everyone else was doing.
“Better,” was the only answer they could honestly give.
Mike and Marco came in together sharing a ride in preparation of the big fishing trip and Johnny came rushing in at the last second technically late for roll call but Cap let it slide when he reported that he had stopped in to check on Chet and refill his pain medication dispenser on his way to work.
Captain Stanley did everything in his power to get the shift back in to a normal routine and the crew were performing their regular assignments. Johnny and Roy had just finished inventorying supplies and Johnny was placing the drug box back on the compartments when Mike approached him.
“Johnny, I could tell by the look on your face yesterday that there was something that you weren’t telling us.” Mike inquired with out asking a question.
John finished loading the boxes in the compartments and kept his back to his coworkers but all that was accomplished was that Marco and Captain Stanley joined the group. When John turned around it was clear to everyone there was more to what was going on than they knew and clear to John that he needed to tell.
“He’s on some real heavy cocktails.” John started.
“Cocktails?” Captain Stanley questioned.
“Combinations of drugs meant to enhance the effects.” Roy explained as Johnny thought his words through.
“So what’s the problem with that, their helping him, he really looked good yesterday.” Marco showed his confusion.
“Are you worried about addiction?” Mike tried to read his mind.
“It’s just that it means things are worse that I thought they were. They can’t increase the dosages much more than they are and as things get worse and there is going to come a time when the liver won’t process the meds at all and let them do what their supposed to do.” John explained.
“The dosages are that high?” Roy questioned. All John could do was nod his head with a lot of emphasis and a quiver in his face.
“So what are you saying,” Mike questioned wanting everything spelled out for him and no more guessing games.
“What he’s saying is, that we’re looking a lot closer to the three months than the year.” Roy spelled it out.
“I’m not sure he’s going to make it to the three month mark.” John corrected with a tremor in his voice and catches in his breathing as he turned to hide his face against the squad.
The shift had been a good one for the men, just busy enough not to leave them a lot of time to think but not overly busy and the runs were not so life threatening as they could be. Just enough to make the paramedics and firefighters alike feel needed.
As the dishes were cleared from the table after lunch John spread out two large maps and began to study them after a while he sat down and rested his elbow on the arm of the chair and his chin on his fist.
“I thought you knew how to get to this place with out a map?” Mike asked feeling a little nervous about their guide’s current look of confusion.
“I do,” Johnny responded after a deep sigh, “normally I park my rover here. Hike this trail and camp here,” He pointed to the map, “It’s real private and the hike is part of the trip for me. But it’s a ten mile up hill hike and I’m not sure Chet’s up to that right now.”
“Are you thinking of taking us someplace else?” Captain Stanley inquired, “I mean the way Chet was talking this place is kind of special to him, I know I for one would be willing to take part of his load to make it easier for him and you said yourself that this could easily be his las—“the words froze in thin air as he started gasping and chewing on his tongue. “Last chance for anything like this,” Cap forced out willing himself to be strong for his underling.
“We’re going to this lake,” Johnny confirmed feeling some of his Captain’s resolve and willed strength, “but I was thinking, there is this road here, it’s a rugged four wheel drive road but it will take us to this point and then we will only have a six mile hike and it’s nice and level hardly any up hill.” Johnny paused to look at his friends who were gathering around the map, “What I’m not sure of is how Chet is going to react to the ride on this road and frankly I don’t think Roy’s truck can make it, He’ll need to ride with one of us.”
“I’m sure my truck can go anywhere your rover can go,” Roy acted insulted, “But maybe it would be better if someone road with you and Chet to help keep an eye on him. I think the easier hike is the best choice.”
“I agree,” Marco voiced his opinion, “And if Chet thinks we’re babying him then we can tell him that I sprained my ankle a little at a fire and needed the easier hike.”
“I think we have a plan,” Mike agreed, “But we should still all be ready to take part of Chet’s load if he needs it.”
“Do we have someone here who we can tell where we’re going just incase they have to come find us?” Cap threw out the last safety measure that should always be observed.
“I was thinking of Captain Tollins,” Johnny mentioned cautiously knowing it would be Captain Stanley who actually did the asking.
“I’m sure Ron would love to be our anchor.” Cap approved and the discussion moved to meal planning and what was left to buy until Roy cornered Johnny for more details about what Medications and care Chet was allowed to have.
The next morning the men were tired after working a late night auto accident but they couldn’t even think of not going, even delaying the trip seemed unbearable. While they waited for the next shift to arrive John helped Roy move his camping gear over on top of his rover and Mike and Marco combined their gear with Captain Stanley’s so that they would only need two trucks. The second Map was clearly marked with their route and destination and placed on the captain’s desk with a note to Captain Tollins. Hank had called him the night before to ask if he would mind being their anchor and of course he was very willing.
Chet had spent his most pain controlled twenty four hours in weeks. Surprised that the doctors had been able to help him reach that state of comfort with out putting him in a coma Chet spent his day writing letters. There were so many things that he felt for his brother’s at the station. Things he never wanted to tell them for fear that it would go to their heads, no in truth he couldn’t handle the thought that he’d break down crying as he tried to tell them and he couldn’t have them thinking he was an emotional baby now could he. But once he was gone he wanted them to know how much he really admired each of them and what an honor it had truly been to work along side of them.
He had been warned that the time would come when his treatment program would not be adequate to manage the pain and he was very aware of how long it had taken them and how many times they had increased his med’s before he reached a level of comfort sufficient to doze. Still he needed additional help to take care of the attacks of pain that seemed to be coming more frequently. Everything was happening so fast and yet in slow motion.
If only he had been able to throw himself under that wall before it fell during the big fire the last shift he worked. But he had been too slow to act, to uncommitted to making that his end. HE had delayed following the Captain’s orders to get out, half hoping he would get another chance when he realized that someone would just come in after him and he couldn’t put their life at risk like that. When he did finally decide to pull out he had had one of his attacks and it had been so severe that he buckled to his knees barely able to keep the hose from whipping away from him. If Marco had been on the hose with him like he usually was he would have been endangered by Chet’s actions, He spent that last night at the station thinking about what he had almost done and hating himself for putting his friends and brothers at risk. He knew he had fought his last fire. Still he had had a flicker of hope things weren’t as bad as the first Doctor had said they were. How stupid he now felt to have held on to that hope.
As he placed the last of the letters to his crewmates in an envelope and then all of them in a bigger envelope Chet’s thought turned to his mother. She was a nurse and a damn good one, he knew that she was going to take a leave of absence as soon as she found out so that she could be with him every minute of the rest of his life. She had so wanted grandchildren but it was up to his sister to fill that order now.
Not only had he failed to supply her with grandchildren Chet knew he was about to put her through a hell no one should have to go through. She had already done diaper duty on him she shouldn’t have to do it again.
He found the jacket he had been wearing at the station and pulled the bottle of pills out of the pocket. He hadn’t wanted to take them before his doctors appointment because he had to make sure he understood what the doctor was about to tell him. Now he toyed with the bottle in his hand and vowed it wouldn’t come to the point of being in diapers. When the meds he was taking no longer worked there was enough in the bottle he held to bring an end. An end on his terms.
That was when his colleague from C shift called to check on him and the two spent an hour on the phone talking about absolutely nothing and retelling war stories before he offered to come over and help Chet get packed for the big Fishing trip.
Chet declined the help but decided he had better get packing, Johnny wouldn’t be happy if he wasn’t ready to go when he arrived. Johnny enjoyed his fishing and didn’t like it when you kept him from getting at it. As Chet loaded his backpack he thought back on previous fishing trips, this was truly one of the treasured places in the world and he was really looking forward to the last hurrah with his friends and brothers. He wasn’t going to let them remember him falling apart or some weak withering sap that had to be carried along. He was going to make sure they remembered him as a firefighter who had fought next to them and was strong enough to do so again.
When Johnny and Roy let themselves into Chet’s apartment the next morning they found Chet dozing on the sofa with his packed back pack leaning against the chair next to him.
The first thing John did was check on Chet’s medication dispenser knowing it would need to be refilled before they left. The level on the meter revealed he had been taking extra hits and John forced himself to feel relief that Chet wasn’t suffering but it was a hallow relief. While John was reloading the dispenser Roy reached down and grabbed Chet’s wrist to check a pulse.
“Stop that,” Chet pulled his wrist from Roy’s hand. “You’re supposed to be off duty.”
“Sorry,” Roy backed off sheepishly, “Habit.” He was now able to see for himself that Chet really did look better, spunkier, happier and there was a twinkle in his eye.
“I’ll move this dispenser when we get to the trail head so that I can position it around your back pack.” John informed Chet as he clipped the device back to Chet’s belt. “Are you all packed?”
“I think so,” Chet answered as he set up with out holding his side like he had been doing. “I left the drug stuff for you to organize the way you want.”
“Yea, I saved a section in my pack for that stuff.” Johnny moved to the kitchen where all Chet’s pain management supplies were still setting where they had been left after the Hospice worker had delivered them. It was sure a good thing there were no children running around. Among the supplies were narcotic laced suckers for when Chet needed an extra boost. Johnny grabbed a large handful of those suckers and stuffed them in the pocket at the side of his leg. He felt certain that Chet was going to need some of them to get him through the hike.
Before John and Roy had the pain supplies packed Cap, Mike and Marco arrived with the added supplies they picked up at the store.
“We’re ready to go,” Johnny announced, “Chet I think you’re going to want a heavier jacket and your hiking boots.”
“Yeah, right,” Chet answered as he pushed himself to his feet.
“Just tell us where they are and I’ll get’ em.” Roy offered.
“The jacket is in the front closet and the boots are in the closet in my room.” Chet directed as he finished fastening his back pack pockets closed.
“Roy you get the jacket I’ll grab his boots” Johnny directed and they where off.
Thoing, splash, Thoing splash. Both Roy and Johnny soon stood in front of Chet holding the items they had retrieved and both were dripping wet.
“The Phantom is still alive and kicking,” Chet joined the rest of the crew in their giggles.
Chet then insisted on shouldering his own back pack and everyone loaded up and headed out.
Using walkie talkie’s the two trucks kept in contact with each other and Roy enjoyed chatting with Chet while Johnny drove and added a jibe here and there. Everyone was laughing and Chet was his jovial self. They stopped twice to stretch their legs but John made the choice mostly because he wanted his friends in the other truck to see how happy Chet was.
Before they started along the rugged bumpy road they stopped once again and John managed to pull Chet away from the others under the guise of relieving himself to talk to him about what needed to be done to help make the next stretch of road more comfortable for him.
John took the road a lot slower than he would have done with out Chet there in his condition. He was sure every rock and dip in the road was causing his friend pain but Chet never complained and both John and Roy had to watch him closely to catch the winces and guarding.
The sun was high in the sky when they had reached the end of the road and John was worried about reaching the camp sight before night fall. While the other’s unloaded the gear from the trucks, John and Roy worked together so move the pump sight for Chet’s pain med dispenser so that it wouldn’t interfere with the straps on his back pack. Then before he slid his own back pack on his shoulders John pulled a few of the suckers from his pocket and slid them in Chet’s shirt pocket with a smile on his face and a gentle slap on Chet’s face. Then he took the lead as the others followed but he was real careful to watch Chet and set a pace by what he was seeing on Chet’s face.
Chet did amazingly well, even he was surprised at the stamina he had now that his pain was controlled. Before the end of the first mile he had been able to put his crewmates at ease and everyone was almost able to forget why they were there and just enjoy themselves. The only thing that was slowing Chet down was the trees, the birds, the rabbits and squirrels scurrying by and the knowledge that this would likely be the last time he was going to be able to see them like he was now. Chet’s frequent pauses to simply take in the clean air and the scenery was enough for everyone else to enjoy it more than they ever remembered doing so before and John was found walking backwards on several occasions, quick to snap a few photo’s of the look on Chet’s face as he took it all in.
Toward the end of the hike Chet was dragging just a bit and once they reached the camp sight Chet slid down against a large rock and it was clear he was not going to get back up again real soon. Cap and Mike sat on a nearby log trying to look just as tired as John helped Chet slip his back pack straps off his shoulders and checked his pump before coaxing him to drink some water. Roy was close by but somehow managed to keep from checking a pulse.
After resting for a few minutes Chet requested help up and he and Mike gathered firewood before he helped pitch the tents while Cap and Marco worked together to fix dinner. As the group chatted around the fire while roasting marshmallows Chet leaned back and looked at the stars and fell asleep against the rock smiling.
It was in the pitch black of night when Chet woke suddenly with a sharp pain in his chest. He was still leaning against the rock but some one had tucked his sleeping bag around him to keep him warm. The fire was out and there was a new moon so he couldn’t see anything around him. Franticly he rolled to the side trying to find a position to relieve the pain. As he pulled his knees to his chest his feet struck something next to him and soon John who was sleeping at Chet’s side was sitting up and working with the zipper on his sleeping bag.
“What is it Chet?” John spoke waking two other shift mates also sleeping under the stars close by.
Chet couldn’t speak, the pain was too intense, somehow he managed to roll onto his knees and pushed himself up so that he was leaning over the rock he had been resting up against and once his head was over the edge everything he had eaten around the camp fire was jettisoned from his stomach.
Three more times his stomach projected its contents toward the ground below him as the rest of his crewmates were awaken and hurried to his side. Between each episode of vomiting Chet gasped to replace the air that he felt had been sucked from his lungs.
John was holding him now in a way that helped his lungs open up and let the needed air in and finally after his stomach was beyond empty the retching stopped.
Still panting and holding his chest Chet fell limp in John’s arms. He was still conscious but had no energy left in him. Working together John and Roy rolled him over and sat him back against the rock he had been sleeping up against. The first thing John did was to unbutton Chet’s shirt to check his pump which had been disconnected. Leaving Chet in the capable hands of his partner John hurried to his back pack to get the supplies he needed to reestablish Chet’s pain management and while he was at his side Roy took a hold of Chet’s wrist and counted a pulse.
Captain Stanley provided the flashlight to see by and soon Chet had reached a medicated stupor of reduced but not totally relieved pain as his friends pulled his sleeping bag back around him while one of them used a shovel to take care of the deposits he had left.
“I thought I told them no chemo,” Chet groaned
“Chemo isn’t the only thing that will do this to ya,” Johnny sighed as he rolled a jacket up and placed it between Chet’s head and the rock he was leaning against. “Are you still sick to your stomach?”
Reluctantly and weakly Chet just looked at his friend and nod his head. Johnny then looked at his partner, “I’ll go read over the orders again and see if we can give him something for it.”
There were instructions for dealing with nausea and John was soon able to inject the medication into Chet’s shoulder that would put him the rest of the way out. As John lay him down on his side and made him as comfortable as possible tucking the sleeping bag tight around his friend’s shoulders he could only hope that he would feel better when he woke up.
Everyone agreed to take turns sitting up with Chet but the first hint of morning light preceding the sun rise found all five of them gathered around the fire that had been restarted to provide warmth.
The first hint of a stir brought Captain Stanley’s instant attention as he supported Chet’s head with his hand when he gently raised it to see his surroundings.
“Easy there pall,” Hank cautioned as his friend tried to push himself in to a sitting position.
Realizing where he was Chet rested his head back down and tried to blink some of the drugs out of his system. “How ya feeling there?”
Chet tried to set up again trying to swallow, “mouth dry,” he rasped.
Hank helped him to sit up and knelt behind him to allow Chet to rest against his chest as Marco was quick at his side with some water. Chet took a couple of swallows before resting back and looking into the worried eyes of his friend.
“It’s okay Marco,” Chet reached up and patted the worried face looking at him then his attention focused behind his friend. “Wow,” he whispered, “look at that sunrise!”
Marco turned around and Hank looked up and soon the others were turning to see what their friends were looking at and for a moment there was nothing by awe and wonder at the beauty that they far too seldom even look at.
When the sun became too bright to look at Chet was able to lean against his rock again and continued to sip at his jug of water not getting nearly enough fluid down for Roy likes but John had something else to try.
“Here Chet, this doesn’t have the greatest taste in the world but my people use this herb tea to help with morning sickness, I think it should settle your stomach a little,” John offered and helped him to take a couple of sips.
“Morning sickness! My mom has always wanted grandchildren but she’s never going to buy that one.” Chet joked.
Making a concentrated effort Chet was able to finish three cups of Johnny’s tea and his bottle of water by the time everyone else had finished breakfast. Feeling better but not yet able to eat anything Chet was aware of John, Roy and Cap having a discussion behind one of the tents and somehow he was sure he was the topic.
Chet could barely hear John saying, “That’s not what he wants,” As he walked away from the others, who looked less than happy.
After picking up his and Chet’s fishing poles John walked over to the man still leaning against a rock. “Well we came to do some fishing; I don’t think you’re going to be able to catch anything sitting there.”
With A smile Chet accepted John’s hand up and steadying arm as they walked toward the lake and was soon flanked on the other side by Marco taking a hold of his other arm with Mike, Cap, and Roy following close by.
Before they reached the lake Chet was able to pull loose from those holding him up and walk on his own steam the rest of the way
Chet was set up on Johnny’s favorite rock and the fish were biting. Since Cap isn’t much into fishing he kept himself entertained by operating the fish net and scooping up the fish Chet, John, Roy and Marco were all reeling in. Mike didn’t have as much success as the rest of them but there was no competition among the friends no one was counting who got how many fish, unless it was Johnny who was as busy taking pictures as he was fishing. Before lunch time there was more than enough fish for everyone to have their fill for both lunch and dinner, While Cap and Marco worked together to get the fish ready for cooking Johnny and Mike wondered off to gather fire wood and more plants to brew some more tea for Chet. Roy noticed Chet opening his second sucker and decided he better check out his medication pump.
“I notice that you prefer an upright position,” Roy shared his observations as he added some tape to the needle just under Chet’s skin. “Is that because it’s less painful?”
“That and a little easier to breath,” Chet answered but then wished he hadn’t when he saw the hidden panic in his friends face.
“It’s no big deal Roy, just a little tight sometimes.” Chet tried to calm the paramedic he had watched hide his fear before so many times that he knew what was right behind his professional mask.
As Chet buttoned his shirt back up Roy again took hold of his wrist to check a pulse this time instead of pulling away Chet just twisted his hand from a patient getting his pulse checked to a friend holding a hand and when Roy was finally able to look him in the face Chet smiled.
“I’ve watched you and Johnny do some pretty amazing things over the years,” Chet began holding tight to Roy’s hand as he talked. “And I’ve seen how a part of you dies when ever you can’t pull them through but I don’t think you realized how much peace and comfort you give just by being there and letting someone know that you care. You know you can’t save them all Roy, but sometimes there is more to saving someone than just keeping their heart beating.”
Roy let his tears flow and at the moment didn’t feel like he needed to hide them as the two men pulled together in an embrace.
It wasn’t long before John and Mike were back and a fire was crackling once again. Chet leaning against his rock willingly accepted more of Johnny’s foul tasting tea and was even able to eat half of one of the fish they had caught.
The fire was dying down and they weren’t sure weather to add wood or put it out and do more fishing. Chet was clearly tired but how could they even suggest to him to try and get some sleep. They had all the fish they could eat but it was possible to catch and release. Just what should they do?
“How will you guys remember me?” Chet asked out of the blue and a quick look at him could tell that it wasn’t a question that he easily asked.
“A damn good firefighter,” Captain Stanley spoke up first, “One I could always count on to get the job done.”
“A brother I trusted with my life and would gladly give my life for,” Marco added.
The tears were starting to flow now, and as they realized they were all crying no one felt ashamed by their tears.
“You were always good for a laugh,” Mike added, “I love how you keep getting Johnny with those water bombs.”
“Good,” Chet smiled through his tears, “Then every time it rains or you get splashed by a passing car you can remember me instead of remembering me like this.”
“Chet,” Johnny swallowed hard before he could begin, “you have taught me more about life than I ever wanted to know by the way you’ve faced death. I’ve never seen a sunrise the way I did this morning or marveled at the view, as much as you torment the hell out of me sometimes with all your pranks my life is better because you’ve been a part of it. And I think I’m a better person because you’ve been there to lighten me up a little.”
“I have considered it an Honor to serve with you,” Roy added before pausing to stick his tongue on his back teeth and take in a few deep breaths. “I will forever consider it an Honor to call you a friend.”
“Remember when we first started at 51’s,” Marco spoke softly, “Back when we kept getting our boot’s mixed up?”
“I’m sure glad we finally figured that out,” Chet added with a giggle, “It was sure miserable fighting a fire with two left boots on.”
“Yea and me in two rights,” Marco added.
The conversations trailed on and the memories flowed through the afternoon as they remembered off duty parties, Big fires, small rescues. The children they’d carried from burning buildings. When Johnny was bit by the rattle snake and when he was hit by the car. The time Chet fell through the roof, The explosions they had survived and each one could remember a time when they wouldn’t be alive at that moment if Chet hadn’t have been there on the hose.”
It was Chet that drew their attention to the reflection of the sunset in the lake as they all stopped the dinner preparations to watch the colors change in the ripples of the water.
“You know,” Chet spoke softly keeping his eyes on the view before him. “I’m not a religious man and I think it would be hypocritical of me to suddenly try to be one now, but right now I know that there is some higher power out there. Weather it’s Johnny’s spirits or the God that Marco worships I know who ever it is that they’re loving and caring and what ever happens after I’m gone, it’s going to be alright.”
With tears in their eyes five men reached out to in some way touch their friend and with a sense of panic five men quickly realized that their friend was running a temperature.
As he checked the injection sight for sign of infection Johnny could hold his hand against Chet’s chest and feel the rattles in his lungs as he breathed and Roy readily confirmed his findings.”
“Dix,” Dr. Early approached the nursing desk where the Head of the Emergency Department was struggling to keep medical records and patient flow organized. “I need the medical history for a Mr. Frank Collins. Could you get that for me?”
“I’ll try but they’re having a lot of trouble in Medical records the last two days.” Dixie reported, “You might get faster results by calling his regular Dr.”
Dr. Early sighed in exasperation, “Will you please get a Dr. Gerald Jones on the line for me then, what’s up in medical records?”
“Well their trying to keep a tight lid on it but roomers are that there was a major foul up a few weeks ago and they got some patient’s files mixed up and ended up sending the wrong test results to several Doctors.” Dixie reported. “I do know for certain that they have a team of Lawyers up there trying to figure out how to cover their butts, And nothing is coming out of there right now with out it being checked over by at least three people.”
“I just came from there and they’ve traced the problem to one of the out patient Testing labs Apparently they some how switched the test results of two patients with very similar names and at least one of the patients died on the operating table yesterday morning while they were doing a Cholisistectomy only to find out that She had a very advanced stage of cancer instead. They’ve got the police trying to track down the other patient so they can get her the treatment she needs now.”
“ooo, That’s scary,” Dixie responded to the Dr. in front of her.
“Yea but at least someone up there is trying to fix the problem while the rest are just trying to cover their legal assets.” Dr. Bracket scowled to himself then turned to go check on his next patient.
At the end of his shift Dr. Bracket was in his office finishing up with all of his charts when he received three administrative guests.
“I would like to talk with you about a patient you treated, or rather didn’t treat in the ER a little over a week ago.” The spokesperson for the group began as she pulled a file from the stack in her arms and handed it to Dr. Bracket.
Feeling anxious at having a couple of lawyers second guess his every move Kell Bracket opened the file and read his brief notes.
“Yes, I remember this patient; the police brought him in believing he intended to jump from the roof of a high rise building. He refused any treatment and I couldn’t make enough of a case to have him admitted against his will.” “I’ve since learned that earlier that day he had been informed that he had terminal cancer—“. Bracket froze in his chair and looked at each one of the visitors in his office.
“Does this have anything to do with that patient that died on the operating table yesterday morning?”
The woman looked at the two lawyers in the room with her then back to Dr. Brackett, “I’m afraid it does, the patient that died was a Mrs. Kelly B, as in Beatrice, Chester. Compared to Chester B. no middle name given, Kelly. Their birthdays are even on the same day and the birth year is transposed. The two files are completely intermixed and we can’t seem to figure out for sure who’s results are who’s. One thing we can say is that both of them were very sick people but the doctors involved think we can save this man if we can find him in time.”
“Did the patient say anything that could help us find him?” one of the lawyers asked. “The police have already searched his apartment and his car is there but he’s not.”
Brackett picked up the phone on his desk and rang the nurse’s station, “Dix, get me the phone number for station 51.”
At the lake the focus was on getting Chet’s temperature down. It wasn’t really too high but they didn’t have a thermometer with them so they weren’t sure how high or how it was changing.
“I take it this is not a good thing,” Chet responded to all the attention he was getting.
“You can say that buddy.” John responded as he tried to get Chet to drink yet another of his foul tasting herbal concoctions.
“At least when I tried to get you guys to take vitamins at the station they were in pill form and you didn’t have to taste them,” Chet complained. “This stuff is worse than the last stuff.”
“So what do you think the problem is?” Captain Stanley knelt close by.
“He must have aspirated when he was vomiting last night,” Roy was in full paramedic mode. “It looks like he’s got a bit of pneumonia.”
“I think the best thing to do is for you and John here to stay and take care of him while Mike and I hike back to the trucks and go for help.” Captain Stanley started issuing orders.
“A, no.” Chet interrupted. “It’s dark now and you’ll just get hurt. Johnny’s already sprained his ankle trying to gather these twigs he’s making me drink.”
“We’ll be alright pall.” Captain Stanley assured, “We both have high powered flashlights and the stars are mighty bright tonight. You know how Mike can see as well as a cat in the dark.”
“You’d just be taking a risk for nothing.” Chet still dared to resist his Captain. “I’m not going to get treatment anyway.”
“Chet,” Johnny was stunned by his statement, “This is something they can treat, you still have more time.”
Chet placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “remember Johnny, we talked about this.” “This was one of the scenarios in the living will we filled out together. I’ve already made my choice. You agreed to honor it.”
“But Chet there is still time, you still have time, what about your mother’s birthday?”
“I’m not sure I would have made it anyway, at least not in any real capacity, you know as well as I do the amount of drugs it’s taking to keep me going now. It’s better this way,” Chet answered. “It will be easier on her if she doesn’t have to watch me die.”
The five men looked to each other their tears hidden by the darkness but not the catches in their breathing or the quiet choking sighs.
“Hey John, don’t your people just put their sick and dying up on scaffolding and walk away from them?” Chet asked in an off handed effort to ease the tension. It didn’t go over too well.
“Not in my life time,” John tried to understand his sick friend’s crude humor. “I think the health department would have a problem with that now a days’”
“Not to mention a few other departments,” Captain Stanley spoke with a tone of disgust in his voice. “Now either Mike and I are going for help or we’re making a stretcher and we’re taking you with us.”
“Will you quit acting like you’re the captain here.” Chet started acting very insubordinate.
“There’s not a fire truck around, they’re off duty and I’m on leave, ‘terminal leave’ in every sense of the word. And I don’t have to take your orders any more.”
There was a stiff silence as Captain and former crew member looked into each other’s eyes, not in anger but uncertainty. Chet had called his bluff and he knew he had to back down, “This one’s not your call Cap, the decision’s been made. Please don’t fight me on this. It will just make it harder on everyone and there is nothing any of you can do to change the out come.”
There was another long pause before Captain Stanley finally sighed and gave a nod of his head. “We can’t just leave you here Pall.” He added with some resolve.
“Chet,” Johnny stepped forward taking his friends hand, “Chet, we’ve got to get you out of here one way or another and even with out treatment you’ll be more comfortable at home. And I for one would really not like to remember this trip as the one we brought you home in a body bag,”
Chet softened his stance and sighed, “I’m not quite that bad off yet. All right, lets get some rest then as soon as it’s light enough to see the ground we’re walking on we should head back,” then he added with a tone that told everyone he meant business, “While I can still help get my own sorry butt out of here.”
Reluctantly the men did rest but no one slept, of that Chet was very aware. In anticipation of the first hint of daylight camp was broke down and packed in the dark and while Marco taped up Johnny’s ankle using the skill he learned on his soccer team, Roy refilled Chet’s medication dispenser by flashlight and positioned it where they could easily get at it and where it still wouldn’t interfere with the back pack straps. Chet’s back pack was stripped of as much stuff as they could possible stuff in someone else’s pack leaving him only a change of socks, a Jacket and a couple of canteens filled with Johnny’s tea.
Chet pulled himself to his feet when he heard the rest whispering about how best to construct a stretcher and shouldered his pack, “My legs work just fine, I see no reason not to use them as long as I can.”
Cap sighed in resignation, “Alright, the sun won’t crest the mountain for about an hour but I think there’s enough light to see where we’re going, John, since this is your tea party, lead us out.”
Johnny pulled two of Chet’s suckers from his pocket and stuffed them in Chet’s shirt pocket, “Let me know if I get going to fast for ya there buddy,” he then started walking in the direction they needed to go and everyone followed along keeping a close eye on Chet as they walked.
The first mile and a half was fine as Chet’s determination amazed everyone including himself. But after that he started to slow down and stumble a little. Roy and Cap were quick to take hold of his arms and help pull him along but it wasn’t far before He needed a break. They coaxed him to drink but he wasn’t able to get enough fluid in to compensate for the temperature that they were all sure was rising now. Still after a moment Chet stubbornly pulled himself to his feet again and they were off.
It was on their third such break when the bottom dropped out. It began when Chet started coughing which caused immediate and severe pain that his medication couldn’t handle and then vomiting, not just emptying your stomach vomiting but non stop pile producing vomiting that took a good ten minutes to stop. Johnny had already pulled his pack from his shoulders and was digging through the medications gathering the ones he needed to help Chet when Chet went limp in Mike’s arms.
Roy instantly reached to check a carotid pulse but froze inches away from his mark, Chet’s words of “When you can’t find that anymore are you going to be able to walk away and not do anything about it?” echoing in his mind. Was the time at hand when he promised that he would be able to not do anything about it?
Chet’s quiet moan and movement of his head brought a sigh to everyone surrounding him as Marco slipped under his shoulders to help Mike hold him up. Johnny kneeling at his side now with the needed medications in his hand but hesitant.
“What are you waiting for?” Cap inquired.
“To see if he really needs this.” Johnny explained.
“If you’re worried about knocking him out don’t, we can carry him.” Mike offered knowing that he spoke for everyone.
“That’s not it,” John answered.
“It’s a sedative,” Roy answered seeing the emotions welling up in his partner. “It will suppress his breathing more than it already is.”
And then they understood. Not only were the paramedics faced with having to withhold treatment to keep their friend, not just some stranger but their friend and brother, alive when they knew they could do it. They were faced with making a choice between keeping him comfortable at the risk of shortening what time he did have.
Chet licked his dry lips with his dry tongue and slowly rolled his head and opened his eyes. After taking in the worried looks of his friends he looked beyond them. “Wow”, he whispered, “look at the sunrise.”
They all turned to behold the colors unfolding above the mountains as each one of them took hold of one of Chet’s hands overlapping as was required to do so.
“John, old buddy, old pall, would you do a favor for me,” Chet quietly asked.
“Anything,” John answered.
“Could you get a picture of that for my Mom?” Chet made his request.
“Sure thing,” John then deposited the medication in his shirt pocket and pulled out his camera to get the requested picture and then he turned the camera to his friends. And reaching around to take a hold of Chet’s hand once again he took a picture of the six men holding hands. Being careful not to get Chet’s face in the picture because no one wanted to remember him looking so sick and he knew Chet would never want to be remembered that way.
After a few minutes of rest, Chet tried to get up once again but wasn’t able to. A tent was pulled out and once Chet was placed on it they were able to roll up the sides to give them a hand hold and the five men carried their brother. They weren’t hurrying now. They each felt inside that the time was close at hand to say good bye. A good-bye they had been counting on being able to put off for a few months, perhaps even a year. Still there wasn’t one of them that wanted to be anywhere else but with their friend.
Focusing on keeping a steady pace the men from station 51 barely noticed the helicopter flying overhead at first. It wasn’t until if flew close and landed a short distance away that they really paid it any attention.
Setting Chet gently on the ground they stood and watched as the on board paramedic opened the sliding hatch and exited the helicopter then turning to gather his equipment.
“What are we going to do?” Roy asked looking at their charge, “He’s unconscious now we can’t stop them from treating him.”
“Yes we can,” John answered slowly, then looking at his partner and back to the now unconscious man on the tent. “He signed power of attorney over to me.”
“He did what?” Captain Stanley asked before taking a deep breath and realizing Chet really had planned everything out. “Do you have it with you?”
John nod his head solemnly and swallowed hard, “It’s with the pain medications,”
“It looks like you folks could use some help.” The Paramedic from the Chopper stated as he set his box down next to Chet and started his assessment. “Can you tell me what happened here?”
“He’s terminally ill,” Johnny croaked out his voice overcome with emotions. “He has a living will with do not resuscitate orders and I have Pow, Power—“John’s voice failed and he simple took hold of the newly arrived paramedic’s hands in his and held them away from Chet as he openly cried.
“John,” Mike protested through his tears, “You said yourself that this was treatable and that he has time.”
John just tearfully shook his head unable to speak.
“It’s not what he wants Mike,” Roy spoke for him. “He made that clear.”
“Is this Chester Kelly?” the paramedic that they had never before met asked. “Chester B Kelly?”
“Yes it is,” Captain Stanley spoke through his emotions as he reached down to his underling and placed his hand on the head of the man who lay unconscious on his side, “One of the best firemen we’ve ever had the honor to serve with.”
“We’ve been sent up here to find you,” the flying paramedic spoke quickly; “They want him at Rampart General Hospital ASAP for some testing.”
“Testing? What for?” Roy found a voice where his crewmates couldn’t but all eyes were turned quickly and tearfully to the man in the flight suit.
“Let me contact them and they can explain it to you.” The radio was opened in record speed and Five men heard. “Rampart this is Helo ten niner, do you read,”
“Go ahead ten niner this is Rampart.” They heard Bracket’s voice and marveled that he picked up so fast they never answered so fast on any of their rescues.
“We have him, but he’s in bad shape, his friends are sighting a do not resuscitate order.”
“Let me talk to Roy Desoto or John Gage,” Bracket ordered.
The two paramedics tearfully looked at each other before Roy motioned toward his partner, “You have the power of attorney.”
“This is John Gage,” he wheezed into the bio-phone his emotions making his voice hard to hear. “What’s this all about?”
Bracket heard the emotions and could tell more about the patient’s condition than if he had been given vitals but he was also more convinced that Cancer was not the proper diagnosis.
“We have uncovered some mistakes in the records department that indicate there is a real possibility that your friend may not have cancer.” Bracket talked into the microphone on the base station as two lawyers stood close by cringing noticeably at the word mistake being spoken openly.
On the mountain five men heard the words may not have cancer and didn’t know what to think or feel.
“But Doc he got a second opinion, “John questioned his mind have trouble doing the full one eighty in emotional melt down.
“The questionable test results were taken to each Doctor,” Bracket tried to explain quickly so that he could get started in treating his patient. “He is clearly a very sick man but we think we’re dealing with an acute gall bladder and the speed in which he has gone down hill leans me more and more in that direction.”
“But your saying that he could still be terminal,” John questioned there was no radio protocol being practiced but John hadn’t been able to be a professional since he had accepted Chet’s choice not to seek treatment.
“We can tell for sure in just a few minutes once we get him in here.” Bracket pleaded beginning to feel for his friends.
John hesitated as he looked at his friend, he had made him promise he wouldn’t try to save him but—“The patient has been vomiting extensively and is running a high fever leaving him dehydrated, I believe he may have aspiration pneumonia, respirations are ten and labored with bilateral raules request permission for two IV’s wide open and atropine IV to counter pain medication administered.”
As soon as he heard his partner refer to Chet as a patient Roy was taking the Drug box from the responding paramedic and pulling it open. Marco took the oxygen from the pilot who came with it as soon as he could leave the chopper and attached a mask before applying it to his friends face as Cap and Mike worked together to roll Chet onto his back so that he would be easier to treat.
“Pulse is 120 and weak,” Mike called out as he reached for the blood pressure cuff.
“10-4 fifty a, Johnny make one IV D5W and the other ringers lactate, administer 10 mg atropine IV. Also get him on 10 liters o2 per mask. “
“10-4 rampart D5W, ringers, and 10 mg atropine IV, oxygen 10 liters.” Johnny repeated and trust the bio=phone at the responding paramedic before kneeling at Chet’s side to start one of the IV’s.
“He’s going to be mad as hell at me when he finds out I did this,” Johnny mumbled as he inserted the IV needle in to his friend’s vein.
“He’ll understand once you explain it to him.” Roy assured.
“You better go with him John,” Cap returned to his leadership roll.
“Are you sure you can find your way back?” John questioned remembering for some time now that he was the guide and was responsible for getting everyone home again.
“We can see the trucks from here,” Mike confirmed, “And the road maps are in the truck.”
Chet and Johnny were loaded in the Chopper with the proficiency of a well oiled team and they were on their way. Now that he had moved back into the roll of paramedic Johnny worked franticly to give his friend the best possible care, Administering alcohol baths during the flight to help bring Chet’s temperature down and checking his progress regularly.
He was starting to show some signs of responsiveness by the time they made their approach to the hospital but John hoped he would stay out till they knew for sure they hadn’t just prolonged his pain and suffering, afraid to hope as the Chopper landed John stepped into action again and helped slide the stokes stretcher on to the gurney that had been brought to the landing pad before reaching back and pulling his back pack on to one shoulder and following the gurney into the hospital holding Chet’s hand as he walked.
“They’re set up for him in OR.” Brackett ordered as soon as they were through the double doors. And as the gurney was being taken through the doors of the operating room that already had a portable x-ray, pathologist and personal lab technician and an entire team of medical personnel waiting to jump into action, Dr. Bracket took Johnny by the arm and pulled him in another direction.
“The anesthesiologist is going to need to know exactly what he’s been given.” Bracket talked as he continued to pull Johnny toward the observation room where he could watch the procedure being done on his friend and hear first hand the results.
Once they stopped walking Johnny set his back pack down and pulled the standing orders and his copy of the power of attorney from the top pocket and handed it over to Dr Bracket while giving him the details of what Chet had been given that day. He then watched with knotted stomach as they intubated his friend and placed him on a respirator in preparation of inserting a large needle between his ribs to extract samples by which to test.
There were so many bodies working on his friend that all John could see was his feet under the sheet that had been thrown over him when his clothes were cut from his body. Occasionally he could see a tuft of black curly hair but only for a moment as those working on him went about their work.
The syringe of stuff the doctor handed over to the pathologist looked vile and disgusting tightening Johnny’s stomach further as it was rushed to the other side of the room. Bracket was now back at John’s side explaining that they had everything they thought they would need in the one room to eliminate any possibility of another mistake and proceeded to explain to Johnny about the two patients with the similar names and birthdays and how they had figured out there was a mistake made.
By the time Dr. Bracket had finished his explanation the pathologist in the corner was calling out all kinds of medical terminology into a tape recorder and microphone for all to hear. Words like sepsis, e coli basilis, gangrenous along with others John was too emotionally drained to fully register but all of which sounded bad, and then he paused and turned to face the men in the observation room. “There is no sign of cancer,” he said clearly and in plain English. “This man is not terminal.”
John nearly collapsed into Dr. Bracket’s arms with the news as Bracket helped him into a nearby chair he realized even more what Johnny and his friends must have been going through and how they felt.
John couldn’t even tense up again when the doctor called out “we’re not out of the woods yet we’ve got to get that thing out of this man.”
John just nod his head through his tears and whispered, “I can sign the papers.”
Brackett stepped up to a intercom and told the doctor to go a head he would take care of getting the papers signed and then made arrangements for a nurse to bring the papers to John so that he wouldn’t have to move from his chair until he was ready.
For the next three and a half hours John watched the medical personnel franticly work to remove his friend’s gall bladder and surrounding infections that were on the verge of causing some really major problems but were still manageable at that point. The scene before him so paradoxed his feelings at that morning’s sunrise, a ninety percent chance of survival just couldn’t be compared to no chance at all.
Dr. Bracket sat next to Johnny and watched as he monitored what was going on in the operating room as the surgery proceeded he watched as his breathing evened out and his muscles relaxed and his grief melted away one drip at a time. Under the circumstances John was invited into recovery to be there when Chet first woke up.
The nurses coaxed for him to open his eyes but before he could Chet started to cry, “NO, Johnny please no. let me go, just let me go.”
“You’re going to be alright Chet, you’re not going to die,” John talked to his friend as he was waking up but Chet only seemed to be half hearing him and not totally understanding what he was trying to say.
“No Johnny please don’t, you promised,” he cried and when he started pulling at his tubes and fighting they feared he would hurt himself and sedated him again.
Johnny stayed at the bed side once he was moved to his room and every time he made any movement at all he talked to him telling him he was going to be alright, each time he aroused a little he seemed a little easier to reason with. Johnny finally told him that they’d talk about taking him home as soon as he woke up a little more and that seemed to get him to relax the most.
About the same time the rest of the guys arrived so did Chet’s mother. They were all greeted by Dr. Bracket who ushered them into his office to give them the good news and explanation to the best of his ability.
Finally after his fever broke and they changed his oxygen from a mask to a cannula Chet started to respond to Johnny’s voice.
“Chet, Chet? Can you hear me?”
“You’re in the hospital buddy, you don’t have cancer,” Johnny jumped to the punch line hoping Chet was ready to listen to him and understand.
“What, What you say?” Chet asked groggily fighting to focus on the face next to him.
“The hospital sent someone to find you, there was a mistake with the test results, you don’t have cancer, you never did.” Johnny repeated as he held his hand and brushed the side of his head with the other hand. “You needed some surgery but you’re going to be alright now.”
“Surg- but they s said inoperable.” Chet mumbled in confusion.
“They got your tests confused with a woman named Kelly B Chester.” John continued to try and get through his friends fog. “You never had cancer, you had a badly inflamed gall bladder.”
“Gall bladd—not go’na die?” Chet seamed to finally understand.
“Not unless your mother kills you for scarring her half to death.” Mary Kelly, Chet’s mother who was sitting on the other side of the bed agonizing over the things her son was mumbling in his confusion.
“Mom,” Chet turned away from his friend to look at his mother but kept a strong hold on John’s hand. “when you get here?”
“The hospital called me a couple of days ago trying to find you,” Mary explained. “They said it was urgent that you get to the hospital for treatment but they didn’t know where you were. I’ve been worried sick, when they called me and told me that they found out where you were and had sent a helicopter to get you I got the first plane out.”
“Oh Chester B. why didn’t you tell me?”
“Didn’t want to ruin birthday.” Chet tried to explain
“MY Birthday!” Mary scoffed. “Son don’t you know by the time you’re my age a birthday is just another day like any other day?”
Mary managed to slide her hand under her son’s shoulders and pulled close to him as she kissed him on the forehead. “It must have been horrible dealing with that all alone.” She sobbed into her son’s hair as she held him grateful he was finally responding to her.
“Not alone,” Chet managed to get out he was now crying himself and still feeling the effects of the sedation. “Good friends.” He managed to give John’s hand a squeeze before drifting off to sleep again.
The hospital pulled out all the stops to make things up to Chet and his family and that included his firefighting family also. They practically set up the Chet Kelly ward where his mother stepped in as charge nurse and Dr Mom. There was nothing that went in or came out of her son’s room that didn’t have to pass her inspection and that included Chester B Kelly him self. They did keep him a couple of extra days to make sure he was weaned off of the medication he had been started on while he was being treated by Hospice.
John got his photos developed and made sure Chet’s Mom was given a framed enlargement of the sunrise Chet had asked him to take for her. But he also gave them copies of all the other pictures he’d taken on the fishing trip including the one with everyone holding her son’s hands.
“It’s a birthday present.” Johnny had said, “From Chet and us guys from the station.”
“Considering how close I came to loosing my son having him with me is all the Birthday gift I could ever want.” Mary told her son’s friend as she gave him a big hug and tried to thank him for being there for him. “Unless of course it could be some grandchildren,” she added as an after thought.
When Chet did leave the hospital his mother managed to whisk him off on a three week cruise to finish his recovery.
A week later the crew of A-shift were gathered in the common room drinking coffee and visiting at the start of their shift when Captain Tollins came in before leaving.
“These are from one of yours; they were in the mail yesterday.” He said as he tossed an envelope and a post card across the table in Captain Stanley’s direction.
Hank picked up the post card first then grinned broadly as he read what was written on the back. “Chet’s mom says he’s getting better, he’s finally noticing all the bikinis, he put out a fire in the dinning hall when a flaming dish caught the table cloth on fire and they were invited to eat at the Captain’s table so he could say thank you,” he read out loud for his men.
Hank then picked up the envelope and tapped in on the table to shake its contents to one end before he tore the other end off and dumped the multiple pages out into his hand.
“Hi Cap and Guys,” Hank began to read out loud slowing to study the hand writing.
“I must be getting better because Mom has finally left my side but she’s just on the other side of the pool watching me.
There are a lot of pretty girls on this boat and they all have teeny tiny bathing suits. They are really drawn to my scar and when Mom told them I was a firefighter that really turned them on too. I have yet to apply my own sun tan lotion.” The men all oohed and awed and giggled as the Captain paused.
“Had any good fires lately? I’ve had an interesting one but it took me longer to find the fire extinguisher than to put it out. I think I ruined someone’s dinner in the process thought. The Ship’s captain invited Mom and me to eat as his table after that, I guess it’s some great honor but it all felt a little stiff and fussy to me. It’s good to know I’m still a fireman though; it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.Sure had a lot to think about and Mom and I have done a lot of talking. Every sunrise is different now and every sunset too. But they’re not the same as on the mountain when I thought time was short. It feels really good to take in a deep breath and not feel pain but something is lost too. Something I can’t quite understand or explain just yet but I’m working on it.
I hope you haven’t given my locker away, As soon as the Doctor’s can sever the umbilical cord between my mom and me I’ll be back to claim it again. I really miss you guys and want to thank you for all that you did for me. I’m afraid of what I might have done if you hadn’t have been there for me and when it’s quiet here on the ship I can still feel your hands on my back and shoulders giving me support.I’m sure you’ll deny every nice thing you said to me, I know I would if I were you, but I want you to know that it meant a lot to me and that I still feel honored and privileged to be able to serve with you. I’ve heard it said that you should live everyday as if it were your last but I’ve known a lot of people who spend their life dying I hope I can remember to live each day to it’s fullest and to treasure the greatest riches of all, Good friends.
Till I’m back pulling hose take care of each other.
You’re friend forever Chet.
Three weeks later:
Roy and Johnny pulled into the back lot right after each other as Marco was just getting out of his truck. The three men greeted happily and walked into the locker room together and stood silently looking at a locker door left standing open.
New decorations on the inside of the door included an eight by ten picture of a sunrise and several fishing shots along with the captions: ‘A man never really learns to live until he accepts his own mortality’. And ‘the richest men in the world are those who have good friends’.
“He’s back,” Marco spoke with a slight catch in his voice.
“It sure looks like it,” Roy added with a thoughtful smile.
Johnny just sighed and together they turned to their lockers to pull on their uniforms.
Thoing, Thoing, Thoing, Splash, Splash, Splash. Three men stood wet faced and laughing.
“Yep, he’s back alright,” John shook his head.
“I see you guys got your welcome.” Mike responded to the scene before him as he stood in the doorway holding four buckets.
Chet had just finished placing his turn out coat and helmet on the engine in preparation of his first shift back and was now standing between the two trucks taking in deep breaths and enjoying the sight of the magnificent red engine before him.
As his eyes glistened he turned thinking he had heard something only to be doused by four buckets of soapy water at the same time.
“I see we’re ready for roll call,” Captain Stanley somehow managed to hide a smile as five men lined up in front of him four of them holding now empty buckets behind their backs the fifth man dripping on the floor, a sincere smile on every face.
“Welcome Back Kelly,” Cap said with a slight catch in his voice, “I should have known the peace and quiet was too good to last.” He paused and step in front of the soaking wet man with moisture welling up in his eyes. “The place just hasn’t been the same with out you. Now get a mop and get this mess cleaned up. All of you.”
As he watched his men hustle for the mops Hank remembered the last time the six of them were together at the station. It had been a hell he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy but he was stronger for it, a little wiser now he saw his men in a new light and he too knew he would never look at a sunrise the same way again.
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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