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The Not so Patient Patient.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not a disaster magnet. He preferred to think of himself as more of a sore loser.
The game… life.
His opponent… death.
And John Gage would freely admit it… he hated to lose in the game of life and death.
In his line of work there were just some times when you stood on a precipice … on the edge of two possible outcomes. On one side … success … but with the risk of injury; on the other side … failure … which would end in certain death.
And as far as he was concerned, the second outcome wasn’t even an option. As long as there was even a slim chance to save a life…he would take it.
So if he went that extra mile to save a life and got the odd injury in the process, well it was a price he was more than willing to pay. What’s more, he was positive the families of the people whose lives had been saved because of his actions would agree with him.
“And so, Chester B, Kelly, if that makes me a disaster magnet… then so be it,” he said out loud, even though he was the only one in the room.
Johnny’s nemesis from his former Station … 51, had lectured him for nearly half an hour over the fact that he was once again on the injured list. His former crewmate had dropped by Rampart for a visit shortly after his accident and hadn’t hesitated to give Johnny is opinion on the matter. Chet’s words still echoed in his ears.
“I thought the sole purpose of your promotion was to get away from this shit… well maybe not the sole purpose, but it had to have been a factor in your decision. You’re a Captain now, Gage. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to you anymore. Man, Johnny, you really are a disaster magnet.”
“Jerk,” Johnny muttered under his breath. “Next time we’re working a fire together and I see he’s in trouble, I should just let his sorry ass burn,” he said, knowing full well he would never let that happen.
What else was he supposed to do? Mark Anderson, one of his linesmen, had been trapped on the second floor of the office building along with two civilians. There had been a small explosion inside the building and a steel door had been displaced, jamming itself shut and thus trapping the three people inside a room that was rapidly filling with thick, choking smoke. Anderson had called for immediate assistance over the HT.
Once a rescue man…always a rescue man. It was too deeply ingrained in Johnny for him not act… rescue was a part of his soul. He just couldn’t stop all those years of gut instinct and training…. It wasn’t as if he could just switch it off like a light.
So when no one else had been readily available when Anderson’s frantic call came in, Johnny never even hesitated. He had grabbed his SCBA gear and the K-12 and headed inside the burning structure to save his man.
When he had finally broken through the steel door, he had found the three of them sharing the quickly dwindling supply from Anderson’s oxygen tank. From his slightly glazed look and blood running down the side of his face, Johnny surmised that his linesman had had his bell rung when the explosion happened.
Thankfully, Anderson seemed fine otherwise and was on his feet. The office manager seemed to be relatively unscathed other than the smoke he had taken in. The third female victim was sitting in the corner and seemed to be favoring her left knee.
After doing a quick cursory check on all three, Johnny shared his supply of oxygen between the victims. He made certain that Anderson and the office manager could manage unassisted, before he hoisted the female victim over his shoulder, making his two other charges walk in front of him where he could keep an eye on them. The small group had quickly and carefully made their way out of the inferno.
They had almost made it out of the building when a secondary blast had pushed Johnny forward, sending him out the front door and down the stairs that led to the front walkway of the office building.
As luck would have it, his victim landed on top of him sparing her any further injury. Johnny, on the other hand, had not been quite as fortunate, which was why he currently found himself lying in his bedroom with both his right leg and left hand and forearm encased in plaster.
He shifted on his bed, trying in vain to find some position that would be comfortable … not an easy task when it felt like you were trying to cozy up with a couple of cinder blocks. Eventually he just gave up, deciding that it was an exercise in futility.
He glanced over at his bedside table where the letter from the Chief sat. It seemed his latest exploits were going to earn him a commendation from HQ.
Johnny heaved a deep sigh. He always felt awkward whenever he got one of those… not that he had a lot of them. This would be the third in his eight years of service with the fire department. But even after all this time, he still never felt like he deserved them. After all, he’d just been doing his job hadn’t he … isn’t that what the tax payers paid him for?
But this time it hadn’t been just any civilian that he’d saved. It seems the young woman he had carried out over his shoulder that day, was the Governor’s daughter. He supposed that’s why this commendation felt more awkward than the others. Sure, he was glad the young woman had survived with nothing more than a sprained knee and some minor smoke inhalation, but he didn’t like the idea that it was because of whom she was, that he was getting this particular commendation.
He placed no more value or worth on her life, than he would have if it had been a homeless woman living on the street whose life he had saved. A human life was a human life, regardless of your social status. To him all life was precious.
He changed his position in the bed, in a vain attempt to alleviate the ache in his back. Unfortunately, the moment he shifted his body, his pillow slid down and bunched up behind his shoulder.
“Great,” he grumbled.
He reached around with his good hand and grabbed at the pillow. Thankfully his injury hadn’t been to his dominant hand, but it had been a bad break that had required surgery to put in a plate and a few screws. Well at least now if Chet accuses me of having a screw loose, he could well be right, he thought ruefully.
His ankle fracture had been displaced, and although they had been able to manipulate back into place without having to put in any hardware, he had been forbidden to do any weight bearing for six weeks. That meant no walking cast.
Thankfully he lived on a ground floor apartment, so he was able to get around reasonably well with his wheelchair. He had gotten pretty good ay maneuvering it through his apartment using his good foot to push and his working hand to steer.
Sighing, he turned his attention back to his latest annoyance. After several failed attempts, Johnny finally managed to reposition his pillow along with his body onto his side; it was the only position that didn’t make his back ache.
He reached over and picked up the periodical he had been reading on some of the new protocols for the Paramedic program. He opened it up and thumbed through the first few pages before tossing it across the room in disgust. He’d read every magazine and manual so many times he had begun to dream about procedures in his sleep.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy to be home… it was just that he was bored and frustrated by his current limitations. He could still hear Brackett’s admonishment to him, the day he had been released from Rampart.
“Now don’t push yourself, Johnny. Don’t try to do anything foolish. Remember, for the next few weeks you’re going to have to be a patient patient.”
“Patient patient … whose stupid idea was it to call an injured person a patient?” he scoffed. Was it supposed to be some kind of subliminal order? Patient… be patient.
Well he preferred the word victim. It suited what he felt like better than the word patient. He felt like a victim … a victim of bad luck… of circumstance… or maybe he was the victim of a sadistic cosmic joke. One thing was for damn sure… he didn’t feel like being patient.
He remembered sitting in his wheelchair in the lobby of Rampart while he waited for Roy to bring his car around to the hospital entrance the day he’d been released. It had taken every ounce of resolve for him to be polite when several nurses and orderlies had come up to him with sympathetic smiles and asked him how he was feeling? Finally, he’d had enough of their questions and he reached into his duffle and pulled out the marker Chet had used to sign his cast. He began to write on the plaster than encased his left hand and forearm in black scrawling letters … just so people would be able to discern his opinion about the whole situation without having to ask him.
He had only gotten as far as a writing a huge black F, when he remembered that not only would everyone be able to read it… but everyone would be able to read it… including Roy’s kids. Besides, as a civil servant he felt like he should be setting a good example. He had quickly changed the intended word into, Fireman Gage, suddenly glad that the people in the lobby couldn’t read his thoughts.
He chuckled quietly to himself as he imagined the look that would have been on Roy’s face if he had written the curse word on his cast. It almost would have been worth it… well until Joanne had caught sight of it anyway.
Roy… good ole Roy. His best buddy… his amigo… his brother.
Even though they were no longer partners, their friendship had retained its closeness. When he had come out of the surgery for his hand, it had been Roy who was there waiting for him, reading a NASCAR magazine. He remembered the first thought that had crossed his groggy mind was how weird it seemed to see his friend reading the magazine, since to the best of his knowledge, Roy had never watched NASCAR racing in his life.
The sound of a car honking in the apartment complex’s parking lot brought Johnny back to the present.
He let his eyes wander up to the ceiling where the spider who had taken up residence in his bedroom was busily working away on his web in the corner of the room where the walls met the ceiling. Johnny had spent an hour the previous afternoon watching it crawl from the windowsill to the corner, where it had decided to set up house.
“Mornin’ Harold … how’s it going? You’re making real progress on your web there, buddy,” he greeted.
He had no idea why he’d arbitrarily decided that his roommate was a he, and not a she. For all he knew Harold could just as well be a Helen … it was impossible to tell from where he was lying. But since it was a guy’s bedroom… he’d named him Harold. Johnny grew tired of spider watching and glanced at the clock.
Well that effectively used up four minutes of my day. I’m thirsty … I want a nice cold glass of milk, he thought.
He lay there for several minutes trying to decide if it was really worth the effort to haul his butt out of the bed and into the wheelchair just for a glass of milk. His mind began to wander as he pondered why he seemed to be the only one in is group of friends that preferred milk to soda. That in turn, sent him wondering about other things concerning one of his favorite drinks.
I wonder who the first person was that decided you could squeeze those dangly things under a cow and drink the juice that came out? He mused. His brow furrowed in disgust and he snorted derisively. “Geez Gage, how bored are you, that this is the only thing you have to think about? He muttered.
He lay there arguing back and forth with himself for half an hour about whether or not he was thirsty enough to move, but the more he thought about it, the more he wanted that milk, until it became an all-consuming desire. Realizing there was nothing for it but to get up and go to the kitchen, he flopped over onto his back and swung his legs awkwardly over the edge of the bed.
“Now I know how a turtle feels when it’s flipped over onto its back,” he said in frustration as he flailed about on the bed.
Leaning onto his good hand, he pushed himself into an upright position on the edge of his mattress. He reached over and took hold of what he affectionately called his grabber. It was basically a thirty inch pole with a handle on one end and a claw on the other. Squeezing the handle caused the claw to close, thus allowing him to use it to grab objects that were either just out of his reach, or had fallen onto the floor, which was where his robe was currently lying.
Dixie had brought the grabber by for him the day before.
Good old Dix… she always thinks of everything.
Johnny snagged his robe that had fallen off the foot of his bed and slipped it on over his injured appendage and carefully pulled himself into the wheelchair. The injured Fire Captain took his grabber and set it against the nightstand only to watch in dismay as it slowly slid sideways and fell onto the floor.
“Great, now I need a grabber for my grabber,” he groused. He wheeled his chair around, deciding he could retrieve the object later.
It took what felt like a herculean effort, but Johnny managed to get himself into the kitchen and pour himself a glass of milk. Surprised that he was actually able to pour it out and drink it without spilling any on himself… not always an easy feat with one hand.
“Success,” he shouted happily into the air
The last time he had tried it, he had lost his balance and christened his T-shirt with eight ounces of homogenized milk. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that Roy had just helped him get the clean shirt on after having a dinner accident. He had been sitting at the table trying to separate his pasta with a fork when the whole meal slid off of his plate onto the front of his shirt. Both incidents happening on the heels of each other had caused Roy to threaten to buy him a Sippy cup and a bib to use until he had two working hands again.
Johnny glanced over at the stove and scowled. The remnants of his rather awkward and messy attempt at cooking bacon and eggs was still evident. He had gotten the job done, but the stove was a mess. The pan full of congealed grease was still sitting in the sink unwashed. Johnny looked at the grease slick with a frown.
Is that what my arteries look like now with all that bacon grease coursing through my system?
Well he wasn’t going to give up bacon… to him bacon was a food group. He thought about trying to get the dishes washed by himself, but his wheelchair wasn’t high enough to comfortably reach the sink and he was too tired to drag the stool over. Well, the dishes had waited this long…an hour or two more wouldn’t make much of a difference.
He sat back in his wheelchair rubbing his good hand across his forehead. He was on the verge of a headache. Not a full-blown headache, but the warning sensation that one was coming on. He refilled his glass, (this time a few errant splashes of milk splattered on the counter.) He reached over and grabbed the bottle of aspirin off the back of the counter and dumped two of the tablets out onto the counter’s surface. He silently thanked Roy for having left it within easy reach … with the lid off the bottle.
Two days ago he had found himself suffering from the deep ache of healing bones with no way to get the lid off the child proof cap on the Aspirin bottle. Consequently, he’d had to suffer through the pain until his former partner had shown up four hours later to take the lid off the bottle for him. Before he had left for home, his former partner had made a point of making sure Johnny had easy access to pain relief should the need arise.
Now that his thirst was quenched, Johnny decided he would go back to bed and try and to get some sleep. He hoped that between the rest and the aspirin, he could avert a full blown headache. Slowly, he made his way back to the bedroom using his uninjured foot and hand to push himself along.
By the time these casts come off, the muscles in my right arm and left leg are going to look like Popeye’s from doing all this extra work, he thought, somewhat amused by the mental image it conjured up.
Wheeling his chair next to his bed, Johnny transferred himself back onto the mattress with a contented sigh. His body wasn’t used to having to support his entire weight using only half of his limbs. Even the simplest tasks tired him out. Not to mention his body’s resources were working overtime to heal his broken bones.
Johnny turned his body in the bed until he was facing the window… he liked being able to see the sun shining through the glass. He could hear the sounds of the traffic moving outside his window. It was just another reminder that the rest of the world was going on with their lives without him.
Stop with the pity party, Gage, he silently chided himself.
He let his eyes drift back toward the corner of the ceiling where his spider friend sat silently in the corner of his web, still as a statue. He soon discovered the reason for the arachnid’s lack of movement … Harold was on the hunt. A fly was buzzing around precariously close to Harold’s web.
Johnny watched in fascination as the fly edged ever closer and closer to its doom until finally, it went a fraction of an inch too far and found itself snared in the spider’s web. With a speed that surprised the wounded Fire Captain, Harold darted over and pounced… it was all over in less than a minute.
“Dumb fly,” Johnny said sleepily.
I wonder how long it takes a spider to devour a fly?
Johnny shook his head. Even he wasn’t that bored that he cared to sit and watch.
Why did God create flies? I guess to be spider food, he decided.
“Stupid fly,” he muttered. “Enjoy your dinner, Harold,” he called out to his eight legged friend.
I hate flies anyway. All they do is try and land on your food at picnics, ruining the potato salad in the process… Oh, potato salad, that’s what I want. I wonder if Joanne would make me some if I sounded pitiful enough? But would Roy be willing to make a special trip to bring it over to me?
I wonder what Roy is doing today? Is it a work day for him? Be safe out there, Pally.
He tried to work out if Roy really was on duty today. Hmm, they were both on C shift now. No, it was Tuesday the twenty seventh… Roy was off today.
I bet Joanne’s got him busy with her honey-do list.
Johnny grabbed his pillow and using his good hand, he tried to punch it into position behind his head. He had no sooner found a comfortable position on the bed and let his eyes slide shut, when the phone began to ring … all the way out in the living room.
It was then he remembered that Chet had removed the phone from his bedroom three days ago. It had been his first day home from the hospital and Chet had insisted on staying with him that first day … just to make sure he could manage on his own without killing himself. His friend had removed the phone from the bedroom when Johnny had decided to take a nap. Chet had said it was so the phone wouldn’t wake him up if it rang. It was only now that Johnny realized he hadn’t put it back.
Slowly he began to pull himself up and into the wheelchair. He was just rounding the corner of the couch when the instrument stopped ringing.
“Damn it… no,” he yelled out in frustration. He heaved another frustrated sigh…he did that a lot lately.
Well he had to pee now anyway, so since he was up, he might as well go. The big question was, could he get the job done without killing himself in the process?
He had already learned the hard way that anything with buttons or a fly was his enemy. Joanne had carefully used a seam ripper to modify a pair of his jeans so he could wear them home from the hospital because he hated wearing sweats in public. It had been on his first trip to the bathroom that he had discovered the folly of a one armed man balancing on one leg, trying to get jeans undone and down in order to take a leak.
He remembered rebuffing Roy’s offer of help that first time he went to the bathroom on his own. “I’ve been a member of the big boy club for a long time now, Pally… I think I can handle going to pee alone.”
The fact that he had lost his balance and ended up in the bathtub with his ass sticking up in the air had been like rubbing salt into the wound. He quickly learned that he had to sit to do all his business and sweats were now his new best friend.
Thankfully, this time, Johnny was able to accomplish his mission in the bathroom without mishap. After washing his good hand at the bathroom sink, he decided that instead of having his nap in bed, he would head for the couch.
At least that way if the phone rang again, he would be close by. He was pleased to see a pillow and blanket sitting neatly on one end of the couch. Somebody… probably Roy or Jo … had left them there in case he wanted to nap on the sofa.
He decided he might as well watch a bit of television while he rested. He flipped through the TV guide trying to find something worth watching at this time of day… daytime TV sucked. He really wasn’t into game shows and he wouldn’t dare watch any soap operas in case someone dropped by unexpectedly and caught him in the act. It had taken him months to live it down after he’d been caught watching them during his convalescence when he’d been hit by that drunk driver.
Whatever he chose, he had better make it good. He had lost his television remote somewhere under the couch the day before and he hadn’t been able to reach it in his present condition. So unless he was prepared to make several trips to the TV…which he wasn’t … he had better choose something he liked.
Glancing through the TV guide revealed that the local PBS station was showing a show on nature… he liked nature. According to the guide it was due to start in five minutes. Flipping the set on and selecting the right channel, Johnny wheeled himself over to the couch and got himself settled in for the afternoon.
The instant the show came on, Johnny regretted his choice. Instead of a show on the wonders of the Alaskan wilderness, or the animals of the African Savannah, he was saddled with a show about the mating habits of the ant. Not only didn’t he know anything about mating ants… he didn’t care… nor was he interested in learning about them now.
Damn… where was that remote? Next time Roy’s over I’ll have to remember to get him to find it for me.
Johnny heaved a sigh of resignation. “Great another trip into the wheelchair just to shut the damn TV set off. Well, I wanted to sleep anyway,” he grumbled.
Finally, with the TV set off, his thirst quenched and his bladder empty, Johnny sunk into the sofa cushions and closed his eyes.
The sound of the bathroom faucet dripping seemed to echo with the decibel level of a sonic boom throughout his apartment. He had obviously not gotten the tap on the bathroom sink turned off tightly enough. With one hand out of commission, he had a hard time with such things. Just another quarter turn would snug it up and stop the dripping. Well he wasn’t moving now; he’d just found his happy spot on the couch… a rare commodity these days.
Nope…so not moving now.
Did the sound of the faucet dripping really annoy him anyway? I mean, when you think about it, how different was it from the sound of rain dripping off the eaves after a rainfall… and Johnny loved the sound of a gentle rain.
Johnny sighed… it was no good, because deep down he knew it wasn’t rain… it was a dripping tap. He grabbed his pillow and wrapped it around his head until it covered his ears in an effort to drown out the sound. He thought he remembered Roy saying something to him yesterday about stopping by after lunch today. He’d tighten the tap for him.
Yup, good old Roy could always be counted upon to rescue him. The man was endowed with an over-abundant amount of patience… wait, no… he wasn’t going to use the word patient anymore… and that included all its derivatives. He wasn’t on speaking terms with that word. Generous…that was a better word. Roy was very generous with his time, especially when it came to him.
Despite his annoyance, Johnny found himself counting the drips and they plunked into the porcelain sink with a hollow ping. He started counting them in the same way one might count sheep.
Suddenly it occurred to him that the dripping had stopped. What the...?
Oh, he’d fallen asleep.
The room was much darker now … a light had been switched on somewhere and he could hear the sounds of dishes being washed in the kitchen… and was that… it was.
The distinct smell of Joanne DeSoto’s roast beef was wafting across the room, exciting his olfactory senses.
Woo hoo … the motherload.
He’d hit pay dirt. When it came to his favourite gastronomic delights, Joanne’s roast beef was at the top of his list. It was like a slice of heaven on a plate.
Maybe there was an upside to his being injured after all, if it meant Joanne coming over to cook him his favourite roast beef dinner. He could hear Roy and the kids in his bedroom… probably cleaning it up for him.
A smile played upon his lips and his stomach growled in anticipation of the meal it was about to partake of…a meal that would be shared with a group of people who had become his family over the past eight years.
It suddenly dawned on Johnny how truly blessed he was to have people in his life that cared for him…worried over him… loved him.
And when it came down to it, he wouldn’t actually change anything about the way things had turned out, not if it meant the outcome would have been different.
So he had gotten hurt during a rescue. There were three people walking around on the face of the earth because of his willingness to risk injury. At the end of the day, all four of them had survived to tell the tale … and that was all that really mattered.
Eventually he would recover and return to the job he loved almost as much as life itself. All it would take was a little patience.
The more he thought about it, the more he decided that it wasn’t such a bad word after all. When it came right down to it, a lot of people had accomplished an awful lot in this world just by being patient.
Yes, he decided. He could live with how things had turned out… he decided he really could be a patient patient after all.
Johnny pushed himself upright on the sofa, a huge grin on his face. There was a roast beef dinner with his name on it, calling to him from the kitchen and life was good.
POSTED TO SITE 03/01/2014
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