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He sat alone in the hospital chapel, his forehead lowered to his folded hands, which rested on the back of the pew in front of him. Taking in a deep breath through his nose, he let it out slowly through his mouth, then looked up at the simple cross at the front of the room. “You know I’m not a religious man, God,” he murmured, “but Jo’s always tellin’ me you’ll listen if I talk to you, so here I am.” He glanced down and tugged nervously at a loose thread hanging from the hem of his t-shirt, then looked back up. Maybe I oughta do this kneelin’ or something, he thought. He knelt on the grey carpet and folded his hands again. “They won’t let me in there with Jo,” he continued, “and Dix said I was pacin’ a hole in the waiting room floor.” He gave a wry laugh, then sighed. “I’m no good at this, God. I don’t know how to pray. But I don’t know what else to do. I… I can’t…” His voice faded out. “What would I do without her, God? I don’t even want to think about it. And what would she do if…”
He stood and started pacing the perimeter of the chapel. “The truth is, God… I need your help. That is… Jo needs your help. I’m… I’m not askin’ for myself…” Who am I trying to kid? he thought. Of course I am. ”OK, OK, I’m askin’ for me,” he confessed. “But for her too, and the baby. Please, God… save them. I’ll… I’ll… well… Jo always tells the kids not to bargain with you, so I’m just askin’… let ‘em be all right… please?” He sat again, not at all sure his words had reached the ears they were intended for—heck, he wasn’t convinced there was Anyone up there to listen anyway. Why did he feel so alone? He just wanted to be with JoAnne right now, but as soon as Dr. Campbell had determined an emergency C-section was necessary, the worried husband had been ushered right out the door while his wife was prepped for surgery, Dixie’s offer of “Let me get you a cup of coffee” ringing in his ears. Roy had thought it would be just a couple of minutes and then someone would come tell him he was a father a third time over, but no one had come and he was sure now that it had been at least an hour. He finally told Dixie that he’d be in the chapel, and she promised to come for him the instant there was news.
Now the chapel door creaked open and then thumped closed. He pivoted in the pew. “Finally… Oh… Johnny…” He didn’t mean to sound disappointed.
Johnny didn’t let Roy’s lack of an enthusiastic greeting bother him. “Hey, Roy,” he said. “Dix called me at the station.” He moved to his friend’s side and put a hand on his shoulder. “Dwyer’s subbing for me. I’m here for the duration, Pally.”
“Thanks.” Roy sighed heavily as Johnny sat in the pew next to him. The junior paramedic was uncharacteristically silent. Roy leaned forward and took in another deep breath before explaining. “Jo tripped this morning coming up the stairs. She thought she was fine so she didn’t mention it to me at first, but then, just as I was about to leave for work, she started having severe abdominal pain. Thank goodness Mom is visiting so we didn’t have to wait for someone to come stay with the kids. I called it in and got a squad out there as quick as I could. In the ER, her blood pressure shot up and the monitors showed the baby was in distress. When the doctor decided it was time for a C-section, suddenly I was pushed out the door. That was…” He looked to his left wrist, then remembered that in the rush to get to the hospital he had left his watch at home on the nightstand. “Well… I’m not sure how long it’s been, but it feels like more than an hour. I sure wish Brackett and Early were here—they wouldn’t leave me waiting this long. Dr. Campbell isn’t even Jo’s doctor—he’s just the one on duty tonight.”
Johnny let out a long, slow breath as he thought carefully about how to respond. He knew how excited Roy and JoAnne were about this baby, even though the news that JoAnne was expecting had taken them completely by surprise. With one boy and one girl, they had been content. Confirmation of JoAnne’s pregnancy came a few weeks after they celebrated her 30th birthday. Johnny remembered the look of shock on Roy’s face when he came into work the first shift after he found out. Of course he didn’t let it affect him whenever he had to slip into paramedic mode, but at the station he walked around in a daze. “It’s not what we planned on,” he confided in Johnny as they hung hose together. “I’m… well… not quite sure how I feel about it just yet.”
Within a month, he was strutting around the station like a peacock. As JoAnne’s due date drew nearer, he’d asked Johnny to come over and help him transform the guest room into a princess bedroom for four-year-old Megan, then prepare the nursery for a new resident. Johnny had enjoyed every minute of it, especially after the DeSotos asked him over a steak dinner to be the new baby’s godfather. God-parenting was an unfamiliar concept to him, given his upbringing in a small Baptist church on the res in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, but he accepted the offer as the honor it was, pleased that his friends thought so highly of him. Since then, Johnny had been preparing for the new DeSoto’s arrival as eagerly as the parents. Now his best friend faced the possibility that he could lose both his wife and the new baby.
Johnny squeezed Roy’s shoulder. “They’re in the best of hands,” he said quietly. He wished he could make promises that they’d be fine, but he knew it wouldn’t mean much—he and Roy had seen firsthand what could happen. Roy nodded, his face pale. He looked to the door of the chapel, hoping to see someone coming for them, then returned to his knees and folded his hands again. Next to him, Johnny folded his hands and bowed his head, adding his prayers to his friend’s.
The door creaked open at last, drawing both men to their feet. Dixie beckoned to them. “Come on, Papa. Dr. Campbell is waiting for you.” In spite of her warm smile, Johnny could see the worry in Dixie’s eyes—something was wrong. He put a hand on Roy’s shoulder and ushered him out of the chapel to meet with the doctor.
“Mr. DeSoto,” Dr. Campbell began, “why don’t we go have a seat in my office? Mrs. DeSoto is in Recovery right now, but within an hour she should be settled in her room and you can see her.”
Roy swallowed hard. “Sure, Doc,” he said with a nod. A moment later, he found himself seated on a comfortable sofa in Dr. Campbell’s office, Johnny right beside him. An elderly doctor neither paramedic had met before joined them as well, taking a chair next to the obstetrician’s desk. A wave of gratitude for Johnny’s comforting presence washed over Roy. He wasn’t sure he could stand whatever he was about to hear if he had to do it alone. Dixie had been going to join them, but she’d been paged just as they stepped off the elevator.
Dr. Campbell took a seat behind his desk. “First let me say, your wife will need time to recuperate, but I anticipate a full recovery. She suffered a placental abruption* as a result of her fall. This means that the placenta—”
“Doctor,” Roy interrupted, “Johnny and I are both paramedics. We know what placental abruption is. Please just tell me about JoAnne and the baby.”
“Of course,” the doctor agreed. “There was a 30% abruption and your wife experienced extremely heavy bleeding. I had no choice but to perform a hysterectomy.”
“And the baby?” Roy asked, afraid though he was of the answer.
“The child survived,” Dr. Campbell announced, “and the damage caused by the abruption was surprisingly minimal. However, there are… unrelated complications I regret must be shared with you.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Roy looked up, his eyes widening. “Complications?” he growled. “Could you at least let me know if I have a son or a daughter before you start talking about complications?”
Dr. Campbell’s thin lips turned downward. “You have a son, Mr. DeSoto,” he said sharply. He gestured toward the second doctor. “Now, I have called Dr. Hedrick in to consult with you because of his expertise in neonatology.”
Taking his cue, Dr. Hedrick continued. “Mr. DeSoto, I am sorry to have to inform you that your son has numerous characteristics consistent with Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome—for example, low muscle tone, a palmar crease, and an upward slant to the eyes. Of course, further testing is required for confirmation, but from what I could see from a cursory examination, there is no doubt. Now, I understand you already have two healthy children?”
Stunned, Roy could manage no more than a slight nod in response.
“Well then, my recommendation to you is to place the baby in an institution where he will be well cared for. His presence in your home would disrupt your lives and would most certainly prove detrimental to the development of your older children, not to mention the extreme burden to you and your wife of caring for a defective child. Children like this are uneducable, unlikely ever to walk or talk, and the likelihood of—”
Johnny had sat silent until this moment, his face growing increasingly red as the doctor droned on. His fists clenched and unclenched in his lap. Now suddenly he stood. “Enough!” he snapped, choosing to give Roy’s shoulder another supportive squeeze instead of punching the smug doctor in the face. “That’s my friend’s son you’re talking about… my godson. Now, where is he? If we can’t see JoAnne yet, we want to see him!” He tugged Roy to his feet.
Dr. Campbell shook his head. “We do not recommend it,” he said sternly. “In these cases, we find it is best—”
“In this case, doctors,” Johnny seethed, “you and your recommendations can go to Hell. Come on, Roy.” His tone softened as he turned to his shocked friend. “Let’s find Dixie. She’ll help us.” Roy did not resist as Johnny led him from the room.
Roy felt numb. Everything had come at him so fast. He was thankful Johnny was holding on to him as they left Dr. Campbell’s office, because he was pretty sure his legs would buckle without the support. He wanted more than anything to see JoAnne, but until she was out of Recovery and in a room, he knew he would have to wait. As for his son, well... after everything the doctors had just said, he wasn’t sure what he wanted. His arms longed to hold the little boy, but he could feel ice cold fear once more snaking its way around his heart.
“Listen to me,” Johnny told him quietly as they walked down the corridor. “I promise you, things are not as bad as Campbell and Hedrick made them out to be. Your new son is no less wonderful than Chris or Megan. You and JoAnne are great parents, and you are going to be just right for him. He may come with challenges—what kid doesn’t?—but I’m certain he’ll be just right for you, too. My mom once told me that all of God’s gifts are good—never doubt it Roy, this little guy is definitely one of God’s best gifts.”
As they passed the nursery and glanced in, they saw Dixie cradling a small blue bundle, a soft smile on her face. They could not hear her, but they could see that she was speaking to the bundle. They stood at the window, watching for a moment, and then Johnny got her attention by knocking gently on the glass. Dixie looked up, then beckoned them inside. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “I wanted to be there when you faced Campbell. He’s known for being… less than sympathetic.” She gave Roy’s arm a gentle touch. “I don’t know exactly what he said to you, but I am proud to introduce you to your son.” She eased Roy into a rocking chair and then passed him the bundle, her eyes catching his as she did so. “He is a blessing, Roy. He’s already captured my heart, and I know it won’t take him more than a minute to capture yours.”
Roy finally looked down into his new son’s face. The child gazed up at him with eyes as blue as a summer sky. His tongue protruded a bit. He definitely looked different from Chris and Megan when they were born. And… Dixie was right—Roy’s heart had been firmly captured by this tiny baby at first sight. “He’s… he’s beautiful,” he murmured, awestruck.
The fears didn’t completely vanish, but they subsided enough that Roy no longer felt lost and broken. He looked up at Johnny and smiled. “Junior, I’d like you to meet Daniel John DeSoto. JoAnne and I agreed from the beginning that if we had a boy, we’d name him for my father and for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
Johnny beamed, but then his grin faded to a pensive smile. “I’m honored Roy, really honored. But… could I ask you to change it? Instead of Daniel John, make it… Daniel Jesse. At least, talk to JoAnne about it, all right?” Roy shrugged and nodded, and Johnny leaned down to kiss the baby’s forehead. “You’re right, he is beautiful, and his godfather is going to spoil him rotten.”
Dixie patted Roy on the shoulder. “JoAnne should be in her room now. 403. She hasn’t seen this little angel yet. Why don’t we bring him up to meet his mommy?”
Johnny agreed. “Go on, Roy. You should have a little time with just the three of you. I’ll call the station and give them the good news, and then I’ll join you.”
Four weeks later, Johnny and Roy were sitting on the sofa in Cap’s family room. Johnny held little D.J., as he’d come to be called, in his arms while Megan snuggled in between her two favorite men. JoAnne—much recovered but not yet at her full strength—was at the kitchen table, talking and laughing with Emily Stanley, Beth Stoker, and Dixie while they prepared a celebratory feast. Emily was busy marinating steaks, Beth was shucking ears of corn and wrapping them in foil, and Dixie was slicing tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad. The ladies all insisted that JoAnne simply rest and keep them company. Outside, Hank had just lit the charcoal, while the Stanley boys and Chris DeSoto tossed a Frisbee and the Stoker twins giggled as Marco and Chet pushed them higher and higher on the swings. Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early sat on the deck, enjoying a chance to relax. All of 51’s A shift (plus their friends from Rampart’s ER) had gathered today as a family to welcome Daniel Jesse DeSoto to the world.
“Would ya look at that,” Johnny gushed. “He’s smiling at me!”
Roy glanced over. “Gas,” he scoffed. “He’s saving his first smile for his daddy. You already got Megan’s first smile, after all.”
Johnny splayed his long fingers across his chest. “I know a smile when I see one, Pally, and that is most definitely a smile.” Playfully, he stuck his tongue out at D.J. and was rewarded when his godson imitated him and then offered him a huge grin.
Megan giggled. “He is smilin’, Daddy!” she insisted. Roy threw up his hands in mock surrender, then wiggled his fingers and threatened his daughter with the Tickle Monster. Now Megan shrieked with delight. A minute later, she kissed her daddy and her Uncle Johnny, then, at her father’s request, ran outside to join the other children at play, her red curls bouncing.
When they were alone, Roy took the baby from his best friend and cradled him close to his chest. “I never thanked you, Johnny,” he said.
“For what?” Johnny asked.
“For being there for me…. for taking what looked like the worst day of my life and helping me see it was one of the best days… for standing up to Campbell and Hedrick when I was just too much in shock to say what needed to be said.” He shook his head. “I know you took a real tongue-lashing from Brackett over it later and I’m sorry about that.”
Johnny waved his concern away. “Don’t be. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and besides—after the lecture on ‘proper professional etiquette,’ Brackett admitted he’d have done the same thing if he’d been there. When Hedrick started talking about those institutions, I just…” His slight shiver as his voice faded drew Roy’s attention from the baby.
“What?” Roy asked after Johnny was silent for a moment.
“I thought of my little sister, Jesse,” Johnny said softly. “I don’t remember her very well, but she was born with Down Syndrome when I was three. Back then, well… no one thought twice about sending kids like her… like D.J. here... away. My mom took me to visit her once, but the place terrified me. It’s just… seared in my memory. The children—their eyes were hollow… lost. They didn’t talk or play; they just sat there, silent. I never went back and I never saw my sister again. She died of heart failure when she was only four. Mom cried and cried—she wished she’d kept Jesse at home. I overheard her telling Dad how guilty she felt, giving up one of God’s best gifts that way. Mom died a year later—Dad said it was a broken heart that killed her. Jesse’s the reason I asked you to change D.J.’s middle name.” He smiled ruefully. “It just seemed right.”
“It’s perfect,” JoAnne said, blinking back tears as she gave Johnny a sisterly hug. She had come down into the family room with D.J.’s formula and, unnoticed by the two men, had overheard Johnny’s story. Now she sat next to her husband, took the baby in her arms, and tickled his chin lightly before offering him his bottle. “Daniel Jesse DeSoto is absolutely perfect.”
*A placental abruption is when the placenta either partially or completely separates from the wall of the uterus, depriving the unborn baby of oxygen and nutrients.
A/N: If you’d like to hear the song that helped inspire this story, please go to youtube and search for Danny’s Downs, by Michael Kelly Blanchard. In many ways, things have changed for the better for children with Down Syndrome. However, this applies only to those who are allowed to live—in the US, about 90% of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome before birth are aborted. This statistic breaks my heart.
A/N: Any medical mistakes are my own. I researched and hope that I managed to keep things accurate, but I am not any sort of medical professional. I do not own the Emergency characters, but sometimes they get to talking in my head and I have to take dictation.
Posted to Site 4/4/15
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