(What Happened Next)
This picks up where John and Roy are sent to retrieve the missing man at the chemical factory.
Reaching the missing man wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. With sulphuric acid escaping and making the ground too dangerous to walk on, John and Roy were going to have to do some climbing. Their route was circuitous at best and there was no guarantee that the missing man was still alive. The fumes were deadly in and of themselves. Still – they had to try.
It would have been a daunting route even without the dangers that lurked below. The line of pipes that they had to cross had not been build to support two firefighters and they had to work hard to keep their breathing even so that they didn’t use up their air too quickly. That was easier said than done. Worse, the pipes were steaming here and there, showing that they had had some exposure to the fumes or the acid itself.
“Gotta watch our step up here,” Roy called to Johnny as they walked carefully across. “Any more acid and these pipes are gonna cut right loose.”
The words had barely left his mouth when a pipe gave way under Johnny’s foot and he crashed down through, barely catching himself on the adjacent pipe. The stokes flew from his hand and vanished somewhere down below them. “Johnny!” Roy cried and hurried forwards to help his partner climb back up. “Here, gimme your hand.” Johnny was panting but unhurt.
“I’m all right,” he assured Roy, even though his heart was still pounding at twice its normal rate.
Johnny climbed laboriously to his feet and picked his way over the pipes, climbing down thankfully. He leaned against an upright pipe and began to cough. He could feel the acid fumes tickling his throat and it wasn’t pleasant. Roy went on past, allowing Johnny a couple of moments to catch his breath. He could see the man they had been sent to find just ahead. Johnny coughed again. He shouldn’t be feeling the fumes; his regulator must be playing up. He stretched slightly, feeling a pull on the muscles between his shoulders. He remembered the jolt he’d felt on his tank as he fell and he knew that that was when his regulator had been damaged.
“Johnny, I need some help over here,” Roy called, glancing back towards his partner.
Without warning, the pipe suddenly ruptured under Johnny’s hand, blowing out scalding steam. With a cry of surprised, Johnny staggered back, barely catching himself before he fell off the section of roof they were on. His hand was agony and he panted away some more precious air as he tried to control what he was feeling.
Startled, Roy glanced back and saw Johnny hanging onto a pipe for dear life. “Are you okay, Johnny?” Roy called. There wasn’t an immediate answer. “Are you okay?” Roy repeated, wondering how on earth he was going to get two injured men down from the roof.
“Yeah,” Johnny called back, forcing himself upright and tottering forward a few steps. He knew he was anything but all right. “I just scalded my hand.”
“Quick,” Roy urged, gesturing for Johnny to come.
Twiddling with his air mask, Johnny decided Roy had to know what was going on. “I think my air regulator broke,” he shouted, still approaching. He looked up at where Roy was kneeling beside the missing man and they exchanged concerned glances. They had to get out of there and not just for the sake of the man they were sent to rescue.
“He’s still not conscious,” Roy said, not ignoring his partner, but they had to get the civilian out quickly. “Must’ve taken in a lot of this stuff. Let’s get him out of here.”
Working together, they manoeuvred the man down off the pipes. Roy supported his shoulders and Johnny picked up his feet. Together, they headed towards the area where the engine was, knowing that their colleagues would help them get him down. Johnny was still coughing and his burned hand was really sore.
As they came closer to where the firefighters were working, the water in the air helped disperse the fumes and their victim began to come round. It was just as well, Johnny was at the end of his endurance. His eyes stung and his throat was raw. He coughed continuously and was beginning to feel light headed as his air was further contaminated.
From below, they could hear Captain Stanley ordering a life line shot over to them. Roy left the worker with Johnny as he climbed up onto the pipes to catch the line. He hoped there were other paramedics there, as he would need another pair of hands at least.
Chet’s shot with the life line was perfect. Roy grabbed the line and pulled it in, securing it to the pipe work. He then leant down and assisted their victim up and secured one of the lifebelts around him. “Pull yourself hand over hand,” Roy instructed and saw the man nod slightly. After a momentary hesitation, the man pushed off. Roy watched him for a moment to make sure he was going to make it and then offered Johnny his hand.
As the curtain of water hit him, Johnny pushed his helmet off and dragged down his air mask. He felt like he was barely getting any air into his lungs. He coughed again. “Here,” Roy offered. “Let me help you.” He buckled the lifebelt around Johnny’s slender waist, seeing the difficulty his friend had breathing. He was reassured that the ambulance was on site already, because Johnny needed to get into hospital as fast as the worker did.
Without any hesitation, Johnny pushed himself off and began to drag himself hand over hand along the rope. He was finding it harder and harder to breathe and knew that if he took too long to get over he would pass out on the rope and require rescuing. With a gasp of relief, he felt the engine roof under his feet. Chet and Mike were helping the injured worker down into the arms of another paramedic and he took a step over to get out of their way. His legs started to give underneath him and with relief he felt Chet’s arms going around his waist, supporting him. Vaguely, he saw hands reaching to unclip the lifebelt from the rope, but he never saw the action completed, as he passed out.
Anxiously, as they supported their unconscious friend, Mike and Chet waited for Roy to complete the journey to the engine.
Between them, Mike, Chet and Roy got Johnny down from the engine. While Roy ran over to the squad to get his gear, Mike and Chet carried Johnny over and laid him gently on the blanket Roy spread on the wet ground after helping Roy take Johnny’s helmet and air tank off. “Thanks,” Roy nodded, knowing that they had to get back to fighting the spillage, but wishing that they could stay to help all the same.
Grabbing the stethoscope and BP cuff, Roy wrestled Johnny out of his turnout coat He wrapped the BP cuff around his arm and then affixed the oxygen mask. Johnny’s breathing was noisy and harsh. Tears seeped out from beneath his red and swollen eyelids.
It was difficult to remain professional when treating someone close to you. Roy had done it many times, but it didn’t get any easier. He gathered Johnny’s vitals, although hearing the BP over the noise from around him was hard. He reached for the biophone.
“Rampart, this is squad 51, how do you read?”
“Go ahead, 51,” Brackett’s voice responded.
“Rampart, we have a 26 year old paramedic down with respiratory difficulties after inhaling sulphuric acid fumes during a rescue. Vitals are BP 130/70, respirations 25 and laboured and pulse 120. I have him on 10 litres of O2 by mask. He is unconscious at this time.” Roy looked down at Johnny as his friend began to cough and stir. “Rampart, be advised the victim is John Gage. He also has a burn on his right hand after getting scalded by escaping steam.”
“10-4, 51,” Brackett acknowledged. “Start an IV normal saline. 51, is the hand scalded or burned?”
“The hand has first and second degree burns,” Roy replied, picking it up and turning it over. Johnny resisted slightly. Roy looked down and saw Johnny opening his eyes. “Rampart, the victim has regained consciousness.”
“All right, 51, apply a burn pack to the hand. Keep him on oxygen and transport as soon as possible. Keep us updated with vitals every five minutes.”
“10-4.” Roy repeated the treatment back to Brackett, then put down the phone to retrieve a burn pack.
When he got back to Johnny’s side a few minutes later, Johnny was struggling to sit up and had taken off the oxygen. “Keep that on!” Roy ordered. “You need it.”
“Can’t breathe,” Johnny croaked, putting a hand onto his chest, as though that would help. He was starting to look panicky.
“It’s all right,” Roy soothed. “Keep the mask on and that will help.” He moved Johnny slightly so that his partner could lean against the squad. He noticed that Johnny was starting to use his auxiliary muscles to help breathe. That was not a good sign.
“No,” Johnny gasped. “No... can’t ...breathe...” He moved restlessly.
“Just take it easy,” Roy urged and looked over his shoulder to see if there was any help around. The ambulance was on site, but the attendants had not brought the gurney over yet, having been advised to stay in the vehicle until Roy called them. The noise from the hoses was deafening. “I need some help over here!” Roy shouted and hoped that someone would hear him.
Luckily someone did – Cap. He had been coming over anyway to see how Johnny was doing. “Roy? What do you need?” he asked.
“Cap, can you keep the oxygen on him?” Roy asked. “I’ve got to start an IV and dress his hand.”
Kneeling, Cap put his hand on Johnny’s arm and held it down to allow Roy to start the IV. “Hey, pal, take it easy,” he cajoled. “Roy’s gonna fix you right up.”
While Cap tried to keep Johnny calm, Roy quickly inserted an IV and applied the burns pack. He took a fresh set of vitals and beckoned to the ambulance attendants. “Rampart, this is squad 51. New vitals. Johnny is conscious and distressed. Respirations up to 35 and he is using accessory muscles to breathe. BP is now 140/70. We are about to transport, Rampart.”
“10-4, 51. Keep him as upright as possible. Have an oesophageal airway standing by in case.”
“10-4, Rampart,” Roy agreed and hoped that he wouldn’t have to use one.
Johnny was still trying to fight the oxygen and IV, but he was tiring rapidly. His voice was also disappearing and Roy hoped that its loss didn’t signal that Johnny had burns in his throat. He had not thought to check and Johnny was now too distressed to allow him to look. Any swelling in his airway would make intubation difficult.
As the gurney was loaded into the ambulance, Cap took Roy’s arm. “We’ll catch you at the hospital. We seem to have this leak under control, so we hopefully won’t be out too long. Is he going to be all right?”
“I hope so,” Roy replied and climbed inside. Cap closed the doors and gave the customary two taps and watched the ambulance drive away, lights flashing. Then he resolutely turned his thoughts back to the emergency at hand.
Johnny continued to deteriorate on the way in. His breathing got faster and shallower, his pulse rate increased and his BP started falling. Johnny was too breathless to speak now, but his eyes betrayed his panic. His head lolled on the backrest of the stretcher and his irritated eyes continued to stream tears. Johnny’s lips were faintly blue under the oxygen mask. He didn’t appear to notice the pain from his burned hand, which was probably just as well, as Brackett wouldn’t authorise a painkiller that could depress his breathing any further. Roy really didn’t want to have the ambulance pull over so he could intubate and he was more than glad when Rampart was in sight.
“He’s cyanotic, respirations up to 38 and shallow, pulse 140 and BP 100/60,” Roy reported. “He’s semi-conscious at best.” Johnny’s eyes were almost closed and his head lolled limply.
Immediately, Brackett started issuing orders for medicines that would open Johnny’s airways. Dixie drew a blood gas, then began cutting off Johnny’s soaking uniform. He was visibly shivering. She gently draped a warmed blanket over his naked form. That done, she turned her attention to washing out his eyes with saline.
“You said sulphuric acid fumes?” Brackett asked Roy. “How did Johnny get exposed to them?” He knew the firefighters would have been wearing their SCBAs around a chemical leak.
“We had to rescue a guy who was stuck on a roof,” Roy explained. “But we had to go in a roundabout way and walk across some pipes. They were getting pretty corroded, and one of them gave way under Johnny’s foot. He went down and must have banged his regulator on the pipes, either when he fell or when I helped him back up. We lost the stokes entirely. After we got off the pipes, Johnny was coughing. He was leaning on a pipe when it suddenly burst and that’s when his hand got burned. We got the guy down – he should be here by now – and while we were waiting to go across on the lifeline, Johnny took his mask off. He was struggling a bit even then and he passed out after he got safely over to the engine.”
“The other man is here,” Brackett confirmed. “Mike Morton is with him. I don’t know how he’s doing.” He looked thoughtfully at Johnny. “That explains how Johnny ended up like this. He’s not doing all that well at the moment. He must be ultra-sensitive to the fumes.”
“He would be,” Roy commented wryly.
“How are you feeling?” Brackett asked. “Are you all right?”
“Soaked through but fine,” Roy assured him. “They had a curtain of water over the lifeline so we got washed off on the way over. I’m fine, doc.”
“Why don’t you go and have a shower?” Brackett suggested. “We can loan you some scrubs.”
For a moment, Roy hesitated. Scrubs were not the warmest of garments, but they would have the advantage of being dry. He was reluctant to leave Johnny, but reasoned that he might be better to do it now, while his partner was still pretty much out of things, and then he would be around and comfortable when Johnny was ready for company. “Yeah, thanks, I think I will,” Roy accepted.
“There’s nothing you can do here right now, anyway,” Brackett confirmed, guessing Roy’s thoughts. “We’re at the ‘wait and see’ point of his treatment.” He ushered Roy towards the door. “Go on, get dry.”
While Roy went off to dry off, Brackett crossed back over to his patient. Johnny was still breathing harshly, but his eyes were no longer streaming. That was a positive sign. “Johnny?” Brackett asked. “How do you feel?”
The red, irritated eyes moved slowly to find his face. Johnny looked utterly miserable. He opened his mouth and his lips moved but no sound came out. His eyes widened in panic and his breathing grew harsher.
“Hey, easy,” Brackett soothed. He wasn’t entirely surprised that Johnny had lost his voice after the chemical exposure, but it could be a sign of worse things. “I need to look at your throat, Johnny.” He glanced at Dixie. “Vitals?”
“Pulse is still racing at 110,” she reported. “His BP is dropping a bit, 90/65 and respirations are 33. His sats are 91 on 15 litres of oxygen.”
Those were not the figures that Brackett wanted to hear. Johnny’s BP should be stabilising with the fluids and his breathing should be improving, but it wasn’t. Even with the breathing treatments he had just received, Johnny was still not getting enough air. “Let me look at your throat,” he repeated and Dixie took off the oxygen mask.
In the few short minutes it took Brackett to look at Johnny’s throat, his breathing deteriorated. Brackett wasn’t surprised. There was considerable swelling in the tissues of the throat and it looked pink. It wasn’t burned by the fumes, as such, but certainly it was very affected by them.
“Start him on steroids,” Brackett ordered as he replaced the oxygen mask, “and I want a chest x-ray. Meanwhile, let’s look at your hand.”
Leaning back against the raised head of the exam bed, Johnny just looked at Brackett. He felt like he was suffocating and it was getting harder and harder to stay awake. His body weighed several tons and moving was almost beyond his capabilities. His thinking was becoming muddled and he wondered why nothing was being done to help him. Why were they just standing there when he was dying? Johnny wanted to scream out his fear but his voice had deserted him and he was going to die because his so-called friends hadn’t noticed how ill he was.
In his struggles with his breathing, Johnny hadn’t noticed the pain from his burned hand. But he felt it now as Brackett removed the dressings Roy had put on it and started to look it over. With a gargantuan effort, Johnny snatched his hand back, pushing Brackett away with the other arm and pulling out his IV.
“Damn!” Brackett swore. “Johnny, calm down. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He reached for the paramedic’s hand again, but Johnny was having none of it. He fought with the little strength he had left, flailing his arms and legs, pushing at Dixie and Brackett until he over balanced and crashed off the gurney onto the floor.
The shock of the fall winded Johnny and he gasped ineffectually for breath. The oxygen mask was still on his face, but the tubing had been ripped from the wall and he wasn’t getting enough air. Panicking, Johnny tried to sit up, but his body wasn’t taking instructions from his mind anymore and he slumped to the cold floor. His world narrowed to a pinprick of light and then it went out.
“Damn!” Brackett wondered how on earth things had suddenly gone so wrong. He knelt by his unconscious patient and ripped the mask off. “Respiratory arrest!” he cried. “Give me the ambu bag and get someone in here to help!” He snatched the bag from Dixie’s hand and affixed it over Johnny’s face, positioning him to get the best ventilation.
It took Dixie only moments to find help and several pairs of hands helped place Johnny back on the exam bed. Dix took over breathing for Johnny while Brackett dropped the head of the table and prepared to intubate. He took a deliberate deep breath to calm himself before placing the tube. Dixie hooked it up to the ventilator and Brackett listened to Johnny’s chest, testing the placement. There were crackles aplenty, but at least the tube was in place.
“All right, let’s sedate him for now and get on with things,” Brackett growled. He wasn’t angry at anyone but himself. How had he not noticed that Johnny was so upset? He reached for Johnny’s arm and began to extract the IV cannula which had been left behind when the IV pulled out. There was a little bleeding, but nothing requiring more than a band aid. Dixie quickly started another IV.
With that done, Brackett turned his attention to Johnny’s hand. However, he hadn’t done more than look when x-ray arrived and he had to leave the room. He followed Dixie to the base station and leaned against her desk and drew several deep breaths.
“How could I let that happen?” he asked, looking at Dixie.
“You didn’t let it happen,” she chided him gently. “It just did. I didn’t think Johnny had enough strength to fight us off, but he did. Hypoxia does strange things. How did his throat look?”
“Pink and swollen, but I’ve seen worse. But his chest doesn’t sound good. We’ll need to keep an eye on him for pulmonary oedema. Since he’s on a ventilator, we’ll have to admit him to ICU.” Brackett chewed his lip thoughtfully. “I wonder how the other guy is.”
The ‘other guy’ was not doing well at all. Dr Mike Morton was fighting a similar battle to the one Brackett was waging, but at the moment, the tide was against him. Although the worker had regained consciousness at the scene and been aware enough to go across the lifeline alone, he had deteriorated quite quickly in the ambulance and the paramedic had been doing CPR when they arrived. Although the worker was now hooked up to a ventilator, it was doubtful if he was going to pull through. Morton had done everything he could.
“Take him up to ICU,” he ordered, his voice heavy with defeat. He left the treatment room and didn’t look back.
The portable x-ray machine was just coming out of the treatment room as Roy returned. He felt a bit warmer, although putting back on wet underwear, socks and shoes was no joy. Still, he felt more optimistic – right up until the moment he saw Dr Brackett’s face. “What is it?” he asked anxiously.
Quickly, Brackett brought him up to date. Roy now looked as grave as Brackett. “Is Johnny going to be all right?” he asked, knowing very well that there was every chance that Brackett didn’t know the answer.
“I hope so, Roy,” Brackett answered honestly. “I’ll do everything in my power to make him all right, you know that. I dropped the ball in there earlier and I’m sorry.”
“Doc, it could have been worse,” Roy soothed. “And we all know that Johnny can’t be predicted.”
Together, they entered the treatment room. Johnny was lying peacefully. Brackett went over and started to examine the burned hand while Roy went over to look down on his partner’s still face. Johnny’s colour was better on the vent and given how distressed Johnny had been, perhaps it was better this way.
His burned hand had been treated and dressed by the time the x-rays arrived back. Brackett took the packet and went over to the light box. Roy remained with Johnny, grateful that the burns on his hand were not serious. As Johnny’s next of kin, he knew that Brackett would tell him what the x-rays showed.
“There’s a hint of pulmonary oedema,” Brackett said, gravely. “I’m going to start Johnny on some IV diuretics and take a repeat x-ray tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ll transfer him to ICU. Depending on what the x-ray says, I’ll cut right back on the sedation and see how he does breathing over the vent before I take the tube out.”
“All right,” Roy nodded. He turned back to Johnny as Brackett crossed to the phone to contact ICU. “You’re going to be fine, Junior,” he promised. “I’ll be there when you wake up.”
“There’s going to be a slight delay before we get Johnny upstairs,” Brackett explained as he came back over. “The man you rescued has just been admitted in ICU, too and the beds are full right now. However, they are just waiting for someone to be transferred to neuro, so it’ll only be about an hour, while they do the transfer and get ready of Johnny. Can you stay or do you have to go back on duty?”
“I can stay till someone picks me up,” Roy replied. “And I’ll be going back on duty once Johnny’s replacement comes in. So, yes and no.”
Laughing, Brackett nodded. “Stay here as long as you like. I’ll get someone to come in to be with Johnny and I’ll get Dix to let you know when someone comes for you. Don’t worry, Roy, I’m sure Johnny will be all right.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Roy replied gratefully.
It was impossible not to worry, Roy thought as Brackett left and Kel Brackett knew that as well as Roy did. It wasn’t that long ago that Dr Joe Early had had to have emergency heart by-pass surgery. It had gone very well and Joe was back on duty and absolutely fine, but Brackett had almost worried himself into an early grave that day. “Small wonder I’m going bald,” he told Johnny.
Probably about 10 minutes had passed before Dixie put her head round the door and told Roy that the rest of the crew had arrived. He nodded and patted Johnny’s shoulder and bid him goodbye before heading outside. Chet was standing anxiously beside the squad and the engine was waiting for them up at the road.
“How’s Gage?” Chet asked, climbing into the squad.
“Brackett thinks he’ll be okay,” Roy replied, wishing he had something more definite to report. “He’s on a ventilator right now, but hopefully can come off it tomorrow.”
“A ventilator?” Chet echoed in dismay. “That’s not good.”
“It could be worse,” Roy retorted, wishing Chet had not put his own anxieties into words.
“What about the other guy?” asked Chet, timidly.
“He’s in ICU,” Roy sighed. “I can’t tell you more than that though.”
A blessed silence fell as they drove back. Roy was not in the mood for chat, although he knew he would have to tell the other guys about Johnny when they got back to the barn. However, his first priority was to put on some dry clothes. He could feel the damp soaking through the butt of the scrubs. Perhaps he would grab another shower, and warm up properly this time. A cup of coffee and something to eat, maybe a nap... He would feel human again after all that, he was sure.
There wasn’t going to be time for all of that. Dwyer was coming in to cover the rest of Johnny’s shift and would be there shortly. Roy went to change and then joined the other men at the table for a lunch of soup and sandwiches – quick and easy. While they ate, Roy told them about Johnny. Cap traded turns with the others telling Roy about the end of the clean up. “Johnny and the worker were the only casualties,” Cap concluded. “The cloud of fumes dispersed before it reached those homes on the east side.”
“It could have been a lot worse,” Roy agreed. As it was, things were bad enough.
The phone rang. Roy was closest and rose to answer it. “Fire Station 51, Fireman DeSoto speaking.”
“Roy, its Dixie,” came the familiar voice. “I’ve got some bad news.”
For a horrible moment, Roy really thought the worst had happened. In that moment – which seemed to stretch for eternity – he wondered how he could go on without John Gage in his world. Johnny drove him nuts half the time, but his passing would leave a huge gaping hole in his life and his heart. Roy had only ever paid lip service to the notion that all firefighters were brothers. He knew a lot of firefighters that he would be happy to never see again; firefighters who were only in the job to get glory, who didn’t care about the public they were sworn to serve. But that was before he had met Johnny.
Somehow, as they had gone through training together, they had become friends and by the time they had completed training and were responding with a nurse, waiting for the bill to pass, they bonded even more deeply. Johnny had become the brother that Roy had never had. They complimented each other.
It had taken some time for Joanne to come around. The stories of Johnny’s atrocious table manners repulsed her, but when she did eventually invite him for dinner, he had not spoken with his mouth full, or shovelled in huge mouthfuls or any of the other things Roy had gleefully told her about. Joanne thought Roy had been exaggerating and accepted Johnny. They had since become fast friends and he frequently did show off the atrocious table manners that he was infamous for.
Roy’s children adored Johnny, too and he was very good with them. In fact, Johnny had somehow entwined himself into the core of Roy’s family and Roy thought it was great. Johnny was also the core of Station 51, although he never went out of his way to make himself so. That was just the way he was. Roy thought that none of them would ever recover from his loss.
“Roy, are you still there?” Dixie sounded puzzled and worried.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here,” he croaked.
“Roy, I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” Dixie went on briskly, “but the man you and Johnny rescued from that chemical plant died a few minutes ago.”
“Oh,” Roy said, the single syllable devoid of any nuance. The world had regained the sweet colours and scents that made it such a wonderful place to live. His heart was singing and if he was a dancing man, he would have done a dance on the spot. He felt as light as a feather, as though nothing would ever trouble him again. “I see.” He was so relieved that he was having problems thinking. He hoped the tones would not go off right then. Driving was probably beyond his capabilities at that moment. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“You’re welcome,” Dixie responded, sounding slightly puzzled. “Johnny is settled into ICU and looks a bit better.”
“Thanks,” Roy nodded. He hung up and looked round. The others were watching him. Drawing a deep breath, Roy attempted to anchor himself in reality again. “Dixie called to say the worker just died.”
As he had expected, the news was a downer for the other men. They had tried so hard to get the worker to safety and their efforts had been in vain. Losing a victim was not easy and yet Roy did not feel as down as normal. He attributed the fact to his initial fear that it was Johnny who had died and the relief that was still bursting in joyous bubbles through his veins that his fear had not been realised.
He sat down to finish eating.
“He’s developed pulmonary oedema,” Brackett reported when Roy phoned first thing in the morning. “I’m keeping him on the vent until tomorrow. It isn’t too bad, so we’re not worrying about it.”
“What about the worker who died?” Roy asked.
“He had inhaled the fumes for a lot longer than Johnny,” Brackett reminded him. “And Johnny had had some protection from his mask right up until his regulator broke. I’m sure he’s going to be fine, Roy. Go home and have some sleep and if you must come in, make it later this afternoon or this evening.”
“All right, thanks, doc,” Roy sighed. He was bone tired. They hadn’t been toned out through the night, but Roy’s dreams, despite his earlier relief, had been populated with dark images and he had seen every hour on the clock. A few hours of peaceful sleep at home was, literally, just what the doctor had ordered.
The scene in ICU was familiar, but no less disquieting for that. Roy sat down by Johnny’s bed and looked at his comatose friend. At the moment, Johnny was lying on his right side, supported by pillows behind him. His bandaged right hand rested on a separate pillow. A BP cuff was around his left arm and the latest reading was completely normal. His heart rate showed a nice resting 68 and his respirations were assisted at 15. All in all, things were looking up.
Johnny was hooked up to a drip that fed fluids, antibiotics and diuretics into his veins. The urine collection bag was three quarters filled with almost clear liquid and Roy guessed that the drugs were working. His partner’s colour was good, but Roy hated to see him like this.
“I wish you’d quit doing this to me,” he whispered. A few weeks previously, Johnny had slipped climbing a ladder on a metal tower and had fallen, hitting his ribs. Roy had helped him down onto the nearest platform before continuing on to rescue what had turned out to be a dummy. Scurrying down to check on Johnny, Roy had been convinced his friend had broken ribs and a pneumothorax at the very least, with probably internal bleeding to boot. To find Johnny on his feet and breathing more easily with every minute that passed was a huge relief, but he hadn’t relaxed until after Johnny had had x-rays and been thoroughly checked by the doctor. “Johnny, you’re a disaster magnet.”
There was no sign or movement from the man on the bed, but Roy hadn’t really thought there would be. It hadn’t stopped him hoping though.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Roy told him, rising.
When Johnny finally came round the following afternoon, he felt extremely hung over. His head was thumping and something was stuck in his throat. He lifted a hand to grab whatever it was, but his wrist was gently caught and he finally prised open his gritty eyes to see his partner holding on just below Johnny’s bandage wrapped hand. “Easy,” Roy urged.
Blinking, and still not shifting the irritation in his eyes, Johnny came to the realisation that he was in Rampart again, although he had no idea why. All right, he had hurt his hand, but that was no reason for him to be on a vent, as he now recognised the tube down his throat. He ached to ask questions – mainly when was he getting rid of the bloody tube! – but it proved an effective gag.
“You’re breathing over the vent, Johnny,” Brackett told him coming into view. “I’m going to let you come to for a few more minutes and see how you’re doing and then if everything is ok, we’ll pull it.”
It was difficult to stay awake, especially since his gritty eyes were more comfortable closed, but Johnny persevered and was rewarded a little while later by Brackett taking the tube out. He sucked gratefully on the water that Roy held to his lips and flopped back against the pillows, totally exhausted.
“You probably won’t be able to talk for a few days, Johnny,” Brackett told him. “I need to ask you some questions. Do you remember what happened?”
It was a yes or no question, but Johnny wanted to answer perhaps. He made do with screwing up his face, and hoped that Roy at least would understand. He did. “I don’t think he’s sure, doc,” Roy interpreted.
“You were at a chemical plant,” Brackett prompted and memory came rushing back. He nodded vigorously. He remembered the malfunctioning regulator and burning his hand and looked down at it in understanding. It didn’t hurt much and he guessed he still had quite a lot of the sedative drugs in his system.
Lifting his head, he tried his voice. “What about the worker?” he asked, but not a sound came out.
“Johnny, the sulphuric acid fumes you inhaled have affected your voice. It’ll come back, but you mustn’t try to speak because we don’t want you to strain your voice. Remember you’ve had a tube down your throat, too, which will have irritated things. Your eyes possibly feel a bit gritty because of that still?” Brackett nodded when Johnny nodded. “Yes, I thought they might. We’ll wash them out again with saline, but I would imagine by tomorrow you’ll feel a lot better all round. Your hand is healing nicely. You’ve had some pulmonary oedema, but it’s clearing away nicely. I’m afraid that you’ll be on the IV and have the Foley until it’s completely clear.”
That wasn’t what Johnny wanted to hear at all. He wanted to be able to go home, today if possible and tomorrow at the latest. By the sounds of things, he could be here for a week! And that was another question he wanted to ask – how long had he been asleep?
Seeing that Johnny was preparing to wind himself up, Brackett forestalled him. “We’re going to move you to a regular room and then I think you ought to have something to eat and a sleep – not necessarily in that order – and we’ll answer all your questions later. All right?”
It wasn’t really, but Johnny was pretty tired, which was ridiculous when he considered how long he could have been out for, and so he nodded. Orderlies came in at once and Johnny realised that Brackett hadn’t been kidding about him moving. Roy stayed with him for the whole move and there was a plate of scrambled eggs waiting for him when he arrived. They were even still hot and he ate them tentatively, for his throat was a bit sore, but he thought they tasted heavenly.
Johnny had intended on staying awake a bit longer, but when the nurse came to wash out his eyes, she found he was already asleep and Roy had tucked him in solicitously.
When he wakened later in the evening, it was dark and he was alone. His hand was a bit sore and he was thirsty and couldn’t see any water anywhere. A thorough hunt around the bed finally unearthed the call button and he pressed it. A few minutes later, the nurse appeared in the doorway, the lights from the hall behind her blinding him. “Yes?”
He had no voice, he remembered as he tried to speak. He beckoned to her and she reluctantly came into the room, switching on the overhead lights and further blinding him. “Yes?” The tone was edged with impatience. Johnny wondered how come he always got the horrible nurses, when he knew there were lots of nice nurses working at Rampart.
It took several repeated mimings of drinking before the message got through. With an impatient huff, the nurse went off to get him some water, poured some and handed it to him. She turned to leave and Johnny reached to catch her arm, missing, but still brushing her with his fingertips.
“I’m busy,” she enunciated in an exaggerated fashion. “What do you want?”
Furious at her attitude, Johnny held up his hand. The nurse simply looked at him. Mouth pursed tightly, Johnny pointed to his hand and winced. There was still no reaction. He did it again. And again. Finally the nurse asked, “Can you not talk?”
At last! Johnny shook his head. He pointed to his hand and winced again. “I’ll just go and look at your chart,” the nurse said and disappeared.
Frustration had Johnny throwing the blankets back and starting to get out of bed when the nurse returned with another nurse in tow. Dixie! With a sigh of relief, Johnny slumped back. Dixie would know what to do and help him. “Hi, Johnny,” Dixie greeted him cheerfully. “This is Linda, your nurse. She’s new to the job and she wasn’t quite sure what you needed.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand,” Linda apologised. “It’s all a bit different doing it yourself than being a student nurse.”
Understandingly, Johnny nodded his forgiveness. He could see that it would be quite overwhelming initially. He held his hand up again and winced. Dixie smiled. “I’ve brought it,” she promised and shot the painkiller into his IV line.
“Sorry,” Linda said again as she left.
Smiling, Dixie sorted Johnny’s bed out, tucking him in and making him comfortable. “Are you hungry?” she asked. Johnny nodded. “I thought you might be, so I’ve ordered something for you. It should be here soon, but I can’t promise more than sandwiches.” A roll of the eyes indicated that Johnny didn’t care as long as it was food.
Since she was off duty, Dixie stayed with Johnny until he had eaten, chatting away about this and that. Johnny wanted to know about the worker, but Dixie wasn’t prepared to tell him yet and pretended not to understand. As she had expected, the combination of food and drugs made him drowsy and he fell asleep before she left.
Telling him the bad news would be someone else’s job.
In the morning, Dr Brackett told him. “I’m sorry, but he didn’t make it.”
Stunned, Johnny just looked at the doctor. He knew that if he hadn’t had the protection of his air mask, despite the broken regulator, that could have been him, too. It was a sobering thought. He looked down at his hands for a few moments, then sighed deeply. They had done everything they could for the guy and Johnny knew that. Sometimes, they just couldn’t win. He nodded to Brackett.
“You’ll be here for another three days at least,” Brackett told him, seeing that Johnny was ready to hear more. “I’m going to start weaning you off the diuretics and I want to do a chest x-ray every day to make sure that the pulmonary oedema stays away. I don’t think there’ll be a problem because your chest is sounding good. When you’re released, you can finish the course of antibiotics orally at home. And you were on them to prevent you getting pneumonia when you were on the vent,” he added before Johnny could make an interruption of some kind to ask. “By then, I expect you’ll have your voice back, too. We’ll remove the Foley this morning and get you up on your feet. Just take it easy and don’t do too much today, all right?” His voice held a warning tone and he fixed Johnny with a steady look, knowing the paramedic hated to be confined to bed or a chair.
Delighted to be getting rid of the hated catheter, Johnny nodded enthusiastically. He would have agreed to almost anything just to get rid of the Foley. He was sure he could manage to do more walking than Brackett wanted without anyone finding out.
Smiling, Brackett thrust his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “I’ll see you later on then,” he promised and left.
Being up and around made a huge difference to Johnny’s state of mind. Although he didn’t get to make any solo excursions, Roy took him in a wheelchair to the cafeteria for something more to eat and he was able to take a few turns around the room. Even just walking to the bathroom was a pleasure.
When Johnny was released, right on schedule, he could talk again, albeit very hoarsely. Brackett decreed that he could return to work in a couple of shifts, even if his voice wasn’t 100% better. Johnny was pleased. He knew that having no voice would take him off search and rescue, but he hated to sit around and he was climbing the walls in the hospital by then.
It was good to be back at work. Chet had made surprisingly few comments about his brush with death and his squeaky voice.
They were sitting at the table eating when Cap asked if they wanted to know who had won the inventing competition. None of them did, although Roy politely asked. When the answer came that it was a canvas spanner sleeve – which Johnny and Roy had been planning to make – the rest of the crew found a huge plus in Johnny’s strained vocal cords.
Making more than a couple of spluttered comments – with his mouth full, of course – was beyond him. Stymied in his attempt to rant, Gage settled for about the only thing he could say.
“Pass the butter.”
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