Into the Lion’s Den
Based on the episode ‘Nagging Suspicion’
The episode begins with a call to the zoo, where a woman has fallen into the lion’s enclosure. Johnny goes down to rescue her and escapes by the skin of his teeth. This is what should have happened.
The call came in early on in the shift. “Station 51, woman down. 1200 Park Lane, the zoo. Cross Street Elm, time out 10.35.”
It wasn’t an unusual call to get, although it was a bit early in the day for someone to have passed out through low blood sugar or felt faint through dehydration. Perhaps this time someone had tripped and fallen. They would find out when they got there, but there wasn’t a man on the team who wasn’t wondering what they were going out to.
They were waved into the zoo by the gatekeeper, who pointed them up one of the narrow pathways. Further up, they could see one of the zoo trucks and a zoo keeper with a rifle in his hands. That was not good news, and as they pulled to a halt, Johnny and Roy exchanged looks.
“What’ve we got?” Cap asked.
“A lady climbed the fence to get a picture and fell into the pit,” the keeper explained. “The lion bit her. It’s not our fault.”
At once, Roy and Johnny vaulted the waist-high chain link fence. Cap followed them and all three peered down into the lion’s den. The lady lay on her back at the bottom of the 10 foot-plus drop. They could see she had a serious bite to her left thigh.
“We’ve hit the cat with a tranquilizer,” the keeper said.
“How long will it take to work?” Cap asked, as his paramedics vaulted back over the fence to grab their equipment and ropes.
“I don’t know,” the keeper replied. “Each animal is different in how they react. But I can’t give him another lot for half an hour. I don’t want to kill him.”
Cap grimaced, but it wasn’t the lion’s fault. The woman should have known better than to climb over the fence. Now, one of his men was going to have to take his chances with the lion to save her life and Cap was not happy about that thought. The woman couldn’t wait for half an hour for rescue.
“I’m going down,” Johnny told Roy. The moment he had seen the set up, he had known one thing for certain. There was no way he was going to allow Roy to go down into that pit. If anyone was going to end up as Leo’s lunch, it was going to be him.
Even though he felt he ought to protest, Roy didn’t. The last thing he wanted to do was go down into a pit with a lion inside it. He wouldn’t for all the world have admitted how scared he was of doing it, but he was willing to back off this one time. Besides, he knew why Johnny was so insistent – his partner was determined that Joanne and the kids would not be left without the bread winner. Normally Roy argued that he should take his fair share of the risks, but not this time.
As Johnny tied off his rope to the fence, Roy set up the biophone and opened the drug box. Cap ordered Mike to pull an inch and a half hose. While Mike did that and Johnny checked his knots, Roy opened the biophone and contacted Rampart.
“We have a female, aged about 30, who has fallen into the lion enclosure at the zoo,” Roy told Dixie, who was at the base station. “She’s been bitten on the left thigh, but we haven’t got any vitals yet and we are preparing to extricate her. Please stand by.”
“Standing by,” Dixie acknowledged and put out a page for Dr Brackett.
Satisfied that his line was secure, Johnny crossed to the edge and looked down. The lion was roaring rather drunkenly from his perch on the rocks almost opposite where Johnny stood. Taking a deep breath, Johnny started down slowly. He knew if he’d lingered any longer his courage would have failed him.
Landing, he looked up at the lion again. It was about 6 feet above him and about 8 feet back. Johnny was pretty sure it could cover such a distance in a single bound, but he had to ignore it. He knelt quickly by the lady, who lay on her back. She moaned slightly. “Shh,” Johnny soothed. He looked her over quickly, seeing various lacerations and contusions but the worst injury appeared to be the bite. “Send me down a kurlix and a pad,” he called.
At once, Roy obliged and Johnny caught the objects neatly. However, the lion didn’t seem impressed by his catching skills, or else he didn’t care for Roy’s throwing style, but either way, it moved down the steps cut into the enclosure until it was on the same level as Johnny. Johnny watched, his body twisted around. The woman moaned again and Johnny shushed her, putting his fingers on her lips. The lion stopped and sat down, still growling to itself.
In this kind of situation, Johnny would have called for a backboard and c-collar, but that would require someone else to come down into the pit and Johnny thought the lion was agitated enough as it was. He would have to take the risk and transfer her into the stokes alone and pray she didn’t have a spinal injury.
“Stoker, if he starts to charge, hit him with a stream,” Cap ordered. There was pretty much silence up top as the others were afraid to do anything that might startle the lion. The keeper was still clutching his rifle, but offering no suggestions. Cap ignored him. He wasn’t sure how many times the man had told them it wasn’t their fault the woman had fallen in. Whose fault it was hardly was the issue at the moment.
Working quickly, Johnny placed the pad on the wound and started winding the kurlix around it to stop the bleeding. He kept looking over his shoulder anxiously, as the lion was now pacing and roaring again. It settled down for a moment about the time he finished bandaging.
“Send down the stokes,” Johnny ordered quietly. Slowly, Chet and Roy lowered the metal basket down. The lion roared and got to its feet again.
Moving as slowly and carefully as possible, Johnny moved to the other side of the woman and unclipped the ties on the stokes so he had free access. Gently, he lifted the injured woman and placed her inside the basket. He ignored the blanket they would usually use to cover the patient, for shaking out the plastic sheet was sure to irritate the lion. Still keeping a wary eye on his feline companion, Johnny tightened the straps over their victim and reattached the lines to the rope.
He had to put his back to the lion again. Drawing another deep breath, Johnny stepped around the stokes and took the guide rope. “Pull her up,” he urged quietly.
At once, the slack on the rope was taken up and the basket lifted. Johnny was too busy guiding it, keeping tension on his rope to look at the lion. He took a step backwards to bring the basket out slightly to make it easier to get it over the lip of the drop. He watched as Roy and Chet maneuvered it onto the ledge and then picked it up. Johnny dropped his rope and wiped his shaking hands down his pants.
From habit, he leaned down to pick up the litter from the pad he had used. The paper crinkled loudly in the enclosure as he crumpled it up and jammed it in his pants pocket. He reached for the rope as the loudest growl yet sounded from behind.
Instinctively, he turned and saw a tawny blur lunging at him. He made a grab for the rope and jumped off the ground, frantically pulling himself up.
A huge paw swiped at him and knocked him from the rope. Johnny tumbled to the ground, sensing rather than seeing the lion coming after him. His legs were already agony and Johnny was completely unprepared for the heavy blow that knocked him across the enclosure. His head struck the wall and he knew no more.
As the lion leapt for Johnny, none of the men watching above could believe their eyes. They gazed in horror as the youngest crew member was knocked from the rope and batted across the enclosure like a toy. It was only as he slumped to the ground, the lion looming over him, that Cap came back to life. “Hit him!” he ordered Stoker and the stunned engineer fumbled with the nozzle, allowing the water to come out. It hit the lion in the side, driving the beast sideways away from its hapless victim.
Whirling, Cap faced the keeper. “Can you shoot the lion again?” he asked.
Glancing at his watch, the keeper shook his head. “Not for another 15 minutes,” he said.
Biting back the curses he wanted to fling to the skies, Cap quickly weighed their options. They could not keep the water on the big cat for long; that would be cruelty. Indeed, he signaled to Mike to cut the stream. Injuring the animal would not help. On the other hand, they couldn’t leave Johnny down there injured for a quarter of an hour, even if they did use the hose intermittently to keep the cat at bay. What the hell was he going to do?
A groan floated up from below and Cap hurried to the edge and leaned over. Johnny was still lying against the side wall of the enclosure, but he was moving slightly as he started to regain consciousness. “Lie still, John,” Cap called quietly, but there was no response.
The disgruntled, wet, lion was at the far side of the enclosure at the moment, but it probably wouldn’t be for long as its prey started moving. The great beast shook its mane and let out the most fearsome roar yet. Cap was completely of the opinion that although the keeper had managed to get a tranquilizer dart into the animal, the dart had not delivered the full dose of the drug, for the lion seemed to be more alert than it had been when Johnny first went down to rescue the woman. Cap glanced at Chet and Marco beside him as his brain raced to find a workable solution.
“I’ll go,” Marco volunteered.
“Thanks, Marco,” Cap replied. “But I don’t know yet what we’re going to do.” This was one situation they didn’t cover at captain’s school, he thought wryly.
“Cap, we don’t have time to wait for the next dose of tranquilizer,” Roy said from behind him. “Johnny doesn’t have that time. That lion is waking up, not falling asleep. Johnny’s badly hurt and we daren’t leave him there any longer.”
“What about the woman?” Cap asked. “Can she wait?”
“If we can get Johnny out in the next five minutes, she can wait,” Roy replied. “If not, then we need to go now.”
“I can keep the lion at bay without touching it, Cap,” Mike interjected. “I can keep a heavier stream just in front of it, keep it back that way.”
“We’d have to do a wrap and run anyway,” Marco added. He was pale but looked determined, poised on the balls of his feet to go and rescue his friend.
“All right,” Cap decided. “That’s what we’ll do. Mike, are you ready with that hose?”
“Ready,” Mike acknowledged laconically.
“Ready, Cap.” The Hispanic man went over to the rope and grasped it firmly, tying it around his waist.
“Chet, be ready to help pull Marco up,” Cap ordered.
“Right,” Chet agreed and straddled the rope.
“Be careful, Marco,” Cap admonished.
Marco had barely placed a foot over the edge when the lion sprang forward and pounced on his hapless victim once again. It batted Johnny back across the enclosure to where he had been initially. A pitiful groan could be heard from the injured man.
Caught unawares by the sudden movement, it took Mike a couple of moments to get the water going, but he once more used the stream to drive the cat away, then kept a heavier stream aimed just in front of the large animal, so the cat was splashed with the water without being hit directly with it. Mike didn’t want to injure the animal. It was only doing what nature intended it should.
As soon as the water was on, Marco was down the rope. He knelt by Johnny’s side, murmuring words of comfort and reassurance, but the young paramedic was semi-conscious at best and didn’t respond. There was no time for niceties. Marco hauled Johnny to his feet and slung him over his shoulder. It was going to be horribly difficult to climb out without dropping his colleague, but they didn’t have time for a stokes or a separate harness.
It was probably the hardest thing Marco had ever done. Johnny was a dead weight on his shoulder and Marco knew that if Chet had not been pulling the rope from the top, he would never have managed the climb. All he could hear apart from his own harsh breathing was the sound of the water as Mike played the hose to keep the lion at bay.
And then the thing that he dreaded most began to happen – Johnny was slipping from his shoulder!
There were many times that Marco had heard his mother pleading for extra pairs of hands. He had even thought the same thing once or twice himself. Now, he wished for about three extra pairs of hands – one to hold one to Johnny and the other two to help him pull himself up the rope more quickly.
“No!” he panted, as Johnny’s weight began to slip more quickly.
Suddenly, hands were on Marco’s arms and he blinked the sweat from his eyes and saw that Cap and Roy were pulling Johnny over the lip of the enclosure and Chet and Mike were pulling him up. He was more than grateful for their help. His feet were over the lip now and he was safe. Marco took two steps and sank to his knees beside the fence, breathing hard. He closed his eyes.
“You all right?” Chet asked, as he untied the rope from around Marco’s waist.
Still too breathless to speak, Marco simply nodded. He rarely did any climbing and he had certainly never done anything like that under such strained circumstances! A tremble was starting in his limbs and he fought to control it. “Johnny?” he gasped and Chet understood at once.
“Roy’s looking after him,” he replied. Chet wanted to say more, to praise Marco for his bravery, to thank him for saving Johnny’s life, but he didn’t know how to say any of it. Everything he thought of – even a brief ‘well done, mate’ – seemed far too slushy. So in the end, he said nothing, just crouched by his friend’s side as Marco regained his composure.
Finally able to stand up, Marco looked in surprise at the number of patrons who were standing rubber-necking. It never ceased to amaze him that people could look so avidly upon scenes of death and horror and tragedy, but it always happened. He drew another deep breath, looked around to see if he needed to do anything, and realized that everything seemed to be under control. Mike was rolling up the hose, Chet had gathered the ropes and Cap was standing at the back of the ambulance, looking inside. Marco jumped the fence and went over. “How is he?” he asked.
“You got him out in the nick of time,” Cap replied, as Roy was preoccupied in placing pressure bandages on Johnny’s legs and back. Marco could see spots of blood already starting to seep through them. “Roy? Do you need someone to come in with you?”
“That would help,” Roy replied without looking up. The ambulance attendant was useful, but with two patients, both seriously injured, a third pair of hands could be quite useful, if just for contacting Rampart.
“In you go, pal,” Cap ordered Marco and congratulated himself on finding a subtle way to make sure Marco was all right after the strenuous rescue. He caught Roy’s eyes for a moment as Marco climbed in and tilted his head towards the Hispanic man. Roy nodded. He’d make sure someone looked Marco over. Cap closed the ambulance doors and gave the customary two taps. The vehicle started moving away.
The engine was prepared. “Let’s go,” Cap said.
“Rampart, this is squad 51. I have vitals on victim two,” Roy said, his tone nothing but professional – if you didn’t know him. “BP 110/85, pulse 130 and thready, respirations 20. He is semi-conscious and on 6 liters of oxygen. Pressure bandages have been applied to the wounds, but bleeding is not under control yet.”
“10-4, 51,” Brackett’s voice replied. “Start an IV, D5W. Keep an eye on the bleeding and apply more pressure dressings as required.”
“10-4,” Roy acknowledged. He glanced at Marco. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Marco assured him. He did feel a lot better, but that was because he was occupied with keeping an eye on the woman and Johnny while Roy fiddled with the IV and checked the bleeding. It was when he had time to think about what he had just done that he developed the shakes. He had literally just climbed into the lion’s den! A shiver ran up his backbone.
“Roy.” The voice was small and thin, muffled by the oxygen mask, most unlike Johnny, yet unmistakably him.
“What is it, Johnny?” Roy asked, leaning over so he could hear better.
“It hurts,” Johnny moaned. “It’s burning.” Johnny writhed as the pain flared to new heights. His lower back and legs were burning with pain and his head was throbbing.
“I know,” Roy soothed. “But you’ve banged your head again and I can’t give you anything. I’m sorry.”
The paramedic part of Johnny’s brain would have understood that; he had explained it often enough to patients. But right now, the paramedic part of his brain had switched off and he was only thinking with his nerve endings, which were screaming at him to do something about the pain – NOW! Something, anything as long as it was right this minute and not a single second longer. “Roy, please,” he begged. His body was ready for fight or flight, and in this case, running seemed the ideal solution. He tried to rise against the straps that secured him into the stokes.
“Whoa!” Roy cried. “Johnny, stay still! You’re going to start the bleeding again!” He reached out to stop his partner from hurting himself, but he was too late. Johnny twisted, let out a cry and dropped back down. Roy could see more blood on the bandages. He snatched up the biophone. “Rampart, squad 51. Victim two is becoming agitated and is in considerable pain. The bleeding has increased.”
“Give him five mgs of diazepam,” Brackett ordered. “Apply more dressings.”
“Five mgs of diazepam,” Roy repeated. He reached for the drug and injected it into the IV port. After a few moments, Johnny began to calm down. Roy reported this to Brackett, then added more pressure dressings, asking Marco to check on the woman patient.
She had been remarkably calm, but she had been allowed pain relief because she did not have a head injury. However, Marco didn’t like her color and pointed it out to Roy. Roy immediately took a fresh set of vitals and blessed his co-worker’s sharp eyes. The woman was going into shock. Roy checked the dressing on her leg and it seemed fine, but it appeared that she was bleeding from somewhere else.
“Rampart, squad 51. Patient one is deteriorating. Her BP has dropped to 90/60 and she appears to be shocky. There is no sign of further bleeding from the leg wound and I can’t see any other sources of bleeding. Her belly is slightly tender, but there is no rigidity at present.”
“10-4, 51,” came the thoughtful reply. “Increase oxygen to 15 liters and start a second IV, Ringers Lactate and give a bolus. What is your ETA?”
Glancing out of the window, Roy saw with relief that they were no more than five minutes away. He reported this, and then started the new IV. After the bolus had been given, he re-took her vitals and was relieved to see her BP had climbed slightly, although not by nearly enough to make him relax. By then, they were pulling into Rampart and Roy was more than relieved.
The ambulance doors opened and hands reached for the woman’s stretcher. “Her BP is up to 100/70,” Roy reported, climbing out beside her and handing the IVs over to Mike Morton, who was there with Joe Early. “She’s still a bit shocky.”
“Thanks, Roy,” Early said and the woman was whisked inside.
Turning, Roy helped Marco with Johnny. “He’s been calmer since the diazepam,” Roy told Brackett, who was waiting with Dixie beside him. “He’s been clawed across the back and legs. He hit his head off the concrete wall in the first mauling. I almost had the bleeding under control when he became agitated and he tried to get up. The bleeding increased. I’ve added more pressure bandages and it is under control at the moment. He is in considerable pain and tending to be shocky. Marco here went down into the enclosure to rescue Johnny. Cap wants him checked out, because he carried Johnny up the rope over his shoulder and was pretty shaken when he got to the top.” He looked at his friend.
Marco looked outraged. “I’m fine,” he protested, although he was still feeling a little shaky.
“You come with me,” Dixie told him, taking his arm to prevent a break for freedom. “I’ll get you fixed right up.” She led Marco inside and handed him over to one of the other doctors on duty and joined Roy and Brackett in the treatment room with Johnny. Immediately, she set about cutting off his tattered uniform, seeing the horrible claw marks for the first time.
The bleeding had slowed, but not yet stopped. Brackett, while worried, wasn’t unduly concerned about that. The more the wounds bled, hopefully the less dirt from the cat’s claws remained in them. Still, the wounds would need to be washed out and carefully stitched. Johnny would need a transfusion and he would have to be watched closely for infection. Cats’ claws were notorious for harboring all sorts of nasty germs and a scratch from a house cat could turn nasty, never mind from a lion.
“Dixie, draw blood, usual screens and type and cross match four units to hold. We’ll need one down here right away, put the others on stand-by for the OR.” Brackett leaned over his patient. Johnny was lying on his stomach, his head turned to the left. “Johnny, can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” the paramedic replied. “It hurts.”
“I know it does,” Brackett sympathized. “Do you know what day it is?”
For a moment, Johnny wondered why on earth Brackett cared what day it was, then his muddled brain made the connection; he had hit his head and this was a neuro check. “Thursday?” he guessed.
“Do you know where you are?” Brackett asked next. He squatted by the exam table and flicked his penlight in Johnny’s eyes. The pupils were sluggish, but responding. It was no surprise Johnny was concussed.
“Rampart,” Johnny replied, wincing from the light stabbing into his brain. He groaned aloud as Dixie gently pulled the fabric of his pants from under his legs. He was vaguely embarrassed that he was making so much fuss, but he couldn’t stop himself. It all hurt so badly and he just wanted it to stop. He felt light-headed and weak and generally lousy.
“All right,” Brackett nodded. “I’m just going to examine you, Johnny.” He patted the paramedic on the shoulder and bent over the injuries. There were deep claw marks across Johnny’s lower back and buttocks. More were on his thighs and across the back of his arm below the elbow. The skin at the edges of the claw marks was ragged and would need to be tidied up before stitching. There was a large, bloody, lump on the back of his head, too. “Dix, I want x-ray here for a skull series. Better get pictures of his legs, back and arm, too. We don’t want any nasty surprises. Make sure there’s an OR ready. We’ll take him up as soon as we get the pictures.” He moved to a cabinet and withdrew a syringe. “I’m going to give you something for the pain, Johnny,” he told his patient. “Then we’ll get you up to the OR as soon as we can.” He smoothly injected the morphine into the IV port.
Relieved that Johnny was in capable hands, but horrified by the extent of his injuries, Roy moved to sit by his friend’s head. Johnny’s eyes were heavily closed, his jaw slack under the oxygen mask. His body was relaxing now as the morphine swept through his system. Dixie gently covered Johnny’s naked body with a sheet. There was no point in putting on more dressings right now. The wounds would have to be debrided in surgery before they were stitched closed.
“You stay here with him,” Dixie told Roy quietly. “I’ll go and see how Marco is and then come back. By then, x-ray will be here. We’ll be taking him upstairs shortly.”
“All right,” Roy nodded. He leaned closer to Johnny. “You’ll be fine, Junior,” he whispered. “I know you will.”
There was a noise at the door as the x-ray machine came in and Roy took it as his cue to leave. Outside, he found Cap and Marco. The latter looked better and confirmed he had been given the all clear. He was over his fit of the shakes now. Just lying down for a few minutes had made all the difference.
“We’ve brought the squad,” Cap told Roy. “You can wait till Johnny goes up to surgery,” he grimaced as he said the word, “and then you’ll need to come back. I’ve called in for a replacement.” He clasped Roy’s shoulder. “He’ll be all right, Roy.”
“Yeah,” Roy replied, dispiritedly. He had seen the full extent of Johnny’s injuries; he didn’t want to burden Cap with his gloomy thoughts of potential muscle and nerve damage, danger of infection, or the worry that there might be a skull fracture. Bad enough that he had seen the results of the mauling; the less his crewmates knew the better as far as Roy was concerned. “How’s the woman?” he asked.
“She’s doing better,” Marco replied. “She’s going to surgery, too.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Roy smiled. “Marco, thanks for what you did. For... for getting Johnny ... out of there.”
“He’s my friend, too,” Marco replied, smiling.
X-ray didn’t take long. Roy headed back into the treatment room as soon as the machine exited. Johnny appeared to be asleep, but his eyes opened and he peered blearily at Roy before the lids shut again. “I’ve got to go back to work soon,” Roy told him.
“I’m sorry,” Johnny slurred. “Didn’t mean... to get... hurt.”
“This wasn’t your fault,” Roy soothed. He really didn’t want to get into the blame game, as he was feeling guilty for letting Johnny go down instead of going down himself, even if he had been terrified of the prospect. “That wasn’t a lap cat, you know.”
There was a huff of laughter, followed by a groan. “Don’ make me laugh,” Johnny pleaded.
“I won’t do it again,” Roy promised. Johnny’s face was pale and he was shivering under the thin sheet as the shock of his injuries began to overtake the supportive measures the hospital was taking. Roy quickly took his blood pressure again and confirmed what he had feared; Johnny’s blood pressure was dropping as he went into shock.
Rising, Roy quickly elevated Johnny’s feet, then went to get someone. The first person he met as he opened the door was Dixie. She was carrying a bag of blood. She knew at once by the look on Roy’s face that something was wrong and looked back down the hall to where Kel was standing at the base station talking to Joe Early. “Kel.”
Looking up, the head of the ER saw where Dixie was and cut short his conversation. He hurried along the corridor and into the room. “Johnny’s blood pressure has dropped,” Roy reported.
“His IV has run through,” Dixie added as she hung the bag of blood.
“Put up another bag and let’s get another IV of normal saline started,” Brackett ordered. “We knew this might happen after I gave him that shot.” He checked the blood and nodded to Dixie to start it, too. “Johnny? Johnny.”
“Hmm?” Johnny roused himself slightly. He wished they would all leave him alone so he could sleep. Maybe if he could sleep, he might feel better when he woke. He shivered. Why did they keep the treatment rooms so damned cold?
“Johnny, try to stay awake,” Brackett urged.
“Tired,” Johnny protested weakly. He tried to open his eyes, but they resisted orders and stayed stubbornly closed. He felt really dizzy, too. And quite suddenly, he knew he was going to be sick. He was lying face down and could feel the edge of the exam table under his cheek. There was no time to give any warning. He simply opened his mouth and vomited.
There was an exclamation and a choked off snigger, but Johnny had no time to think about what was going on as his stomach rebelled again and he retched and retched until the whole room was spinning and he thought he was going to pitch off the table head first into the mess he had made.
Yet, somehow, he didn’t. A warm, wet cloth wiped his face and gentle hands repositioned him so his face rested on a flat pillow. A straw was placed between his lips and Dixie’s voice gently coaxed him to take a sip. Cautiously, he did so and swallowed gingerly, for his throat was raw. The cool water slipped down easily and after a few moments, he decided it would stay down. However, the straw had been withdrawn and he knew he wasn’t going to get any more water in the meantime.
There was bustle all around him, but Johnny was too worn out to care. Someone was taking his blood pressure again and someone else was fiddling around with his IV and he just wanted them all to go away and leave him alone. He groaned loudly when another hand lifted the dressings on his legs and brought the wounds back to virulent life. “Sorry,” Brackett’s voice apologized. To Johnny’s mind, ‘sorry’ didn’t seem to cut it, but he was too tired and too dizzy to complain. He slid willingly into a twilight state between wakefulness and sleeping. Bits and pieces of the happenings around him slid into his consciousness.
There was Brackett’s voice saying, “Good,” with decided satisfaction, although Johnny had no idea what he was so pleased about. Dixie was holding his hand, smoothing the hair away from his face in a manner that always reminded him of his mother and made him want to weep. Roy’s voice murmured something soothing, but Johnny couldn’t pick out any words. That didn’t matter; just Roy’s very presence was comforting to Johnny.
“Johnny.” This voice was more persistent, and Johnny roused himself a bit more.
“Hmm?” he murmured. It seemed to be the only thing he could say. His mouth didn’t seem to be connected to his brain at the moment.
“Johnny, we’re going to take you up to the OR now,” Brackett told him gently. He was deeply worried about the paramedic; Johnny appeared to be having an adverse reaction to the cat’s claws. Some people were like that with animal bites and scratches. Given that this was a larger than usual animal, it seemed quite logical that he should have a worse than usual reaction.
“Mmm,” Johnny consented. He knew that Roy, as his next of kin, would have signed any paperwork that was involved. Maybe, once he was in the OR, they would let him sleep.
“I’ll see you later, Johnny,” Roy said and with a Herculean effort, Johnny was able to open his eyes and look at Roy. The older man smiled and Johnny’s lips twitched – the best he could do. He felt hands lifting him and groaned aloud again as he was switched to a gurney. Then he let himself drift off.
“He’ll be fine, Roy,” Dixie assured the worried man as Johnny’s limp body was rushed out of the room.
“Yeah,” Roy agreed, but he sounded anything but convinced.
Given that Johnny was pretty much asleep, it didn’t take him long to succumb to the anesthetic. Brackett had been wholly relieved when Johnny’s x-rays came back negative. He had feared that there might be a skull fracture and possibly some broken bones from where the cat had knocked him around, but in that respect, Johnny had got off lightly. However, there was the ‘small’ matter of the claw marks.
With the injured man out, they set to cleaning out the wounds. The ragged flesh was carefully cut away to leave the edges of the gouges as neat as possible. Saline was injected along the wounds first, washing out particles of dirt. A small brush was then used to clean more deeply. Antiseptic fluid was then flushed along, followed by antibiotics. Only then were the gouges slowly and carefully stitched closed, using the smallest possible stitches in the hope of minimizing the scarring.
After a total of 250 tiny stitches, Johnny was finally moved to Recovery.
“He’s out of surgery,” Roy reported wearily as he slumped down at the table to a dinner of slightly burnt tuna casserole. His partner, the long suffering Dwyer, started spooning food into his mouth as fast as he could; they had had several back-to-back runs and he was afraid that he wouldn’t get anything at all if he didn’t eat quickly. “They cleaned out the claw marks and stitched them.”
“How many stitches?” Chet demanded, his eagerness a cover for his concern.
“250,” Roy replied flatly.
Chet’s mouth dropped open. “250?” he squeaked.
Wearily, Roy nodded. He took a mouthful of the rather crunchy casserole and swallowed as he debated telling them everything. He supposed he might as well. “Johnny went into a kind of delayed shock. Dr Brackett says it isn’t uncommon with animal injuries. The person might start shaking or crying or both, and the bite or scratch will swell more than expected. That seems to be what happened to Johnny. He’s on large doses of IV antibiotics to try and stave off infection. Luckily, his tetanus is up to date.” He looked at his plate. “Who made this? It’s disgusting,” he stated, shoving the plate away.
“That’s my aunt’s recipe,” Chet objected. “Everybody else ate it! You like it, don’t you, Dwyer?” he challenged.
Head down, literally as well as figuratively, Dwyer mumbled something that Chet took to mean agreement and everyone else took to mean that he didn’t want to comment.
“Maybe it was better fresh,” Roy allowed and scraped the remains into the garbage. He went to the fridge and peered inside before emerging with the bread and making some toast. Before long, all the firefighters were eating toast. It was very comforting.
The sense of comfort only lasted until they turned in. There hadn’t been another run for the squad that evening, so Roy hadn’t had the chance to go over to Rampart to see Johnny. As he lay on his bed, listening to the sounds of the other men dropping off to sleep, Roy found that his brain would not switch off. Over and over again, his mind replayed the scene when the lion snatched Johnny from the end of the rope and battered him across the enclosure, and the horrible thud as Johnny’s head hit the wall.
It was no use. Roy knew there was no way he was going to sleep – not yet at least. Moving quietly, he slid into his bunkers and headed for the day room. No point in disturbing anyone else. Sitting at the table, Roy rested his head in his hands. He hadn’t been alone since it happened, there had always been other people around, often people who needed his help and suddenly, reaction hit him. He began to tremble and the shivering made his teeth chatter.
Roy was a paramedic. He knew he was in shock and he knew he really needed help, but he couldn’t do anything but sit there and shake. He panted as he tried to draw enough breath into his lungs, but he was growing quickly light headed. He knew he needed to put his head down, but couldn’t do it. His vision started to darken and Roy realized dimly that he was about to pass out.
Luckily, Cap had heard Roy getting up and, unable to sleep himself, had decided to have a word with his man. He arrived into the day room in time to see Roy starting to slip from his chair to the floor. Moving swiftly, the lanky man crossed the dividing space, caught Roy, and forced his head down between his knees.
As the blood rushed into his brain, Roy’s vision stabilized and he was able to draw a deeper breath. His skin felt cold and clammy and he was still shivering, but overall, he felt a good deal less wretched. After a minute, Cap gingerly let him sit up, eyed him critically, then put the kettle on to make something warm and sweet for Roy to drink.
Hot chocolate was not normally Roy’s drink of choice, but it was quick to make and was warm and sweet. “Drink it,” Cap ordered, as Roy wrapped his shaky hands around the warm mug and peered at the contents suspiciously.
Obediently, Roy raised the mug to his lips and sipped cautiously. It was very hot, but a couple of sips were enough to make him start to feel better. By the time he had drunk half the mug, Roy was beginning to feel really foolish. “Thanks, Cap,” he managed.
“Feeling better?” Roy nodded. “Do you need to go home, Roy?”
“No, I’m fine,” Roy assured his superior. “I dunno what came over me,” he lied, knowing perfectly well but feeling rather embarrassed. He was a firefighter for heaven’s sake! He wasn’t supposed to faint!
“I think it was perfectly natural,” Cap replied, holding eye contact with Roy. “Dealing with one lion mauling is not exactly common practice, is it? Let alone two. It was bad enough for us seeing him before he got to the hospital, but I imagine seeing the injuries close up was worse.”
“Yeah,” Roy admitted haltingly. “Yeah, it was.” His memory produced the picture of Johnny lying there in the treatment room, his clothes cut from his body and those ghastly, bloody, parallel claw marks marring the skin of his back, buttocks and legs. He shuddered and closed his eyes.
“Roy.” Cap’s voice drew him back. “Dwelling on it won’t help. Easy to say and difficult to do, I know, but you’ve got to try.”
“I know.” Roy drew a deep breath and drank the rest of the hot chocolate. Gradually, the warmth of the drink was unlocking his tense muscles. “I’ll be all right, Cap,” he promised. “You don’t need to sit with me.”
Opening his mouth to reply, Cap tensed as the tones went off and the lights in the rest of the station flashed on. “Station 51...” the dispatcher began.
Exchanging a resigned glance, the two men rose from the table as one and trotted out to the bay.
It was 3 o’clock in the morning when they got back to the station. The squad hadn’t been needed for treating injuries, so Roy and Dwyer had been on the hoses. Everyone was filthy and stank of smoke, but they were too tired to shower, instead opting for a quick rinse at the sink before falling back into their bunks. For a brief moment as his head hit the pillow, Roy wondered how Johnny was doing, but exhaustion won out over anxiety and he spiraled down into sleep immediately.
They were mercifully undisturbed for the rest of the night.
After a lengthy period in recovery, Johnny had been moved to a high dependency room. He wasn’t deemed serious enough to go to ICU, for which many people were thankful, but he clearly needed more than the usual support. He was lying on his stomach and would be for several days to come to allow the claw marks to start healing. This seemed to exacerbate his nausea and they had had a tough time getting on top of it. Now, he was receiving the last of the transfusions of blood and his antibiotic regimen had begun. He was still getting oxygen through a nasal cannula, but that would probably be discontinued soon.
On the down side, Johnny was running a temperature. Brackett was assuming it was a reaction to the trauma he had suffered, both at the hands – or should that be paws – of the lion and also as a result of the surgical intervention. He hoped it would settle overnight. If not, it would mean that they were already battling against infection.
Johnny was not the only person in that predicament. In another room down the hall, the woman he had rescued, Lisa Thomas, was also fighting off infection. The bite wound she had sustained was serious, with severe blood loss. She had gone to surgery, too, to get the wound washed out and was now also in high dependency with a high temperature. Amazingly, she had not broken any bones in the fall. Lisa was lucky. Johnny had had no choice but to move her without take spinal precautions and fortunately, she had not had any spinal injuries. It could all have been so much worse for her.
That said, the road to recovery was not going to be easy for either of them. Arriving early for his shift the next morning, Brackett went straight to see Johnny, concerned about his friend. As soon as he appeared on the floor, he knew he was right to be concerned. The nurses met him with relief and he hurried to Johnny’s side to read the younger man’s chart.
It was grim reading. Johnny’s temperature had spiked through the night. It was now hovering about 103o and all it needed was a single glance at the claw marks to see that infection was rampant. Brackett was pleased to see that the resident who had been on duty overnight had had the sense to take swabs so that they would be able to change to strain-specific antibiotics, but the results would take several hours at best and Brackett did not want the infection to rage unchecked for any longer than could be helped. Johnny would be scarred, but knocking out the infection would minimize the scarring. He quickly wrote an order for a stronger dose of a broad spectrum antibiotic, cooling blankets and a soothing poultice that he hoped might help draw the infection out, too.
“Johnny?” Brackett crouched by the bed to look into his patient’s face. Johnny was awake, his face pale apart from the hectic flush of fever across his cheeks. The brown eyes were fathomless in their depths, but showed that the young man was feeling utterly miserable. “How are you doing?” Brackett asked sympathetically.
“Lousy,” Johnny panted. He swallowed with difficulty. Johnny didn’t think he had ever felt so bad in all his life. He knew that he had probably felt equally as lousy when he had had the monkey virus, but he had been comatose for a lot of the time and simply didn’t remember.
“Tell me more,” Brackett coaxed. All he had to do was look at Johnny to see that he felt lousy. What Kel wanted now was more details.
The last thing Johnny wanted to do was detail his misery. He sent a mute look of entreaty to the doctor, who chose to ignore it. Johnny had known he would, but he still had to try. “My throat’s sore,” he croaked. “My joints ache. My back ... and legs ... burn. I’m cold,” he added.
“Are you coughing?” Brackett enquired, for although it was a bit soon for him to have developed secondary pneumonia, anything was possible.
“No,” Johnny replied. He groaned. “I feel sick.”
“I’ll see what I can do to make you more comfortable,” Brackett promised. He rose from his crouched position and perused the chart once more. When the nurse came in bearing the cooling blankets, Brackett gave orders for an anti-emetic to be administered at once and for the nurse to anchor a Foley and increase the fluids Johnny was getting. With a generalized infection such as Johnny seemed to have developed, he would need the extra fluids to keep properly hydrated. He promised to be back a bit later on and see how Johnny was doing. The firefighter barely acknowledged him, sunk deeply into his own misery.
“He’s not doing well, Roy,” Brackett said solemnly into the phone. “The nurses said he barely slept last night once he shook off the last of the anesthesia. Now he’s fretting; you know what he’s like. He must feel dreadful.”
“I’ll be down as soon as I can,” Roy promised. He had been sleeping when Brackett rang, trying to catch up on the hours he had missed during the night.
“Why don’t you get some more sleep first?” Brackett proposed. “I’m going back up to see him now, see if the cooling blankets have helped any. If he’s still awake, I’m going to sedate him. He won’t get better if he doesn’t rest.”
“Well,” Roy hesitated. He desperately needed some more sleep, but he didn’t want Johnny to think he’d been abandoned either. Exhaustion won out. “All right, doc. I’ll be there in a few hours.”
“I’ll call you if anything comes up,” Brackett promised. He had intended to go straight up to see Johnny again, but a rush of business in the ER kept him busy for quite some time, so it was a couple of hours before he was able to get back upstairs.
Although most of the time, Brackett was content to hand patients over to other doctors when they left the ER and went upstairs, Brackett could never let go of the paramedics. They were his men and he was especially friendly with Roy and Johnny. Any time they spent at Rampart, he made sure he was always their physician; scrubbing in if they needed to go to the OR, and visiting them as regularly as if he made ward rounds every day. He even had the nurses call him in the middle of the night if something went pear-shaped.
The nurse met him at the door of Johnny’s room. “His temp is down a whole degree,” the nurse informed Brackett. “He is no longer complaining about nausea, but we’ve been unable to get him to rest. He’s still complaining about his aching joints.”
“Thank you,” Brackett said, his mouth twitching at the news. Johnny needed to rest; he needed some respite from his misery and it seemed the only way was to sedate him. He went into the room and again crouched by Johnny’s bed.
In the intervening time, Johnny’s temperature might have dropped, but if anything, he looked worse. Dark circles accentuated the paleness of his face and told Brackett how exhausted the younger man was without any words being spoken. He gazed in mute misery at his doctor.
“Johnny, you need to rest,” Brackett told him. “I’m going to increase your pain meds slightly and right now, I’m going to give you a sedative to help you sleep.”
“Don’t,” Johnny whispered, although he desperately wanted to rest. “I’m all right.”
“You’ll be even more all right after a good sleep,” Brackett insisted. The nurse came in with the drugs he had ordered and Brackett wiped off the IV port and smoothly injected both syringes.
At once, Johnny could feel the effects of the narcotics flooding his blood stream. He was already drowsy, but had simply not been able to fall asleep, even with the medications he’d been on. Now, he could feel them swirling through his body, making his head spin. He thought perhaps Brackett had spoken to him, but he was already tumbling down into warm darkness and then he knew no more.
When Roy arrived at the hospital, Johnny was still asleep. The cooling blankets had brought his temperature down three degrees and were discontinued for the moment. The lab had come through with strain-specific cultures and Brackett had changed Johnny’s antibiotics. He was still getting hefty doses of them and that caused a secondary complication – diarrhea.
“Is nothing ever straight forward?” Roy demanded, frustrated. All this was bad enough, but the secondary complications just seemed like someone, somewhere, was heaping more coals of misfortune on Johnny’s head.
“Very seldom,” Brackett agreed wryly. “And when you add in the exotic to the mix – how many times have you treated a lion mauling? – then you really can get into deep water. Don’t worry, Roy, we’re getting it under control.”
“Easy for you to say,” Roy grumbled. “How’s Johnny feeling?”
“He’s still sleeping,” Brackett replied. “I’m tempted to keep him under for several days.” He let the suggestion linger in the air.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Roy said after a moment’s thought. “I know it’s a decision I could take, but I really think in this case, Johnny ought to have a say. It’s not like he needs to go on a vent; this isn’t pleasant, but if you get it under control, he’ll be better off awake.”
“I tend to agree with you,” Brackett nodded. “That was why I floated it past you first. Johnny can lose weight while stuffing his face, so I really would prefer to keep him awake and hopefully keep his weight up and his visitors should help boost his mood.”
“How long is he going to be here?” Roy asked.
“Realistically, probably another week. It’s going to take a few more days to really get on top of the infection, and I want him to be able to sit with relative comfort before he goes home. Plus, I want him to be eating properly, too. Anything that you guys can bring him in that will tempt him has my blessings. Of course, Johnny isn’t going to want to eat for the first few days and, given how ill he is, that is quite understandable.” Brackett tapped his chin thoughtfully. “It all depends on how quickly the infection goes. Once it is eradicated, we can get him up and moving, which will do him the world of good.”
“Well, that gives us a rough time frame to work with,” Roy agreed, although he knew Johnny wouldn’t be happy when he found out. In typical Johnny fashion, he would doubtless want to go home today – tomorrow at the latest. “Thanks, doc.” Roy left the ER and made his way to Johnny’s room.
His partner was still asleep and looked pretty gaunt, but that wasn’t entirely unusual for Johnny. Anyone who was ill or injured tended to look as though they had lost weight, and since Johnny was naturally very slim to begin with, he looked gaunt quite quickly. Roy sat down beside him and flicked through a magazine he had brought along for Johnny to read.
At the moment, Johnny was propped on his left side, pillows tucked in along his back to prevent him rolling over onto all the stitches. He looked fairly comfortable, with the sheet pulled up to his hips, allowing the cooler air to circulate over his too-warm body. Roy surmised they had moved him so that they could remove the cooling blanket from underneath him and had left him there since he seemed comfortable. Even as Roy speculated about it, Johnny hitched his left hip forward a couple of inches and flopped over onto his back.
Sedative or no sedative, there was an immediate reaction. Johnny let out a strangled scream and leapt several inches in the air trying to move off his back. However, the pillows which had been so carefully stacked behind him had all slithered down and he landed on his back once more. Another scream ripped from his throat.
Leaping to his feet, Roy pressed the call button even as he moved to protect the IV in Johnny’s arm. He was too late. It ripped out and the fluid started soaking into the bed linens. Johnny’s eyes were wide open, but he was clearly still disoriented from the drug. He was gasping his pain out in shallow, ragged breaths, punctuated with groans. “Easy,” Roy soothed, as he clamped his hand over the bleeding IV site.
The door opened and a nurse looked in. She took in the scene at once, turned to shout something urgently at another nurse and hurried in. A second nurse followed a moment later. “Let’s get him onto his stomach,” the first nurse ordered. “You keep hold of the IV site and grab his right arm gently; I’ll rotate his hips and Fiona, here, can move the pillows.”
It happened as smoothly as if they had practiced for weeks for this maneuver. Fiona whisked the pillows away and the first nurse (Roy read her tag once they were done and it read ‘Jen’) rotated Johnny’s hips. The paramedic was still panting and groaning, but Roy could see the pain had eased slightly once the direct pressure was off his injuries.
“I’ll get Dr Brackett,” Jen offered, “and then come back and change that wet sheet.” She neatly clamped off the IV bag and hurried out of the door. Fiona dumped the extra pillows and followed, leaving Roy to minister to his partner.
He was glad to do it. “Johnny? Can you hear me?”
Still very groggy from the sedation, Johnny grunted out something that could be assent or could have been a curse, it was difficult to tell which. He felt very peculiar indeed. His mind was working at less than half-speed, yet the nerve endings in his body were screaming at the top of their lungs and the pain was horrific. He had no idea what had happened to put him in this situation and was beginning to feel rather panicky.
“Johnny! Listen! Listen, Johnny!” Roy grabbed his friend’s hand and squeezed it. After a moment, the wide, dilated, not quite focused eyes rested upon him. “Dr Brackett is coming,” Roy soothed. “You’re going to be fine.”
“... happened?” Johnny murmured.
“You turned over onto your back while you were sleeping,” Roy told him.
“Bed’s ... wet,” Johnny muttered fretfully.
“We’re going to do something about that in a minute, too,” Roy smiled.
“I ... didn’t...” Johnny didn’t go any further, but Roy didn’t need him to. The blush that crept slowly up his cheeks told Roy what he was worried about.
“No, you didn’t,” he assured the stoned man.
Relieved, Johnny closed his eyes, but his grip on Roy’s hand did not loosen. He felt very odd, his heart racing, panting for breath, yet his limbs felt as heavy as lead. And the pain! “It hurts,” he gritted out through his teeth. His jaw ached, it was clenched so tightly.
“Just try and breathe,” Roy coached. He held on to Johnny’s hand just as tightly as his partner was to his, giving Johnny what support he could. It was little enough, he reasoned, but there wasn’t a lot more he could do.
It seemed like forever before Dr Brackett came in, but couldn’t have been more than five minutes at most. Johnny’s pain had eased slightly, but not nearly enough. He still maintained his death-grip on Roy’s hand, but he was no longer groaning with every breath, which Roy took as an improvement. Still, he hated to see his friend in such pain.
“10mgs MS IM,” Brackett ordered. “Re-establish the IV, and get that sheet changed.” He crouched by Johnny and touched the paramedic’s arm to get his attention. “Johnny, I’m going to give you something for the pain and we’ll change this wet bed. We’ll put back in the IV and then I’m going to have a look at your back. I doubt if you’ve burst any stitches, but it’s as well to check, all right?”
“’kay,” Johnny agreed, although he would have agreed to almost anything to get the pain to stop. He felt a sharp jab in his hip and moaned involuntarily, but after a few moments, he was aware of the narcotic in his bloodstream and the pain began to ebb back to a much more manageable level. His eyes closed and he slid back into the drugged slumber he had been so brutally ripped from a short time ago.
The nurses efficiently changed the bedding and re-established the IV. Brackett carefully peeled back the dressings and Roy got his first look at the injuries since they had been treated.
All in all, they didn’t look too bad. Still red and inflamed from the infection, the most obvious thing about them was the black stitches that snaked over a significant area of Johnny’s body. Knowing that there were 250 stitches and seeing them all was an entirely different thing, Roy discovered. He could barely believe that a body could support so many stitches, but there they were, as if he needed proof. It was quite horrific and rather fascinating in a morbid kind of way.
With a sigh, Kelly Brackett put the dressings back over. “All intact,” he declared. “At least one thing is on our side!”
It seemed to be the only thing on their side. Johnny woke later in the day and was offered some food. He ate some and then was promptly sick. Once again the strong antibiotics were blamed. He was given more anti-emetics, but not surprisingly, he didn’t want to eat after that episode. Still fretful and unsettled, Johnny took his frustrations and irritability out on those around him before succumbing once more to a drugged sleep. Roy felt almost as worn out as Johnny appeared to be feeling after all that.
With visiting hours over, Roy headed for home. He was glad of the chance to sit mindlessly in front of the TV, cuddling with Joanne as she watched something he had no interest in. He could feel the tension oozing from his body. He was all but asleep when the phone rang.
“Roy, its Kelly Brackett,” said the familiar, rich voice.
“What’s wrong?” Roy asked, his anxiety level notching upwards swiftly. “Is it Johnny?”
“No, it’s Lisa Thomas.” The silence after that statement told Kel that Roy had no clue who he was talking about. “The woman you rescued from the lion?” he prompted.
“Oh, yes,” Roy replied vaguely. He couldn’t bring her face to mind, although he did remember she had shoulder length blonde hair.
“Roy, she just died.”
For a long moment, the words made no sense at all. “Died?” Roy echoed numbly. “But... I thought...” He was vaguely aware of Joanne making enquiring noises at him, her face a mask of horror. He shook his head and turned away.
“We thought so, too,” Brackett replied, sighing heavily. “She seemed to be responding, but this evening, her temperature shot up and she had a major convulsion and died. I’m really sorry. I thought you should know, Roy.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Roy mumbled. “Doc, could this happen to... to... Johnny?” He could barely force the words out.
“It’s unlikely, but there’s always a chance if his temperature gets away from us again,” the doctor replied reluctantly. “But I don’t expect it to, Roy. I just thought you ought to know about Ms Thomas since you and Johnny were the ones who rescued her. Don’t worry; I’m sure Johnny will be fine in no time.”
“Thanks,” Roy mumbled again and bid the doctor good night, hanging up the phone automatically.
As he told Joanne what Brackett had said, he knew that the doctor’s news had just robbed him of a good night’s sleep.
By the next morning, Johnny had also taken a turn for the worse. His temperature had risen, requiring the cooling blankets to be called into use again and he could no longer even keep down liquids. Kel placed an NG tube and once again sedated Johnny into restfulness, but he hated to do it. While keeping Johnny drugged did let his body rest, it wasn’t good for someone of Johnny’s temperament. It upset him and getting upset was not good for someone in his condition. However, for that day, and until his temperature was once again under control, Brackett opted for sedation. Roy, exhausted from his mostly sleepless night, was only allowed to visit for a short time.
During the night, Johnny began coughing and it soon became clear that he had picked up pneumonia, too. Another antibiotic was added to the cocktail of drugs entering his system and he spent another day deep in slumber. Again, Roy was only allowed a brief visit and as he had to be on duty the next day, he obeyed doctor’s orders and went home to rest.
Luckily, the combination of the two antibiotic drugs made real headway against the pneumonia, and when Roy got the chance to slip up to see Johnny, the other man’s temperature had come back down to 100o, from where it stubbornly refused to move. Johnny was being allowed to come round slowly, but he was still very sleepy. Roy spoke to him briefly, but received no response.
It was a different matter later. It was about 10pm when Roy again slipped upstairs. The light above Johnny’s bed was on, but turned away slightly to dim its intensity. Johnny was lying on his side, kept in place by what looked like a hundred pillows, so there was no repeat of the slipping episode of earlier in the week. He was also awake and gazing into the middle distance as Roy entered the room.
“Hi,” Roy said, stepping up to the bed. “You’re looking better.”
“Am I?” Johnny returned dully. “Don’t feel it.” His voice was still hoarse. “Can’t even move.”
“You’ve been pretty sick,” Roy reminded him gently. He knew that Johnny had lost weight; weight that he couldn’t afford to lose. “Remember how you were after the monkey virus?”
“Not really,” Johnny admitted. He managed to look at Roy without turning his head from the pillows where it was nestled. “She died, you know.”
“Yes,” Roy nodded. “I know.” He stepped closer and put his hand on Johnny’s bare shoulder. There was still an underlying warmth there, but Roy thought the trend was downward. “But you’re going to be all right,” he assured his friend. “As soon as you start eating again, you’ll be as right as rain.”
“Feeding me... through this tube,” Johnny murmured. “Hate it.”
“I know.” For someone as active and independent as Johnny, being trapped like this in a hospital bed, helpless, was the worst thing that could happen. Roy wished with all his might that he could do more than just offer sympathy, but he couldn’t. All he could offer was his friendship and support and hope that that was enough.
It was more than enough for Johnny. He never expected his friends to be there for him when he was sick. He could never completely believe that people liked him for himself, but he was slowly letting others in and this show of support from Roy warmed his heart and allowed him to endure being helpless for a little while longer. Slowly, his body relaxed and he drifted into a more peaceful sleep than he had had for some time.
That night marked the turning point in Johnny’s recovery. His temperature dropped back to normal over the next few days and the NG tube was pulled. He was able to eat a light diet and keep everything down. The infection was finally gone and Brackett decided that it was time the stitches came out. Johnny was soon spaced out on painkillers and Valium and Brackett and another nurse snipped and pulled and snipped and pulled until finally the 250 black stitches were just a memory. There was some superficial bleeding from some of the sites, but Brackett put on another dressing and left Johnny to sleep off the drugs.
Once he was pretty much awake again, several hours later, Brackett returned with Roy, who was again off duty, and several nurses to undertake the exciting prospect of helping Johnny sit up. He had been lying face down or on his side for more than a week and raising his head was going to be an interesting proposition.
It wasn’t surprising that Johnny was stiff. The scar tissue on his back and legs was tender, but unlikely to split as the skin stretched to allow him to sit. Gently, he was turned onto his side and then lowered carefully onto his back. Johnny caught his breath. He knew it was going to be painful, but he hadn’t expected it to be quite as bad as it was. As the claw marks had healed, his pain relief had been tapered off; now, he felt like he needed it ramped up again.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” Brackett coaxed. “Breathe deeply and relax.”
It was hard to do, but Johnny took some deep breaths and deliberately worked at relaxing his muscles. With Roy coaching him, he gradually let go the tension in his body. After a few minutes, the pain eased back to a much more manageable level. “Better?” Brackett asked, seeing the relief in Johnny’s face.
“Better,” Johnny agreed. He turned his head slowly on the pillow, really seeing the room where he had been for the last nine days for the first time. “It looks better this way up,” he commented lightly and everyone laughed.
“Much easier to eat from this angle,” Roy commented, for the weight had dropped off Johnny over the past week and he was looking very thin indeed. Roy had Joanne primed to bring the kids and a burger that evening, but it was a surprise for Johnny. He hoped by making it a ‘picnic’ with the kids eating burgers too, Johnny would be tricked into eating more than he had for some time.
Still flat on his back, Johnny rolled his eyes. “Are you kidding?” he protested. “I could drown trying to drink in this position!”
“Then how about we try raising the head of the bed?” Brackett suggested.
“Yeah, all right,” Johnny agreed hesitantly. He started to tense up immediately.
“I’m not going to do it unless you relax,” Brackett threatened, crossing his arms. Johnny knew he meant business.
“All right, all right.” Johnny tried to look martyred, but failed dismally. He drew in a deep breath and relaxed once more. “Okay, I’m ready.”
It took almost 10 minutes for them to get Johnny into a seated position, for Brackett took things slowly so that Johnny didn’t become light-headed, but it was worth it. Johnny made it upright without the risk of fainting.
It felt very odd indeed, but completely wonderful at the same time. Just being off his stomach lifted his spirits immensely. His injuries were still slightly uncomfortable, but nothing compared to what they had been and he knew that the discomfort would improve.
“How does something to eat sound?” Brackett asked, delighted with the improvement in his patient.
“Pretty good,” Johnny admitted shyly.
“We’ll get you something,” Brackett promised. “And tomorrow, if everything is still going well, we’ll get you onto your feet and pull the Foley.”
“Hallelujah,” Johnny crowed. He hated being catheterized. “When can I go home?”
The burger ‘picnic’ was a big hit with both Johnny and the children. By the time they left, Roy could see that Johnny was tiring rapidly, but he still looked greatly improved over the days that had gone before. Roy just knew that Johnny would improve in leaps and bounds from now on.
The next morning, the physical therapist came in to get Johnny onto his feet. To the paramedic’s disgust, he brought a walking frame and insisted Johnny use it, despite the protests. And while it was going to be embarrassing for anyone to see him leaning on a walking frame, he knew he would have to suck it up to get back onto his feet.
The first hurdle was actually getting out of bed. The simple act of swinging his legs around before he stood up was quite an accomplishment and he hadn’t really realized before that you had to slide your butt to the edge of the bed before you could stand up – or he had to for the time being. He rather wished he was as limber as usual and could just get to his feet without thinking about it.
It was always a shock after injury or illness to discover how shaky his legs were. Johnny was basically a healthy guy who liked to hike and camp and had a very physical job. He was usually very fit and agile and completely unable to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. Being hampered by his own body always took him aback. He was actually glad to have the frame to lean on. The few steps it took to get from the bed to the chair by the window were enough to exhaust him. The therapist left him there to sit for a while. He had his lunch with a view, even if it was just part of the parking lot.
After lunch, the therapist came back and helped Johnny walk to the bathroom before supervising him walking back to bed. It was great to be free of the catheter, but Johnny was exhausted when he lay down and soon fell into a deep sleep. When he woke, rather stiff and sore, a couple of hours later, he felt quite proud of himself. The first jump had been cleared and he would soon be going home.
The following day, he was moved to a different room and was allowed to have a shower. The hot water felt blissful after all those days of bed baths which, although they had a plus (being tended intimately by pretty nurses) tended to be less than refreshing. The water stung his injuries, but it was a good stinging, washing away any lingering traces of the lion. While Johnny knew that the wounds had been thoroughly cleansed when they were stitched and no trace of lion remained, he still felt cleaner all over after a proper shower. Illogical, but that was how he felt.
Over the next couple of days, he progressed from the frame to crutches, then two sticks, then one stick to walking without any aids at all. He was given a cream to rub into the scars to help them heal and minimize any marks that would be left. His appetite had picked up as soon as he was able to walk about and the crew from Station 51 brought him in all sorts of goodies to tempt him. Cap made his clam chowder (which people thought was a bit odd, given his dislike of fish, but he was the Captain – who was going to ask?); Marco’s mother sent Johnny’s favorite Mexican dishes; Chet brought Irish stew, although everyone looked rather askance at that one – Chet and cooking were not always compatible; and Mike brought thick fruit smoothies.
As his health improved and his mobility got back to normal, Johnny began to agitate more about going home. He tried to be patient, but it had been two weeks already and now that he was feeling better and his strength was creeping back, he was ready to go home and take care of himself. Two days later, Brackett signed the discharge papers and Roy took Johnny home.
There had been an offer to go to the DeSotos’ home, but Johnny had refused as graciously as he could. He could manage everything except driving and Roy had taken him grocery shopping on the way home. But for now, Johnny wanted peace and quiet and the mundane every day chores that would prove to him that he was going to be back to normal soon.
It was good to be home and to eat beans on toast off a tray on his lap in front of the TV, to go to the bathroom without worrying that someone would come in (he had never quite got over his stay with Roy’s family where the bathroom seemed to feature very prominently in his life), to luxuriate in the shower until the water ran cold and to wear just boxers to bed, or absolutely nothing, depending on his mood.
On the second night home, he woke, quite suddenly, and lay listening. From an apartment further away, he could faintly hear music, but otherwise the night was still. His dream had wakened him. His heart was beating faster than normal and he could feel the sweat on his body chilling now that he had thrown the covers off.
For the first time, he could remember what had happened. He could remember feeling the lion’s claws in his flesh, although he was spared feeling the agony, since flesh retained no pain memory; he could remember tumbling helplessly across the ground until suddenly the world was no more.
He could remember the terror he had felt.
He could remember the rank smell of the lion’s breath.
He could remember thinking I’m dead.
Lying there that night, John Gage knew just how incredibly lucky he was.
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