Dedicated to my young nephew, Zach,a paramedic wannabe! (And to his family who as a result have pretty much memorized the dialogue to every single episode as well!)
Rating: PG-13 for a little bit of naughty language, but I did try to keep within the flavor of the era. Forgiveness requested for any millenium seepage...<G>
Category: Owies for Johnny and Angst for all!
It's Only a Game
By STP (STPteach@aol.com)
"Man, is this day perfect, or what?" asked the tousle-headed man with
the slightly crooked smile. "I mean, could you ask for better weather
for playing softball?"
"Yeah, it's pretty nice out here," agreed his partner, as his eyes
squinted a bit while trying to adjust to the midday rays.
"Man, oh man, Roy, I am just so psyched! I mean, what better way to
spend a beautiful sunny day than playing ball! Hell, Roy, let's play
two!" he practically sung out.
"Yeah, you and Ernie Banks, partner," Roy replied, and though hard as
he tried to keep the smile from forming on his lips, he found his
partner's enthusiasm all too infectious. "You're right, it is a
helluva day for a ballgame."
"What have I been telling ya, Roy?" John Gage stood with a self-
satisfied grin on his face. It wasn't often he could get his somewhat
stoic partner to loosen up and agree with him, so when it did happen,
Johnny Gage was more than prepared to (silently, of course) gloat and
The firefighters, hospital staff, and their families had slowly begun
gathering at the ball field in anticipation of the first annual,
charity softball game to benefit those victims of local fires. The
staffs of Rampart Medical Center and the Los Angeles County
Firefighters Association were sponsoring it, and it was the only thing
that had been in the hearts and minds of the guys at Station 51 for the
last several days.
Roy's family was in the bleacher seats eagerly waiting for the start of
the game. Joanne and the kids were every bit as enthusiastic about
watching Roy and the other members of the Station 51 play that day as
the other family members. The hospital was donating a small portable
T.V. for the charity raffle, and 11 year-old Chris DeSoto had visions
of that television gracing the table in his bedroom.
Little did he know that Joanne already had plans for it to fit neatly
in the nook under the kitchen cabinet. It was the perfect spot to
watch Days of Our Lives while she was getting laundry folded or the
Match Game while she readied the evening meal.
Six year old Jennifer DeSoto was just as happy to make silly faces at
her daddy and Uncle Johnny. Televisions didn't hold that much appeal
for her as yet.
While John was making yet another goofy face at his partner's daughter,
Chet came over carrying three full coolers of water with a bag of
styrofoam cups jammed under his arm. "Hey, Gage, would you mind taking
a break from flirting with your girlfriend and grabbing these for me?"
"Chet! I'm not flirting with my girl_," he began until he realized he
was being unmercifully teased. Gage was always quick with a comeback
for his friendly rival and moved to help him out. "Sure, no problem,
Chet," replied the gangly paramedic with a wry smile as he grabbed the
very light weight package of cups from under his fellow fire fighter's
arm. "Gee, thanks, Gage," Chet snickered, "your help is certainly
Gage replied with a snicker of his own but then proceeded to take one
of the coolers off of Chet's hands. In recognition of the civility of
Gage's act, Chet said in a rather conspiratorial tone, "Hey, guess
who's playing today for Rampart?"
"Who?" asked Gage with only a hint of curiosity.
"Aw, c'mon, ya gotta guess one time at least," whined Chet. When Gage
shrugged his shoulders and Roy offered no more of guess than his
partner, Chet sighed, "Jeeze, you guys aren't any fun." When he
started to walk away, both men called out to him in stereo and demanded
to know who was playing for Rampart.
"Okay, okay," he acquiesced, "I'll tell ya." He paused momentarily
dramatically and then said, "Well, believe it or not, it's Dixie."
"Dixie?" echoed Gage. "You're kidding."
"Nope, and I'll tell ya, it's not making a certain inflexible hard ass
too happy either."
"Brice isn't happy about Dixie playing?" asked Roy innocently.
"No, Roy, not Brice. Why the hell should Brice care if Dixie plays for
the hospital team in a softball game with our Station?"
"Well, he's about as inflexible a hard ass as I'll ever know,"
"See? That's why I was asking," replied Roy relieved to get a little
backup from his partner.
"No, jeeze you guys. Not Brice. Dr. Morton. He's the one whose got his
britches all in a twist 'cause Dixie's playing," informed Chet.
"Okay, I'll bite," began Roy a bit warily, knowing Chet Kelly's
penchant for weaving a bit of a tall tale, "Why would Morton care if
Dixie plays or not?"
"Ahh, you've come to the right source for answers, my friend," Chet
replied with a flourish.
"C'mon, Chet, cut to the chase," retorted Gage with frustration.
"He played ball in school; takes it real seriously," interjected Mike
"Now he decides to talk," fumed Chet as he threw his hands up in
frustration. Both Johnny and Roy laughed at that. Mike was usually so
quiet that you didn't even know he was in the room with you, so the
fact that he let Chet's big news out of the bag was something of a
newsworthy tidbit in and of itself.
"I heard he played basketball," commented Johnny.
"Yeah, that was the sport he lettered in, but he also played baseball
in college," replied Chet quickly so Mike couldn't rain on his parade
"Yeah, but this is just a charity softball game," remarked Roy, "why
should he care if Dix plays?"
"Well, I heard he was really ranting and raving with Brackett and Early
about the purity of the game and all that," explained Chet. "Of
course, when Doc Early told Morton he would have to be the one to tell
Dixie she couldn't play, Morton backed off real quick."
"I guess the man isn't a total fool, eh Roy?" asked Johnny
They all had a good laugh over that one and then proceeded to warm up
before the game.
For the most part, the two teams were pretty evenly matched. Each side
had scored a few runs so it was all tied up in the bottom of the fifth
inning. In fact, after Dr. Brackett grounded out to make the first out,
Dr. Morton had hit a hard single to short center. Stoker was playing
center and threw it into the shortstop, Gage, while Marco, the second
baseman, backed him up. Roy held Morton on at first base and tried to
engage him in some friendly banter.
"Nice hit, Doc." The doctor merely nodded in acknowledgment. "Heard
you were a pretty good player in college," Roy continued. This
elicited a mild grunt of recognition. "Ever think of playing for the
majors?" This got a response, though it was a bit terse.
"Didn't make the cut. Became a doctor instead."
"Oh." Roy let it go at that. He held the resident to the bag without
another word to the rather intense young resident.
There were a number of extra players on each team who hadn't gotten
into the game yet, and the sub that caused the most reaction up to that
point was just now entering the game. As Dixie started up to
the plate, she had two choices. For one, the liberated woman in her could choose to ignore the cat calls and whistles and then quietly demand that everyone take her playing seriously. On the other hand, she could acknowledge the fact that it was a bit unusual for a woman to be playing in an all-male softball game and accept the fact that most of them were appreciative of her female form up at bat.
She chose the latter.
She smiled, waved her hand to the crowd, and then stepped up to the
She took ball one. Her shorter height made it difficult for 51's pitcher, Hank Stanley, to find the strike zone. He threw her an arcing pitch again, and the umpire called, ball two.
"Good eye, Dixie!" cheered on Joe Early who was acting as first base
coach. Joe then reminded Morton to run on any contact to avoid a
possible double play, and Morton gruffly responded that he _knew_ that.
As Cap went into his wind up, Dr. Morton stepped on first place. He'd
always had good baseball instincts, and he had a feeling that Dixie was
going to make contact this time. Though he was probably the only person playing who really cared, he knew in softball he had to wait
for the ball to cross home plate before he could leave the base, so
without taking his eye off of his second base destination, he listened
for the tell tale crack of the bat.
"GO DIXIE!" cried out Early. Morton had already taken off at the sound
of the hit and was running hard toward second base. Marco had come in
from his second base position to take care of the slow rolling dribbler
that barely made it toward the pitcher's mound, deftly picked it up,
and tossed it toward first base.
As he lobbed it over, Roy was laughing as he announced for all to hear,
"Dixie, ya run just like a girl!" Marco started laughing at that,
especially since Dixie started laughing halfway up the first base line
as she accepted the ribbing with the good humor it was intended. Of
course, since everyone was laughing so hard, Roy lost control of the
softball and actually dropped it as Dixie stepped on first base.
"Well, nice of you to notice, Roy!" she panted as she made it to the
"SAFE!" called out the umpire.
"Aw, c'mon, Ump! She was out by a mile!" whined Chet, who as the
catcher was right on top of the play backing up his first baseman.
"And she would have been if Roy held onto the ball," pointed out Joe
"Dixie, ya can't be running like a girl and expect a guy to play decent
ball, ya know?" declared Roy with a broad smile. They were having a
good time. Johnny was right; it was a great day for a ballgame.
Everyone was chatting it up, joking, and laughing when suddenly Roy
heard Marco call his name out. Loudly.
And in a tone that was more than just a little panic-stricken.
Like every other guy on the field, on the sidelines, and in the stands,
Johnny was carefully observing the batter with an admiring eye. Though
Dixie was older than he was, he could still appreciate that she was a
fine looking woman with a figure that certainly did her 'uniform' of
shorts and a tee shirt justice.
The little wiggle she made with her hips as she stood in the batter's
box didn't hurt either. Gage smiled to himself; there was no way he
could be sure whether Dixie was purposely trying to distract the
players on the field, or if she was nothing more than an innocent
No matter, he was there to have a good time and watching Dixie
participate in the charity game was as good of a definition of fun as
any other. He smiled at the head nurse's seeming determination after
taking two balls in a row. When his captain got ready to throw the
third pitch, Dixie seemed to buckle down. Stanley went into his wind up
and arced the ball perfectly over home plate.
She hit it. Johnny's mouth dropped when she actually made contact with
the ball. He smoothly ran over to cover second base while Marco fielded the ball.
Gage watched the play in front of him the entire time. The ball
dribbled up a little ways past the pitcher's mound and he watched Marco
dash in to snatch it up off the ground. While Marco straightened up to
throw, Johnny saw Dixie running towards first base. He couldn't keep
the smile off of his face, and then he started laughing right out loud
when he heard Roy's declaration that Dixie ran just like a girl!
That she did, and he enjoyed every moment watching her. He didn't take
his eyes off of her.
Which was why the jolt Gage felt when Mike Morton barreled into him
felt like a renegade train had run right into him. He felt as though he
was lifted up by his feet and then dropped back down to the ground on
his head. Johnny had no idea as to exactly what happened. He simply
knew he was no longer standing upright watching the play in front of
He was dead.
That was the only thing that Johnny figured could account for what he
was feeling. At first he thought he was having an out of body
experience, but then Gage realized that he was looking up at the sky
rather than hovering above and looking down below him.
Yet he still wasn't sure. He felt as though his body was deadened; he
couldn't understand why all of a sudden he no longer felt a part of
Morton was sprawled out next to the paramedic. He remained still, as
still as the paramedic was, for a moment or two. Then, slowly, the
muscular doctor untangled himself from Gage's lower limbs.
"Was I safe?" were the first words out of his mouth. When Gage didn't
answer, Morton asked again only to be greeted by silence. He took a
quick look over at first base and saw ER's head nurse remained
steadfastly on first base. "Well, I guess Dixie beat it out," he
muttered quietly. He figured he'd take his base and stay there until
someone told him differently.
As he stood up and brushed the dirt off of his clothes, the doctor noticed Gage still hadn't gotten up. He decided to be sportsman like and offer the fireman a hand. "Here, Gage," he said as he offered his hand, "Lemme help you up."
"No," was the quick, but strangled cry.
"No?" Morton echoed. "C'mon, Gage, stop screwing around."
"No," the young paramedic replied with more determination.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" Morton asked. He was too wound up in
the emotion of the game to even begin to contemplate that Johnny might
need more than just a hand up.
Johnny suddenly realized something was horribly wrong. He felt he was
going to lose all control if he didn't get the anchor he desperately
"Roy," he called out with a small, but determined voice, "I need Roy."
It was as if a light bulb suddenly went on in Mike Morton's head. "Oh
crap," he muttered aloud. It was then that Morton called out to Marco
Lopez to get Roy over to him and John.
"Something's wrong, Lopez. Roy. Get Roy, now." Dr. Morton then motioned furiously for Drs. Brackett and Early to come over to Gage's side.
Roy looked over towards where he heard the call and realized that
Johnny was down for the count. For a split second he began trying to
analyze all of the possibilities that his partner remained laying on
None of them were good.
He started out at a brisk walk, then accelerated to a slight jog, until
he was at a full sprint to second base. He knelt down at his partner's
side and was about to grab his hand to take a pulse when he heard
Johnny say softly, "C-Collar. Get a C-collar on me, now."
Johnny made his demand clear; there was no doubt in Roy's mind that his
partner was acting out of pure instinct. "Okay, partner. We're
getting one from Squad 16's truck," and with that he looked up at Marco
who immediately understood that he was to go and get the Squad 16's
paramedics and equipment.
Kelly Brackett and Joe Early quickly knelt down by the fallen paramedic and attempted to assess his condition. Dixie stood nearby in case they could use her assistance as well. Mike Morton, however, remained back of the immediate scene. He stood observing without comment.
"Okay, Johnny, tell me what's going on, okay?" Roy asked gently, as he
leaned down over his partner in order to make eye contact.
"Don't know exactly," responded the less than confident voice. "Roy,
something's wrong. I don't know where I am. I don't think I can move."
Roy hesitated before he responded to this; he wasn't sure exactly what
Johnny meant. He wasn't even sure if Johnny knew what he meant, and
Roy didn't want to agitate him. Roy knew something was wrong,
seriously wrong, since Johnny had not moved a muscle the entire time. He looked to Brackett for guidance.
"Keep him talking," the doctor whispered encouragingly, as he and Early continued to assess the young man's condition. "Just keep him talking for now."
"Do you remember what happened that caused you to go down?" asked Roy.
"I'm not sure. Dixie was up and she hit the ball. She got a hit, and
I was watching. Marco, he got the ball and threw it to you. Right,
Roy?" he asked in almost a pleading tone. He needed to know that he
was able to make some sense of what had happened.
"Yeah, Johnny. That's what happened so far, but what happened next?"
Brackett asked with more concern as he realized that there was the
possibility of a very serious injury.
"I, I don't know. I'm not sure what __. Roy, what the hell happened?"
pleaded the younger partner. He was dazed and didn't know how to
explain his condition. He felt so disoriented at that moment that he
felt nauseous. He feared he was going to vomit all over himself.
Joanne watched in horror as the game game to a sudden abrupt halt and
everything centered on an injured player. "Hey, isn't that Johnny Gage
that's down?" she heard someone ask. She turned to look to the speaker and
recognized the wife of a paramedic from 51's C shift.
"Yes, it's Johnny. It looks like he hasn't moved a bit since he was knocked
down!" Joanne answered.
"Mom, can we go down and see what's happening?" Chris asked, his eyes filled
"Yeah, mom, I can make him get up," Jennifer pleaded.
Joanne shook her head. "No, we'll only be in the way. You Dad will come talk
to us as soon as he can."
Everyone's eyes on the field, no one noticed Jennifer leaving her seat...
"Uncle Johnny? Uncle Johnny, what's wrong?" cried out young Jennifer
who had run over to the scene before anyone even realized it.
"Oh, God, Roy?" he pleaded. He couldn't stand the idea that Jennifer
would see him weak. Roy understood immediately and spoke up.
"Jen, Uncle Johnny was hurt, but we're going to take good care of him.
We need you to go sit back down with Mommy and Chris, so the doctors
and the paramedics have the room to work. Okay, sweetheart?"
"But, Daddy, I want__."
"Jennifer, please, listen to Daddy. Honey, it's real important," Roy
"C'mon, sweetheart, let's go with your Mommy now," Dixie interjected.
I'm sure your daddy will let us know if there's anything we can do to
help your Uncle Johnny, right?"
"Thanks, Dixie." Roy then stood up and gave his daughter a hug. He
then looked at his wife with what she could only describe as wild eyes.
Joanne knew something was wrong, but she knew she couldn't ask
questions at that time. She would have to wait, along with everyone
else. She allowed herself to be escorted by Dixie to the nearby
bleachers to wait for word with her children.
When it was apparent that Jennifer was no longer nearby, Johnny felt a
little less anxious. He knew that he was in good hands; he just wished
he could remember what had actually happened.
"Johnny, I need to give you a quick check to get a better idea of what
we're dealing with, okay? Brice and Bellingham are going to check your
vitals for me," informed Dr. Early.
"Roy?" called out Johnny suddenly. When Roy had stood up to console
Jennifer, he was no longer in Gage's direct line of sight. His voice
was now filled with anxiety, and Roy quickly responded.
"I'm right here, Junior."
"Roy, I can't see you," he said tremulously.
"I'm here, Johnny," he said gently, as he slipped in behind him in
order to get in his partner's sight. "I'm right here."
"Anything jogging your memory, John, about what happened?" asked Dr.
Early. When he heard a whispered, "no," the doctor then asked aloud of
everyone, "Did anyone see what happened?"
There was complete silence for several moments when Mike Stoker spoke up. "I saw it. I saw the entire thing." His voice had an edge to it that few had ever heard coming from the normally mild-mannered engineer.
"Well, you gonna tell us, Stoker?" egged on Chet.
"It's all your fault!" Mike continued with quiet anger. "It's all your fault!" As Stoker spoke, Morton began to back up as the fireman unconsciously began to move toward the resident.
"Stoker, what the hell are you doing?" called out Hank when he realized that Stoker was getting more and more intimidating. He wasn't sure what caused him more shock, Gage's condition or Mike's sudden, out-of-character aggressive behavior. He reached for his engineer just as Stoker lunged for Morton.
Chet grabbed Stoker's right arm, while Hank grabbed the left. Stoker
tried to fend them both off, but eventually acquiesced, breathing hard.
"Mike, what the hell got into you?" asked the captain.
When Stoker finally found his breath again, he said simply, "It's his
fault," all the while glaring directly at Dr. Morton.
"What was his fault, Stoker? C'mon, pally, talk to me," beseeched the
"I saw the whole thing. Gage never saw him coming. Never. He was
watching the play in front of him the entire time, but _he_," Stoker
practically spit the pronoun out, " never slowed down for one second.
He just barreled right into Johnny without ever taking notice if he was
ready for him. For crying out loud, it's just a damn game!"
Mike Morton stood silently, listened to the diatribe, and accepted
every word as truth.
The paramedics finished taking all of the vitals and recording them.
Early was a little concerned about their patient's blood pressure as
it was running a little high which was contrary to potential neurogenic
shock, so perhaps that a positive sign. However, he didn't like the
pallor of Gage's skin. He looked too pale and was probably nauseous.
Vomiting was the last thing John Gage needed right now, and Early
urged the paramedics to secure him to a backboard as quickly as
Brice and Bellingham weren't done a moment too soon when Gage began to
show signs of panic. "Junior, you okay?" asked Roy quickly.
"Roll him; he's gonna throw up," directed Roy.
One last quick check of the inflexible C-Collar and the tie downs on
the backboard, and John Gage was rolled over onto his side so that he
didn't end up choking on his own vomit. Roy stayed near, keeping his
hands around his partner's forehead, and saying whatever he could think
of that might offer the frightened man some comfort.
I.V.s had already been started, so that lines would be open and ready
to use when they arrived at the hospital. Early and Brackett both
agreed that steroids would have to be administered as soon as they
arrived in the emergency room. Both men were acutely aware that it was
going to be a while before they'd be able to determine the severity and
permanency of Gage's injury.
As Brackett and Early looked at the worried expressions surrounding
them, they realized it was going to be a long wait.
Mike Morton remained silent throughout the entire procedure of getting
Gage prepared for transport. What was there to say? He knew he was
the reason for the paramedic's injury. He hadn't meant to cause the
guy bodily harm, that was a certainty. But the truth of the matter
was, his inflexible pursuit of always being the best no matter what the
cost, was simply too high of a price on that day.
He knew there was a good possibility John Gage would be permanently
confined to a wheelchair. His career as a firefighter/paramedic was
quite probably over. Given Johnny's love of the outdoors and all
activities associated with it, his motivation to continue life in a
wheelchair would be in jeopardy as well.
Morton turned away from the crowd momentarily to take a deep breath and
scrub his face with his hands. He didn't mean for it to happen. He
never intended to hurt anyone; he was simply playing the game in the
only way he knew how to play it, hard and with the intent of winning.
Only problem was that no one won today, and there was obviously at
least one big loser. Morton looked back as the team of medics turned
the backboard over again. Gage was having a difficult time keeping the
contents of his stomach down, and he threw up yet again. All concerned
wanted to be sure his stomach settled before they transported to
Rampart. Morton sighed in despair.
It was decided that Kelly Brackett would ride separately to Rampart, and Roy would ride with Dr. Early in the ambulance. Brice and Bellingham were released from the run since a neurosurgeon was accompanying the patient.
Johnny hadn't said a word when they first entered the ambulance,
although he did keep his eyes in constant contact with Roy's. The fear
in the younger man's eyes was obvious; what was less noticeable was the
terror in his partner's. Roy knew Johnny was in trouble, and that this
was one injury from which he might not get a chance to walk away.
Roy considered just about every possibility he could think of as they
rode over to the hospital. His partner might have to use crutches to
He might lose the use of his legs.
He might have limited use of his arms.
He might require the use of an electric wheelchair.
He might need some assistance with breathing.
He might be on a respirator for the rest of his life.
Roy didn't want to get his hopes up, so he didn't chance thinking Gage
might recover completely. Of course, Roy would even allow himself to
consider the possibility that his friend might not make it at all.
They were almost to the hospital when Gage called to his partner.
"Roy, promise me something." Roy had to lean down close to John to
hear the whispered request. "Promise me I won't have to live like
"Pally, you know how good these guys are," Roy began reassuringly.
"They're gonna do everything they can for you. We're just gonna have
to wait and see what the test results are, okay?"
"No," Gage whispered, agitation was clearly heard this time, "ya gotta
promise me, I won't have to live like this." When Roy still appeared
to have no clue of what John was really saying, the fallen paramedic
implored, "Please, Roy."
It was then that Roy finally understood the true meaning behind Gage's
words, and it frightened him into silence momentarily. Finally, with a
great deal of difficulty, Roy managed to choke out, "Junior, I can't
make a promise that's impossible for me to keep. Damn it, Johnny, you
mean too much to me. I couldn't let you go that easily, so please,
don't ask me to__." Roy paused and swallowed back a sob. "Please,
Johnny, don't ask me that."
Johnny closed his eyes.
Dr. Early quickly administered the steroids to reduce any swelling around the spinal cord and its aftereffects. They ordered a complete set of x-rays in order to help them diagnose the severity of the trauma to the spinal cord.
In the meantime, they continued to assess their patient for shock. They'd started an IV of Ringers Lactate while in the field to help minimize the symptoms.
Upon arrival in the trauma room, Johnny had been immediately
catheterized. The last thing John Gage needed was an infection that could increase his blood pressure to dangerous levels. Pain and discomfort easily triggered a condition that could raise the blood pressure, but since Johnny's present condition rendered him without the ability to feel, it was up to Early and Brackett to anticipate potential problems. Anything the medical staff could do to minimize potential problems was a priority.
Both doctors knew it was going to be a matter of waiting and seeing.
Praying probably wouldn't hurt at this point either.
The firemen who weren't on duty filtered into the ER waiting room at
Rampart throughout the day. Everyone gathered in support of their
friend and his partner. Joanne arrived with both children in tow. She
expected to find her husband was remaining by John's side, so she was
surprised to see him in the waiting room with the others.
"Roy? What's wrong?" she asked as soon as she saw the dark mood he
wore on his face.
"They're getting him ready for x-rays and a scan," he replied. He
spoke with little inflection; he was still in paramedic mode.
"Roy, talk to me. What are you not telling me?" Joanne asked again.
"Joanne, he can't move!" Roy retorted.
"Besides the obvious," she replied gently. After thirteen years of
marriage, if there was one thing Joanne DeSoto could do, it was read
her husband like an open book.
Roy didn't know how to say it; he didn't know if he should betray
John's confidence, but he something like this was too hard for him to
deal with on his own. He looked at his wife gratefully and opened up
"Joanne, he's scared; I mean, I know he must be scared, but__."
"But? Tell me, Roy, whatever it is, we'll deal with it, together," she
"He asked me to do something I could never do," he confessed. "He asked
me to promise that he wouldn't have to go on living if he were to
remain paralyzed." Roy let out an involuntary shudder just remembering
his friend's plea.
"Oh, dear God, that poor man," reacted Joanne. "He must feel so
helpless to want to__." She couldn't say utter the word. "What did
"No. I told him, no." Roy fell into his wife's arms for the emotional
support he so desperately needed at that moment.
Mike Morton remained in the doctor's lounge alone pacing its perimeter.
He wasn't asked to consult on Gage's case, which of course didn't
surprise him, but he was still feeling as if he should be doing
something. The problem was, he didn't think anyone would let him. He
felt like a pariah and didn't think anyone would welcome his offering
Dixie walked into the lounge for a needed cup of coffee and was
startled to find Dr. Morton waiting alone inside. She knew it made
sense that he would be there, but having focused so much of energies on
getting Johnny settled in, she'd completely forgotten about Mike
Morton. It looked to her as if everyone had forgotten about the young
resident, and she wondered if that was a good idea.
"Mike, you okay?" she asked tentatively.
He looked at her quietly before answering her, as if he needed to
assess her true motivation for the question. After being on the
receiving end of Mike Stoker's fury, Morton wondered if anyone really
gave a damn as to how he felt about the whole incident. Afterwards, no
one had come over to him to offer any kind of support or sympathy
regarding Stoker's attack on him.
Not that he felt he deserved any, but it would have been of some
comfort to know everyone didn't hate him for what he did to Gage.
What _he_ did to Gage.
He suddenly realized he had no idea how to answer Dixie's question, so
he remained silent.
Dixie carefully observed Morton and went into Nurse's Mode. The
man's pallor looked pasty and she noticed his hands were trembling a
bit. The next thing she knew, Morton's entire body began shuddering.
"Mike, sit down, you're in shock," she ordered as she walked over to
him and grabbed his arm. "C'mon, sit, now."
He allowed himself to be led to the couch and Dixie did a quick
assessment to see how the young resident was doing. She noted the
glassy eyes, and slow responses. His breathing was a bit labored, and
his pulse was more rapid than normal, but certainly not cause for too
He was exhibiting signs of shock, though she wasn't sure if it was
physical or emotional. "Mike, were you hurt?" When he didn't answer,
she shook his shoulder in order to get his attention, and repeated,
"Were you hurt at all?"
Finally, Dixie placed her hand under Morton's chin and pulled it so
that he was forced to make eye contact with her. "Mike, were you
injured? Answer me, now."
Dixie's no nonsense tone startled the doctor a bit, and it was just
enough to force a response from him.
"Did you hit your head?" she asked, hoping Morton's new found gift of
gab wouldn't disappear too soon.
"Did you pull a muscle or bruise anything; are you cut?"
"No. No. No." He looked at her with little expression, until he
began speaking again. Then, his voice took on new tones of emotion.
"I told you I was not hurt. I told you I was okay. I told you that.
Now leave me alone."
"Mike, you're not okay." She paused momentarily and then added, "None
of us are."
Morton looked at her with new eyes and bemoaned, "Oh, God, Dixie, what
have I done?"
He dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.
It took some doing, but Dixie finally convinced the resident to lay down on the couch. Morton fell into a restless sleep. His body had been experiencing similar symptoms of shock to those of one who was physically hurt, and it took a toll on him. He was exhausted from the emotional roller coaster he was riding that afternoon. Sleep was his only means of escape.
Dixie left the lounge and went into the trauma room to check on Johnny.
She saw him as he lay motionless while Drs. Early and Brackett conferred quietly. He remained restrained in the C-collar and on the backboard. The nurse bypassed the two physicians and went directly to the patient. She noted he was staring straight up at the ceiling barely blinked at her arrival.
"Hey there, good lookin'," she greeted with a smile. "How you holding
"Okay," he said resolutely.
"Really?" she responded, "Funny, I'd be ready to climb the walls by now
waiting for word on what the hell was going on."
"Don't think that's gonna happen too soon," responded Johnny
"Johnny, you don't know what's going to happen any time soon. We have
to wait for the x-rays and I'm sure Joe has scheduled you for a CAT
"I guess." His tone remained flat. It dawned on Dixie that something
was wrong with the picture before her. "Where's Roy?"
"Don't know. Haven't seen him since we first got here," he answered.
"How about I go and get him?" Dixie asked rhetorically, but to her
surprise, Johnny answered her.
"Dunno if he'll want to come back in," he began and then hesitantly
continued, "Think maybe I put him off before."
"Put him off? From seeing _you_? John Gage, what in heaven's name
could you have possibly said that would make Roy want to avoid seeing
you?" Dixie asked a bit indignantly.
He met her question with silence and then whispered, "Nothing. Tired."
He forced his eyes closed though Dixie was well aware that it was not
She leaned down and whispered into his ear, "Johnny Gage, don't you
dare give up on yourself, ya hear? I won't allow it, and neither will
Roy. None of your friends will. You just remember that."
John sighed to himself and waited until Dixie left his side before he
allowed himself to mutely respond to her whispered pleas with only
A few hours passed by and Kelly and Joe took the time to go over the
x-rays. Next they took the opportunity to review the results with the dozen or so firefighters and their families that remained in the waiting room to let them know what they knew of Johnny's condition.
"I wish we had something definitive to tell you all," Joe Early began
remorsefully. "It's just too soon to make a prognosis."
"Well, what do you know?" asked Hank. This was one half of the
best paramedic team in the county laying in bound up in that hospital
room, and he needed to know what he and his men could expect. He
needed to know what he would have to do to support the other half of
"Well, we can tell you Johnny is experiencing varying degrees of
numbness from the neck down. The good news is that he's not having too
much difficulty breathing, so we can hopefully expect he won't need to
go on a ventilator any time soon," offered Dr. Brackett.
"Ventilator?" squeaked Chet. "What the hell are you talking about,
Doc? Just tell us how soon Gage is gonna get up out of that bed and
walk out of here."
Leave it to Chet Kelly to get to the heart of the matter and blurt out
what was on everybody's mind.
"Chet__," Brackett hesitantly began, "__Guys, listen. I, um, don't
think __." He gave up. Kelly Brackett was the first person to admit
his bedside manner was sometimes a little gruff, but even he didn't
have it in his heart to tell these men that there was a real
possibility their fellow fireman and friend would never walk out of
Joe Early saw his colleague struggling and graciously took over the
task of trying to explain the situation.
"Folks, Kelly's right. It's simply too early to make a prognosis.
There are a number of possibilities ranging from the best possible
outcome to the worse case scenario."
"What might those be, Doc?" asked Roy softly. He was pretty sure he
knew what they were, but he felt it was important for the knowledge to
be shared with his colleagues.
"Well, best case, is Johnny enjoys a full recovery and walks out of the
hospital once feeling returns. He'd probably have to go through a
period of rehab, but that would be expected."
"And the worse case?" asked Hank.
"He's paralyzed from the neck down and has to use a ventilator to
breathe for him," Early replied but quickly added, "but I don't see
that as a true possibility. He's breathing on his own now, so I don't
think the injury is that high."
Joanne stepped forward and asked, "Can you give an estimate as to when
you will have some idea of how Johnny is going to fair?"
"We got the test results, but to be honest, there's still too much
swelling to allow us to see anything definitive. It's really a wait
and see situation. It could be anywhere from the next several hours to
the next several days. I wish I could be more specific. I'm sorry,"
From the entrance of the room, Mike Morton had been listening intently.
He was just as eager to hear the results as Gage's friends. He was
just as frustrated and let down when he didn't.
"Where's Joanne?" asked Dixie.
"The kids were getting really restless and hungry. Jennifer didn't
really understand what was going on, and Jo felt it best to take both
Dixie nodded in agreement and then said, "Have you had a chance to
speak with Dr. Morton yet?"
"Dr. Morton?" he echoed. When Dixie nodded, Roy shook his head no and
then asked, "Why?"
"Roy, he's feeling really down about what happened."
With a flash of anger, Roy gritted out, "Well, don't you think he
should? Damn it, Dix, it's his fault Johnny can't move, isn't it?"
"It was an accident, and you know it. Mike Morton never intended
Johnny any harm. He was playing the game, that's all," she retorted.
"Turned out to be a helluva play, didn't it," he muttered miserably.
"I know Morton didn't intentionally set out to hurt Johnny, but it was
so unnecessary, Dix. If he weren't so damned, _intense_ all the time,
this would never have happened."
"I know, Roy, but he feels just as badly as the rest of us."
"Oh? Funny, you'd never know that. Where the hell has he been all
this time, Dixie? I certainly haven't seen him go and apologize to
Johnny, have you?" Roy said angrily.
Dixie remained silent. She knew Roy was in no state of mind to
understand that Morton understood just how angry everyone was feeling
with him at that point. Finally, she said, "Roy, I think someone could
really use some company about now. I checked a little earlier and saw
Johnny was definitely awake."
"Oh_, sure," Roy hesitated, "Um, let me go check with Cap first and find out when my next shift is, okay?" He began to walk away, but Dixie grabbed his arm too quickly.
"Now what's going on?" she said with a hint of exasperation. It was a
long day for them all.
"Nothing, Dix, nothing at all. Just gotta check in with Cap, that's
"Roy DeSoto, that is the biggest bunch of crock and you and I both
know it. Now spill."
Roy sighed and with much trepidation shared the request Johnny had made
of him in the ambulance. "I don't know if I can look him straight in
the eye, Dix, knowing he wants me to__, well, you know, help him die."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Roy! He doesn't want to die, he's afraid of
living a life that's the total antithesis of what he's always known. Get in there and help him see you'll be there no matter how things turn out." She saw his hesitation and urged him with one final, "Go!"
He nodded and left for Johnny's room.
Roy opened the door to his partner's room slightly when he heard voices
from inside. He opened it a little more, and though he had no
intention of eavesdropping, he found himself listening with more than a
little curiosity to the words that Johnny and Dr. Morton exchanged.
"Listen, Gage, I had no idea you didn't see me. I just figured you
did; I guess I should have looked, but I thought you saw me. I was
sure you saw me."
Roy tried to keep quiet, he really did, but in all of Morton's words,
he'd yet to hear an apology. Not anything close. So Roy probably
startled both men more than he should have when he shoved the door open
and angrily said, "If absolution is what you want from him, Morton,
don't waste your breath.
"Why don't you try saying that you're sorry. You were the one at
fault, but you're making it sound like Johnny's the one responsible
just because he wasn't expecting to be blindsided by an idiot who
doesn't know the difference between a charity softball game and the
World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees."
"Roy, don't," Johnny rasped.
"No, Junior, this just isn't fair. He's standing here and I haven't
heard him take one iota of responsibility for you ending up in
"Roy," Gage tried again, "it was an accident. He didn't mean for this
"Oh, Johnny, he should at least apologize," Roy despaired. It was
killing him to think his best friend may never lead a normal life.
Johnny looked over at Mike Morton and for the first time since the
accident, actually sported a small smile. "Ya gotta understand, Roy,"
he said in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "for Morton, that _was_ an
"Johnny__,' Roy began, but Morton cut him off.
"__No, Roy, you're right. I didn't want to take the blame for this because that would have meant that I was going to have to claim responsibility for Johnny being in that bed. But you're right, it is my fault."
He turned away from Roy and leaned over Johnny so that he made direct
eye contact with him. "I am sorry, John, for doing this to you. I
truly am; I don't know what I can do to even try and make it up to you,
but what ever it is, I'll do it. Please, John, please know I am so, so
Johnny took in Morton's remorseful expression and knew the guy was
being earnest. "I told you, Doc, you'd already apologized. I accept. Now, guys, if you don't mind, I think I'm ready for another nap. This
hanging around doing nothing is damned exhausting."
Roy smiled at his partner's obvious attempt to deflect the emotionally
charged exchange, but it worked. Morton returned to his normal
physician demeanor and told Gage he'd be in later to check on him.
Gage nodded and closed his eyes, but before Morton left, he called out
one more time, "Gage?"
"Hmmm?" responded Johnny sleepily.
"Thanks," and with that Morton left the room.
Roy walked over to his partner whose eyes remained closed and said
softly, "You're a piece of work, Junior. You may not be able to stand
on your own two feet at the moment, but I wouldn't want anyone but you
standing by me in a crisis. You're a helluva man, John Gage." And
with that he leaned over the railing and patted his hand gently to Johnny's forehead, the one body part Roy knew his partner still had feeling in.
When John was considered stable a couple of hours later, he was
admitted to a room on the neurology floor. The doctors and nurses on
that floor well aware that he was a very important patient and when
ever the opportunity presented itself, they were sure to step in and
Of course, the fact that John was never left alone didn't limit those
opportunistic visits; it simply proved to John that no matter what
the outcome, he was valued as a friend and as a person whether he could
walk or not.
Roy spent the night in the chair next to his bed; he watched over his
friend and did whatever he could to remind him that he needed Johnny no
matter what. DeSoto talked about his children and reminded his partner
how much his children loved being around him and even Gage had to agree
that at least he could still exchange silly faces with Jennifer.
Roy laughed at that and watched as the younger man drifted off to
sleep. Roy soon followed in a restless slumber, as he dreamt of
softball games and accidents and imagined himself in Johnny's
predicament. He woke up with a start and looked at his watch.
It wasn't quite a full day yet since Johnny fell; in fact it was only
about 18 hours, but Roy heard something that made him look more
carefully at his sleeping partner.
"John, you okay?" he asked. Roy reached over, without thinking of
course, and patted his partner's arm gently to get his attention.
"What?" Gage responded quickly. "Roy? Everything okay?"
"Johnny! Johnny, you felt that, didn't you?" Roy asked excitedly.
"Felt what?" he said as he began to struggle to move about within the
"No, don't move, lay still! Just tell me if you can feel this," and he
gently touched his partner's hand.
"OhGodthankyou," murmured Johnny. He felt it. He felt it just fine,
thank you very much.
Roy continued to test Gage's upper limbs and found that most of the
feeling had returned. The remainder would return in a few hours more
and Gage's lower limbs would regain feeling within the next few hours
It wasn't going to be easy. After it was determined that Gage's injury
was not permanent, the doctors explained to him that he still
experienced a very serious trauma and would most likely require some
fairly intensive physical and occupational therapy for several weeks.
But he would walk again. He would experience life again as he knew it.
He would be the man he was.
And when next Dr. Morton visited Johnny Gage to offer his
congratulations that all would be well, Roy reminded him of his desire
to help Gage out in any way that he could.
"And I meant it," agreed Morton.
"Well, I know Johnny's gonna have to stay at the rehab center for a
while until he's discharged, but from what the doctors said, Johnny's
gonna continue to need therapy once he goes home too. So, well, if we
could count on you to take a turn at getting him to his therapy on
those days I'm working or just not available, it would be a big help,"
"I know you're letting me off easy, Gage. Of course I'll help you out
by getting you to and from therapy," answered Morton. "And thanks,
"Thanks? For what?"
"For forcing me to see what I needed to do in order to get back to
living my life. I was hiding away from everyone, worried that they
would blame me for Gage's paralysis. Of course, the sad thing was,
they had every right to, except I was the only one who refused to see
that. Well, make that me and Gage here." He actually smiled at the
paramedic and then said, "Thank you, to both of you."
"You're welcome, Doc," murmured both men and they watched him leave the
"So, how soon do you think Dr. Jeckyl will leave us and return as Mr.
Hyde?" asked Johnny with a wry grin.
"I'd bet that it lasts at least a day or two," replied Roy with a wider
"That long? Really?" John laughed in response. "I'd say by tonight,
the real Dr. Morton returns, whadda you say?"
Roy nodded and then offered his hand to shake his partner's.
"Hey partner?" Gage said quickly, "Thanks. Thanks for sticking by me."
And Johnny Gage, with a great deal of effort, slowly offered his hand in return.
End of It's Only a Game by STP. (STPteach@aol.com)
Feedback: Would be very nice...really! It's been a long cold television season, and I need something to make me smile.
Thanks: To dee_ayy and Peggy for the inspiration and the very thoughtful betas! The sports info and especially the medical info from both of you saved me a heap of confusion! Thank you, my friends! (And to Chris Carter for giving me a reason to jump ship for a while and play in another universe!)
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