Another Hang-Up

A little post-episode piece for, you guessed it, “Hang-Up.”  Picks up right where that one ends, with plenty of angst and owies. Haven't seen Emergency! in a dog's age? Let me catch you up. In "Hang-Up," John Gage was obsessed with finding out how a particular episode of Adam-12 had ended. He drove everyone nuts, as John Gage often did. In the last rescue of the show, Gage was exposed to a borderline-high dose of radiation, and was told he had to spend the night in the hospital in case he got sick. Roy, perhaps feeling sorry for his partner, offered to call the TV station and find out how the show had ended. But Johnny by then had forgotten all about it, and told an exasperated Roy not to bother. There, that's all you need to know, so read on!

By dee_ayy

November 19, 2000


For the life of him, Johnny couldn’t understand why Roy had looked at him that way before he left. Really, it was just a TV show, after all! No matter, he just wanted to sleep. He’d just started to settle in when he realized that the overhead light was still on, and reluctantly got out of bed to turn it off.  His hand had  barely touched the light switch when the door opened slowly. It was Brackett.

“Figured you’d be asleep by now,” he told the young paramedic.

“Yeah, me too,” Gage replied, turning and climbing back into bed without turning out the lights.

“You showered again?” the doctor asked.

“Scrubbed till I was raw.”

“They came and drew blood?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said, absentmindedly touching the spot in the crook of his right elbow where the needle had been. “Tapped me out.”

“It’s important. How do you feel now, though?”

“Doc,” the paramedic said honestly, “I’m beat. I just want to get some sleep.”

Brackett chuckled. “I know, John, sorry. Did you notice any radiation burns, any redness anywhere?”

“Nah. Nothing. We were pretty well covered up.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. I’ll leave you alone now, let you get to sleep, but if you start feeling ill in any way I want you to call immediately, okay? I’ll be on all night.”

John shifted uncomfortably in his bed. “Yeah, okay. What can I expect?”

“Nausea, most likely,” Brackett told his patient. He patted John’s thigh through the blanket. “But maybe you’ll get lucky. Good night, John.”

“Night, doc.” John turned onto his left side, turning his back on the doctor. “Could you get the lights?” he asked wearily.

He sighed and relaxed when the room became cloaked in darkness.

+ + + + +

The incessant wail of the radiation alarm droned on. The flashing light periodically hit his eyes, momentarily blinding him. Johnny pulled at the man’s pant leg, trying to dislodge it. He felt it come loose, and watched his partner begin to pull the man to safety. John went to follow, and found he was caught himself. He tugged frantically at the sleeve of his turnout coat, desperate to get free, fully aware of the poison he was being exposed to. He called to Roy for help, but he was gone. Johnny pulled harder, and the harder he pulled, the tighter the grip became. The alarm got louder, the light got brighter, and with each wail and flash he knew he was getting another dose of deadly radiation. But he couldn’t get free. . . .

Johnny woke with a start. At first he had no idea what had woken him, but as his heart left his throat, he remembered the nightmare and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Flames he could deal with. Mud slides and floods, too. Even chemical spills; anything where you could face your enemy and fight it back. But radiation wasn’t like that. You couldn’t see it, smell it, run your hand through it. It always scared the shit out of him, and though he hadn’t admitted it to Roy or the doctor, he was living out one of his worst nightmares—hospitalized for radiation exposure. No wonder he’d turned it into a bad dream.

He sat up in bed and ran a shaky hand through his hair, chastising himself for being so damn melodramatic. The dose he’d taken wasn’t that big; if he got sick, he’d most likely feel bad for a couple of days and it would be over. And that was if. Chances were he’d be fine. He took another deep breath and tried to assess how he felt. His heart was still pounding in his chest, and he was sweating, but he knew that was from the dream. Other than that he felt kind of . . . he didn’t know, kind of weird. He couldn’t be more specific than that, and decided that it, too, was as a result of the nightmare. He tried to find his watch on the bedside table in the darkness but was unsuccessful. Didn’t really matter what time it was, he supposed.

He lay back down and tossed his left arm over his eyes in his favorite sleeping position. He just wanted to go back to sleep; preferably a dreamless sleep.

+ + + + +

The unmistakable and urgent need to puke woke Johnny up. He threw the blankets off and tried to jump to his feet for a mad dash to the bathroom, but was thwarted by the sides to his hospital bed, which someone had apparently lifted up while he’d been sleeping. Even though his practiced hands lowered the rail with no problem, the precious few seconds it had taken made the difference, and Johnny felt the contents of his stomach coming up while he was still outside the bathroom door. Instinctively his hand flew to his mouth to try and stanch the flow, but it was too little too late, and he saw the mess hit the floor as he kept moving. He made it to the bathroom sink and gave it up, letting the rest come there.

In the back of his mind he was vaguely aware of the sound of the door opening and a slight gasp, but he was too busy to let it register. But just as the painful retching was subsiding to hitching dry heaves, the lights came on and he heard a young woman’s voice behind him. “Oh, Mr. Gage!” it exclaimed. If he didn’t feel so bad he knew he’d either laugh or be mortified, with the mess on the floor and his ass hanging out the back of the hospital gown as he bent over the sink. If he could stop his stomach from rebelling, he’d probably do something to repair his dignity. But he just couldn’t be bothered.

“Here, let me help you,” the girl said as the vomiting stopped and Johnny started to take deep gulping breaths. “Sit down.” The nurse turned him slightly, backed him to the toilet, and pushed him down to sit on the lid. Gage took a deep breath and willed his legs to stop feeling like jelly; he unconsciously went to run his fingers through his hair, but stopped himself when he caught sight of the soiled palm, and instead leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees with a sigh. He was a mess, he’d made a mess, and he felt like something Boot would bury in the field behind the station.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” the young nursed cooed to him, and he finally looked up to take her in. Just his luck, she was young and adorable. Under any other circumstance, he’d give it a go. The woman went to the shower and turned it on in order to wet a washcloth, the sink having been rendered unusable. First she pressed the cool damp cloth onto the back of Johnny’s neck as he sat hunched over. It felt heavenly. But after a moment she pushed on his shoulder, sitting him up straight, and started to wipe the sweat off his brow.

Johnny reached up with his clean left hand and stopped her motion. “I can do it,” he said to her, and he took the cloth from her hand.

She studied him closely for a minute, then nodded. “Okay. I already called Dr. Brackett; he should be here soon. I’ll go and give housekeeping a call, though,” she offered, nodding toward the stopped-up sink.

“Sorry about that,” John told her somewhat sheepishly.

“Don’t you worry about it at all. You couldn’t help it. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, but if you need anything in the mean time, just call. My name’s Brenda.” And she was gone.

Johnny took a deep cleansing breath, relieved to be alone for the time being, and carefully wiped the grime off his hand. What he really needed, probably, was a shower. But his skin was still sore from the scrubbing he’d given himself during the two he’d already taken tonight. Besides, he had to admit, he felt shaky and weak and tired. He didn’t have the energy to take a shower. He’d just decided to summon up the energy to drag himself back to bed when he heard the familiar voice of Dr. Brackett in the room.

“John?” he asked searchingly.

“In here,” Gage answered half-heartedly. He pushed himself up so he was standing when the doctor reached the doorway. He watched as the physician’s eyes made a quick but thorough perusal of the small room, no doubt arriving at what had happened based on what he saw.

“Guess you weren’t so lucky, John,” Brackett said, not unkindly. “Let’s get you back in bed.”

Johnny just nodded and slowly started to shuffle out of the bathroom. He didn’t even have the energy or inclination to jerk his arm away when the doctor took a firm hold of his elbow and helped him along. In no time he was back in bed, suddenly chilled and shivering under his blanket.

“You’ve only vomited the one time?” the doctor asked. Johnny just nodded. “How do you feel otherwise?”

Gage shrugged. He’d tried to put it in words for himself earlier, and just couldn’t. “I dunno,” he shrugged. “Not so hot.”

“How so?” Johnny’d known his nonanswer wasn’t gonna fly, but he’d had to give it a try.

“I dunno, doc,” he said wearily. “I’m tired, kinda queasy. . . . I just don’t feel right.”

“Any pain anywhere?”

Johnny thought about it for a moment before answering. “No. No pain.” He’d barely gotten the words out when he suddenly felt the need to vomit again. Brackett recognized the signs immediately, and quickly sat his patient up, putting an emesis bowl under his chin. John heaved painfully, but of course his stomach was now empty, and all he brought up was bile.

“Oh, man,” he sighed when he’d finished and dropped back against his pillows.

“Here,” the doctor said, offering him a cup of water. “Rinse your mouth out. I’m going to get you something for this nausea of yours.”

When the doctor had left Johnny turned onto his side and pulled his knees up close to his chest. He tightly hugged his abdomen and closed his eyes, but when he did all he could imagine was the damage being done to his insides by the radiation. He couldn’t remember everything he’d learned about radiation exposure; but he remembered enough. He knew it could be bad, and if how he was feeling at the moment was any indication, it was bad.

“Johnny?” Gage opened his eyes; he wasn’t even conscious that he’d closed them.

“Yeah, doc,” he intoned wearily, letting his eyes slide shut again.

“I have a shot here; for the nausea. I’m going to put it in your hip, okay?”

“Uh huh.” John didn’t even bother opening his eyes. He just felt the blankets and hospital gown move aside, and then felt the pinch of the needle. The doctor patted his hip after everything was back in place.

“I know you’re tired, Johnny, but can you open your eyes for a minute? I want to talk to you.” His tone sounded serious, and this worried the paramedic. What had he found?

“Something wrong?” he asked as he looked up at the doctor.

“Well, no, not really, John. Nothing unexpected, anyway.” Brackett sat on the edge of the bed before continuing. "We got some of your blood work back, and it is a little abnormal—just as we’d expect given the dose of radiation you took.”

Johnny shifted uncomfortably and pulled himself up on one elbow. “So what does that mean?”

The doctor shook his head at his patient. “There’s no point going into the details of it now, John. We’ll go over everything in the morning. There’s nothing to be too concerned about. We’ll just have to watch you closely for a while, that’s all. What I really wanted to talk to you about was what to expect in the short term.”

“Short term?”

“The rest of the night; tomorrow morning.”

Johnny groaned. “There’s more?”

Brackett smiled kindly. “Unfortunately, yes. The symptoms aren’t unlike a bad stomach flu. Vomiting is often quickly followed by…”

“Diarrhea,” Gage finished for him.

Kel nodded. “That’s right.”

“Won’t the shot help that?” the paramedic asked hopefully.

“Maybe. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ll have to wait and see. But if you notice any blood, I want you to call someone immediately, understand?”

“Yeah, okay.” Johnny agreed. “How long is this gonna go on, doc?”

The doctor shrugged. “It depends on the actual severity of the exposure—the dosage and the length of time you were exposed. But based on the time between exposure and onset of symptoms, I’d say that these acute symptoms could last anywhere from 24 to 48 more hours.”

Gage pulled his elbow out and allowed himself to flop back onto the bed. “Fantastic,” he said sarcastically. “Just great.”

Brackett chuckled. “Call if you need anything,” he said before he left.

+ + + + +

Three more bouts of vomiting, countless mad dashes to the bathroom, and another, larger, dose of Compazine greeted Johnny during the night. By the time the sun was coming up, the paramedic was hooked to an IV to combat dehydration, and generally miserable. He was exhausted yet unable to sleep—it was a weariness that went straight to his core; one that far surpassed fatigue. All he could do was lay there and wonder if this was as bad as it was gonna get, when and if it would get better, and what the long-term repercussions were going to be. He hadn’t given his own safety a thought when he was getting that guy out of there, and now he wished he had. Why hadn’t he left the guy and gotten out when called? They could have gone back in, or sent someone else in.

Of course, then the victim would probably be dead, and some other firefighter would probably be lying in this bed in his place. Would he have preferred that?

Another painful cramp gripped his midsection—caused by all the vomiting, Brackett had said—and for a split second Johnny thought that yeah, maybe he would have preferred that. But that was just plain selfish, and he knew it. And he knew he was just feeling sorry for himself, too. He didn’t mean it; he wouldn’t have preferred it. But he did wish he’d feel better.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Johnny snapped out of his reverie and found Dixie standing next to his bed. She was wearing an odd plastic sort of gown and gloves.

“Geez, Dix, I’m not glowing or anything!”

He heard her chuckle. “I know, John, but you are in isolation. It’s the rules. And I should be wearing a mask! How are you feeling?”

 “I’m doing okay.”

“John Gage, tell me the truth.”

Dixie always unnerved Johnny when she saw right through him—which she did on a regular basis. “Okay,” he sighed. “I feel terrible. I’m tired to the bone, but can’t sleep. My stomach hurts, I’ve got a headache. The very thought of eating anything is enough to make me want to puke all over again.” He gave her a rueful grin. “How’s that? Better?”

The nurse rested a gloved hand on Johnny’s forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “No, Johnny,” she said gently. “It’s not better. I wish you felt better.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said bitterly. “How’s the guy? The guy we got out?”

Dix shrugged. “Still touch and go as far as I know.”

“I figured as much. If I feel like this after one jolt, I don’t want to know what’s happening to him.”  John shuddered visibly at the thought.

“No, you probably don’t want to know.” Gage looked at her, and saw her brow furrowing as she watched him. “What’s the matter, Johnny?” she asked after a second.

Man, how did she know? He averted his eyes and instead looked toward the window. “Nuthin’,” he said finally.

“Come on now,” the nurse chided. “You’re going to be just fine.”

He wasn’t so sure, but he didn’t want to go into it with her. “Yeah,” he agreed, hoping he sounded convincing.

John felt rather than saw a gloved finger touch his jaw and start to physically turn him toward the nurse. For a split second he resisted, but then allowed Dix to turn his head until he was again looking at his friend.

“Just fine,” she repeated emphatically, her hand still lightly touching his jaw.

Johnny put his hand up and gently pushed hers away from his face. “Okay, Dix,” he told her. Then he settled back down into the bed and pulled the blankets up to his chin. “Do you mind? I’m kinda tired.”

Dixie studied him for a moment, her lips pursed and her expression serious. Gage was sure she was going to say something else, and was surprised when she didn’t. Instead she just said “Okay, Johnny, okay. My shift is about to start anyway. I’ll try to come up and visit on my break. You get some rest.”

The paramedic didn’t respond, and just watched the woman leave the room. As soon as the door clicked shut he let out an anxious sigh. Just fine, she’d said, but how could she know? How could anyone know? It could be years before the cancer showed up, or his eyes started clouding over with cataracts. He could already be sterile. You couldn’t see it or smell it or touch it, but radiation was a killer and they all knew it. And it could keep on killing you for years and you wouldn’t even know it. How could anyone say he was just fine?

The door opened and John immediately pushed the dark thoughts away. No one needed to know what he was thinking. Dr. Brackett came in, and Gage instantly sat up straighter in the bed.

“John,” the doctor greeted him. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Okay. Better, I guess. Haven’t thrown up in a while.”  That was the truth, anyway. It had been a couple of hours.

“Are you hungry?”

The paramedic shook his head. “Not at all.”  The very idea made him queasy.

The doctor grinned. “That’s okay; I didn’t expect you to be. Just thought I’d ask. I’d like to give you a thorough exam now, if that’s okay?” Johnny just shrugged.

“Where would you say you got the most exposure? What part of your body?”

Gage thought for a minute. “My right side. Probably my shoulder was closest to the source as best we could tell.”

Brackett used that as his starting point, and closely examined the skin on the paramedic’s arm, shoulder, and torso. “I don’t see any evidence of radiation burns, John. That’s good.”

“Yeah, well, we were as covered as we could be.”

The doctor continued to give him a complete physical, and when he was done he sat on the edge of his patient’s bed. “So John,” he said plainly. “What’s on your mind?”

“Huh?” Gage asked.

“Dixie seems to think you might be concerned about your prognosis. She suggested you might need someone to talk to.”

Johnny shook his head. Sometimes he wished Dixie would just keep her nose out of things; especially when she was right. “No, Doc,” he stated. “I’m okay.”

Brackett just continued to stare at him, and Johnny could tell he wasn’t buying it. Finally he couldn’t resist. “But what,” he started. “What is the prognosis. You said last night that my blood was abnormal?”

Kel visibly relaxed upon being given a perfect launching point. “It is, Johnny, but it’s exactly what we’d expect. Radiation tends to destroy cells that develop and change rapidly, especially blood cells. After an acute exposure one can expect a low blood count. Low red cell count, low white cell count, low hematocrit and hemoglobin.”

“And I’ve got that?”

“You do, but it’s not so low that we’d be overly concerned. It’s why you feel so tired. But we fully expect this to correct itself. Your body is constantly producing blood cells, Johnny, you know that. It will continue to do so, replacing the ones that have been damaged and killed, and in time everything will be back to normal.”

“How much time?”

“Well, your acute symptoms, the nausea and whatnot, seem to have abated much faster than I originally thought. That seems to indicate that your exposure was less than I originally thought. I can’t say for sure how long before you’ll be back up to full speed, but I’d think maybe a week or so?”

“That all?” Johnny was heartened to hear that news, but there were still more things on his mind.

“That’s all,” Brackett smiled. But the grin faded when he noticed that the patient wasn’t content. “Look, Johnny,” he started, making an educated guess about what was still on John’s mind. “I think I know what you’re still concerned about. But the chances of you developing any sort of latent problems as a result of this low dosage are practically nil. Your exposure was borderline; you could have very easily not gotten sick at all. So the chances of you developing cancer.”

Johnny visibly blanched at the word, stopping Brackett cold. “Johnny,” he admonished.

“I know, I know Doc,” Gage said, running his hand through his hair and sighing loudly. “I hear what you are saying and I know you’re right. But,” he had to stop again and collect his thoughts. “But hearing about the possible effects of radiation exposure in a Fire Department lecture and lying in a bed after actually being exposed to it are two entirely different things. Leukemia, other cancers, thyroid problems, cataracts,” he paused for a minute. “Sterility,” he finally added.

Brackett sighed loudly. “Too much education is sometimes a bad thing, Johnny. The chances of you developing any of those things are extremely slim; almost nonexistent. I don’t know how to make you believe me. We’ve got you on a course of prophylactic antibiotics to prevent you picking up an infection while your white cell count is low, and we will be testing your blood and watching it closely for several months after this; I won’t lie to you about that. But that’s just precautionary. And that will include thyroid function tests. You have an annual physical for the department which will pick up anything else that may go wrong. If you want, we’ll do a sperm count and monitor that for you, but I can virtually promise that if it’s low now it will be back to normal within a month. The one thing you can do is be careful. Since it’s cumulative in a lifetime, you’ll want to be careful about radiation exposure in the future—let someone else go in next time there’s an accident with radiation involved.” The doctor shrugged. “Other than that, just forget about it. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Johnny gave himself a moment to digest everything the doctor had said to him, and decided the man was right. There was nothing to be done about it now anyway, right? He’d make himself insane if he kept harping on it like this. He felt a grin start to creep across his face despite himself. “You’re right, doc,” he finally said emphatically. “So, when can I go home?”

Brackett chuckled. “I want to do some more blood tests and see how things stand there. And you need to start eating and get off that IV first.”

“Did I say I wasn’t hungry?”

+ + + + +

“Johnny?! JOHNNY!” The loud calling of his name snapped Gage from his slumber, and he found Roy standing over his bed, hands on both arms, shaking him.

“Yeah, what, I’m awake!” he said, shaking his friend off. Roy let go, Johnny settled back against the pillows and the nightmare started to come back. Same one as before. The wail of the radiation warning siren, the flash of the light, and no matter what he did, he couldn’t get away.

“You were dreaming, Johnny, I think,” Roy said. “You were thrashing in the bed and calling my name.”

Johnny scrubbed his face with both his hands. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I was dreaming.”

“Wanna tell me about it?”

John sized up his partner for a minute. He knew he could tell Roy anything, and usually he told him everything. But this? Did he want to risk shaking his partner’s confidence in him? Did he want Roy looking twice at him every time they were in a situation where dangerous substances were involved?


“Nuthin,” he said finally. “I don’t even remember, really.”

“Oh,” John could tell his friend didn’t really believe him. But he also knew Roy wouldn’t push it. He watched as Roy sat down and asked “How ya feeling?”

“Man, last night was rough,” Gage admitted. “But I feel a lot better today. Tired, though.”  Roy nodded and Johnny cocked his head as he noticed something. “Hey, you’re not all trussed up!”


“Dix was in here earlier and they made her wear gloves and a gown and everything. There was even a guy with a geiger counter in here earlier! How come you’re not?”

Roy shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess they decided there’s no danger? Maybe because I was already exposed myself? I don’t know. Nobody said anything.”

“Well,” Gage said somewhat petulantly. “You should be covered up, just to be safe.”

“Johnny, you are not radioactive! Don’t worry about it!”

‘Yeah, but still, you can’t be too careful. Don’t touch me again, okay?”

Roy shook his head disbelievingly. “Don’t be ridiculous.” He apparently decided that changing the subject was the best course of action, because he followed with “Any idea when you’ll be able to go home?”

John shook his head. “No, I don’t know. Soon, I think. I’m not sick any more and I even ate a little. So if they take out this thing,” he held up his arm with the IV line imbedded in it, “I should be able to go, I guess. Depending on what the blood tests say.”

“Oh, right,” Roy said, apparently remembering what radiation could do to your blood. “You gonna need somewhere to stay, do you think? After you get out?”

John smiled at his friend. “Naw, I’m fine, just tired is all. Brackett said I’d be back at work in a week. Besides, I wouldn’t want to expose your kids. . . .”

Roy let out an exasperated sigh. “Johnny, you are not radioactive!”

+ + + + +

“Well, John, there was no significant deterioration of your blood count, so I think we can put this behind you, and you should be out of here in the morning, okay?”

Johnny smiled broadly. “Good deal, doc!”

“But don’t overdo it. I want you to relax and take it easy. Give your body a chance to restore itself. I’ll want you back in here in 4 days for a repeat blood test, and then again 4 days after that. If things are back to normal, I’ll let you go back to work. But not before.”

“Yeah, okay. To tell you the truth I still feel pretty wiped. Good thing I have a comfortable sofa. I’ll just hang out there.”

“That sounds like exactly what the doctor ordered. But if you have any questions or concerns—and I mean anything at all—I want you to call me, okay?”

“Yeah, doc, I will. Thanks.”

+ + + + +

Johnny was doing exactly what the doctor ordered, namely a whole lot of nothing. He didn’t have the energy to do much else; just showering the morning of his first full day home had left him exhausted. He didn’t like the feeling one bit, but Brackett had told him it was normal and that it would get better in time. He just had to ride it out. At least he'd recently invested in a TV with a remote, so he didn’t even have to get up to change channels.

He realized he must have dozed off when he heard the doorbell buzzing insistently. Whoever it was must have been out there for a while based on the sound. He jumped up and ran for the door.

He’d just turned the knob when everything went black.

+ + + + +

“Johnny? Johnny?”

Gage opened his eyes and found himself face-down on the floor of his apartment, right in the doorway. How had he gotten there? He licked his lips and found the metallic taste of blood. Great. Slowly he pushed himself over onto his side, and tried to sit up.

“Don’t Johnny, don’t move. Don’t get up.” It was his neighbor across the hall, Pam, She was divorced and in her 40s, with a son in college. Johnny liked her a lot, even though she mothered him half the time, and flirted with him the other half. But he always figured the flirting stuff was his fault. Sometimes he couldn’t help himself.

“I’m all right, Pam, just let me get up.” He sat up on the floor, and gingerly felt the welt forming on his lower lip. “Musta split my lip. What happened?”

“What happened? You fainted! Pulled the door open for me and dropped like a sack of Idaho potatoes.  Can you get up? I’m taking you to the doctor.”

“I can get up,” the paramedic said, trying to sound annoyed when in fact he was a little alarmed. Fainted? Him? He stood slowly, and quickly sat himself on the arm of the sofa when the edges of his vision started to gray out.

He must have started to look bad, because the next thing he knew Pam was asking “What’s the matter with you, Johnny?” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, which served to lower his head and help clear it.

“Nuthin’, nuthin. I’m fine.”

“Pardon my French, but bull shit. People don’t just stand up and fall over like that. I heard Roy bring you home yesterday, so what gives?”

Johnny sighed loudly. Pam was nosy, that’s for sure. She always knew what he was up to. He realized that his lip was still bleeding a lot, and asked the woman, “Can you get me a towel or something? And a piece of ice?” She left for the kitchen and he took the opportunity to sink back onto the couch.

“I was exposed to some radiation on a rescue the other day,” he told the woman as she was returning with the supplies. She sat down on the coffee table, facing him, and placed the ice cube wrapped in a wash cloth on his lip. The contact made him flinch and he took it from her hands, applying it himself much more gingerly. “It makes you tired,” he finally finished with a shrug.

“So tired you faint? I don’t think so. Let’s get your shoes, I’m taking you back to the hospital.”

“No, Pam,” he stressed. “I just stood up too quickly is all. I’ve been lying here on my butt all day and I got up too fast. It can happen to anyone.”  He paused a minute, and when she didn’t say anything, he decided to change the subject. “So why’d you come over?”

The woman’s expression remained stern, and the hard way she was looking at him unnerved Johnny. “I figured you were sick or hurt again, so I was bringing you a couple of baloney sandwiches for lunch.” She meant well, but Pam was no cook.

John removed the cloth from his lip and inspected it. It was still bleeding pretty badly, so he quickly replaced it. He must have hit it hard. “Thanks, I’m starved,” he lied.

“Yeah, well, they’re over there on the floor. I dropped ‘em when you fell, but they’re wrapped, so I think they’re okay.”

She was still appraising him, he could tell. “I’m fine, Pam, honest. I’m gonna talk to the doctor this afternoon anyway, so I’ll tell him what happened. Honest.”

“Uh huh,” she said distractedly as she was picking the sandwiches off the floor. “You know, I was gonna bring chips, too. I’ll go get them and be right back, okay?”

Johnny was startled by how quickly she ran from the apartment.

+ + + + +

Gage had nibbled on one of the sandwiches and avoided the chips, finally pushing the food away claiming his lip, which stubbornly refused to stop bleeding, was making it hard to eat.

He was startled by the sound of his doorbell, and instantly suspicious by how quickly Pam, who had steadfastly refused to leave his side, sprang up to answer it. In no time at all, Roy and Charlie Dwyer, in full uniform complete with drug box and biophone, were standing in his living room. John groaned and leaned his head back on the sofa.

“Oh, man, Pam, why’d you go and call Roy?”

“Because you fainted, Johnny, and you wouldn’t let me call anyone!”

“I didn’t . . . I didn’t faint!” he tried to protest.

“You fell to the floor unconscious. What do you call that?”

By now Roy had calmly stepped into the middle of the disagreement. He put the drug box by Johnny’s feet, sat on the coffee table, and picked up his partner’s wrist to take his pulse. As much as he was dying to grab his wrist back, John didn’t.

“So you passed out, huh?” Roy said. Johnny was sure he was purposefully not using the word ‘faint.’

“Only for a second. I got up too fast. I’m fine.”

“Uh huh.” Roy dropped his wrist and placed his palm on his abdomen to count respirations. He was all business.

“Pulse is 74, respirations 18,” Roy told Dwyer. Johnny looked over and saw his replacement setting up the biophone on the dining room table.

“Oh, geez, don’t use the biophone, will ya? Just use my phone. But I’m telling you, I’m totally fine.”

“Uh huh,” Roy said again as he wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Johnny’s arm. He apparently spied the two blankets on the couch, and picked up Johnny’s hand and held the fingertips for a second. “Your hands are freezing. Are you cold?”

“A little, yeah. From just laying around.”

“How long were you out?”

“Couple of seconds?” Both he and Roy looked to Pam for confirmation.

“Maybe a minute, tops? Not long. But I’m telling you, Roy, he went down hard. Like a tree. Timber!” Johnny scowled at her.

Roy took the BP and conveyed that information to Charlie, who then dialed the phone.

“Rampart, this is Squad 51. We’re responding to a still alarm at the home of one John Gage,” he reported with a smile. “He had a syncopal episode approximately 15 minutes ago that lasted approximately one minute, though he is now awake, alert, and very oriented.” John was sure Dwyer was enjoying this. “Pulse is 74, respirations 18, BP 82 over 60. Victim also complains of being cold. There are no signs of trauma, aside from a split lip.”

Charlie listened for a minute and then addressed the two at the sofa. “Is your lip still bleeding, Johnny?” Roy took the cloth from Gage’s hand and inspected the wound, nodding when he saw that it was. “That’s affirmative, Rampart.” Charlie listened for a moment more, then glanced at Johnny and repeated, “that’s affirmative.” Finally he simply said “10-4” and hung up the phone. Next he picked up the HT. “LA, this is Squad 51. Respond an ambulance to our location.”

“NO!” Johnny tried to jump up to protest, but a wave of dizziness washed over him and he was forced to sit. “No ambulance. Roy? I’ll go, I’ll go, but just run me over in the squad, okay? I don’t need an ambulance.”

Gage watched his partner decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Yeah. I don’t see a reason to tie up an ambulance. Rampart didn’t order an IV, did they, Charlie?”

Dwyer shook his head and grinned again. “Nope. Brackett figured the patient wouldn’t be too cooperative, and just said to bring him in.”

Brackett. The man who said he’d be just fine. Great. Johnny started to push himself up off the sofa, allowing Roy to help him only until he was up and sure on his feet. As soon as he was, he shook his friend off. “I got it,” he exclaimed irritably. But Roy didn’t let go.

Johnny heard Dwyer cancel the ambulance and then tell Roy, “I’ll get the drug box.”

John turned to the man.  “Hey, Charlie, thanks for taking my shift for me.”

“No problem, Gage. With all the overtime I’m picking up covering for you, we’re gonna have that swimming pool paid for by May!”

“Huh,” Gage said by way of answer. “You’re welcome.”  He and Roy were now at the doorway, which was filled with Pam. She moved aside to let them leave.

“You give me a call if you need a ride home or anything, okay hon?”

“Yeah, okay Pam. And, umm, thanks.” He didn’t want to be thanking her for ratting on him, but it was the polite thing to do.

“Yeah. thanks for calling me,” Roy added.

Yeah. Thanks a lot.

+ + + + +

“Well, Johnny, you’re having what we call a hemolytic crisis. Your blood count has dropped precipitously since you were here; your blood cell count is really low, particularly the red blood cells. Basically, you’re anemic.”

“And that’s why I blacked out?”

“Absolutely. And it’s why you’re so cold, and why your lip hasn’t stopped bleeding, too—your platelet count is low as well, so your blood isn’t clotting properly.”

“So what do you do? A transfusion?”

“Exactly. But not down here, we need the bed.”

Johnny shifted uncomfortably. He’d never had a transfusion before. “And when it’s done, I can go home again?”

Kel pulled a stool over to the side of the treatment table and sat, instantly alarming the paramedic. Brackett obviously had some bad news. “I want to keep you here, Johnny, so we can test your blood repeatedly and make sure that the transfusion reverses the problem.”

“Why?” he asked suspiciously. “Are you afraid it won’t?”

“Well,” the doctor said, drawing the word out far too long for John’s taste. “Your exposure was two days ago. Your blood counts should be beginning to improve, but they’re not. They’re worse.”

The hairs on the back of Gage’s neck started to tingle in apprehension. He wasn’t liking the sound of this at all. “And?”

The doctor took a deep breath before continuing. “And we don’t know, John. It’s possible that it just took a while for the effects of the radiation to fully show in your blood, and this transfusion will start the process of setting it right.”

“Or?” the paramedic interjected.

“It’s highly unlikely, but the radiation could have damaged your bone marrow to the point where it is unable to produce an adequate number of blood cells, or is producing the damaged cells we’re seeing under the microscope.”

Johnny suddenly found the energy to sit up straight. “Doc, you’re talking about leukemia! Or aplastic anemia! Or something like that!”

The steady pressure of Brackett’s hand on the center of his chest pushed Gage back against the raised head of the gurney. He was suddenly finding it difficult to breathe, and the edges of his vision started to blur. Just as quickly as the doctor had pushed him back, he felt the man’s hand go to the back of his neck and he was pushing his head forward, toward his knees. It helped. “Slow your breathing, John,” Kel told him. “Take deep breaths.”

Johnny did as he was told and after a minute he felt better. By now Brackett’s hand was merely resting on his patient’s back, and he lifted it away as Gage sat back. “Sorry,” he told the physician.

“It happens,” Kel told him. “Hyperventilate while anemic, and you’re asking for trouble. But we’re not talking about leukemia. We don’t know anything yet, Johnny. You should know that there’s no point in getting worked up before we have any information. We’ll get this transfusion started and take it from there. One step at a time, okay?”

Johnny merely nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and the doctor took his leave.

“You said everything’d be fine,” he finally said to the closed door. He lifted his hands to inspect the veins beneath the skin, wondering what was going on in there. Wondering what he had done to himself.

+ + + + +

The nurse adjusted the flow on the IV line delivering whole blood into Johnny’s right arm. “This should take about two hours to infuse. I’m going to sit with you for a few minutes here, to make sure you don’t have a reaction to the transfusion.”

“That happens?” Great. One more thing for him to worry about.

“Very rarely,” she said kindly.

The door opened and both nurse and patient looked to see who it was. Dixie poked her head in the door. “How’s it going in here?” she asked.

“Just fine, Nurse McCall,” the other woman answered. “We’re just getting started.”

Dix entered the room fully. “I’m on my break. I’ll sit with him, Penny.”  The nurse flashed a quick smile at her patient, nodded at the older nurse, and left the room.

“She’s married anyway,” Dixie said with a smile as she sat down.

“Huh?” Johnny hadn’t really been listening, but then he figured out what she’d said. “Oh, right,” he answered absentmindedly. The girl had been the furthest thing from his mind.

“Are you okay, Johnny?” Her concern was evident in Dixie’s voice.

That was the $64,000 question, John realized bitterly. But he didn’t say anything, opting instead to answer with a silent shrug.

“Come on Gage, spill. You’re too quiet. What’s bothering you?”

“Aside from the fact that I could be developing leukemia as we speak? Nothing. Nothing at all.”  He was tired of putting up a positive front. He was just plain tired, period.

“Johnny,” the nurse admonished sternly. “Kel didn’t say anything of the sort.”

“I know Dix, but,” John started. But he stopped himself just as quickly, and sighed. “You know what Dix? I don’t want to talk about it. I just . . . I just want to be left alone. I’m tired.”

Dixie smiled kindly at him, and Gage thought he could see a hint of sadness there as well—or maybe it was pity. Normally he’d hate that, but he was beyond caring at this point. “I understand Johnny,” she said as she stood up. “But I have to stick around for a few more minutes to make sure you don’t develop a reaction. You’re not hot or itchy or anything, are you?” She picked up his wrist and counted his pulse.

“No, it’s fine.” He let his eyes travel from the needle in his arm, up the tubing, to the bag of bright red blood. It still looked completely full.

Johnny felt Dix drop his wrist, and then she had the back of her hand on his forehead, checking for fever. When she was done she took a second to push his bangs up off his forehead, picking up some wayward strands to carefully put them into place.

“Try not to worry,” she said quietly, almost in a whisper. “You rest now,” she added.

He closed his eyes without making eye contact with her again.

+ + + + +

When he opened his eyes again Dixie was gone. He hadn’t nodded off or anything—sleep was aggravatingly elusive, despite his fatigue—he’d just been so consumed with his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard her leave. He let his eyes close again, shutting off the sight of the bag of blood hanging over his head which dominated his vision every time he opened them. It was half-full now.

He heard the door open and footsteps approach, but didn’t open his eyes right away. He wasn’t in the mood for visitors, really. A hand picked up his wrist; it was male, and not Roy’s. Had to be Brackett, John decided, so he opened his eyes and looked. He was right.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” the paramedic said. “I wasn’t asleep.”

“You should try to sleep, Johnny. It’ll help.”

Gage shook his head. “Can’t,” he explained. “Can’t sleep.”  He paused for a minute, and then decided to do it; to ask the questions that had been consuming his thoughts all afternoon. “Doctor Brackett,” he started. “Suppose this transfusion doesn’t improve things. What then?”

The paramedic watched as his doctor’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed as he thought of what to say. “Johnny,” he finally started, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get into the ‘what ifs’ with you. You’re upset enough already.”

“Come on, doc,” John sighed. “Do you have any idea what’s running through my mind? Remember what you said about too much education being a bad thing? I just want to know which one of the hundred things I’m thinking of is right.”

“Okay, John,” the physician acquiesced, and he sat on the edge of the bed. “We’ll wait a few hours after the transfusion and run another blood test. The addition of the transfused blood should pump up the numbers, of course, and keep them stable while your body gets to work producing its own cells. The hope,” he had to pause for a second. To John he looked like he was apprehensive about continuing.

“No,” Kel continued after a moment. “The expectation is that the low counts were caused by the one-time effect of the radiation—that it was caused by the cells killed by the exposure—but that your marrow is unaffected. The expectation,” he kept stressing that word, “is that your anemia was caused simply by the fact that so many blood cells were killed that your bone marrow couldn’t make up the difference fast enough, but once your blood is supplemented by this transfusion, everything will right itself.” The man let out a loud breath as he finished.

“And what,” Johnny started, clearly not mollified, “what if that doesn’t happen?”

Brackett shook his head slightly. “Then we’ll take a sample of your bone marrow and test it, to see if it is working properly.”

Gage squirmed uncomfortably in the bed. “How do you do that?”

“We insert a needle into your hip bone and withdraw some marrow. But we have no reason to think it will come to that, okay?”

“Okay,” Johnny finally allowed. But he was sure he didn’t sound convincing.

He watched the doctor stand up and pour a glass of water. He handed it to Gage and stuck his hand in his pocket, producing two pills. “I want you to take these, Johnny,” he said as he held them out.

The patient looked at them suspiciously. “What are they?”

“It’s just a little diazepam. I had a suspicion that you were still upset. I want you to relax. I want you to get some sleep. These’ll help.”

Gage took them without hesitation. He wanted to relax, He wanted to sleep. He wanted oblivion.

+ + + + +

When Johnny awoke he was on his side facing the window. When he stretched he noticed that the IV was gone. How long had he been asleep, he wondered?

“Hey Junior,” he heard Roy say behind him. “Did I wake you?”

“Nah,” John lied, turning over to look at his friend.

“So how are you feeling? Your color’s better.”

“Is it?” John asked hopefully. “I’m feeling a little better, I guess. What time is it?”

Roy looked at his watch. “It’s a little before eight.”

“Man, I was really out! Last I remember it was around three!”

“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “I looked in on you twice before and you were dead to the world.”

“Brackett gave me a pill,” Johnny admitted. “You here on a run?”

“Yeah. Brought in a 14-year-old boy who fell out of a tree. Tib-fib fracture. I think he was peeking in the bedroom window of the 17-year-old girl next door.”  Johnny smiled at the image.  “So,” Roy started tentatively after a moment, “what has Brackett told you? Anything?”

“Do I hear my name?” the doctor said as he joined them in the room.

“Yeah,” Roy told him. “I was just asking Johnny what the news was.”

“Well, we don’t have any yet. I’m here to draw some blood, Johnny, to see how well the transfusion did to improve things.”

“You’re gonna draw it?” the ill paramedic asked in mock horror.

“This is star treatment, Gage, don’t knock it.” He lifted his patient’s arm and applied the tourniquet. “You look better, Johnny. How are you feeling?” He had deftly inserted the needle as he spoke.

“The nap helped,” John admitted.

“So I take that to mean you’re feeling better? About everything?” he added cryptically.

Johnny shrugged. “I guess so.” By now the blood was drawn and Brackett was folding his patient’s arm up to stop any bleeding.

The HT in Roy’s hand squawked to life, and he was called back to work. “I’ll check in on you tomorrow, okay Johnny?”

“Yeah, okay. Bye, Roy,” John said as he ran his hand through his hair.

Once the door was closed Kel started to speak again. “I’ve asked another doctor, Dr. Mankowitz, to come speak to you in the morning, John.”

“Another doctor? Why? What kind of doctor?”

“Well, he’s an oncologist, but,” the doctor was forced to stop when Gage’s eyes flew open wide and he started to sputter for words. “Stop it, Johnny, just listen to me! Yes, he’s an oncologist, but that’s not why I want him to speak to you.” Gage had to force himself to settle down and listen, but it was difficult with the loud buzzing that suddenly seemed to be filling his ears.

“Dr. Mankowitz knows more about the effects of radiation on the body than anyone I know. He uses it every day on cancer patients, to shrink tumors. Some of them get sick just like you are, and he knows everything there is to know about treatment and recovery and what to expect in the long term. I’ve already consulted with him about your case. But I want you to speak to him, too—he’s someone who can answer all of your questions much better than I can. Okay?”

Johnny had relaxed incrementally as the doctor had spoken, as he came to realize that Kel was not saying he had cancer. “Yeah, okay. Thanks, doc, I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, John.” He held up the two tubes of blood he’d drawn. “I’m going to take these to the lab myself. We should have some answers in about an hour. You just relax.”

“Okay,” Johnny agreed. “But if I fall asleep, you promise you’ll wake me?”

“I promise,” the doctor said as he took his leave.

+ + + + +

Gage had had every intention of staying awake until he knew the results of the latest blood tests, but his body obviously had had other ideas, and he found himself being shaken awake by the doctor. When he opened his eyes he saw the smile on Brackett’s face.

“Everything’s looking really good, John,” he said simply.

“Really?” the paramedic asked as he rubbed the sleep from the corners of his eyes.

“Really. All the counts are virtually normal. Your red blood cell count is still a little low, but we did a test to count the immature red cells in your blood, and it’s teeming with them. That means your marrow is working overtime to make up the difference.”

“But it’s working? The marrow, I mean?”

“Absolutely. We’ll have to keep a close watch, do blood tests regularly for a while to be sure. But everything is well on its way to back to normal.”

Johnny couldn’t suppress the wide grin that came to his face, which quickly turned into an enormous yawn. Brackett chuckled. “You go back to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay, doc,” Johnny said as he rolled over, feeling fully relaxed for the first time in days.

+ + + + +

Johnny was in such a good mood even the tasteless hospital breakfast couldn’t dampen his spirits. The sun was shining, he was sure the birds were singing, and he was feeling 100% better. All was right with the world.

“Hey doc,” he greeted Brackett around a mouthful of pancakes. He was a little startled to see that Kel wasn’t alone; a tall man who looked to be a little younger than Brackett despite a full head of white hair had come in with him.

“Johnny,” the ER doctor greeted him. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Johnny swallowed his breakfast. “I feel incredible, doc! Just incredible,” he enthused. “Well,” he amended hastily, “compared to yesterday.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But I still want you to take it real easy for a while.”

“Yeah, okay,” John agreed dismissively. “When can I go home?”

“This morning’s blood tests were even better than last night’s, I think the nurse told you.” John nodded. “But nevertheless, I’d like to keep you until tomorrow morning, just to be on the safe side. I let you go too early the last time, remember?”

Johnny lightly touched his sore lip, his reminder of what happened the last time he was at home. “Yeah,” he chuckled.

“John,” Brackett said, suddenly seriously. “This is Harry Mankowitz. The doctor I was telling you about last night.”

“Mr. Gage,” the tall man greeted him with a single nod of the head. John looked at him warily and nodded back.

“Harry here can answer all your questions about radiation much better than I can,” Kel said.

“Huh?” John asked, genuinely confused. “I don’t have any questions.” He could see the startled reaction on Brackett’s face. But it was true; he didn’t have any questions.

“But Johnny, last night, and right after you were exposed,” Kel sputtered.

“I might have been a little concerned,” Gage offered defensively.

Brackett’s eyes flew wide. “A little? Johnny, you were obsessed! You were completely hung up on the idea that your body was going to fall apart. I had to sedate you!”

“Doc, I wasn’t obsessed! Like I said, I might have been a little bit concerned, but now I’m fine.” Gage let his eyes switch from the ER doctor to the other and back again, his expression one of earnest innocence. He truly had no idea what Brackett was talking about. “And I just couldn’t sleep is all,” he added as an afterthought.

Dr. Mankowitz started to chuckle. “Well, Kel, I think you have this situation well in-hand! Nice to meet you, Mr. Gage,” he said, offering the paramedic his hand, which the bewildered man in the bed shook. “If you do happen to have any questions, I’ll be happy to speak to you any time.” And with that he took his leave.

“Johnny,” an exasperated Brackett said after the other man was gone. “You’re something else.”

“What did I do?” Gage exclaimed.

Brackett studied him for a moment, and then just gave up and grinned. “Nothing, John, nothing at all. I’m glad you’re apparently over your little problem.”

“What problem? I didn’t have a problem.”

“Whatever you say, Johnny, whatever you say,” Kel said with another smile. “Apparently there’s no problem at all. You’re something else, that’s all.”


Special thanks to the usual suspects, who know who they are!

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