Chapter 7: We really are all in this together
The walk to the infirmary was slow and quiet. Upon entering, Dr. Keller silently directed them towards a bed in the back corner away from the busier areas of the infirmary.
Once John had Rodney settled on the bed, he left Ronon with Rodney to have a quiet word with Dr. Keller.
"Hi Doc. Finally got him here."
"Did you get anything on what might be wrong?" Jennifer asked with concern. John could see her working through the list of tests she was going to need.
"He said he can't sleep. I have a suspicion he gets a lot more late-night calls then we may realize. Once he's settled, I'm going to go speak to Woolsey, Chuck, and Zelenka to see if we can figure something out."
"Okay. That's actually good. His symptoms can be explained by prolonged lack of sufficient sleep and exhaustion. That's much easier for us to address then some unknown Pegasus disease I was worried he'd picked up. I'll still run some tests to be sure, of course." Dr. Keller looked hopeful at being able to help her patient.
"Right, of course." John replied suppressing the shudder that was creeping up his spine at the thought of another Pegasus disease. "I'll go see if he's okay and then go talk to Woolsey and Chuck."
Rodney was laying on his side facing towards the wall as they approached. Ronon was off to the side polishing one of his many knives.
"How are you Rodney?" Dr. Keller asked as she approached around the other side of the bed to see Rodney.
"Tired." Dr. Keller glanced up at Sheppard at the very short reply.
"Okay. I'd like to run you under the scanner, then I'm going to take some blood but we'll let you sleep after that, okay?"
A small nod was the only response.
"Rodney, I'm going to let the Doc do her tests. I'll be back in a bit so don't go anywhere." John tried for light but even to his own ears didn't get passed concerned.
Another small nod.
"Okay." And with that John headed out hearing Jennifer talk Rodney through getting him ready for the scanner.
It was getting late, and the overnight-shift was taking over. Chuck was just walking in to the control room with his coffee thermos when John intercepted him and led him into a quiet corner.
"Colonel. How are things today, sir." Chuck asked with curiosity.
" Sorry to ambush you like this. I need your help and I'd rather keep this on the down-low, okay?"
"Understood. What can I help you with?"
"You oversee the night radio traffic, right?"
"Ah. Yes. I don't listen in or record anything if that's what you're asking." Chuck quickly explained.
"Oh. No. That's not what I mean. I just wanted to know if you had an idea how often McKay is contacted about various issues?" John tried to make it seem like a simple request. At Chuck's hesitation John hastily added "No one is in trouble, just trying to see if there are some...ah...work efficiencies...we can implement."
That seemed to alleviate Chuck's concerns, much to John's relief. "Oh. Okay. I think that's actually a great ideal Colonel. I've been thinking that Dr. McKay is contacted a lot at night. Then I see him already working when I finish up my shift and usually still working when I start again. Umm...I would say he gets calls during my shift 4 or 5 times a week. Sometimes more than one call each night; depending what's going on. I actually have some ideas about an auto logging system but he's always too busy to discuss it."
John was trying to absorb this information without looking too shocked. Combined with his time off-world, that would mean McKay seldom even gets the chance to get a full night's sleep. No wonder he's exhausted. "Thanks Chuck. That really helps."
"No problem Colonel. It really is too much for any one person, eh? Let me know if there's any way I can help."
Chuck continued to his station as John walked towards Woolsey's office. He'd been keeping him more-or-less updated throughout the day, but wanted to talk with him in person before moving resources around.
Woolsey was just packing up his computer when John tapped on the door. "Oh Colonel, come in. How's your arm?"
"Oh," John glanced at his bright pink cast. "it's okay. Should be fine in a few weeks. Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk to you about McKay."
"Please take a seat."
"Rodney is in the infirmary." At Woolsey's alarmed look, John continued, "He wasn't injured, but something's not right. Dr. Keller is running some tests, but it seems like he may be completely exhausted from too long without sufficient rest."
John wasn't sure what he expected from Woolsey, but it wasn't guilty understanding "I was hoping it wasn't this bad. I have been watching how much he works, and I had hoped he would get a break before it reached the point that medical treatment was needed." At John's surprised look, Woolsey continued, "I've been working in high-pressure jobs my whole career, Colonel. Seeing someone burnout is hard to watch. I'm sure Dr. Keller will be able to help Rodney. I assume you came here to discuss how to stop us from ending up here again?"
"Ah...yes..actually. I realize Rodney takes a lot on, but I think we can help by reducing how often he's contacted for minor repairs, especially at night. I spoke to Chuck and he sees Rodney contacted 4 or 5 nights a week. With us off-world roughly once a week and Rodney's tendency to pull all-nighters working on projects, that leaves very few nights Rodney even has a chance at a full night's sleep."
"Agreed Colonel. So what's your suggestion?"
"I was going to speak to Dr. Zelenka to see if he can help set up a rotation of sorts for the calls so that they don't always go to Rodney right away. It might also help others in the Science Department to learn to solve some problems on their own."
"I think that's a great ideal, Colonel. Please work with Dr. Zelenka on a plan and let me know how I can help ensure it's used - even if I have to manually turn off Dr. McKay's radio some nights. But I'm hoping it won't come to that." Woolsey finished with a small smile.
Woolsey stood, and John followed. They shook hands and John departed to find Zelenka.
Zelenka was in the main labs when John found him. "Dr. Zelenka. Do you have minute?"
"Oh Colonel, of course. How is your arm?"
"Oh fine. I wanted to talk to you about Rodney and all the requests he seems to handle."
"Oh yes. Rodney and I have spoken of this previously. He insisted the calls continue to go to him first to avoid wasting time and so he can see patterns of system degradations. Did he ask you to speak to me about it again?" Radek asks looking around to see if he somehow missed Rodney entering with John.
"Ah.." now John looks around to see that the lab is empty aside from the two of them and lowers his voice, "Rodney's in the infirmary. Dr. Keller is confirming, but we think he's completely exhausted. After talking with Chuck, it seems Rodney gets calls most nights. Combined with the nights he stays up working on some project and the time we are off-world, that leave him no time to actually rest. As much as Rodney doesn't want to admit it, he's human too."
"I agree Colonel. While Rodney will not easily agree, others can solve many of requests. We all need Rodney at his best for those times we really need him. I can not think of what might have happened with the device today had Rodney not figured out how to turn it off so quickly."
"Thanks Radek. I think finding those to help will be the easy part. Getting Rodney to release some control and trust others will be a much more challenging prospect."
"Leave it with me Colonel. Chuck mentioned he had an idea for how we can stop the calls but still provide Rodney the data he wants. I will meet you in your office at 0830 tomorrow, yes?"
"That would be great Dr. Z. See you tomorrow."
Rodney feels like he's drifting through a fog of molasses. He can hear Jennifer talking to him about getting into scrubs and under the scanner, but he really doesn't recall if he did anything to help or just sort of laid there. It really doesn't matter. He just can't bring up enough energy to do anything more than lay on the bed and wait. He doesn't know what he's waiting for, but with the bite of the IV, he figures it's only a matter of time before the warm flush of sedative hits his system. A few minutes later, he feels the medication, and just...let's go.
John returns to the infirmary to see Rodney laying on the same bed in the far corner of the infirmary. He's changed into scrubs and has an IV. Ronon continues to lean against a nearby wall, looking disinterested, but John knows he's following every movement.
Finding Dr. Keller in her office, John asks "How's McKay?"
"Oh, Colonel. I have finished running him under the scanner. He's dehydrated and his blood sugar is a bit low so I've stared the IV to help address that. I'm waiting for the blood test results to see if there's anything else, but it does seem that he really is exhausted. I gave him a sedative a few minutes ago to help him rest as he was just sort of drifting. Not really responding, but not asleep. I'm hopeful between the IV fluids and some uninterrupted sleep he'll feel better in the morning."
"That's great Doc. I'm glad it's nothing more serious."
"Don't misunderstand, Colonel. This is serious. Exhaustion of this level can lead to a number of issues if left untreated, and will take a while for Rodney to recover. I'm actually quite concerned if he'll allow himself the time to actually recover and stay that way though."
John slowly nodded. He'd seen guys throughout his own career that just burned out. In country this could be (and was) deadly.
"Zelenka is working on a solution for the calls, so that should help. What else do we need to do?"
"Ideally, I'd like to see him take a 2 week vacation from work, but I know that's not going to happen. Even if I sent him back to Earth," Dr. Keller held up her hand to John's rapidly building protest, "I was going to say I don't think that would help anyway. He'd see it as punishment and likely continue working and stressing about if he'd be allowed to return. That wouldn't help him."
"Okay. Vacations are a bit challenging, and sending him to Earth is definitely out." John went to run his hand through his hair and caught a glimpse of his bright cast. "I think I have an idea. Let me talk to Zelenka tomorrow and I think I can find a way to get Rodney to take a break. He won't love it, but I think I can get him to comply."
"It would also be good to have him set up something resembling a routine, where he can eat and sleep as well as exercise with some amount of regularity. It would also help with this hypoglycemia too."
"That may actually be harder than the 2 week vacation. Now I think I'll go sit with him for a bit." John started to move towards the bed, when Dr. Keller interjected.
"Colonel, you need your rest as much as Rodney does. I don't want you both here and with that arm, you need some extra down-time too. Rodney is out for the night and into tomorrow morning. I promise to contact you if anything changes or he wakes, but you need to get some food and rest too. Okay?"
John could see the wisdom in that, but he didn't like it. "Okay. I'll go let Ronon know the plan and then I'll be back by 0900 at the latest."
The next morning John struggled through his shower and getting dressed one-handed without getting his cast wet. At least he could wear his button down shirt and with the sleeves rolled down his pink cast was much less obvious. After grabbing a quick breakfast, he headed to his office to meet with Dr. Zelenka.
Returning to the infirmary after meeting with Dr. Zelenka and Chuck, John has also spoken to Woolsey and Dr. Keller. He feels his plan is coming together as he walks in to the infirmary to see Rodney still laying in the same position as last night. Ronon has been joined by Teyla and John gestures for them to follow John a bit further from Rodney so they can talk without disturbing the sleeping scientist.
"Morning guys. Thanks for ah..watching out for him last night."
"It was no problem John. You needed rest as well. How is your arm this morning?" Teyla asked.
"Oh it's fine. That's not why I'm here. I need your help with a plan to help Rodney." Seeing two nods, John continues, "Teyla, you mentioned the Athosians were setting up some new buildings in the next few weeks to help with the harsher winters on the new planet, right? Do you think we could be of help? Sort of a working vacation for the team? It would still give us all something to do but would be a break from Atlantis. Do you think the Athosians would be okay with this?"
"Of course John. They would be happy to have the extra help. Rodney also mentioned once that he could have done the wiring in the current buildings with much greater efficiency, so I could see him wanting to be involved with the new buildings to ensure they are...efficient."
"Excellent! I think this plan is coming together. Now just have to get Rodney to agree. Why don't you two go get some food and rest and start packing. We'll plan to leave tomorrow morning?"
"Okay Sheppard. Good luck." Ronon rumbled as he slapped John on the back - at least he picked his non-injured side.
"You are a good friend John. We will see you tomorrow." Teyla closed with a short touch of her forehead to John's.
With plan in hand, John pulls up a chair and starts working through some changes to the duty roster as he waits for Rodney to wake up.
It doesn't take long for Rodney to start to stir. At first John thinks he's just being slow to wake up, but the movements become more erratic and panicked. John stands and places a hand on Rodney's shoulder to see if he can help him wake up. At the contact, Rodney nearly jumps right off the bed.
"McKay, wake up." John calls out trying to get Rodney to wake up from the apparent nightmare.
After a few more moments of thrashing, Rodney stills and starts to blink his eyes open. "John?" he crocks out as John hands him some water from the nearby table.
"Morning Rodney. How are you feeling today?"
Rodney seems to take a minute to take stock as he sips the water, looking at the IV and scrubs. "Okay I guess. What's going on?"
"You remember yesterday?"
"Ah, ya...Did Jennifer find something? Am I going to die?"
Well at least Rodney's panic was back at full strength "Whoa, whoa...just calm down. You're fine, well not fine fine, but definitely not dying okay?"
"Okay. So what's going on?"
"I'm sure Keller can explain it better, but you're exhausted. And not just need one good night's sleep exhausted, but more than that…." John was floundering and they both knew it.
"Oookkayy….so where's Jennifer anyway?" Rodney asks looking around John.
"I wanted to talk to you alone first."
"But you said I wasn't dying." The panic is back.
"I did and that's true. But what we have to do you are not going to like."
"I already don't like this conversation. Just spill it Sheppard."
"Okay. We, as in Ronon, Telya and us, are going to the Athosian settlement for 2 weeks to help the Athosians set up some new permanent buildings. We leave tomorrow."
"And why are we going? That seems like something that could easily be done by others who have less important things to do here."
"Well for one, we can't go off-world until my cast is removed." John meant it as a way to show this wasn't all Rodney's fault, but Rodney winced at the mention of the cast...this is not going well. Time to go for broke.
"Okay, Rodney. Here's the thing. You need to take a break from work to recover from this. This was the best plan I could come up with that kept you in Pegasus and close enough to help if something big does happen. I've already talked to Zelenka and Woolsey. We'll have twice daily check-ins and Atlantis can always contact us if something happens and we're needed back quickly. But if all goes well, it will be like a 2 week vacation for the whole team. Oh, and also, when we get back we are implementing a rotational system so that all those late night calls don't go directly to you. Why didn't you say something about all that?"
This was a lot for Rodney to take in at once. He didn't want to go, but sensed John would not take no for answer. He was also a smart man and didn't miss the 'keep you in Pegasus' so clearly sending him back to Earth had come up at some point while he'd been out. A 2 week vacation with the Athosians was definitely better than being sent to Earth where they could conveniently forget to send him back. Besides, the Athosians make a great stew. Wait a sec - did John say something about a rotational system for his staff?
"What's this about a rotational system for calls? How long have I been out that you're messing with my department's personnel? I have things set up this way so they actually work and we don't die from any number of horrible deaths. I also need to be able to see what's going wrong to see the larger patterns to fix things before we end up with no drinking water or heat or something equally important." So anger was back too. Great…..John thought as he tried to find a response that would not start yet another argument.
"Your team volunteered to help take those calls. They all want to help and Zelenka didn't even tell them you spent the night here. Chuck also came up with a way that any repair calls will be automatically logged and added to a map to show where they are coming from. He also figured you'd like to have a daily, weekly and monthly summaries of the calls sent to your email for you to review so you can follow the patterns without actually having to take every call and he's more than willing to do that. Rodney, you"
"I don't care if they volunteered. In fact I'm a bit suspicious of this sudden volunteer spirit. Honestly who volunteers to take random calls? Wait...what? An automatic map of the calls? Why didn't I think of that….I must really be off..." Rodney trailed off looking more despondent by the second.
Trying to salvage this conversation, John tried again, "As I was saying, Rodney, you being healthy has proven critical to our survival several times over. We..I..need you ready to handle the big stuff. To do that, you need to let the little stuff go to others. But more than that, I want you to be healthy to stick around so we can continue to explore Atlantis and the Pegasus with our team. If you don't recover and make some changes, I may not be able to stop them from sending you back to Earth and I don't want that any more than you do." John finished quietly and looked away at the wall behind Rodney.
"Oh. I..ah...don't want to...ah...leave..either…." Rodney awkwardly finished.
Thinking that was more than enough feelings for the both of them, John left it there and took Rodney's lack of argument as acceptance.
"Great! We are meeting Ronon and Teyla in the jumper bay at 0930 tomorrow. For now, how about I go see if Dr. Keller will release you and we can go get lunch?"
Rodney watched as John walked across the infirmary, with his bright pink cast peeking out of his shirt sleeve as he went. Rodney continued to be amazed at how he could have possibility ended up with friends that actually cared about him as a person and actually want him, M. Rodney McKay, around and not just the guy that was going to solve the next problem. Maybe this trip to the Athosian settlement would actually be good for him...not that he'd admit that to anyone.