A/N: Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay. I'm back at work now and getting back into a regular routine. The second half of this chapter has not been beta read so please forgive errors. I ran it through spell and grammar checks, but things could have been missed all the same.
Checks and Balances
The drive home passed in a blur for Roy. He didn't remember any of it, and in the back of his mind he knew that he should probably not have driven at all. He was dangerously tired and could have easily fallen asleep at the wheel, crashing his vehicle. As he came to a stop in his driveway, he spent a moment resting his head on the steering wheel. The past shift had been one of the worst he could remember. He knew he should go inside before Joanne came out to see what was wrong, but he just couldn't motivate his body to move. Without knowing when they began, tears formed in his eyes and threatened to fall.
Roy took a few minutes to get his emotions under control. He was determined not to cry in front of Joanne. She would be concerned enough about him and Johnny, and he wasn't about to add to her stress level. Finally, feeling utterly spent, but more under control, Roy slipped from his car and slowly made his way to the back door. Joanne was waiting for him, sitting quietly at the kitchen table. She stood up when he stepped in. He dropped his duffel on the floor by the back door, and she walked over to him wrapping her arms around his neck, and drawing him into a close embrace. She didn't say anything, only held him tightly which nearly dissolved the tenuous hold he had over his emotions.
"It's bad, Jo. I could lose him this time."
Roy felt her stiffen at his words. She pulled away from their embrace and took his hands, guiding him to the kitchen table. He took a seat and began telling her about the shift and Johnny's accident while she made him a cup of warm nutmeg milk.
Roy spent almost an hour telling Joanne everything that had happened. He tried to keep his emotions in check, and failed spectacularly. He didn't know how his wife would react to his failure to recognize how serious Johnny's situation was, or how she would feel about the department's lawyer needing to be present for an inquiry into his actions when they found Johnny the previous evening. He realized in retrospect that he should have expected nothing less than what she gave him; a shoulder to cry on, a long and tight embrace and words of encouragement whispered into his ear. Roy realized how lucky he was to have Joanne in his life. She truly was the rock that kept his world sane and whole.
Joanne seemed to sense that the last thing he wanted was anything to eat, so rather than insisting that he have breakfast she walked him to the bed room and got him to lay down so she could rub some of the tension out of his shoulders. Her gentle ministrations were a welcome sensation that allowed the hours of anxiety to seep from his weary body. The warm embrace of dreamless sleep claimed him before he had even considered getting undressed and showering.
The insistent ringing of a phone echoed in the back of Roy's mind. He wondered why he could hear a phone ringing when he was out in the mountains of the Sierra wilderness. He and Johnny had gone for a climb but instead they had found an injured hiker. When they looked over the edge of the cliff the hiker was Johnny. For reasons that can only be explained by the flexibility of a dreamscape it didn't seem so odd that Johnny was no longer at his side but down on a ledge fifty feet below him telling him to go get help.
"I'll be back as quickly as I can! Hang in there, partner!" Roy turned and ran back the way he had come moving as fast as his legs would carry him, but he didn't seem to be going anywhere. He ran harder, knowing that Johnny was counting on him. He couldn't fail him again. He knew if he could just get over that next rise he would find help, but the sound of that ringing phone in the mountains distracted him and he lost his footing. Time changed and it no longer ran in slow motion. He was rolling down the rocky terrain at a tremendous rate as fear gripped his heart. His shoulder was shaking and a soft voice spoke to him in dulcet tones.
"Roy, wake up honey. Roy, Dr. Brackett called, it's time to wake up."
Roy slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on his stomach, his head buried in his feather pillow. "Hmmm?"
"Roy, the hospital called." Joanne said, as she placed her hand on his back.
Suddenly everything came rushing back and Roy jerked up quickly. The side of his face was wet with drool, but he didn't care. "What? What happened?"
Joanne shushed him as she rubbed his back. "Dr. Brackett called to tell you that Johnny's fever broke. He's hoping that he'll wake up soon."
Roy sat up quickly and rubbed at his face. "What time is it? How long was I asleep?"
"You've been asleep for about five hours. It 4:30 in the afternoon."
Roy wiped the side of his face and looked around not quite awake. He glanced over at the clock on the bedside table then back up at his wife. She was grinning at him with an amused look on her face.
"Go take a shower. I'll lay out some clothes for you and make you a sandwich."
Blinking rapidly to wake up more fully, Roy nodded. "Thanks, hun. I'll be out in a few minutes."
Joanne leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek then stood up making a face before she turned and stepped over to the dresser. Roy couldn't imagine why she was acting so oddly, but he had other things on his mind and didn't bother to ask her about it. He got up and stepped into the bathroom, flipping on the light. The sight that greeted him in the mirror almost made him laugh out loud. His hair was standing straight up on the left side of his head, his cheek on that side was damp and had the imprint of wrinkles from the pillow case. He looked like a crazed lunatic and he now understood why Jo had made a face.
A short hot shower chased the last of his sleepiness away and he stepped out of the bathroom clean shaven and feeling much more refreshed than he had thought possible. Joanne had laid out jeans and a light blue button up shirt for him which he quickly changed into before heading down to the kitchen.
As he walked down the stairs he could hear the kids trying to argue quietly.
"You're supposed to be quite so Daddy can sleep, Chris!" Jennifer hissed.
"Yeah, I know, but Dad's up now. Didn't you hear the shower? Besides I heard mom on the phone. Dad's gotta go to the..." Chris stopped speaking abruptly as if he had said something he shouldn't have.
"Daddy's going somewhere? I wanna come too!" Jennifer wailed, no longer caring about being quiet.
"You can't!" Chris said defiantly just as Roy turned the corner and could see his children.
Chris was standing in front of Jennifer with his arms crossed over his chest in an exact imitation of his Roy when he was scolding the kids which made him smile and stifle a chuckle. Jennifer was standing facing him with her hands planted firmly on her hips and fire in her eyes, looking remarkably similar to her mother when Joanne's dander was fairly up.
"You're not the boss of me!"
Roy decided to put an end to this before anything got out of hand. "Hey, you two. That will be enough of that."
Both kids turned to see their father standing in the door way to the living room and their countenance immediately changed. Jennifer hands dropped from her hips and she squealed excitedly.
"Daddy! You're awake! Can I go with you?" she said as she turned her head and stuck her tongue out at Chris.
Chris dropped his arms and rolled his eyes and he plopped down on the couch. Jennifer launched herself at her father and Roy scooped her up in an embrace smoothly then carried her over to the couch and took a seat next to Chris.
"I want to talk to you guys about Johnny for a minute."
Chris noticed the serious tone of his father's voice and sat up straighter. Jennifer took Roy announcement to mean that Johnny was coming over.
"Oooh is he coming too, Daddy? Where are we going to go?"
Roy smiled and shook his head at his daughter who had already assumed that his answer to her going with him was yes.
"No, honey, Johnny's not coming over, not for a while. He is very sick right now. I am going to go to the hospital to visit him and see how he is doing."
Before Roy could get another word out both of the kids started speaking at once.
"I want to go visit Johnny too!"
"Dad, is he gonna be okay? Can we go see him?"
Joanne stepped into the doorway leading to the kitchen and watched as her husband tried to explain this situation to the children. Roy also suspected she wanted to be there to step in and back him up when the kids objected to not being allowed to see Johnny.
"Whoa, just slow down you two. Right now Johnny is in a special room at the hospital and can't have visitors. I'm the only one who can see him until he gets better enough to go to a regular room." Roy tried to explain.
"How come only you can see him, Daddy?" Jennifer wanted to know.
"Well, you see he is my partner and Johnny doesn't have any family."
"Hey, we are his family!" Chris protested loudly along with Jennifer.
"I know, Johnny is like family to us. What I meant is he doesn't have a mom and dad, or brothers and sisters. When someone is sick and in this special kind of room only family members are allowed to visit. They are letting me because I'm his partner and because Dr. Brackett made a special exception for me."
Both of the kids took a moment to digest that information and it was just enough of a break in the conversation for Joanne to divert the oncoming storm of questions she knew would soon follow.
"Okay, kids, I want you guys to go get your homework done before dinner."
That earned her a chorus of "awws" from both the kids, but they got up and moved off to the dining room table with their backpacks. Roy kissed both his children before he moved out to the kitchen. "Thanks honey. I'll call you if... I'll call you when he wakes up, okay?"
Joanne stepped up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Roy, none of this is your fault. I want you to remember that. Johnny will be okay even if he doesn't wake up today. He has been through a physically traumatic experience. His body needs time to rest and to heal."
Roy knew she was trying to prepare him emotionally for the fact that Johnny may not wake up as Dr. Brackett was hoping. She knew he feared this the most having revealed it to Joanne that morning when he told her everything. She was right, though. He might not wake up today and that didn't mean the worst had come to pass.
She kissed him warmly and held him tight for a moment before stepping back and pulling from his embrace. She reached over to the counter and grabbed a paper bag that held not only a sandwich for him but an apple and some chips.
"Take it with you. I know you want to get to the hospital as soon as you can. Call me when you have an update on Johnny. I'm worried about him too."
Roy smiled down at his wife. Of course she would be concerned as well. Johnny had become an important member of their family.
"I will. I may be there for a while, I just... I don't want him to be alone when he wakes up, ya know? I don't think I'll be able to rest until I know he's okay."
Roy was doing a terrible job at explaining what he was feeling and he knew it. The paramedic in him knew that between the anoxia, the high fever, and the seizure Johnny's odds of waking up without some sort of neurological damage were not very good. Joanne seemed to read his mind.
"No matter what happens, Johnny'll be okay, Roy, because he has the entire LA County Fire Department behind him, but more than that; he has us. He's a part of this family and we will help him through what ever he faces during his recovery, no matter what that may be."
Roy hugged Joanne tightly burying his face in her neck. He was so grateful for her. He knew with her support both he and his partner would get through what ever life handed to them, and there wasn't any more a man could ask.
The drive to Rampart took far longer than Roy had hoped because he ran into rush hour traffic. What should have been a fifteen minute drive turned into close to forty minutes and by the time Roy pulled into a parking spot he had already finished the lunch that Jo had packed for him. That plus the sleep had made all the difference in the world and Roy felt much better than he had that morning.
The ICU seemed quiet in comparison to the last time he was there and Roy was glad that he wasn't stopped by anyone when he walked over to Johnny's room. Dr. Brackett was standing at the side of the bed peering into the young man's eyes when Roy stepped in quietly and cleared his throat.
"Roy! Good, I'm glad you made it in. You look better. I'm guessing you got some sleep." Brackett said as he stepped back from the bedside.
"Yeah, I really needed it. You got some sleep, as well, I see."
Dr. Brackett looked almost as exhausted as Roy did that morning when he left for home, but now he was shaved, and wearing a clean set of clothes. He looked more refreshed even though he still had dark circles under his eyes.
"I did actually. Dix came back about half an hour after you left and threatened to 'hog-tie' me if I didn't get minimally three hours of sleep."
Roy smiled at the image of the small nurse forcing the stubborn doctor into doing as he was told. "Has he woken up yet?"
"I'm afraid not. I was hoping that he would regain consciousness when the fever broke, but he is being a bit stubborn."
"That sounds like Johnny all right. Is this still a coma? Is that why he's not waking up?" Roy asked feeling concern begin to well up in his gut.
"I don't think so. His pupillary responses are normal, he responds to painful stimuli, he just won't wake up." Dr. Brackett sounded frustrated. "His right lung has almost fully re-inflated. I want to keep the chest tube in place for at least another day or two. His labs are coming back good, even though he still has an elevated white count. The infection is beginning to respond to the antibiotics."
At the mention of the infection Roy felt his stomach do a flip. The doctor must have seen that in his face because he continued with a stern voice.
"Roy, the infection is not your fault. Could the infection have been introduced when you did the thoracostomy? Yes, but it could also have happened when the chest tube was inserted, or this could be his body's natural response to the trauma. Remember without a spleen, Johnny is far more susceptible to infection that you or I would be. Now if you don't stop blaming yourself, I'll have Dixie come and have a talk with you."
Dr. Brackett looked pleased with himself as he crossed his arms over his chest. Both men turned at the sound of a new voice. "You wouldn't want that. Miss McCall is a formidable woman."
A well dressed dark haired man stood in the door way of Johnny's room. His brown eyes were piercing, but held a hint of humor around the edges as he spoke of Dixie. The tailored three piece suit he wore that probably cost more than a month's salary for Roy made him look straight and stern, but his voice was almost soft spoken. He stepped forward and extended his hand to Roy.
"I'm Nathan O'Brien, the hospital administrator. You must be fireman DeSoto."
Roy shifted from foot to foot feeling the anxiety from that morning begin to return. "Yeah, uh, yeah that's me."
"I just got back into town late this morning. Dr. Brackett informed me of the situation with your partner, and the mistake that took place in our radiology department."
This man was the head of Rampart hospital and somewhat imposing, but Roy looked him straight in the eye. "An investigator for the hospital came to the station this morning. He seemed to have made up his mind that I was at fault for something before he even spoke to me. I believe his exact words were 'You have a lot to answer for.' Honestly, I was very glad that the department had a lawyer there to look out for me."
Roy didn't miss the look on O'Brien's face. The man was clearly not very happy about the situation. "I want to apologize for the actions of my administration. The situation with your partner has nothing to do with your paramedic care, and as I understand it, you saved fireman Gage's life. I had a long and detailed conversation with your battalion chief as well as your departmental lawyer. The investigation into this incident was handled very poorly, and in all honesty you should not have been questioned about your field care in this manner. I also listened to the recording of the call. It is clear that you were acting properly and under the direct orders of the senior physician in the emergency department."
Roy's eyes opened wide. O'Brien's response to what had happened was not what he had expected. He felt the tension and anxiety roll off of him like water from duck down. Before he could say anything else O'Brien continued speaking.
"There was also an investigation internally to try and determine how this happened. As I understand it, the entire hospital was extremely busy yesterday including the radiology department. That investigation has yet to be concluded, but I assure you as soon as we figure out how this happened we will take appropriate steps to ensure there will never be a reoccurrence."
O'Brien turned his attention to Dr. Brackett. "How is Mr. Gage doing?"
Roy looked to the doctor wanting to know how he would respond. He didn't think that Dr. Brackett would have held anything back from him, but when asked by the head of the hospital he wondered if the answer would be any different.
"Not as well as I would like. He hasn't regained consciousness yet, but I'm hopeful that he will soon."
"Do you know why he hasn't regained consciousness?" O'Brien wanted to know.
"Not conclusively. After his initial accident he was slowly deprived of adequate oxygen for several hours and then after collapsing he was without oxygen for several minutes before the pressure surrounding his right lung was relieved. He was comatose when he arrived last night, and developed an infection in the lining surrounding the re-inflated lung. I believe that we have the infection under control so I'm hopeful that he will regain consciousness soon."
O'Brien looked thoughtful for a moment. He glanced at Roy as if gauging what he wanted to say, then nodded slightly to himself as if he had come to a decision. "What about brain damage because of the oxygen deprivation?"
Roy felt as if the elephant in the room had just trumpeted loudly. The question hung in the air like an oppressive fog making Roy hold his breath waiting for Dr. Brackett's answer.
"Until he wakes up, there is no way to know what, if any, damage has occurred. He could be facing a long recovery."
Roy feel O'Brien's eyes studying him as Dr. Brackett spoke. "Please keep me informed of his progress. I want his family to know that Rampart will make sure that whatever services are required to make a full recovery will be provided."
Roy didn't mention that the department was the only family Johnny had. He decided that he liked this Nathan O'Brien and respected that he was taking responsibility for what had happened. Without even realizing it Roy felt as though an immense weight had been lifted from his shoulders and for the first time since this whole situation began he breathed a sigh of relief.