Author's Notes: So the first part of the finale has just has so many moments that need exploring. The episode has stayed with me like no other show has affected me ever. So many stories that need to be shared that we couldn't have gotten in the actual show if it had lasted for four hours instead of just one. This is the one that has haunted me the most. I won't say my usual "hope you enjoy it" because it may be as painful to read as it was to write. So instead, I'll say I hope it's realistic and true to the amazing performance that Amy Jo Johnson gave us. I hope it resonates in you the way it did with me. If so, please take a moment to tell me what you think.
Disclaimer: The show Flashpoint and its characters were created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern and belong to them and its respective networks. I am making no money off this story and it is for entertainment purposes only. However, this particular story is my creation and should not be used without my express written permission.
Triage of the Heart
"Mass casualty incidents will without a doubt be the hardest calls any officer or first responder ever has to make. No matter how much we train for them or how experienced or seasoned you might be, nothing can prepare you for the emotional side of such incidents. You will have to make split second decisions that will, no matter how appropriate they might be in the situation, will haunt you long after the crisis has been resolved."
Julianna Callaghan had sat through many hours of training during her years first with the RCMP and then with SRU. While the training itself had stayed with her, the actual lectures had long faded from her mind. Except for the day, they talked about mass casualty incidents and triage. She'd sat, a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, in a room full of officers of varying levels of training and listened as the veteran officer explained the tag system that went along with triage. She could remember thinking that a tag system seemed so inhumane given they were dealing with people who'd already undergone such a terrifying experience. But she'd listened anyway and took the drill to heart the way she did all her training because you couldn't be perfect at your job if you didn't know it perfectly.
Green was for the walking wounded, people who could still move around and possibly even help themselves until things calmed down enough that medical professionals could get to them. Yellow was for those injured enough that they couldn't move for themselves but their injuries weren't life-threatening, at least for the moment. A red tag meant the individual needed immediate attention but could be saved with prompt attention. Black was for those who had already died or who were beyond help.
Jules had shaken her head at the time. All officers were required to know rudimentary first aid skills but how could she or any of her fellow officers make those kinds of judgment calls? What right did she have deciding how seriously someone was injured? That training had physically made her ill and she'd left work that day hoping and praying she'd never have to make use of that training.
For the first three years of her career, her prayers had been answered. Then she, along with practically every other officer in the area, had responded to a twenty-two car pile-up during a thick morning fog on the expressway. She'd been glad when she'd been paired with a firefighter paramedic to tag the wounded; he'd at least be better trained to make the appropriate judgment calls. That is until they came to a young woman her own age lying on the pavement next to her car. Jules had felt for a pulse but didn't find one. Her hands had automatically gone to the woman's chest to start CPR but the medic with her stilled her hands and shook his head as he placed a black tag on the woman's chest instead. Jules had just stared at him, horrified that he hadn't even tried.
Later, after the scene had been cleared and she was leaning against a fire truck trying to keep her breakfast down, he'd explained that in such incidents they didn't have time to try to save everyone. A person without a pulse was dead and while CPR was sometimes successful in changing that outcome it was no guarantee of success. Time spent trying to save someone who might not live regardless of their efforts was time they didn't get to spend on someone they could definitely save. It had seemed so wrong to Jules at the time, but she could see the pain in the medic's eyes that said it hurt him just as much. His words had struck a cord with her that day that had stayed with her just as much as the initial training had.
"Callaghan, when the number of wounded exceed the number of caregivers like out there today, it gets to you. No matter how much you want to save them all, you just can't. No pulse means technically the person is already dead. In triage, there is no CPR or defibrillation. Those measures take time; time we just don't have when there are so many injured. We spend five or ten minutes trying to save one patient who may not survive regardless of our attempts, and we could lose dozens of others that could have been saved if we'd gotten to them in time. It ain't easy and it'll never seem fair. So you save the ones you can and try to push the ones you can't from your mind so you can focus on your job. Unfortunately, it won't keep those faces from returning to haunt you for nights or weeks to come. But during the emergency, you do the best you can even if your best can't be enough. Because even though you can't save them all, the ones that can be saved need you. And you may be the only help they can count on."
Those words ran through her mind now as she drove through the city streets toward the bomb site. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. Just hours earlier, she'd married the love of her life and announced to family and friends that she and Sam were bringing another life into the world in just six more months. Her life as she wanted it was just beginning. Now as she could see the ravaged streets looming in front of her, she knew that for others, their lives were ending. And she'd be one of the ones having to make those calls.
She and Leah joined Ed at his SUV as he ordered the two of them to help EMS with the tagging. Her stomach twisted as almost in the same breath Ed ordered Sam into the destroyed building to do the same. She couldn't help but take the moment to watch him as he grabbed the rescue gear and raced away from her. She wanted to call out to him, caution him to be careful or maybe just to say I love you one more time; she said neither, however, and instead just watched as he disappeared from her view. She trusted him to do his job as safely as he could just as he would trust her to do the same. Just because they were now married didn't mean they could change the rules.
Ed handed her and Leah a stack of tags and reminded them of the levels of priority. She took them almost reluctantly; glancing around at the destruction around her she was afraid she'd run out of red and black tags long before green or yellow.
They knelt beside the first victim they reached, a red. They raised his feet to help prevent the shock and moved on. Jules and Leah worked in tandem even after Ed separated from them. Even as Jules evaluated the physical condition of the victims they checked she couldn't help but see the despair and confusion in each pair of eyes she looked into. Regardless of what color tag they clipped to the body, Jules was sure each soul she looked into needed its own red or black tag. Unfortunately, there was nothing carried on any of the ambulances pouring into the area that could repair the damage done to the psyche within. Maybe not even time itself could do that.
She and Leah carefully turned the body of a young woman who reminded Jules so much of the young woman she'd wanted to help that day of the pile up. Fortunately though, this woman was still alive. She was about to reassure her as she'd tried to do with all the victims whether they could hear her or not that it would be okay, even if she wasn't as sure of that as she tried to make it seem. Then the woman raised her arm above her head as if to point. Jules followed her fingers and her heart skipped several beats.
No! No! No! Shit - sorry Baby, glad you can't hear Mommy's thoughts. Not a child. Please don't tell me there's a child lying there abandoned as people try to race to a safety they aren't sure exists.
She scrambled toward the small body, barely registering the blue blanket lying beside him. Her hand gently touched his small back. He couldn't be over five years old. Way too young to be a victim of someone's hatred. Way too young to die because someone wanted to make a point in as cruel and viscous way as possible. "Okay. Hi, Honey, my name is Jules. I'm going to help you. Okay."
Her fingers pressed against his neck desperate to feel even the slightest flutter that would indicate he was still alive. This couldn't be the end, not for him. But there was nothing. No sign of life at all. He was beyond help, hers or anyone else's. Tears that had nothing to do with the ash and debris floating around filled her eyes. She wanted to cry; no, more like she wanted to scream to anyone who would listen that this was wrong and she was done. How could she carry on with her job knowing she hadn't been able to save one small helpless boy? If the world opened up beneath her and swallowed her whole, it would be okay. It couldn't hurt any more than she hurt right now.
Instead, she rolled him over; her hands giving his chest a small pat. She wanted to pick him up and cradle him in her arms the way his mother would. She wanted to protect his body from the survivors who were still trying to rush toward anywhere that wasn't the reality they now faced. But she couldn't do that any more than she could actually quit doing her job. The medic's words from years ago filled her mind, because even though you can't save them all, the ones that can be saved need you. She couldn't save him but she couldn't just completely abandon him either. Her eyes caught a glimpse of the blanket and she picked it up and carefully unfolded the blue material. She covered his body with it but couldn't bring herself to cover his face. She picked up a black tag and set it on top of the blanket, allowing her hand to remain on the small lifeless body.
"So sorry. So sorry, Honey." Still she couldn't bring herself to leave him. He was so small he shouldn't be left alone until someone came to collect the bodies. It wasn't rational but she couldn't change how she felt. She settled back against her ankles, ready to give into her tears when Leah's voice interrupted her grief.
"Jules, she's says there's a daycare inside. There's more kids. Ed, inside. There's a daycare."
Jules scrambled to her feet even as Leah was still talking and Ed was issuing orders. She didn't want to leave this child but if it meant saving others from sharing his fate, she had to do what she could.
She raced inside with Ed on her heels. They found Sam at the start of major rubble listening with the parabolic equipment. "Is this the daycare?"
"I can hear a woman and some kids. Someone may be hurt but I can't tell."
Sam handed off the parabolic equipment to Jules as he and Ed explored their options for reaching the door to the daycare. She could hear the sounds of the woman trying to comfort the kids and it was killing her, especially after Ed tried to go in only to be stopped by collapsing rubble. Then fear gripped her heart as she heard the woman suggest leaving a trapped child behind. Jules lowered the head phones. Another child couldn't die. Not if she could do something. Yet Ed and Sam were saying there was no way to get to them.
"Okay, there's a kid; there's a kid pinned in there. I'm small enough, I can fit through that hole." The whole time she was speaking she was moving closer to the hole ready to crawl inside and taking off all the extra equipment she wouldn't need. She knew her voice betrayed her emotion. She only got that nasal, stuffed up sound when she either had a cold or was fighting tears. Ed protested but she reiterated that she could do it. But then Sam added his own protests.
"Jules, stop. We'll find another way…"
"You've got to let me do this." She stared at him; why was he trying to stop her. Hadn't he heard the kids crying just as she had. Didn't he understand that she had to do everything possible to save them?
"Jules, you're not thinking…"
Did he think she didn't know that? Of course she wasn't thinking, logic couldn't win out over the heart here. Her voice rose in frustration and anger. "There're children in there and we're running out of time. Now Sam, right now, are you my teammate or my husband?"
On one level, she knew her accusation wasn't fair. He wasn't telling her anything Ed wasn't also saying but Sam was her target in that moment and she lashed out with the only emotional card she had at her disposal. Her heart was leading her and her heart couldn't let any more children die. Later, when it was all over, she'd wrap herself in his arms and beg him to forgive her and hope she could make him understand. They stared at each other for several long seconds, her eyes begging him to understand and his begging her to reconsider. Finally he relented and handed her the rescue pack.
"I can do this." Her voice lowered and this time her repeated words sounded more like a promise to just him that not only would she rescue the kids but that she'd be okay in the process. Or as okay as she could be with all the mental anguish she was feeling.
Ed took her arm and pulled her closer to the hole showing her the way inside. She got down on her knees but even that was too much. She'd have to practically belly crawl to reach them. The going was slow as she picked her way over the debris. She knew she was getting closer as she started to hear voices up ahead without the benefit of the parabolic equipment. "Hello? Can you hear me?"
An adult female cried out to her letting her know she'd been heard. Jules continued. "What's your name?"
She paused for just a second. "Della, my name is Jules. My team is here; we're going to come get you. Okay?"
"There's a hurt little boy in here, please hurry."
Jules took a deep breath. What did Della think she was doing? If she could go any faster, she would. She didn't want anything to happen to the any of the children, not after the boy on the street. But just the same, she increased her speed, not watching as carefully as she'd been watching. And then it happened. Pair seared through her and she cried out without thinking. Immediately Sam's panicked cry filled her ear and Ed's own concerned voice asking what had happened. She looked down to see the bloody rebar that silently confessed to its crime. "I'm okay." She wasn't sure that was the complete truth but any other answer would have brought more concern. She knew both Sam and Ed knew her well enough to know that her okay could range from no injuries at all to her leg being completely torn from her body. She needed to clarify before Sam took off after her despite not being able to fit through the opening. "Rebar dug into my leg. I'm okay."
She continued on. It was slower this time only because her leg was killing her and was refusing to work properly. She couldn't stop the grunts of pain and exertion that each movement made and she said a silent apology to Sam. She knew that each painful cry was killing him more than it was her.
"I see it. The daycare is up ahead."
A little more of a belly crawl and she was able to push the grate in. A blonde woman - Della, she suspected - looked up. Seeing that help had arrived, the woman immediately started to break down in a panic. It took Jules a moment or two of keeping her own voice calm and collected to bring Della around. Then she made her way, pulling her almost useless leg along the floor to the trapped boy. His eyes were closed and Jules prayed that this would not be the same as the street.
"Hi Honey." She felt a stab of pain that had nothing to do with her leg run through her as she used the same endearment. She seriously needed to rethink her word choices. "Can you talk to me? Buddy?" She couldn't take it if another child died. She might have calmed Della down but no one would be able to console her in this moment if she had to declare another child dead. He was so pale and still and she could feel her own panic rising, despite how she'd talked Della down. But had his head turned? "Buddy?"
Then to her relief his eyes fluttered open and his head turned toward her. She smiled, partly to reassure him but mostly because she just couldn't contain her relief that he was alive. "Hi. Are you okay?" He gave an ever so slight nod. "Okay, I'm going to get you out of here."
She looked at the debris pinning him to the ground. She'd have to leverage it up so that she could slide Howie out. She looked at Della and told her to get the other kids ready to leave. Then she looked back down at the trapped child. "Want to see how strong I am?"
She tried to ignore the pain in her leg that seemed to be getting worse by the minute. She couldn't worry about her own injury until the children were safe. She moved a few pieces of the rubble out of the way and retrieved the jack from her bag. She placed it under the beam that was trapping Howie. "That's my jack. Let's see how strong I am."
It only took a few minutes of ratcheting the jack up so that the beam lifted slightly. "You feel that?" He murmured a painful assent. "Can you move your legs?" Again an affirmative answer. She slid him out from other the debris into her lap. "We'll get you to your mom. How about that?" As relieved as she was that the kids now in her charge would get to see their mothers and vice versa but she couldn't help but think of the little boy out on the street. What would his mom do tonight and every night afterward without her son to kiss and tuck into bed? "He's okay. Let's go."
She had to think about the logistics of getting the kids and their teacher out. She had Della bring a nap mat over and she carefully situated the little boy onto it to use a litter. Howie didn't need to move any more than was necessary which meant that she and Della needed to travel with him between them.
Della held up a brightly colored rope. "Should we use this?"
Jules looked at the handles and realized what it was probably used for. There was really only one path the kids could take and no way for them to get lost on the way. But it could help in another way. "Yeah, hook a couple of those handles on Howie's feet and you hold the rest of it. It'll make it easier to pull him out. I'll be right behind you pushing the mat to make sure it stays beneath him."
Now that Howie's transport was decided, she had to think about the other children and getting them out as well. The safest would be keeping them in front of them. Della suggested that the day's line leader should go first and pointed her out, a young girl who looked frightened but at least not panicked. Jules smiled at her and offered her the flashlight.
"Okay, Sweetheart, you just shine that light right in front of you and just follow the opening. I've got two friends at the other end who are going to be waiting to pull you out as soon as you get close enough. Can you do that?"
The little girl nodded and Jules gave her a quick hug. Then she sent the little girl into the hole, cautioning her to watch for things sticking out as she moved. One rebar injury was more than enough, thank you very much. Then, one by one the remaining children followed. Della and Jules maneuvered the make-shift litter into the hole.
The way out was tougher than the way in for Jules. Her fear for the children's safety had abated slightly now that she knew they were okay and on their way to safety. That meant the adrenaline that had spurred her on despite the pain also lessened and she felt every stab of pain as she pushed the litter forward and dragged herself on. She knew Sam was probably agonizing over every painful grunt he was hearing her utter and she offered him another silent apology. Without her flashlight, the way was dark but as the kids reached the end of the hole, she could see Ed's outline kneeling in front of the opening, helping each child out. She let out a breath of relief as Ed gently gathered Howie in his arms and moved away.
She was right on his heels and Sam reached down and took her hand as she climbed out. She pulled herself up with his help and immediately wrapped her arms around his neck to cling almost desperately to him. His arms encircled her small body eagerly as they both needed the reassurance of each other's arms. She needed the comfort of his embrace to at least temporarily assuage the pain not only in her leg but also in her heart. In turn she knew he needed the reassurance of the hug to know she really was okay.
Not caring that they were on the clock and were supposed to be professionals, Sam leaned down and kissed her, not as a teammate but as her husband. She didn't protest. As soon as the kiss ended, she hopped back, supporting most of her weight on her good leg. "We've got to get the kids out to the medics."
Sam nodded. "You too. We gotta get that leg looked at. I'm sure all that debris dust couldn't be good for it."
She nodded. But to give him credit, he didn't protest as she suggested that he let her walk out under her own power as they helped the kids out. She was limping heavily as she put her arms around the line leader's thin shoulders. Medics swarmed them as soon as they fully cleared the building and Ed put his precious cargo onto a stretcher. Since the other kids weren't exactly hurt, Sam and Jules took their own precious cargo, with Della and the other kids behind them, to a taped off area where medics were frantically doing what they could. Sam, who had apparently reached the limit of his ability not to be protective forced Jules to sit on a little fold out chair and called for a medic.
"Sam, at best I'm a green. There are others that are more injured…"
"How about you let me be the judge of that." A female medic advised as she knelt down to look at the wound. She nodded. "Probably not as bad as it looks or feels. Still, with all this dust, we need to get it irrigated and dressed to lessen the chance of infection. It's ok, Constable. We're starting to do what we can for the greens anyway."
Sam leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Please, Jules, let her take care of you. I need you to be okay. And right now I think you need to be a part of all this. Let her do her magic so you can do yours. I'm saying this as your teammate AND your husband. Please."
Jules nodded. She had so much to apologize for and to explain but it would have to wait. "Okay. Will you check on the rest of the kids?"
He nodded. He pointed off to the side where Della had them gathered and medics were checking them as well. He gave her shoulder a squeeze before walking off. The female medic poured sterile water over the cut and Jules hissed in pain. Once the worst of the grit and grime and been cleaned away, the medic reached for a dressing to cover the wound. As she started to tape it down, she glanced up at Jules.
"You've got to stay off this leg. How's the pain?"
"Pain's pain." And regardless of the pain, Jules couldn't take anything for it. She wasn't going to be completely sidelined. An incident like this, it was all hands on deck and wounded or not, she was needed. More importantly, she needed to be a part of the solution not a statistic.
The medic nodded and handed her an ice bag. "If nothing else, keep the ice on it and it will numb it enough to be bearable. I know you want to help but for now, stay put. I'll be back to check on you."
Jules nodded. She swiped at her eyes hoping it looked like she was trying to get rid of some of the soot instead of the tears that still wanted to form, especially now that she wasn't actively trying to rescue someone. She wanted Sam to come back, wanted him to wrap his arms around her again and tell her it was all going to be okay, even if they both knew it was a lie. But she couldn't call him. She couldn't blast him for treating her like a wife instead of a teammate one moment and then demand he do just that the next.
She glanced around at the sheer number of first responders who had shown up to help. Her stomach churned as she realized the tent set up next to where she was sitting had been designated for the black tags. Just at that moment, two people added a stretcher to the count. She couldn't help but stare at the small lifeless body lying there. It was her little boy from the street; the one she'd tagged just before finding out about the day care. She recognized the jacket and the adorable little innocent face. The tag she'd placed on him still rested on the motionless chest. But the blanket she'd covered him with was gone.
She wanted to sob. Where was his blankie? Wasn't it bad enough he'd lost his life, did he have to lose his security blanket as well? She wanted to scream at the volunteers that they had to find it. She wanted to rise and go to him, wanted to gather him in her arms and offer him the comfort he'd been denied by the lost blanket. She might have but Sam's voice pierced her reverie.
"How's the leg, Jules?" He knelt beside her and glanced at the wound. She reached out and gripped his shoulder.
"Did you talk to your folks?"
He looked at her. "I can't get a hold of them. I'm sure they're fine though." She breathed out a "yeah" as he continued. "How are you?"
She stared into his beautiful, concerned face, and her composure came close to cracking. She wanted to break down, wanted to let him gather her in his arms and comfort her as she told him about the little boy and how they needed to find his blanket. As if finding it amidst the chaos would make everything okay. She wanted to and perhaps, no probably, later she would need to do just that. But for now, she had to push all that aside. If she gave up her professionalism now, there would be no getting it back and she was going to need it if she wanted to keep working. Besides, even though he hadn't said it, she knew he wasn't just asking about her condition. She removed the hand from his arm and placed it on her belly. "We're good."
He grinned in visible relief and almost immediately his hand joined hers. They could only take a moment to indulge in the family moment but it was an indulgence they both needed. It was a momentary recharge so they could slip completely back to professionals and do what needed to be done. It wasn't enough; but it would have to do for now. There was so much she needed to tell him; so much she needed to hear from him but it wasn't the time for that. The medic she'd worked with all those years ago had warned her that the faces of those that couldn't be saved could haunt for days or weeks after the incident. She was sure, however, that days and weeks wouldn't scratch the surface of how long the little boy with the blue blanket would stay with her and she needed Sam to know so he could be there when it got too hard.
But it would wait. There was a subject to hunt down and many more lives to be saved. She made a silent vow to herself to do everything in her power to make sure no more mothers had to mourn the loss of their children today. Then she could give in to her grief. "Sam," She started, her voice cracking.
The hand that wasn't on her stomach reached up to caress her cheek. Then as if he could read her mind, he assured her. "It's going to be okay; I promise you we'll make it all okay."
She nodded and trusted him, even though they both knew it was a promise he couldn't guarantee being able to keep. She sniffled. "I love you, Samuel Braddock."
He leaned closer and kissed her softly before pulling back. "Love you too, Julianna Braddock."
She couldn't guarantee what else the day was going to bring, but the ring on her finger and the mention of her new last name served as reminders that she didn't have to face them alone.