The Heart of a Man (Chapter 2)
While Marco was undergoing his tests, Johnny and Roy had rejoined the rest of their crew at the scene of the shopping plaza fire. While they worked hard to keep their focus on their work, clearly their minds and hearts, as well as the minds and hearts of Hank, Mike, and Chet were back at Rampart with Marco and his parents.
During a short break, the paramedics were able to update their friends on the fallen firefighter's condition, or as much as they knew at that point in time.
"Truthfully, we don't know a whole lot about what's going on with him, just that it appears to be cardiac related. Johnny and I called the Lopez's and they were about to talk to Dr. Brackett when we left."
"Did he ever regain consciousness?" Hank asked, an extremely worried look covering his usually calm exterior.
Johnny shook his head sadly, a still worried expression on his own face. "No, Cap…at least not while we were there. Brackett was probably getting ready to run more tests."
"How…" Chet started to ask a question, but paused when he thought about the question, and what the possible answer would be. "How are his folks doing? I know that Marco is especially close to his mother."
Johnny sighed loudly and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really know, Chet. They seemed pretty calm, but I'm sure they were very worried. They're parents, Chet…don't all parents worry when their kid gets hurt…whether said child is five years old or thirty?"
Listening intently to the conversation, Mike tried to put himself in Marco's shoes.
"Is there anything we can do to help Marco?" Mike asked softly.
Sadly, Roy shook his head. "I don't think so, Mike. As Marco himself would say, 'it's in god's hands' right now."
While listening to his paramedics talk about Marco, Hank couldn't help but to think to himself that he did a disservice to his fallen firefighter by not insisting that he go to Rampart sooner. He, along with the rest of his crew knew there was something going on with Marco, but never did anything about it. Hank was not placing the blame on anyone else but himself…he accepted it squarely on his own shoulders.
"Well…we should get back to work fellas."
Judging by Hank's tone and body language, it became obvious to the other men on the crew, especially to Roy, that their Captain was struggling with some kind of guilt in how the situation with Marco had gone down. Roy couldn't help but to inwardly chuckle to himself…after all guilt was something that he had cornered the market on.
Each of Hank's men took a few more sips of water, before heading back to work.
Back at Rampart, the tests were completed and Marco was resting in the recovery room.
Anxiously awaiting their son's test results, Mr. and Mrs. Lopez were sitting in the fourth floor waiting room.
"Eduardo…" Estella's voice had started to waver as thoughts of her son being seriously ill weighed heavily on her mind.
Seeing the pain and worry in Estella's normally twinkling brown eyes, and hearing the worry and fear in his wife's voice, Eduardo immediately cut her off.
"Estella, please have faith. Have faith in Marco, and in the doctors…and most of all, in god. They will all see things through…our son is in good hands." As Eduardo was speaking, his voice remained calm, though he felt anything but, inside.
Eduardo was in the midst of embracing his wife, when both Dr. Gibson and Dr. Brackett came out to the waiting room.
"Mr. and Mrs. Lopez, this is Dr. Gibson. He is the cardiac specialist who will be taking over your son's care."
The doctor smiled warmly at the couple and shook their hands.
"Senor and Senora Lopez, nice to meet you."
"Gracias. How's our son…is he going to be okay?" Eduardo asked the doctor, afraid that the news would not be so good.
"Why don't we sit down…I think we'll be more comfortable." The cardiologist offered, motioning to the chairs they were just sitting in.
Once the four of them were seated, Dr. Gibson continued.
"Your son is very sick. The tests that we ran show that he does have some blood clots, but luckily they are small and can be treated with medication. However, the lab reports that we received do indicate a serious heart infection. I believe Dr. Brackett told you about the possible infection to his heart…it's called cardiomyopathy. The various tests that we ran on Marco indicate that there is some very extensive damage to his heart."
Before the doctor could continue he was interrupted by Mrs. Lopez, whose emotions were wearing thin, and was on the verge of dissolving into tears.
"What are you saying, Doctor? Is…is our son…" Estella couldn't bring herself to say the word.
Dr. Gibson knew he had to think carefully about how he would tell the Lopez's the news…saying it in a way that was as gentle as possible.
"Your son is in very serious condition. We will put him on several medications to see if we can get a handle on this infection, and monitor his condition very closely…but there is every indication that Marco will need a heart transplant. Dr. Brackett and I have already gone ahead and put your son on the national transplant registry. Because of his blood type, B negative…a rare blood type, finding a suitable donor may be difficult, but we are going to exhaust all avenues in finding a compatible heart for him."
"How long might that take?" Eduardo took over asking the questions, as he knew his wife was devastated at the prospect of losing her beloved Marco.
"It could be days, weeks…or even months. It's hard to say."
"And…and if there isn't one found?" Eduardo continued, a pained but knowing look on his face.
"Your son will continue to get sicker and sicker, until his heart gives out. There's no easy way to say this but…your son is dying. If a heart isn't found within the next few months…"
Dr. Gibson didn't need to finish his sentence, the Lopez's knew what was being implied.
Eduardo though devastated at hearing the news, tried to stay optimistic. "When a heart is found for Marco…will he be okay? And what about work? Being a firefighter is all he ever wanted be."
"Your son faces an uphill battle, either way. Assuming we are able to find a suitable heart donor, he will be on lots of medication to make sure the heart isn't rejected…and he'll have to take it easy for a while. It is possible to live quite a few years with a transplanted heart, but even so it would be a long tough road. As for work…his days as an active firefighter would probably be over. Being a firefighter is a very strenuous job…the demands on the heart are very great…and because of the strict physicals and agility exams that would have to be passed…I'm afraid that Marco would never pass to qualify to return to active duty. I'm sure that if he wanted to, he could always put in for a desk job or do fire safety perhaps. I'm very sorry, I wish I had more encouraging news for you…but I don't."
When Dr. Gibson was finished talking, the room was deathly quiet as Marco's parents took in the enormity of what the doctor had just shared with them.
Mrs. Lopez's tenuous hold on her emotions was getting close to the breaking point. Looking sadly at the two doctors, as tears started to fall, she softly spoke. "All we can do is wait?"
"I'm afraid so, Senora. I assure you that your son is in good hands…we will do everything we can that is in our power to help him. Do you have any other questions that I can answer for you?"
The couple looked at each other, and after Estella shook her head slowly, Eduardo continued.
"I…I think there is one more question to consider…when and how is Marco going to be told about his illness?"
Dr. Brackett fielded this question. "That's up to the two of you. Marco does need to know what's going on…the sooner, the better. The two of you can tell him…we'd be there with you…or we can tell him. The decision is yours."
Mrs. Lopez once again nodded her head…signaling to her husband that the doctors should tell Marco the news, but the two of them would be with him, as well.
"It would be best for you both to tell him…you would be able to answer his questions right away."
Brackett nodded his head in agreement.
"Dr. Gibson…Dr. Brackett…thank you both for being honest with us about our son's condition. We do know he's in good hands. When will we be able to see him?"
"Some time in the next couple of hours. He's still in recovery, and then he'll be transferred to the ICU. We'll let you know just as soon as you can see him."
"Gracias." said Eduardo, relieved that the conversation was just about over.
Both doctors shook the Lopez's hands, and offered them prayers that Marco would be alright. As they started to leave the room, Estella could no longer hold back her grief, and broke down crying…the sobs coming in waves, and her body shaking with emotion. Eduardo did his best to comfort her. It was a heart wrenching scene that even the most seasoned doctor or surgeon would have a hard time seeing, and Doctors Gibson and Brackett were certainly not immune to it.
After leaving Marco's parents, the two doctors made their way to the recovery room to check on Marco. As they approached the bed that the firefighter was laying in, their hearts went out to him and his family…they knew how difficult the next few weeks would be for all of them.
While Marco continued to sleep off the effects of the anesthesia following his angiogram, as well as the effects of the various medications he was now on, Dr. Brackett stood watching him, a very serious expression on his face.
Looking up from reading Marco's chart, Dr. Gibson observed his colleague. "Tough break, isn't it?"
"Yeah…real tough break. What do you think his chances are?" The ER doctor asked his friend, despite knowing for himself that things were looking fairly grim at the moment.
"It's hard to say, Kel. Realistically…it doesn't look good for him, but you know as well as I do…anything is possible."
Brackett sighed loudly. "Yeah…I do know that. I guess I was kind of hoping you'd be a little more positive about things."
"Kel…in this business we both know there are no promises…no guarantees. I can tell you that Marco does have a few things going for him. He's young, otherwise healthy, and in good physical condition…and he obviously will have a tremendous support system. But I do believe more than anything else, the strong faith that Marco and his family appear to have will only help. I know it's not what you want to hear, but it's the best that I can do right now."
"How's he doing?" Kel asked in an almost robotic tone.
"He's stable…blood pressure is starting to come down. I think it's safe to move him to the ICU now."
After giving the nurse some orders, Dr. Gibson and Dr. Brackett left the room to return to their respective floors. As they were approaching the elevator, Dr. Gibson noted the expression on his colleague's face, and how it seemed to him that Kel had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Kel…I know the news isn't good, but…"
"I guess I'm just thinking about how devastating this news will be to the men he works with…they're an extremely close group of men. And…I gotta be honest…telling Marco the news will be difficult enough."
"It will be…but I find that in most cases, the patient usually handles the news better than anyone else. I'll handle Marco's transfer to the ICU…when he's all settled, I'll let you know."
Kel nodded his head. "Thanks, Kevin…I appreciate the help."
Kevin smiled warmly at his friend. "Any time, that's what I'm here for."
After working the shopping plaza fire for another hour and a half, Station 51 was released from the scene. Upon receiving word that they were being released, the crew quickly gathered and put away their equipment. First and foremost on their minds was getting to Rampart to get word in person as to Marco's condition.
When Chet got into his jump seat on the engine, he sadly glanced over at the empty seat beside him…a million emotions and thoughts going through him. He couldn't help but to think back to that day in the locker room when he, along with the rest of the guys on the crew first realized that there was something going on with Marco. All the signs were there…and no one did anything about it. What kind of a friend did that make him? Roy forever worried about Johnny…maybe he needed to take a page out of the senior paramedic's book, and start paying better attention to Marco, that is, if he still had a friend to worry about.
On the way to Rampart, each of the five remaining men were deep in their own thoughts…each one silently blaming themselves for not paying closer attention to Marco. So wrapped up in his thoughts was Chet, that he didn't realize that they had already arrived at the hospital. It wasn't until he heard Hank's voice calling him, did he realize that Mike had parked the engine.
"Chet…you coming, pal?" called Hank, worried that all was not well with his remaining lineman.
"Uh…yeah…be right there, Cap."
The firefighter took off his helmet, leaving it on his seat, and slowly got out of the engine, his eyes remaining fixed on the area that he had just come out of. Joining Hank and Mike, the three of them made their way over to the ER entrance where Roy and Johnny were waiting for them. Before going inside, the five firefighters all looked at each other, a sense of solidarity and strength among them.
Entering the ER, the first person they spotted was Dr. Morton.
Knowing what Johnny was going to ask him about, he cut the paramedic off. "Fellas, I presume you were going to ask me about Marco?"
When he saw the five firefighters nod their heads, he continued. "I just came on duty. Dr. Brackett must've known you were on your way here, because he told me, if I happen to see you guys come in, to ask you to stick around for a while…he wants to talk to you."
Hearing the phrase 'he wants to talk to you', the men all assumed the worst.
Hank looked anxiously at the young doctor. "He…he…he didn't…"
Morton, shook his head and held up his hand. "I'm sorry to alarm you…no, I don't believe that's it at all…he wants to update you on Marco's condition, himself. It's just that he didn't give me any specifics…so I don't really know what's going on right now. Why don't you fellas wait in the lounge…grab some coffee. Dr. Brackett should be around in a few minutes."
Dr. Morton smiled warmly at the firefighters and went back to work.
Chet looked worriedly at the two paramedics. "It's gotta be bad."
Roy and Johnny exchanged glances with one another, before Roy commented on Chet's remark.
"We don't really know, Chet. There's no sense in jumping to conclusions. We know about as much as you do, but the truth is…Marco's sick…we just don't know how serious it is."
Just as they were about to start heading for the lounge, they were spotted by Dr. Brackett. Seeing their soot and sweat covered faces, and their tired expressions, he knew how much Marco's condition must have been weighing on their minds as they battled the blaze they were working.
"Fellas…I gather you got the message that Dr. Morton gave you?"
Hank nodded his head. "Yes…you have some news for us about Marco?"
"Yes. Why don't you guys follow me to my office."
Five exhausted and extremely worried firefighters followed the doctor to his office. Once inside, two sat on the chairs and three sat on the couch…Dr. Brackett leaned on the edge of his desk facing them.
Letting out a deep breath,the telltale twitching of his mouth started, a sign that the two paramedics knew all too well, meaning that the news wasn't going to be good.
"I can tell you that right now, he is resting comfortably and in the process of being transferred to the ICU…and his condition is currently stable. But…he's got a serious heart condition…it's called cardiomyopathy. Marco contracted some kind of infection that affected his heart, and because of this he has some very serious damage to his heart. His blood pressure became dangerously high, although we were able to get it lowered, and he does have some blood clots that we are treating with medication."
"But…" Hank spoke what everyone else was thinking. "But…there's more to this, isn't there?"
Roy and Johnny because of their medical knowledge had an idea of where Brackett was heading, and their facial expressions showed that they knew…and this was not lost on their three friends.
"Just tell us, Doc." Chet was getting more worried by the minute.
"I'm afraid that because of the severe damage done to his heart, Marco needs a heart transplant."
Silence fell over the small room, as each of the men took in the enormity of Brackett's news.
It was Mike Stoker's turn to say something. "Heart transplant…what exactly does that entail?"
"A heart transplant is very serious…as I am sure you all are aware. Marco was placed on the national transplant registry. As soon as a suitable donor is found…the ball starts rolling…and pretty quick. The heart gets harvested from the donor and will be brought to Rampart where it will be transplanted into Marco's chest. It's a pretty involved process, but the results, because of the new advancements that have been made in the last ten years, are quite good."
Chet looked at the doctor expectantly. "How long will it take to find a heart for him?"
Kel looked down at the floor for a moment before answering Chet's question. "I'm not really sure, Chet. I'm afraid that Marco has a fairly rare blood type…B negative. Because of the rare blood type, the odds of finding a compatible donor goes down, but it's not an impossibility. It could take a while."
Softly, Mike asked the dreaded question. "How long does Marco have? What happens if a heart isn't found soon?"
"Marco needs a heart as soon as possible, that much is a given…and the sooner the better. Time is of the essence here…if he doesn't get a new heart sometime in the next two months…"
"He'll die." Hank finished matter-of-factly.
"I'm afraid so. I…I wish I had better news for you guys. I can assure you that we are doing everything possible for him, but time will tell."
There was silence in the office for several moments while the group digested the news that their good friend was seriously ill, and could be taken from them sometime in the next couple months, if no suitable heart was found.
"Are his parents still here?" a still stunned Hank asked the doctor.
"Yes, Hank. They're waiting to see him. I haven't received word yet that Marco was settled in the ICU. I believe they are still in the fourth floor waiting room."
"How are they doing?" Hank asked the question already knowing the answer. Being a parent himself, it didn't take a lot of thinking to know that Marco's folks were devastated.
"Mr. Lopez is doing his best to be strong for his wife, but Mrs. Lopez is devastated. I really am sorry that the news wasn't better."
Chet looked like he was about to break down and cry, himself. Summoning the courage, he asked Brackett the question that he had been obsessing over, ever since Marco had collapsed. "Doc…uh…Marco hadn't been doing too well the last week…if…if I…or…or any of us had been able to get him here sooner to get checked out…would he still…"
Kel looked sympathetically at the Irishman. "Chet, in light of Marco's condition…it really wouldn't have made any difference. His parents told me that he hadn't been well for several weeks. If anything, Marco should have gotten HIMSELF into the hospital at the first sign of a problem. If we had caught things at the first sign of trouble, we may have been able to reverse the damage. Knowing you all, I'm sure you at least partially blame yourselves for what happened to Marco…and I assure you that none of this was anyone's fault."
Roy and Johnny weren't appeased. They both knew that if Marco hadn't collapsed when he did, he may have died a few days later from the blood clots getting into his lungs, heart or brain. This was something that they could have prevented if they had followed their own instincts and got Marco to the hospital even six days earlier.
The firefighters all jumped at the sound of the ringing telephone. Brackett turned around and answered the phone.
"Kel, it's Kevin. Marco Lopez is now in ICU. His vitals are holding steady and he appears to be stable. I think it would be okay for him to receive visitors now."
"Thank you. I'll go tell his parents."
After getting off the phone, Kel was met by five pairs of anxious eyes peering up at him.
"That was Dr. Gibson, Marco's cardiologist. Marco's resting comfortably in the ICU, now. I'm on my way to tell Marco's parents that they can see him."
"Mind if we tag along, Doc?" Hank asked hopefully.
"Not at all, Hank…but I must caution you that we haven't spoken to Marco yet…he doesn't know about the transplant."
"I see…well maybe we should just wait to see him later."
"I don't think you'll have to wait long, Hank. Chances are Marco will still be quite groggy, and wouldn't follow a serious conversation right now, anyway. Why don't you fellas come with me to see his folks. The support would do you all some good…and then we can probably get you in to see Marco…I'm sure they wouldn't mind."
The five firefighters nodded in agreement and followed Dr. Brackett to where the Lopez's were waiting. When they arrived at the room, Eduardo and Estella jumped up at the sight of the five men. It was obvious to all how incredibly worried they both were, and that Mrs. Lopez had been crying…the streaks of tears a dead giveaway.
A very anxious Estella looked nervously at the doctor. "Is Marco okay?"
Kel nodded his head. "Yes, he's stable. Dr. Gibson just called me and said that Marco is resting comfortably in the ICU…and that you can see him now. The guys just came from a fire to check in to see how he was doing. I told them the news."
"Mr. and Mrs. Lopez…if there's anything we can do…please let us know. Marco…Marco is like family to all of us."
Through her tears, Estella gave Hank a tired smile. "Gracias, Captain Stanley. Marco always speaks very highly of all his friends at the station. I guess what our son needs now more than anything is a new heart…but I wouldn't want that to come from any of you. Marco needs all of his friends well….and praying for him."
Eduardo noticed how distraught the men all looked. "Would you all like to come with us to see Marco?"
Hank weakly smiled and nodded his head. "It sure would go a long way in easing our worries…to see him."
Kel smiled warmly at the group. "Well…let's go."
When the group arrived at the ICU, they were met by Dr. Gibson.
"Kevin, these are the men who work with Marco. This is Captain Stanley."
The Captain and doctor shook hands. "Nice to meet you, Captain. I'm Dr. Gibson…Marco's cardiologist. Estella…Eduardo. You can all see him now…but only for a few minutes…and two at a time. He is awake, but still very groggy. I take it you fellas all know the situation?"
Seeing their nods, not to mention the sad worried looks on their faces, he knew that Dr. Brackett had in fact brought them up to speed on the situation.
"Captain Stanley, why don't you and your men see him first…Estella and I have no place else we have to go."
Hank looked at the Lopez's with a surprised expression. "You're sure?"
"Yes…we insist. Tell Marco that we are here and that we will see him soon."
Hank nodded. "Chet, why don't you see him first? Mike and I will go after, and then Roy and John."
"But…I…I wouldn't know what to say, Cap. Couldn't someone come with me?" Chet asked in a near panic. He was not used to seeing his good friend in such a bad way.
Johnny looked back and forth between Hank and Roy. "I'll go with you, Chet."
As Chet and Johnny made their way to see Marco…Chet's mind and stomach were a jumble of nerves.
"Johnny…I…I can't do this…I can't go in there." Chet said, practically hyperventilating, and shaking.
"Chet, yes you can…and you have to. Marco needs you…he needs all of us. So…suck it up and let's go."
"I…I can't." came the panicked reply.
Johnny looked at his friend and instantly knew what the problem was. "Listen Chet…I know you're feeling guilty now…we all are…but…Brackett said that all of this woulda happened anyway. Marco was sick, long before he exhibited any signs of being so."
"But…but what do I say to him? He doesn't know what's going on…that…that he could die…that…that his career as a firefighter is probably over. What the hell do I say?"
Johnny looked his friend in the eye, and placed a hand on one of his shoulders.
"Chet, Marco's one of your best friends…trust me…when you see him…you'll know. We need to get moving…the other guys wanna see him and so do his parents."
Chet took a deep breath and exhaled loudly, he knew Johnny was right. "Okay…let's do it."
As the two firefighters entered the room, Marco looked up at them with half open eyes.
Johnny, who was familiar with all the medical equipment and paraphernalia that Marco was surrounded by and hooked up to, did his best to put on a brave, if not happy face. Chet, on the other hand grew very pale at the sight of his friend and all the machines and tubes that Marco was connected to.
"Hey amigo. How ya doin'?" Johnny greeted Marco first, knowing that Chet was still feeling too guilty.
Marco tried to smile, but it was a shadow of his usual friendly grin. "Johnny…Chet." Marco coughed a few times, but the spell didn't last long. "I'm…I'm okay. You two…o…okay?"
"Yeah…fine, Marco." Chet was able to softly get out.
"Cap here?" the ill firefighter rasped out softly.
Chet nodded his head. "Yeah…Cap, Mike, Roy…your…your folks are here, too. Marco…I…I just wanted to say sorry…I…I feel like I failed you, somehow…not getting you to see a doctor sooner."
"Not your fault, Chet. "'M 'kay…be fine."
Johnny smiled at the ill firefighter. "Marco, we should get going…the others wanna see you. We'll be in touch. If there's anything you need…let us know."
Johnny and Chet each gently shook Marco's hand, and left the room. Chet ran right to a bathroom as soon as he got out of the sight of the downed firefighter.
Johnny walked back to the ICU waiting room, alone…leaving the others to wonder what had happened to Chet.
"John…Chet okay?" Hank asked the question, but already knew the answer.
"I don't think so, Cap…he's taking this really hard. You and Mike should go in now…Marco's really tired."
Hank nodded. "Roy, why don't you come with us…that way Mr. and Mrs. Lopez can go in next and stay with him."
"Sure…that's probably a good idea."
As Roy started to leave the room with his Captain and engineer, he caught the worried expression on his partner's face and knew that Marco was in really bad shape…and that at the moment, Chet wasn't faring much better.
The two doctors stood quietly watching the worried glances that the men exchanged …as well as the sad expressions on the Lopez's faces.
When Roy, Hank and Mike entered the room, Marco appeared to be asleep. They stood quietly watching him, as the various monitors beeped, and his chest shallowly rose and fell.
Seeing Marco so still and pale was difficult for them. For Roy, the guilt was doubly so. He was upset with himself for not following his initial instincts from the week before and getting Marco to see a doctor sooner. Even if the news had been this serious, even a week ago, a compatible heart may have been available. What if Marco had missed the proverbial boat…and the heart he needed had been available LAST week? Then he thought to himself how he'd feel if this had been Johnny lying in ICU in need of a heart, instead of Marco…and silently felt guilty for being glad that it wasn't.
Hank and Mike were each deep in their own thoughts, each one wondering the same thing as Roy…'What if?'
It was Hank who interrupted the thoughts of the other two. "Well…we should get going. We…we need to get back in service."
Mike and Roy didn't say anything in response to their Captain, they just merely followed him out the door.
By the time the three of them had returned to the others, Chet had rejoined the group. The Irishman appeared to be very pale, and seemed to be shaking a bit.
Hank noticed this and made a mental note to speak to the firefighter once they returned to the engine.
After saying their good-byes to Marco's parents and both of the doctors, five weary firefighters made their way downstairs to the ER and back to their vehicles.
Exiting the ER, Hank and Mike stopped to chat briefly with Roy and Johnny at the squad, while Chet continued on by himself to the engine.
"Cap, you need to send Chet home…he's having a really hard time with all of this." Johnny offered sincerely.
"So I've noticed, John. I'll talk to him. I think we're all feeling guilty. You guys okay to put yourselves back into service?"
After exchanging glances with his partner, Roy nodded his head. "Yeah. Well…I guess Johnny and I will see you guys back at the station, then."
Hank exhaled loudly. "Okay…see ya soon."
The two paramedics wearily sat down in the cab of their squad, each one exhaling loudly.
Roy looked over at his best friend. "You alright, Johnny?"
"Yeah…how 'bout you?"
"Me too. Cap's right you know…we're all feeling guilty about this."
Roy once again thought to himself how relieved he was that it wasn't Johnny laying in the ICU.
Seemingly reading Roy's mind, Johnny nodded his head. The same thought ran through his mind…upset that it was Marco who was lying there so ill…but glad that it wasn't Roy.
Johnny got on the radio. "LA, Squad 51 available at Rampart…10-8 to quarters."
"Ten-four, 51" The dispatcher responded.
Roy backed the squad out and waved as he passed the engine.
When Hank and Mike returned to the engine, Chet was sitting on the running board, his head hung low.
"Chet…it's been a rough day…and I think it would be best if you go home."
"I'm alright, Cap," Chet responded softly.
"You're not, Chet. You look lousy…and you're shaking. Just do us and yourself a favor…go home."
"No one else is going home," he replied back to the Captain.
"Chet…we're all upset…and we all feel guilty…but you're closer to Marco than any of us…it's no wonder you're taking this so hard."
"Cap…" Chet pleaded.
"Chet…please. You're going home…and that's the end of it. Mike, you wanna start her up…let's get going."
The three firefighters boarded the engine and took their seats. Chet continued to look to his right at the empty seat normally occupied by Marco.
After the firefighters left, Eduardo and Estella went to see their son. Quietly they entered Marco's ICU room, standing at the foot of his bed, observing him. The doctors had told them about all the monitors, wires, and tubes that would be attached to their son, but seeing for themselves all the equipment was quite overwhelming.
Walking over to Marco's bed, Estella picked up her son's left hand.
"Quico, Mama's here."
Marco lazily opened his eyes and peered up at his parents.
Eduardo stood behind his wife, smiling warmly.
Marco licked his dry lips. "Papa…Mama."
Marco nodded his head.
"I'll go see a nurse…see if you can have something to drink."
Mr. Lopez left the room, coming back a few moments later with a pitcher of water, a cup, and a straw. First putting the water pitcher down on the table, he turned around and helped Marco to take a few sips from the cup with the straw.
Marco smiled weakly and put his head back onto the pillow. Closing his eyes, he started to feel himself drifting again.
"Go to sleep, Quico…we will see you tomorrow. The rest of the family will be here, too."
Bending down, Estella kissed her son's forehead, and Eduardo patted his cheek. Both of his parents were quite concerned about how warm Marco was, and made sure to tell a nurse about it on their way out.
Softly, both of his parents whispered one more thing to him. "Nosotros le adoramos, Marco."
Returning back to the station before the engine, the two paramedics, too tired to wash up, were sprawled out on the couch.
"I hope Chet's going home…he's in no shape to work."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, Johnny. I'm sure Cap will see to it that he does."
When the rest of the crew finally returned, both paramedics looked up as they entered the room.
"Chet…go wash up and go on home. I'm going to call for two replacements. Mike, would you please make a pot of coffee…if anyone needs me, I'll be in the office."
While Hank trudged off to his office to make his phone calls and start on his reports, Chet quietly made his way to the locker room.
Concerned about his friend, Johnny wearily pushed himself off of the couch and followed Chet into the locker room. Roy meanwhile, got up to help Mike make the coffee.
In the locker room, Johnny stood observing his friend.
"You don't have to say anything, Gage…in fact…don't." Chet replied without turning around to face his friend.
"I wasn't going to, Chet. I just wanna make sure that you were okay. We all feel a sense of guilt, but right now…Marco needs us all to be strong for him. Hey…if you need an ear to talk to…"
Chet weakly grinned at his friend. "I'll call Roy…after all, he's used to dealing with this guilt stuff. I'll be okay…I just…why Marco?"
"I don't know, Chet." Johnny answered, shaking his head.
The mood was broken by the alarms going off.
Before leaving to join his partner at the squad, Johnny stopped for a moment. "Call me if you need me, Chet…I'm here for you."
"Squad 51, man down, 2252 Ocean Avenue, time out 1650."
Roy ran out to the radio. "Squad 51 responding, KMG365."
The tired paramedics climbed into their squad, pushing concern over their friend's health, out of their minds and refocusing on the upcoming run.
Pulling up to the small white bungalow, they were met by a young man who was waiting by the curb for them.
"I'm glad you guys are here." The young man replied anxiously.
As Roy got out of the squad cab to join Johnny in getting the equipment out, he began to talk to the man.
"What's the problem?"
"It's my brother Paul…he doesn't seem to be feeling to well."
"Has he been sick?"
"No…but he did have a transplant a couple of months ago…a heart transplant."
Hearing about Paul's transplant, and with the recent news of their good friend's own heart issues freshly in their minds, Roy and Johnny exchanged brief glances at one another and followed the young man into the house.
They were led to the living room where Paul was lying on the couch.
Putting their equipment down, they quickly observed their victim. Paul appeared to be very pale and looked generally ill.
Opening the drug box, Roy got out the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.
"Johnny, you wanna get Rampart on the line?"
Johnny nodded his head.
"Paul, we're going to check you out. Not feeling too good, huh?" Roy asked calmly.
"No…feel lousy. My…my chest hurts." Paul replied in obvious discomfort.
"How long have you been feeling not so good?"
"A few hours. It…it wasn't too bad at first, so I didn't say anything. I've been feeling pretty good since the surgery…but I'm so tired."
"Okay, try to relax. I'm going to go ahead and put some O2 on you…it'll help your breathing. How old is your brother?" Roy asked the younger man.
Johnny got Rampart on the line, while Roy took Paul's vitals and read them back to his partner.
"Roy, they want an EKG."
When Roy opened Paul's shirt to set up the EKG, the long scar on the young man's chest became visible. The two paramedics whose own hearts were in their throats at the sight of the long scar, had to quickly regain their composure.
After doing the EKG, the paramedics got their treatment orders, and an IV was started.
By the time they were finished, the ambulance had arrived.
Johnny looked at Paul's brother. "I'm sorry, we never got your name."
"Well Shane, we're going to take your brother to Rampart General Hospital…they'll take good care of him there. Are your folks around?"
"They're away for a few days. I have their number…I'll call them from the hospital. You think I could ride in with him?"
Johnny smiled. "Sure, you can ride up front. Roy, I'll go in with him."
Roy nodded his head in understanding.
After Paul was safely inside the ambulance, the doors were closed and the vehicle pulled away. Roy put away the rest of the equipment and was quickly right behind them.
At the hospital they were met at the ER entrance by Brackett and Dixie.
While Paul was being treated down in the ER, a friend was paying Marco a visit up in the ICU.
After leaving the station, Chet had returned to Rampart, determined to sneak into the ICU and spend some more time with his friend…even if Marco wasn't awake. He was embarrassed for feeling so inept at how to talk to Marco and what to do, during his last visit with his friend that he wanted so desperately to make it up to him. He had ended up running out of the room and to a bathroom to throw up, leaving Johnny behind. While it's true that he didn't have a lot of practice dealing with this kind of stuff, and had a hard time when it came to emotions, he needed to try again.
Dressed in his street clothes, Chet passed by the nurses' station, not saying a word, and the nurses apparently didn't say a word either. He kept right on going until he once again found himself at Marco's room. He stood there for a few moments before going in.
When he did enter the room, Marco appeared to be resting comfortably. Chet was grateful in a way that his friend was still asleep, because he still wasn't quite sure of what to say or do. He walked quietly into the room and quietly pulled up the chair that was set off to the side. Sitting down, he closed his eyes for a few moments and prayed to god that a new heart would be found quickly and that his friend would be okay. He reached out and took Marco's left hand into his, and started talking to his friend in a voice not much louder than a whisper.
"Marco, man you gotta be okay. I…I never really told you this before…but…I…I consider you my best friend. Growing up, I never really had a lot of friends…people always thought I was a little crazy or strange. But once I got into the Department that all changed for me. And…and when I came to 51's and met you…I felt like you sorta got me…like you understood where I was coming from. I just always appreciated that. I'm sorry I never told you that before, but…I'm not very good at this 'feelings' stuff. I admire what Johnny and Roy have together as friends and partners…and I'd like the chance to have that kind of friendship with you."
Chet went on talking to his sleeping friend for a few more minutes, before succumbing to sleep himself. With Marco's left hand still in his, Chet dozed peacefully in his chair.
Down in the ER, after the paramedics helped out in the treatment room, they were at the nurses' desk restocking their supplies and talking to Dixie.
"Is he going to be alright?" Johnny asked, referring to Paul, but Marco very much on his mind.
Dixie shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, Johnny." She knew that Johnny was in fact referring to Paul, the victim they had just brought in, but he could have just as well been referring to Marco.
"Any news on Marco?" Roy asked hopefully, as though maybe they'd find out that the diagnosis was a mistake and that Marco would be just fine in a few days.
"No, Roy. Last I heard, he was resting very comfortably in the ICU."
"Dix…what…what are the chances of Marco getting a heart?"
The nurse smiled understandingly at her friend. "I don't really know the answer to that one either, Johnny. But... if you believe in god…I'd say anything is possible."
Dixie cut Johnny off before he continued. "Johnny…we're all worried about Marco, but right now I'm sorry to say…I don't have any answers for you. Time will tell."
Brackett came out of the treatment room and headed towards them.
"How is he, Doc?"
"Not too good, Johnny…his body is rejecting the transplanted heart. I'm sure this run was pretty tough for you guys, especially on the heels of having to deal with the news of Marco today."
"Well…I guess we'd be lying if we said the thought hadn't crossed our mind." Roy said matter-of-factly. "We better get going, Johnny…keep us posted, Doc."
"I sure will."
The doctor and nurse watched as the two paramedics walked away.
With everything they had on their minds, the paramedics' trip back to the station was done in silence. Once Roy had the squad backed up into the bay, they both continued to sit quietly in the cab of the vehicle. The silence was broken when Johnny started to speak.
"I wonder if Chet made it home okay." A thoughtful Johnny said out loud.
"Yeah…I know what you mean. The news of Marco's illness hit him real hard. Why don't you call him, Johnny…see how he's doing?"
"Yeah…I think I will." He replied with a small nod.
After getting out of the squad, they made their way to the squad room, where they were met by Mike, and the two replacement firefighters…Troy Hawkins and J.T. Ryan.
Troy and JT greeted them warmly.
"How are you guys doing?"
"We're okay, Troy…thanks for asking. Roy, I'm gonna go call Chet."
"Alright. I'll have the coffee ready."
Johnny grinned at his best friend. "Thanks, partner."
As Johnny started to walk away, JT spoke up. "You guys might wanna wash up a bit… or you'll scare your victims."
The two paramedics looked at each other and it dawned on them that they had never gotten the chance to wash up. It was a wonder that no one else had said anything to them before now.
"Good idea. We'll wash up…then, I'll call Chet."
After washing up, Roy returned to the others, while Johnny went to the dorms to call Chet.
Letting the phone ring 15 times with no answer, Johnny hung up the phone and went to join Roy for some coffee.
"How's he doing?" Roy asked.
"I don't know. There was no answer at his apartment."
"That doesn't really mean anything, Johnny. He…he could be sleeping…or maybe he just doesn't wanna be bothered."
"Maybe. You don't think he'd do anything stupid, do ya?" Johnny didn't think Chet would do anything dumb, but then again it was Chet Kelly whom they were talking about…and anything was possible.
"I don't think so…Chet may be a little out there some times, but he's not stupid. If it makes you feel better, maybe we can swing by his apartment later."
"Okay." Johnny replied, pleased at his partner's suggestion.
Back at Rampart's ICU, Marco started to wake up from his medicated slumber. Turning his head slightly to his left, he realized that Chet was sound asleep in the chair beside his bed, and holding his hand. He began to think to himself that if Chet was asleep in the room, then something was seriously wrong.
Sensing his friend stirring, Chet woke up to see Marco's eyes half open.
He began talking softly. "Hey there, Marco." The relief was evident in his voice.
Marco was slowly regaining his faculties and answered his friend softly. "Chet, what…what are you doin' here? Shouldn't you be workin'?"
Chet wasn't quite sure how to answer that, but decided that honesty at the moment would be the best way to handle things. "I…I was sent home. Cap didn't think I should be working."
"Chet, I'm okay…I already told ya that." Marco insisted softly.
"I know. I…I just feel bad, Marco. I shoulda been more of a friend to you…I shoulda gotten you to a doctor long before you collapsed at the fire today."
"So you feel guilty and Cap doesn't think you should be workin'? Somethin' here's not makin' sense, amigo. What aren't you tellin' me, Chet?"
"Nothing, Marco…I swear." Chet didn't quite know what to do…he was boxed into a corner now.
"Chet…you can pull the wool over Johnny's eyes, but not me…I know you pretty well…and you're hiding something…something from ME."
"Marco, even if I knew something, any information would have to come from your doctor…I'm no doctor."
"Then get the doctor…please. You wouldn't be here right now, Chet unless something was seriously wrong…and…and I wouldn't be lying in a bed in the ICU, either." Marco's tone though soft and weak, was forceful.
Just then, Dr. Gibson came into the room to check on his patient. He was very much surprised to see Marco awake and with a guest in his room.
"Marco, what are you doing awake? And…"
Chet knew the doctor was referring to him. "It's Chet Kelly, Dr. Gibson…and I'm here because I needed to see my friend."
"I can understand that, but Marco needs his rest."
"Doc…what…what aren't you telling me?" Marco managed to ask the doctor.
Chet looked over at Dr. Gibson, waiting to see how he'd respond to Marco's question.
"Marco, we're still waiting for the results of some of the tests…we'll know a lot more in the morning."
"But…but it has to be pretty serious if…if I'm in the ICU. I…I can see it on Chet's face…I can see it on yours too, Doc."
It became increasingly obvious that Marco would not be pacified easily.
"You've been through a lot, Marco. You have some blood clots that need to be monitored very closely, and that's one of the main reasons you're in the ICU. I assure you in the morning as soon as I have all the results…I'll come and talk to you about it all. Now, you really need to rest. Chet, say good-night to your friend…the visit is over."
Chet nodded in understanding. "Marco, I…I'm sorry I worried you. I…I just wanted to see you. I'll be back in the morning, okay?"
Marco didn't say anything he just closed his eyes and turned his head away from his friend. Chet knew Marco was upset…and that he knew the news was not going to be good. Taking one last look at his friend, Chet left the room, quickly followed by the doctor.
"Doc…I…I am so sorry, I…"
Dr. Gibson looked at Chet with compassion. "It's okay, Chet…it wasn't your fault. Marco's not a dumb person…he knows something's wrong. With that in mind, now isn't the time to break the news to him. His parents requested to be there with him when he is told the news, and I have to honor that decision, but I do understand the need for you to see him. Right now though, Marco does need his rest…and it looks like you do, too."
"I'm alright." Chet tried to insist, though his body language was screaming out the exact opposite.
"Listen, Chet…I know I don't really know you…and you don't really know me, but I do know that if you expect to help your friend through all of this…you need to start by taking of yourself. Marco is going to need all of his friends and family beside him on this. So, I suggest that you go home and get some sleep."
"Doc, you…you think I can be there when Marco gets the news? It would really mean a lot to me."
"I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem, but you really should talk to Marco's parents first."
"Okay, I'll do that." He replied with a nod.
"Take care of yourself, Marco's going to need you."
The firefighter again nodded his head, this time walking away.