The Other Side 9

Monday found Brackett back at Rampart sitting at his desk attempting to finish up his latest round of budget reports. The latest idea from the accounting department was to try a central supply.

Again.

The last time had been a nightmare. The paramedics were only given half to three-quarters of their orders and anything ER needed had to have his signature on it, from sutures to antibacterial wipes. He had gone crazy signing form after form. It had fallen apart within the first two week when both the paramedic teams and ER ran out of necessary supplies because orders were trimmed according to 'budgetary practices".

This time the medication was located with the pharmacy. Anything from drops to drips to pills to infusions came out of the central pharmacy or the auxiliary in ER. Medical supplies came from, brace yourself, supply. So IV tubing, sutures, needles, catheters, all that stuff, was ordered from there. Finally, bedding, scrubs, towels, et al, came from laundry.

The paramedics only had to go to the ER nurse's station for resupply. Yes, there was now a form, but it wasn't the 5-copy nightmare as before. Only the paramedic had to sign it and the staff member who filled it.

But still, it was paperwork. The bane of his existence. He noted a line item that seemed off, twice as many 'small' scrubs had been used than any other size. So he made a notation that he would check on that with the ER head nurse. That should make the damned pencil pushers happy!

Tossing down his pen he picked up his coffee and winced as he took a sip. It was ice cold. Hospital coffee was bad enough hot! Not for the first time he wished he could bring in a pot of Gage's coffee. That thought was pushed aside as well. Now that they were coming to the end of month three of the ongoing betting pool had cooled somewhat but another form of teasing had begun.

It had been Morton who'd made a comment about 'the little missus' when he'd overheard Kel asking John to pick up his dry cleaning. That Johnny had been going to pick up his own and had offered was dismissed as irrelevant. Joe Early had laughed a little longer than Kel deemed appropriate and he was only glad that Johnny himself hadn't heard any of it.

The ER was a small village unto itself and gossip flew around swiftly. Which meant Dixie joined in with her own side comments any time Gage's name was brought up in context with their residence. That made the passed couple weeks a bit stressful for him. But he worked hard not to react as they wanted. There was a knock at the open door.

"Kel, we have multiple MVA injuries coming in," Dixie said. "Joe says it's going to be bad." Leaving the cold coffee and papers he pulled on his white coat and headed down the hall. Nurses and attendants were preparing three different treatment rooms and he knew that the OR was already on alert. For all the gossip the ER team knew their jobs and performed above and beyond expectations.

"There are three critical," Early was explaining to Morton. One has a serious head wound. I'll take that. The other two have multiple broken bones and internal injuries. I'd like you to take the first one and Kel, you should take the other as it's an eight year old child." He didn't have to explain that the head of ER had more experience thus increasing the chance for survival and Morton didn't take any offense. Agreeing the three men tensely waited.

When the first gurney came rushing in Craig Brice was jogging along side and began filling Mike in on the latest vitals. The young doctor and walking rule book disappeared into a room.

Next it was the 51s with Roy Desoto and the head injury. Joe Early latched on to that one and was ordering x-rays even before they got into a room. Which left the third critical to Kel. He didn't have long to wait when John Gage came in holding the hand of a boy trying to keep his attention.

"Hey, Justin, look! Didn't I say you'd get a great doctor?" the boy dazedly looked up at Bracket.

"Hi, Justin," Kel smiled. The boy's attention turned back to Johnny.

"You, you're going to stay?" he asked fearfully.

"Of course! I'll be with you and I know your mom will be here soon," he said gently, never releasing the small hand. They slid into treatment room four along with Sharon and soon Bracket was looking over a very broken body. Although there was no head injury only small a dose of morphine had been given. The trauma was such they didn't want to create more problems with heavy sedation.

So Kel added a few cc's more of morphine and began his exam as Johnny continued to keep the boy focused on him as much as possible. It was quite apparent that the child's upper left leg was snapped and the pelvis probably as well. Bruises just starting along the left rib cage indicated more damage. There was a definite bruising along the left shoulder down to the right hip from the seat belt. X-ray was called in as another micro dose of pain meds was given. When the tech arrived the boy became agitated.

"I'm gonna be here, Justin," Johnny crooned. "I have to step out each time he takes the picture, but then I'll come right back in to help you move, 'k?" Large, wet brown eyes met the paramedic's and a tiny nod of the head showed agreement.

"I'll be back after the x-rays are finished," Brackett promised. "John, there's a dose of morphine on the tray for after."

"Ok, Doc, after," he agreed without looking.

Not for the first time Kel left a treatment room entirely grateful for the paramedics that he'd been so openly opposed to in the beginning. Being the first responder the patient developed a bond with them and their being present actually improved chances that the patient would heal better and in many critical cases survive. He took time to check in on his colleagues' patients.

By the time the x-rays were back Gage had Justin dozing comfortably on the gurney. He'd actually began softly singing/chanting some long lost songs from his childhood which had a profound calming effect on the boy. Dixie glanced over at the paramedic as she listened to Kel's orders for the patient. When she left the room to get everything set up the doctor was able to talk with the frantic mother who'd arrived.

When Johnny finally left the exam room he stopped to stretch his back. All the bending had left him kinked and stiff. The first thing he noted was Chet Kelly was talking with Joe Early and Dixie. The second was that Roy was nearby scowling while the trio was snickering. The side-glances he received filled him with a sense of foreboding. He could guess what his crew mate was talking about.

"The phantom made sure he got several nice aprons," he just heard as he walked down the hallway. "Some of that Ivory™ soap to keep his hands nice and soft." More laughter. Deciding to preserve what little control he had left after helping Justin get through his intake, John simply walked passed them down to the doctor's lounge. Roy locked steps with him leaving the lines man to continue his story-telling.

Before they could enter the lounge Brackett appeared with an upset woman. He introduced her to Gage.

"This is Justin's mother, Lilly," he said. "This is John Gage, he was with your son until he fell asleep." Although the woman had her arms wrapped tightly around herself, an observer could tell she really wanted to hold on to someone. One look into his grieving brown eyes released her and she latched onto the younger paramedic.

"Thank you," she managed as she cried. "I lost Jake, but you got my son here safely." Her husband had been killed instantly when the car ploughed into the side of his vehicle. Justin had barely been spared, but he had a good chance of making it.

"He's a brave kid," Johnny managed as he let her take comfort. "He's not aware that his father's dead, though. He's gonna need a lot of help. So are you."

"Is there someone we can call for you?" Kel put a hand on her back while Roy continued to stand next to his partner. With a nod Lilly pulled herself back together and released the paramedic.

"Sorry, it's just all overwhelming," she said. Both doctor and paramedic assured her it was alright, that they understood. She dug into her purse and pulled out a small notebook.

"I don't think I can call," she said shakily.

"That's ok, we'll get one of the nurses to help," Kel said. "Let's go down to the desk and after you give your information I'll let you see Justin for a little bit." He gently propelled her down the hall and the paramedics pushed into the lounge.

Kel wasn't sure what his two friends were doing talking with 51's fireman. They guiltily separated as he approached with the distraught mother. Dixie immediately took down phone numbers and Joe went off to check on his own x-rays. Chet disappeared down the hall to the lounge.

"So, Johnny, you and Doc sure make a great... team," he teased as he walked in. Two glares met his smiling face. Without a word the paramedics got up; Roy extended his hand for the keys and walked out to the squad. Within 15 minutes they were back at the station. Lack of response on their part left the Irish man hanging. Nothing he said provoked any kind of reaction.

"At least Mike has lunch," Roy said as he and his partner sauntered into the kitchen area following their noses. Marco was at the counter talking with the engineer as he tossed his latest creation together. He'd discovered pre-made raviolis and had cooked them then tossed them with basil, tomatoes, garlic, and pesto sauce. The kitchen smelled wonderful to the hungry men.

"Wow, Mike, that smells great!" Johnny enthused as he crossed over to the stove. A snide voice drifted from the doorway.

"You'll have to get the recipe so you can cook it for Kel," Chet said. "Best way to keep a man's heart and all." Gage tensed for a moment but bit back any reply. Mike glanced over at him.

"I know it's hard, but he'll give up eventually," he said softly in commiseration.

"I'd of punched him by now," Marco growled as he glared at his best friend.

"Well, Mr. Kelly," Capt. Stanley's steely, no-nonsense voice emerged from his office. "I see you still haven't gotten the message about your harassment. My office, NOW!"

"Cap, he was sharing his joy with Dr. Early and Dixie," Roy said. Chet turned around and stared open-mouthed at the senior paramedic.

"You... you snitch!" he said, his voice shocked.

Arms folded, his visage tooled in disapproval, Hank waited for the mustached linesman to pass by him into the office. The side door shut as well as the door into the apparatus bay.

"Man, he is so stupid!" Marco muttered. "Just can't leave well enough alone!"

"He wants to provoke John," Mike said quietly. "When the water bombs stopped being so effective he started in on the verbal bombs."

"All I can say is I'm proud of you, Junior," Roy patted his best friend on the back. "You've stood tall and haven't given him the satisfaction of getting you riled."

"Oh, I've been riled all right," Johnny said as he rubbed the bridge of his nose hoping to forestall the headache that threatened. "But I did kind of hope he'd move on to something else. He's been after me for over two weeks now!"

"Cap'll get him straightened out," Mike predicted. "Lunch is served!" With Marco's help he plated up for the four of them, leaving two servings in the saucepan to stay warm. Iced tea, a salad and crusty bread were served as well.

As they were happily eating the office door swung open and a red-faced Chet Kelly stomped into the room and threw himself on the couch. Hank followed at a less stressful pace and approached the stove rubbing his hands together.

"So this is the fabled ravioli, eh Mike?" he said as he sniffed the pan.

"Yes, sir," he replied. "My sister's kids loved it. Beth is trying it tonight on Becky."

"Come on, Chet, lunch is getting cold," Hank said as he held two steaming bowls of pasta. Silently the now more controlled man sat down next to Marco and accepted his lunch. A few bites later he calmed more and reached for the bread.

"So, how's the house hunting going for Dr. Brackett," Marco asked, genuinely interested. Johnny stopped to sip at his tea.

"Well, he's made a few offers, even two counter offers, but he hasn't closed a deal yet," Gage said. "Last one the realtor even admitted to using him to drive up the price a bit more. That guy was a real jerk!"

"Sounds like it," Roy agreed. "It's really a tough market for a buyer. Glad I have my place!"

"Me too," Johnny agreed. "I hated losing my apartment and stuff, but at least the market was much kinder two years ago. Doc figures he's gonna live with me at least a year at the rate his luck is going." Everyone glanced over at Chet. Kelly's mustache was twitching but his mouth remained silent as he picked through his salad. With a satisfied sigh Cap turned back to his paramedic.

"Well, it's been fine so far," he said. "No reason it should turn sour. He's paying rent?"

"Yeah, we worked that out after the last offer fell through," Gage said. "Made a formal, written agreement and all. That way I can give a reference," he snickered, "being his landlord and all." That caused several other snickers and smiles. Even Chet grinned.

"What're you going to do with the extra cash?" he asked. Johnny just shrugged.

"Putting it in the savings for now," he said. "It'll only be for a few months at best so I don't want to get used to the extra spending money. It's more of an emergency fund if something needs fixing."

"Smart idea," Mike nodded. "Me and Beth set that up with the extra money we bring in from our crafts projects. Well, it's mostly Beth but," he shrugged with a grin. He used his skill saw to cut wooden ornament shapes and she'd painted them and near Christmas sold them at a few local crafts sales the past two years. It'd done well enough to clear expenses and put a few hundred away both times.

"Station 51, structure fire. 2341 Steadly Avenue. 2-3-4-1 Steadly. Cross street, Wilmington Blvd. Time out, 14:05," dispatch's tones broke in.

"Station 51, KMG 365," Hank articulated clearly as he tore off two sheets and trotted around to his spot on the engine.

Kel Brackett sighed as he returned to his office, away from the annoyances his 'cherished' colleagues had become. It turned out that Gage was being hassled by his own Phantom about their living arrangements.

He'd never even mentioned it in passing. He was going to have a talk with his friend next chance he had. A united front would be most helpful. Especially now that the betting pool had topped 400 bucks and he still had the trump bet! Also, he had no desire to try to find an apartment and most importantly, John Gage was too good a friend to lose to others stupidity.

He pulled a new file folder off the stack and began to peruse the next bit of paperwork demanded by the California government. At least it wasn't a budget! He'd just begun to write when the door popped open and Morton poked his head in.

"We have two serious burn victims coming in Kel," he said without preamble. "I could use your expertise!"

"I'll be right down, Mike," he said, sliding papers back into the folder for safe keeping. He was glad he'd been able to have a quick lunch; the afternoon promised to be difficult.

Again, Desoto and Gage came in with critically injured victims. Again Kel found himself with the younger paramedic and Mike with the worse of the two leaving Early and one of the new residents with the second. John again was leaning over the patient, talking, chattering, keeping as much attention as he could away from the pain until enough medication could be given.

It was a delicate balancing act because of the extreme trauma: third degree burns on right upper and lower right arm, first and second on the right torso. Debriding was definitely going to happen as well as skin grafts if the arm could be saved. It could be survivable with the right treatment, medication, support group and counseling. But right now she was critical and in debilitating pain.

A new bag of saline was hung and opened; burns were thirsty beasts that soaked up all available hydration. He added a substantial amount of morphine and waited for John to ease her into sleep. Then she'd be sent to the burn unit.

All three men were emotionally exhausted as they finally left the exam room when their patient was moved upstairs. Kel looked down the hall and groaned when he saw the same tableau as that morning: Dixie, Joe and Chet Kelly. Roy leaning against the wall by them. John patted his shoulder.

"Cap read the riot act to Chet," he said. "Might stick this time since he'll be formally written up next violation."

"That bad?" Morton asked.

"That bad," Gage confirmed.

"Should have told me," Brackett complained.

"Didn't want to share my aprons," Johnny said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, but worked as the other two men chuckled.

"Hey Johnny," Chet greeted him with a smile. Roy was also smiling so maybe it was ok. "How's she doing?"

"Well, the burns are bad," Brackett allowed. "But with some skin grafts and physio she should regain nearly all her range of motion."

"That's good," he responded. "I mean, better than losing the arm."

"Yep," Gage said. "We should get back. Mike's making chicken for dinner if there's time and I promised to help with the dredging and stuff." Although it could be construed as a perfect feeder line for Chet's teasing, the lines man simply grinned and agreed. Anything for Mike's fried chicken! The doctors, and nurse, watched the three men leave after a round of goodbyes.

Dixie and Joe turned very innocent eyes to their friend; sly smiles wreathed their mouths. Kel narrowed his eyes.

"What?" he growled.

"We heard you got a new landlord..." Early began a new line of teasing, the entire 'couples' jokes laid to rest.

"mmhmmm..." Kel hummed noncommitaly.

"You get refrigerator privileges with that?" and the first volley was launched much to the relief of a very tired renter.

The End – the story continues in "Crosstrainers"