Your Life Or Mine by Mady Bay

~ Archived here with permission

"So, Junior, which way?" Roy asked, breathing heavy as he carried the smoke inhalation victim.

Johnny stopped and looked down both hallways. He was sure he'd remember the way out and didn't bother marking the walls. He'd been in this building enough. His dentist's office was on the third floor. Or was that the fourth? They'd gone into the building in search of the night watchman. The watchman's partner had gotten out first, thinking the other man would be following once the fire bells were activated.

"They must have remodeled since the last time I was here," Johnny remarked.

"I knew I should have taken Chet with me," Roy chided. "He told us how to find the security office."

"That's because he got kicked out of here by them when he was hanging around the modeling agency office too long," Johnny replied with a grin. "This way," he finally decided, pointing to the left.

Roy shook his head and adjusted his grip on the man. He followed Johnny down the smoky hall. They finally found a window near the end of the hallway. Johnny opened it up and called down to Chet and Marco, who were down below.

"Up here!" he shouted. "We need a ladder!"

Marco scaled the ladder as Chet steadied it from below. Roy lowered the man to the windowsill, where Marco quickly took hold of him, placing him over his shoulder. Johnny and Roy watched as Marco made the slow descent. Roy gestured for Johnny to precede him. When he was about halfway down Roy climbed out as well. Roy had just gone down two rungs when an explosion shook the building, sending glass and debris through the windows and the ladder, with Johnny and Roy still on it, flying. Both men landed with resounding thumps.

"Johnny! Roy!" Chet and Marco yelled as they ran to their fallen comrades.

Johnny rolled onto his stomach and groaned aloud when Marco reached him.

"Johnny? You okay?" he asked.

Johnny was about to say "no" as the pain in his chest and back flared. But then he glimpsed Roy's unmoving form ten feet away.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he managed through gritted teeth, allowing Marco to help him up. "Roy?" he called, determinedly making his way to his partner. "Roy?" he called again, dropping down next to him.

Johnny shrugged off his air tank, sucking in a breath at the stabbing pain the action caused. He and Chet got Roy's tank off as well and carefully turned him over.

"Oh God," Johnny whispered, seeing the dark venous blood oozing from Roy's throat.

Johnny did the first thing he could think of. He put his fingers into the wound and put them over the lacerated jugular vein, slowing the blood flow.

"Chet get the equipment! Marco tell the cap I need another paramedic over here!" Johnny said quickly.

He took in Roy's injuries as he held tight to the vein. He knew that if he let go Roy would bleed to death within minutes. Roy was covered with glass and metal debris from the building. Any place not covered by his turnout coat, helmet or mask was bleeding, with jagged pieces sticking out. With his free hand Johnny took Roy's pulse and checked his pupils.

"Roy? Can you hear me?" Johnny called, his voice strained.

Dougie Parsons, half of Squad 23's paramedic team came and knelt opposite Johnny. He looked quickly at Roy, making his own assessment. Then he looked at Johnny. Johnny was pale and sweating profusely.

"You okay, John?" he asked.

"I'm fine, Dougie. Just take care of Roy," Johnny answered flatly. "His jugular's cut, I'm holding pressure on it. Pulse is 110, respiration 20. Pupils are dilated and sluggish," Johnny informed him.

"Okay," Dougie responded, checking for other injuries.

He thought about pressing Johnny further about his condition, but decided against it, chalking it up to distress over Roy's condition.

Johnny started to talk to Roy, encouraging him to wake up. Telling him that he would be fine. Telling him that he would take good care of him. It helped him forget that he was literally holding Roy's life in his hand. It also made him forget his own pain. He vaguely thought he heard Dougie call Rampart on the bio-phone.

"Rampart this is Squad 23," Dougie called in.

"Go ahead 23," Early replied.

"Rampart we have a 37 year old male, victim of an explosion and fall," Dougie started. "He was bleeding profusely from the left jugular vein. We have applied pressure directly to the wound and are continuing to hold it. Victim also appears to have a head injury and broken right forearm and humerus," he continued.

"Vital signs are BP 80 over 60, pulse 110 and respiration 20. Pupils are dilated and sluggish," he finished.

"10-4, 23. Continue to hold the vein. Start IV ringers and O2. Transport as soon as possible," Early ordered.

"10-4, Rampart," Dougie confirmed.

Chet had brought the backboard over and placed it next to Roy. Dougie finished starting the IV and immobilized Roy's broken arm as Marco placed an oxygen mask on him.

"Ready?" Dougie asked, preparing to roll Roy onto the backboard.

Johnny used his free hand to help hold Roy's head as they moved him onto the backboard. After they had Roy strapped down, he took a few quick breaths, squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth as he pushed himself off the ground to rise up with Roy as they placed him onto the ambulance stretcher. Focused on his task, he never let go of Roy's wound. He felt Marco's hand on his back, guiding him toward and into the ambulance as they pulled the stretcher.

At Rampart ER, Dixie arrived at the radio room.

"Dix, we need a couple of rooms set up. The Dougs are bringing in two victims from that fire downtown," Early started. "We'll need a vascular surgeon for one of them, he's got a cut jugular," he finished.

"Sure, Joe," Dixie replied, going to the phone to call the surgeon.

In Johnny's mind, the ride to the hospital seemed to take forever. He listened to Dougie's updates to Rampart, answered direct questions about Roy when Dougie asked him, but otherwise concentrated only on holding onto the vein. His arm was beginning to ache. He'd been holding it in the same position for nearly half an hour now. And his chest and back pain only increased now as the ambulance seemed to hit every pothole on the road. Dougie heard Johnny gasp, sucking in a breath. He looked up to see Johnny's eyes shut tight.

"Johnny? You okay?" he asked. "Johnny?" he called again when he got no response.

"My arm is cramping," Johnny finally replied, lying.

"We're almost there," Dougie offered.

Dixie, Carol and Early were waiting at ER doors when the first ambulance showed up. Doug Bedoski, the other half of "The Dougs," as 23's paramedic team was called, exited with the smoke inhalation victim Johnny and Roy had rescued. Carol went with them and guided them into the ER.

"He's doing good, came to about five minutes ago," he informed them. "Roy's right behind us," he added, bringing the gurney past them.

They turned to see the second ambulance back up. Early helped open the doors watched as Dougie guided Johnny out of the ambulance, along side of the stretcher. Dixie let out a small gasp as she recognized the face under the O2 mask, bandages and Johnny's hands.

"Room Four," Early ordered.

They squeezed through the door opening and transferred Roy to the exam bed, carefully maneuvering the stretcher, IV and O2 tubes around Johnny. Johnny stood there, now totally oblivious to everything around him. His breaths were short and shallow and he was pale and drenched with sweat as he tried to block out his own pain and not lose his grip on the vein.

"Just a few more minutes, Johnny, and we'll have that clamped up. I'm sure your hand must be getting tired," Early said, checking the wounds in Roy's neck.

When Johnny didn't reply, Early looked up. Then he looked at Dougie. Dougie looked back at him, helplessly.

"He hasn't said a word for the past ten minutes," Dougie said. "Can't say as I blame him," he added.

Dr. Altmann, the vascular surgeon entered the room.

"What have you got, Joe?" he asked, approaching the exam bed.

"Jugular's been nicked. Johnny here's been holding it for about half an hour, now," Early informed him.

He took a closer look.

"How's his BP?" he asked.

"BP's up, now holding at 100 over 70," Dixie answered.

"Okay, let's get it clamped up and cleaned and we'll get him up to the OR," Altmann said, reaching for some gloves.

Dixie got a tray out and started handing him some instruments. He carefully maneuvered around Johnny's fingers, placing clamps on either side of the cut Johnny was holding.

"Okay, young man," Altmann began. "I think you can let go now," he finished.

He waited a minute. When Johnny didn't move, he repeated his request.

"I said you can let go now," he said looking up.

"Johnny?" Early called, concern in his voice. "Johnny? It's alright, you can let go now," he said, moving his hands to Johnny's. "It's alright," he soothed as he manipulated Johnny's fingers and released their hold on Roy's jugular vein.

Dougie grabbed Johnny's shoulders guided him away from the exam bed, toward door.

"It's okay, John. They're gonna take good care of him," he said as he brought Johnny out into the hallway.

Dougie was starting to get worried about Johnny. He knew Johnny and Roy were close, and of course Johnny had every right to be worried about Roy, but he was beginning to think Johnny was in worse shape than Roy was. He no sooner finished that thought when Johnny let out a loud cry and collapsed.

"Doug-Doug!" Dougie called out to his partner as he eased Johnny to the floor.

The other Doug ran quickly from the nurse's station and knelt next to the two.

"He's having trouble breathing," Dougie said. "His trachea's deviated, I think his lung collapsed."

Dr. Brackett had heard the commotion and approached the three paramedics, overhearing Dougie's assessment and seeing Johnny gasping for breath.

"Alright, let's get him into room one," he said, helping them lift and then carry Johnny down the hallway.

The Dougs deposited Johnny's writhing form onto the exam bed. Dougie started getting an O2 mask set up, hoping it would help ease Johnny's breathing. The other Doug was cutting off Johnny's turnout coat when Brackett asked what had happened.

"He and Roy fell off a ladder after an explosion. I thought he was okay, just shook up about Roy," Dougie answered.

"I guess he got hurt, too," the other Doug replied. "Oh, shit," he added, removing Johnny's uniform shirt.

Brackett and Dougie looked at Johnny's chest. The entire left side was bruised and it was obvious that several ribs were broken.

"Dougie, go get Dixie. I'm going to need help with the chest tube," Brackett ordered, his face grim.

Dougie quickly left the room as the other Doug started taking vitals.

"BP's 70 over 50, pulse is 120," he announced.

"Doug, let's get bilateral Ringers set up," Brackett ordered. "Johnny? Johnny?" he called.

He got no response, other than a pained look from Johnny as he continued his struggle to breathe. Dixie and Early entered the room as Brackett retrieved the chest tube kit from one of the cabinets. Dougie had met up with them in the hall as they were wheeling Roy to surgery. Dixie immediately started to assist Brackett, cleaning off the side of Johnny's chest.

"Okay Johnny, just take it easy," Brackett started. "It's gonna hurt like hell, but you'll be able to breathe," he finished, nodding to the Dougs.

They knew what was going to happen and held onto Johnny's legs and shoulders to keep him from moving as Brackett made the incision between Johnny's ribs. Johnny screamed as the Dougs' strengths were put to the test holding him down to the bed.

"Easy, Johnny," Dixie soothed, smoothing his brow. "Almost done."

"Respiratory arrest!" Dougie announced.

Dixie handed Brackett the chest tube. Brackett deftly inserted it and soon the pressure was equalized, easing Johnny's pain. He secured the tube, watching as blood and air drained from it. He looked up and saw Early inserting an endotracheal tube down Johnny's throat.

"I want a full set of x-rays of his chest," Brackett ordered, wiping sweat from his brow. "And let's check for other injuries as well," he added, sighing, watching as the respirator was hooked up.

Brackett, Early, Dixie and the Dougs went to the nurse's station as the x-ray technicians were in with Johnny.

"What the hell happened?" Brackett asked.

"I don't know. Lopez came over and told me that Johnny needed help with Roy, that he'd fallen off a ladder after an explosion blew it off the window," Dougie began. "I got there and Johnny was holding onto Roy's jugular. His neck was covered with glass and blood," he said before Brackett interrupted.

"What? How's Roy?" he asked quickly, not knowing about Roy's condition.

"He's up in surgery now. Karl Altmann's working on him," Early replied.

Brackett nodded. He was a bit relieved, knowing Altmann was the best vascular surgeon they had.

"I asked Johnny if he was okay. A couple of times, even," Dougie started again. "But he kept saying 'I'm fine, take care of Roy.' I just figured he was worried about Roy. I mean, how often do you literally hold you best friend's life in your hand?" he finished.

"He must have been hurting the whole time," Dixie said quietly.

"He didn't care," Dougie responded. "We all know Johnny. He'd give his life for Roy, any day."

"Well he may be pretty close to doing just that, today," Brackett added grimly.

Roy woke up to an annoying beeping sound. He groaned and reached out to turn off the alarm clock. His hand was met by another hand, one that squeezed his gently. He opened his eyes and saw Joanne smiling at him.

"Hi," she said quietly.

He tried to say 'hi' back, but his voice wouldn't cooperate.

"It's okay, don't talk," she soothed. "They said your throat would be sore for a while from the tube," she said.

Roy looked confused. The last thing he remembered was stepping onto the ladder after he climbed out the window at the structure fire.

"What happened?" he mouthed.

"There was an explosion as you were climbing down a ladder. You were hit with glass and debris and fell," Joanne started, pausing as she remembered Hank Stanley telling her what had happened. "You got a concussion and broke your arm. And you, um, received lacerations to your neck," she said slowly, absently touching her own neck.

Roy reached up and felt the bandages on the front of his neck. He saw Joanne start to cry. He reached for her.

"Your jugular vein was cut," she continued, her voice trembling. "Johnny held onto it, stopping the bleeding. He held onto it for almost 45 minutes. Until the vascular surgeon clamped it off," she said, wiping her tears.

Roy relaxed. Before Joanne had continued to tell him about his injuries he had been worried about Johnny. He remembered Johnny being only halfway down the ladder when he got on it. He looked at Joanne. She was still crying. He squeezed her hand.

"I'm okay, now," he rasped.

"I know," she said, squeezing back. "But..." she stammered, looking everywhere in the room but at Roy. "Oh, God, Roy," she cried.

Roy reached for her face, pulled her chin up. He questioned her with his eyes.

"Johnny got hurt too," she began. "He ignored his own injuries to save you. And now they don't know if he's going to make it or not," she sobbed.

Roy's hand dropped, shock registering inside him.

Brackett pulled back the curtain partition and approached the bed. He checked the various monitors and charts, trying to avoid looking at the patient. He sighed, blew out a breath and finally looked at his friend.

"You are giving us a run for our money, you know," he said quietly.

He pulled down the blankets and checked the bandages for leakage. Then he peeled them back. Brackett shook his head in wonderment.

"I don't know how you did it, Johnny. I don't know how you even got up off the ground," he said.

When he was finished looking at Johnny's bruised chest and fresh surgical scars he bandaged them up. He listened to Johnny's chest carefully with his stethoscope and frowned.

"Come on Johnny, don't do this to me. We just got you patched up. Don't go and blow it with pneumonia," he whispered.

He went to the ICU nurse's desk and gave the nurse instructions for Johnny's care.

"Roy's awake," she told him.

"Good. I'll stop over now, while I'm here," he told her.

Brackett approached the cubicle Roy was in. He overheard Joanne telling Roy about Johnny's condition. He entered and placed his hand on Joanne's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. She looked up and smiled.

"How are you feeling Roy?" he asked.

"Apparently better than Johnny," Roy whispered sadly.

Brackett smiled grimly and nodded.

"He's in rough shape. He broke five ribs in the fall. All the breaks were near his spine," he started. "I spoke with Chet and Marco. Marco said he thought Johnny landed on his air tank. Two of the ribs wound up ripping his lung, which eventually collapsed," he said.

"He must have been bleeding since it happened," Roy reasoned.

"We've had to operate twice, to get it all stopped.," Brackett added.

"How long?" Roy asked.

"You've been here for two days," Joanne said.

"Look, I've got to get going," Brackett said, hearing his name being paged. "I'll keep you up to date."

He shook Roy's outstretched hand.

"Thanks," Roy whispered.

Brackett made his way down to the ER after answering his page. He saw Dixie and Early talking with The Dougs as they were collecting supplies.

"How are they?" Dougie asked.

"Roy woke up a little while ago. He's doing just fine," Brackett answered.

"That's great," replied Doug.

"And Johnny?" Dougie asked, tentatively.

"No change," Brackett replied, shaking his head.

Dougie bowed his head.

"I should have done something," he said quietly.

"You didn't know," Dixie responded.

"I saw that he was hurting. Damn! He was in shock! Pale, sweaty, breathing fast..." he replied.

"We all saw that Dougie. We all thought the same as you -- that he was upset about Roy. Add to the fact that it was ninety degrees out and Johnny was still in full turnout gear, he was probably suffering from heat exhaustion as well," Doug admonished.

"He told you he was fine. You had no reason not to believe him," Early added.

There was no more time for second-guessing, as The Dougs were sent on another call by the dispatcher. After they left, Early, Brackett and Dixie went to the lounge for coffee.

"How's Joanne holding up?" Early asked.

"As good as can be expected," Dixie started. "I spoke with her earlier today. It's bad enough worrying about Roy, but she worries about Johnny, too. I found out that next to Roy, she's listed as his next of kin in case of an emergency, since Johnny's family is so far away," she continued.

"So, she's had to do double duty in the paperwork and medical decision department," Brackett deduced.

Dixie nodded.

"I guess the kids are upset as well. They're staying with Mike and Beth Stoker until Joanne's mother can get here. They're worried about their Dad and Uncle Johnny, too," Dixie added.

Roy sat in the wheelchair next to the bed. Quietly sitting. Listening to the gentle beeps of the heart monitor and the whooshing of the respirator. He stopped himself from scratching at his neck. The stitches were driving him nuts. The only thing that itched worse was under his arm cast. But he couldn't do anything about that. He had to consciously make the effort to NOT scratch his neck.

For the hundredth time that hour he pondered life and how it had dealt he and Johnny some pretty wild cards. And how lucky he was to have been dealt Johnny as his best friend and partner. How many times had they risked their lives for each other? For their coworkers? For the public in general? He didn't think they'd ever come this close, though. Guilt was starting to enter Roy's thoughts. He knew it was irrational. But the thought that Johnny would actually knowingly trade his life for Roy's astounded him. Did Johnny actually think his life was worth more than his own?

"God, Johnny. Why?" Roy asked, already knowing the answer deep inside.

Roy sensed movement and looked into the half-opened eyes regarding at him. Roy smiled, tears starting to form in his eyes.

"Welcome back," he said, taking Johnny's hand.

Johnny tried to speak, but found he couldn't.

"You're on a respirator," Roy spoke uneasily. "You broke a bunch of ribs, punctured your lung," he added.

Johnny closed his eyes and nodded, trying not to fight the machine controlling his breaths. He slowly reached his arm up and pointed at Roy's neck.

"It'll be fine. Obviously I'm still here," Roy said. "Thanks to you," he added quietly.

Johnny saw the question in Roy's eyes, the one he'd heard upon waking. He grabbed Roy's hand. He touched the simple gold band adorning Roy's ring finger. Roy looked back at Johnny, understanding fully, now. Johnny was asleep again, his body relaxed, no longer fighting the machine.

"Next time Junior, just have Chet hold the vein, okay?" he chided gently, as he placed Johnny's hand back under the covers.

Author's notes: I hope I didn't confuse you all with "The Dougs." I decided to challenge myself by including a couple of guys I work with and some of the confusion we have and how we get around it, by seeing if I can write about them in a nonconfusing way and without using their last names. Did I confuse you with that explanation? Anyway, on some nights when you ask, "Who's working?" the reply is "Mady and the Dougs" (sounds like a singing group, huh). So this background story line is dedicated to my Dougs, Doug P, aka: Dougie or Dougie-Dougie or Parksie and Doug B., aka Doug, Doug-Doug, or The Other Doug. But of course, they'll never know that, because they'll never read this to begin with...