"Do you find it hard to connect to other people in caring and loving relationships?" I was getting less comfortable with these questions as they continued.
"Is that some kind of dig, Donny? You're hooked up and happy, so the rest of us need to be in couples? Is that what this is about? You know I haven't dated in years! I just don't have any interest in it. I like my s.p.a.ce!"
Spike was getting defensive and argumentative, one of the signs I was supposed to look for during this session.
"Do you think that your willingness to partic.i.p.ate in social activities has decreased?" I kept asking questions instead of responding to Spike.
"So what? Like I said, I like my s.p.a.ce! The older I get the more I like some alone time!"
"Okay, what about talking to people? So you talk about the events of your day with anyone? Do you plan on a future with anyone?"
There wasn't even a pretense of Pauli trying to answer now. We were all focused on Spike.
"You know that answer, Donny! You know that with my family history, and the work we do that I don't figure I'll live long enough to bother anyone else. Besides I talk to you guys at the station, doesn't that count?" She started to raise her voice now, "I'm sick of this s.h.i.t! All I do is bust my a.s.s every day to save the lives of repeat drug overdoses, heart patients who still eat at fast food burger joints, drivers who ignore speed limits and seatbelt laws, and the victims of bullies! For that, I'm getting hung out to dry by you guys! You're supposed to have my back, not stick knives in it!"
We all looked at Spike, but Caity left her seat beside me and walked over to her. She put a hand on Spike's shoulder and knelt down in front of her. "Kristy, you know d.a.m.n well how much I love you and respect you. You should know that Chloe and Pauli think you practically walk on water. No one is here to throw stones, sweetie. The truth is, Pauli has been in therapy and is worried about you. She came to us out of concern for your well being. Please, don't feel as if we are attacking you or questioning your life. We just want to help you if you need it."
I watched as Caity leaned forward, preventing Spike from standing. Instead, Caity wrapped her arms around Spike and hugged her until she started to relax into it. Eventually, Caity eased away from her and spent a few moments looking the other woman in the eyes. "Are we okay? Are you ready to talk about this stuff?"
Spike sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and finally, answered with a meek, "Yeah, I guess." She looked over at Pauli, "I'm sorry, kid, maybe I have been on edge. We cool?"
Pauli grinned and nodded. "Hey, I'm just worried, you know? Nothing has to leave this room, but I'd like to help you, like you've helped me. I went to the head doc because I was having nightmares about some of our calls. I couldn't sleep, I wasn't interested in stuff I normally liked, and I couldn't even talk to my big sister about it. I decided to get some help before I ended up like some of the cases we bring in to the ER."
I looked over at Pauli with a new respect. I knew that she was seeing someone, but I had no idea that she was there for the same thing we thought was wrong with Spike.
I spoke up then. "Call it burnout, call it over working, but the truth is, in this line of work, we are prime candidates for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I spoke to the counselor about it and it hits a lot of EMS responders eventually. If you work in the field for long enough, you see all sorts of nasty stuff. We have all seen a lot of c.r.a.p and it is normal for it to bother us. Some people deal with it by working out, or talking, or many different ways. I get a.n.a.l about my lawn and outdoor ch.o.r.es when it is warm enough. In cold weather, I cook a lot and that's when I do my woodworking. Plus, I've had someone to talk to for years. Caity and I have talked about this stuff since we first became friends. She's helped me get through some of my tougher calls."
"Chloe's helped me deal with tough days also. When I get the kind of call that makes me feel horrible about just being a voice on the phone, she helps me to deal with it. She reminds me of how much I do contribute on so many calls to the dispatch center." Caity moved back to the couch to sit by me as she spoke. "Us being together is great, I'm very happy, but being a couple isn't why we think you need someone to talk to, Kristy. I think it would help you deal with so much of the pain you've seen out on the streets."
We waited in silence then for Spike to speak. Everyone shifted nervously while she thought about what had been said. After a few minutes of silence, she looked up at me. "So, what is it you think I need to do? See a shrink? Go on medication? Why can't I just deal with it myself?"
I felt so horrible at that moment that I had no idea how to tell her what I thought she needed most. I knew I had to though. I owed it to her to tell her the truth. "I think you should take some time off, take vacation time or take a leave of absence, whatever. I think that while you are off from work, you should look into therapy of some kind. I could help you find someone or a program. I just think that you need to deal with this before it turns into a bigger deal than it already is."
I'd never seen Spike look so defeated. She slumped forward in her seat, her head hung down, and I could tell she was trying to keep the tears from falling. When she lifted her head, she looked at the ceiling, instead of at any of us in the room.
"So, if I take some time off, get a head checkup, and chill, you guys won't tell anyone at the station, including the captain? Is that the deal?"
Caity spoke up then, "If that is how you want it for now, then yes. No one wants to cause you any problems in your career. We just want to see you healthy and happy. So, will you do it?"
Grunting a.s.sent, Spike agreed to take the time off and meet with Pauli's therapist. For some reason, I wasn't rea.s.sured. I felt as if the whole thing might have gone a little too easily. My medic senses were tingling, but I couldn't figure out why.
I HAD AGREED to work a few extra shifts until the captain and I could rework the schedule. We had to fill the shifts left open by Spike's time off request. The captain and everyone else were told that Spike was taking time off for family reasons. Pauli's therapist, Dr. Cooper, was able to take her on as a patient for three sessions a week. Spike asked me to go to her first session with her, and after the meeting, we decided that she would stay with me for a few weeks. She just needed some support to get started on her treatment. She also gave the doctor permission to talk to me, since I was the closest thing to family that she had left. I would be able to see how Spike was acting while she stayed with me, and it might give the doctor clues about how to guide the treatments.
Surprisingly, Spike admitted to knowing for quite some time that things were wrong, but she had been too afraid to let anyone in enough to help her. She described nightmares, bursts of anger or tears, not being able to turn off the playback in her head of various calls, and feeling as if she were in a downward spiral. She seemed ready to face things, but she was nervous about being vulnerable. She told me that she felt safer staying with me. She knew that I had her back and would watch out for her. I was determined not to let her down.
Two weeks into Spike's treatment, I called to let her know that I was on my way home after my double shift, and to find out if we needed anything. She didn't answer so I figured she was out back or out somewhere. I called Caity to say h.e.l.lo, but it went right to voice mail.
When I got home, Spike's car was in the driveway. I went in the front door, dropping my gear bag by the laundry room on my way up stairs. I just needed a shower and my bed. As I started to shed my uniform, I looked out the back window and saw her. She was sitting curled up in fetal position under a tree at the edge of my property, next to the fence. I ran downstairs in my socks, uniform pants, and sports bra, and hit the back door at a full run.
I slid to the ground as I got close to her, and my first instinct was to ensure that she was breathing. As I reached out to touch her shoulder, I heard the sobbing that seemed to come from an almost impossibly deep place within her. I didn't know what was going on, but I could hear her crying escalate. I reacted to her primal wailing. I took her in my arms and tried to soothe her as I would a crying infant. We sat like that, rocking, for at least an hour, until she cried herself out. I helped her into the house and tucked her in on the couch. Spike was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
I called Caity, and this time, I reached her. She greeted me with, "Hey, baby! How was the long shift? Did you get any sleep?"
"It was fine, mostly quiet. I didn't sleep a lot but that was more because Gina snores. I have a problem here though that I need your input on."
"What's wrong? Something with Kristy?"
"Yeah, I came home and she was curled up outside, crying like she had lost her partner of fifty years. It took me an hour to get her to cry it out and calm down. She's asleep on the couch now. Should I call the doctor about it?"
"I don't know, maybe it would be a good idea. She might want to see her, or at least talk to her about it."
"Okay, I'll give her a call. Are you coming over? I really need your help. Seeing her like that has me a bit freaked."
"Of course, I was packing some of my stuff up to bring over. Just some more clothes, some music, and some books."
"Great, I'll see you soon, be safe. I love you!"
"I love you too, Chloe. Go take care of Kristy until I get there."
As soon as I hung up, I dialed the number written on the notepad next to the phone. I was surprised to hear someone answer at seven in the evening, and I was more surprised when the voice identified herself as the doctor. Quickly, I recapped what had happened and waited for her instructions.
"Was there any sign that she tried to injure herself? Did she say anything to you or did she just cry?"
"Umm, I didn't see any marks on her skin and I don't think she tried... wait a second while I check something!" I ran to the bathroom upstairs and checked the medicine cabinet. It was just as I left it, no missing medications. I went into the room Spike was staying in and checked the dresser. Her new bottle of medication was intact, no more than a couple missing from it. I grabbed the phone when I got back down the stairs and let the doctor know what I found.
"Did she say anything to indicate what set this off?"
"No, she didn't say anything at all. She just cried as if she had lost a part of her soul. I didn't know what to do so I held her, rocked her, and brought her inside to sleep when she wore out. What should I do now?"
There was a moment of total silence. I wondered if the phone had disconnected until she finally said, "I think the best thing to do is let her sleep. When she wakes up, don't bring it up, she will feel embarra.s.sed if she remembers you taking care of her. Act as normally as possible and give her some s.p.a.ce. Thank you for letting me know what happened. Believe it or not, this means she is starting to feel things that she needs to feel."
"So, in a way, this is a good thing?" I was incredulous. I had no idea how curling up under a tree to cry one's heart out was a good thing. So much for my medical knowledge.
"Yes it is. I am sure it was scary for you to find her like that, but it is something she needed to do. It might happen again, but it might not. This isn't an exact science, so I can't tell you exactly what to expect. I'm sorry. Listen to your instincts; they've served you well so far."
I thanked her and we hung up. I checked on Spike one more time then went upstairs to finish stripping and take a quick shower. I was just getting dressed when I heard noises from downstairs. Before I could finish dressing, the bedroom door eased open and Caity entered. She came right over to me and gave me the long hug I desperately needed.
"Are you okay, honey? What did the doctor have to say?" Caity stepped back a bit to look at me but kept her hands on my arms.
"I'm still freaked out. I mean, Spike has always been so strong, but today it was like she didn't even know who I was, or where she was. The doc thinks it is the result of some stuff from their sessions. If this is what the sessions do to her, how can that be helpful?"
I knew, I really knew that Caity would understand what I was saying. I didn't know how much I could take of seeing my mentor in this crumpled state.
"Caity, I really don't understand. She was functioning just fine a few weeks ago. I mean, she might not have slept much and she was a little grumpy, but she still had it together. Today she couldn't stop crying until she went to sleep? How is this helping her?"
Caity stepped back into me and wrapped her arms around my waist. "Baby, you know that sometimes the cure seems worse than the illness at first. Wasn't it you that pointed out that Coumadin, the drug that saved the lives of so many people with blood clot problems, is a derivative of rat poison? You loved the irony at the time."
"Yeah, I know you're right. It was just so weird. I don't usually get scared on calls anymore, but I was terrified that I would mess up when we were out there earlier. I wanted to grab the phone and call for back up. I couldn't call a rig, because everyone would have known about her problems through the grapevine."
I felt Caity squeeze me tighter and I let myself relax into her embrace. She felt safe and warm. She felt like home should feel. I wasn't sure what I would do when Spike woke up, but at least I knew Caity would be there with me to deal with it.
"You did a great job with her, honey. She obviously has some things she needs to deal with and crying is cathartic. I hope that she feels better when she wakes up." She stood and smiled at me. "So, you want to help me bring some bags up here?"
Grinning, I remembered that Spike's pain was not my own. My life was headed in a very positive direction. The woman I loved was moving in with me. "You bet! Let me finish getting dressed and I'll come down stairs. Can you check on Spike while I finish up?"
She nodded. "Of course, I'll meet you downstairs. I have a few kitchen things to tuck away too."
I watched her head for the stairs, then quickly grabbed department sweats and pulled them on to go with the old medic T-shirt that I had cut the sleeves out of years ago. I padded down the stairs and stopped when I heard soft voices coming from the living room. I didn't want to eavesdrop but I wanted to know what they were talking about. I flipped a mental coin and decided that knowing was better than wondering. I could barely make out Caity's voice, so I edged down a couple more steps.
"- you know what happened? Did you remember something?"
I didn't catch the first part but I was in a better position, so I settled down to listen.
"I don't know, Caity. It was as if the whole world was closing in on me in a dark storm cloud. I couldn't escape it, but I could hear through it, all those voices calling out for help. I couldn't bear it, so I ran. I don't really remember much else until I woke up a few minutes ago."
Spike's voice sounded raw. She had cried herself hoa.r.s.e. I didn't know what she was talking about exactly, but I guessed that it had something to do with how she ended up outside.
"So, did something in today's session spark it? Is there anything you need, something I can do for you?" I could hear Caity's voice catch as she asked.
"I don't know. I can't remember anything specific that might have triggered this, but what do I know? Scoop, run, stick, and shock. That's my knowledge," she said bitterly. "But thanks, I think I'm good for now. The sleep seems to have helped."
I chose that moment to stand up and make some noise as I finished coming down the stairs. I didn't want Spike to figure out that I had been listening, but I would talk to Caity about it later. I saw Caity sitting on the edge of the couch with Spike but I just grabbed the bags Caity had left by the stairs and took them back up to what was becoming our bedroom. We had agreed to go slowly with the move since Spike was staying with me. Besides, Caity had to decide if she was going to rent out her house, or sell it.
I tossed her bags on the bed and debated about if I should go back downstairs. The truth was, I was afraid to face Spike after her breakdown. I didn't know how to act but I knew I couldn't stay upstairs forever. I headed back down and went to the kitchen. I watched as Caity put things away, moving around some stuff to make room for her gadgets. She turned around to get something out of a box and saw me standing there, watching her.
"How long have you been there?" she asked.
"Not long, I was just enjoying the sights," I grinned at her.
"Uh huh, why don't you give me a hand unloading this box instead of standing there ogling me. I don't know if you have any special stuff you don't want displaced."
I gave her a somewhat credible leer before laughing at myself. "I don't really care. I figure it will all end up moved around eventually. For now, I'll just search until I find what I need. I'll still give you a hand though. The faster we get this done, the sooner I get to talk to you upstairs."
We worked together and quickly emptied the box. I put it back in Caity's car, so she could use it to move more stuff over. A box at a time was slow, but eventually we would officially be living under one roof full time. As I pa.s.sed by the living room doorway, I noticed that Spike had vacated the couch. Her car was still outside so I a.s.sumed she had gone upstairs to bed.
As I met Caity in the hallway, I asked her, "Do you know if Spike went up to bed? She isn't in the living room and I didn't know if I should check on her or not."
"I think she's doing okay now. I'd say just leave her alone until morning and we'll see how she is then. For now, let's go up to bed. I have more unpacking to do and we haven't seen each other in a couple of days."
We went upstairs, staying quiet until I shut the door to the master bedroom.
Caity leaned into me, "I've missed you. I'm so glad you're home tonight."
I sighed. "Yeah, me too. I hate these doubles, but the extra money is good and it covers for Spike. I kind of feel it is the only way I have to really show my support, you know?"
"Oh, honey, she's fully aware of your support. I know you need to take action to feel as if you're helping, but sometimes, just sitting there and listening is all the support someone needs."
"I know, it just doesn't seem like much to me."
"You need to be easier on yourself, Chloe. You're working yourself so hard, then coming home and trying to help your friend. Plus, we are still getting used to being a couple, we're moving in together, we have to figure out what to do with my house, and we haven't even told anyone about the move yet. Your mentor is going through some really hard things right now and all you want to do is help her. There is a lot of stuff right now, be patient, honey. It will all work out and I'm here to help you through it."
I knew right then, this was the woman I had to spend the rest of my life with, no matter what. She understood things about me that I hadn't recognized myself. "I don't know how you do it, but I'm incredibly glad that you understand me so well. You always seem to know what I need to hear."
"Hey, it's my job as your girlfriend. All part of the package."
"Why don't we get ready for bed? I'm beat and I have to go back in for a shift tomorrow afternoon."
"I thought you had tomorrow off entirely? What happened?"
"It isn't a full shift, only a few hours on a truck and then I'm doing some training for a new cla.s.s of medics coming through. I should be home before you are tomorrow."
We went about getting ready for bed, and then crawled into bed to cuddle. I was too tired to do much else, no matter what my mind said. It felt right to go to sleep with Caity in my arms, knowing she would be there the next morning when I woke up.
"Get the hoses out, we need water on that right now!"
The scene was crazy when we rolled up. A small barbeque grill placed too close to the house had gone up in flames and the house caught quickly. We pulled in right behind the engine and ladder trucks and picked a spot to run the medical command. I had Tony on crew with me, Pauli and Gina were out on another call, and a basic unit was on the way to the scene to handle the firefighter rehabilitation station.
"County, medic two two three has medical command on scene."
"Copy medic two two three, command established thirteen forty-four hours. Switch to channel four."
County, medic two two three, copy, switching to four."
I switched over and reported to the captain. "Fire command, medical command, on channel four, on location, any word on victims?"
"Medical from fire, negative, so far it looks like everyone was out and far enough away. I'll let you know if we need anything other than rehab."
"Fire, medical, copy that, standing by channel four."
I looked over at Tony and was happily surprised to see that he had set up a full rehabilitation area already. I had to admit, he came back from his suspension as a stronger medic than he had been before his incident. He had matured rapidly after he dealt with his friend's injuries.
"Good job, Tony. When the BLS crew reports in, have them set up and you just keep an eye on things. I'll be here if you need anything, but I'd like to see you run the rehab station."
He grinned over at me, "Got it, Donny, I'll take care of it!"
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