Dragon Toes and Horrible Odors

Dragon Doc

    Only three days after the fire-sneezing dragon, I left the veterinary clinic relatively early for once, having suffered through a day of difficult cases, cranky staff, aggressive pets, and hostile pet owners. Not wanting to suffer through stacks of records as well, I decided to call it a day.

The staff had all left a short time before. Though it was evening, it was murderously hot in the Arizona summer, and that day had been the hottest yet. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I paused to collect the lunch I’d neglected to eat from the break room refrigerator. Immediately accosted by the blistering heat upon my exit, I locked the side door behind me, gingerly rattling the hot doorknob to test it. The overheated lock mechanism felt mushy and loose, but it held. Wilting climate aside, it was refreshing to leave work while it was still daylight.

My Volkswagen sputtered to life as I turned the key. The car was like a kiln after sitting behind the clinic all day, and I fiddled with the AC and vents to get some air circulating. Finally I let out the clutch and tapped the accelerator, the car just starting to move in reverse, as I glanced in the rear view mirror and – THAT’S A DRAGON BEHIND ME. The engine shuddered and stalled as I stomped on the brake. You’ve got to be kidding me. A dragon, again, now? So soon after the last one?

Another look in the rear view mirror confirmed the presence of a dragon. Turning in the driver’s seat, I surveyed the larger view through the back window. He was a pretty blue color, and the paler scales over his chest glistened like mother-of-pearl in the simmering heat. He was so close to the back of my car that I had nearly driven into him. That would have been entertaining to explain to the auto insurance people.

Turning away from the dragon, I rested my forehead on the steering wheel and sighed in irritation. I was SO tired and frustrated, not even sure I wanted to continue practicing veterinary medicine altogether, much less spend my “spare time” practicing medicine on supposedly “fantasy” dragons in secret. Some fantasy, I groused. Sighing again, I thumped my forehead on the steering wheel a couple times, then slammed my fist on the wheel for good measure.

Okay fine, let’s get this over with.

Shoving the door open, I stood up from my car back into the sweltering parking lot. The dragons were getting bold; it was still broad daylight after all. And this one, with his blue coloration, was easily visible among the surrounding desert tans and browns. That made me nervous, since I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from the dragons being discovered. Apprehensively I looked around for spectators, but the parking lot and adjacent street were deserted.

The dragon didn’t appear at all perturbed after I’d nearly backed into him with my car. By now I knew that dragons, with their thick scales and horns and tough flesh, are amazingly hardy creatures. But of course they’re not infallible and impervious to injuries, otherwise they’d have no need for my services. What damage my car might have inflicted I wasn’t sure, and was thankful that I didn’t have to find out.

Despite my relief that I hadn’t hit him, I was still annoyed, and may have channeled some of the aggression directed at me by several of patients and clients that day. My approach to the dragon was too rapid, my movements too abrupt, my voice far too harsh as I demanded “All right what’s your problem?”

The dragon arched his neck and stiffened his forelimbs, opened his great mouth, and instantly I was convinced that I would die by dragon fire. Fortunately I was mistaken. He emitted a brief sharp hiss, similar to that of a cat, only shorter and more forceful and somewhat nasal. The subsequent burst of dragon breath was inconceivably foul-smelling.

Upon the dragon’s abrupt warning I reflexively blanched and ducked and found myself crouched next to the back of my car, squeezing the hot metal of the quarter panel, as if the little Volkswagen could save me. Had my panicked brain planned to use the fender as a shield? It had been awhile since I was so shaken by a dragon, and this time my discomfort was entirely my own fault. Shaking my head, I gasped a deep breath, then forcefully and regretfully exhaled, desperately tried not to breathe the horrid and inescapable odor.

“I’m sorry, okay? So sorry, let’s try this again.” I coughed. “It’s only… I’m in a very bad mood, but I can still help you…. I’m going to stand up now.” My legs wobbled as I timidly rose from the pavement. One knee of my scrubs was torn. A retch rose in my throat in response to the stench of the dragon’s… hiss? Was that some kind of breath weapon? It smelled like skunk spray mixed with fertilizer and burning tires. Coughing again, I fought the gag reflex back down.

“I’ll help if you need. What’s wrong, are you hurt? or sick?” Keeping my voice quiet and gentle and trying to calm my nerves and roiling stomach, I slowly crept a few steps closer. This dragon was bold to be there in the daytime, but clearly he was easily spooked nonetheless.

The blue dragon shifted with unease, unwilling to entirely trust me after I provoked his skunky breath weapon. Wanting to be patient I stood and waited, quietly seething that I wouldn’t get home at a reasonable hour after all. At the very least the dragon needed to hurry up and get himself hidden before someone else happened along.

Leveraging the interlude, I took a few moments to look myself over. Was that… dragon snot on my scrub top? My eyes were watering from the smell, and I wiped my upper arm over my face. That was a terrible mistake, since there was just as much putrid stench on my arms as there was everywhere else. I fought down another gag. The odor was so awful.

After a few minutes that felt like hours in the searing heat, the dragon did something very strange. He lay down on his side in the parking lot. Perplexed, I frowned at the creature, inspecting him from head, to neck, then forelimbs, the one wing I could see well, his body, the right hip… ah. The right rear foot was the problem. He straightened his knee to extend the leg toward me, and turned to sniff in the direction of his foot. It was missing not one, not two, but *three* toes.

More than a few dragons are missing a toe or two. This contributes to the “battle-worn” appearance for which so many dragons pride themselves, vain creatures as they are. But rarely have I met a dragon that managed to traumatically amputate three toes at once on the same foot.

As I scrutinized the damage, I pondered how on earth he was injured. (That’s something I often wonder about dragons, but I rarely hear a confession from them.) Was this inflicted by another dragon? Or a human, or another animal? Or was this due to miscalculation on the dragon’s part, some kind of accident? I’d never find out.

The wounds were fairly fresh. Two of the toes were amputated close to the last joint. But the third toe was amputated at the base, and still oozing sludgy dark dragon blood. This species of dragon has four toes on the hind feet, so at least he would still have three mostly intact toes remaining. That might interfere with his balance for awhile. However I’d found dragons to be incredibly resilient creatures, and was confident that with time he would adjust and manage without those digits.

This was going to take awhile to clean and suture though. Inwardly groaning, I resigned myself to another late night at the clinic.

Nearly three hours later, I counted broken suture needles as they dropped from my fingers into the sharps container. Six. That sounded about right, two needles broken on each toe thanks to ultra-tough dragon skin. At least the old-fashioned manually-threaded suture needles held up for awhile suturing dragon flesh, although they were tedious and awkward to thread. The first and only time I tried the conveniently pre-threaded and pre-packaged suture and needle on a dragon, the needle immediately bent and snapped. Nothing was easy in dragon medicine.

The surgical needle holders squeaked as I opened and closed them a few times. The hinge was definitely a bit loose and wobbly now, but the clamp still worked. Making a mental note to bring pliers and vice grips from home to trial during the next dragon suturing adventure, I ran the scrub sink full of water over the needle holders, forceps, mayo scissors, bone rongeurs, and bone rasp.

Trimming and smoothing the ends of the phalangeal bones to enable closing the wounds had been nightmarish. Dragon bones bear a strong visual resemblance to the delicate, hollow bones of birds, but there the similarity ends. Dragon bones are lightweight, perfect for flying, and look like they ought to readily fracture and fragment. However it took all my strength to squeeze the bone rongeurs over the truncated ends of the dragon’s relatively small toe bones. After treating so many dragons I’d developed substantial calluses on my fingers from surgical instruments, and anymore I usually avoided blisters. But that night my hands ached, the calluses raw and angry.

Having scrubbed the instruments and disposed of the soiled gauze and gloves, I turned my attention to myself and the horrible stench of the dragon’s breath weapon. After focusing on the dragon’s foot for awhile, I’d found that my olfactory sensors calmed down, or more likely became overwhelmed and simply quit firing from fatigue, so I could no longer easily smell the dragon’s breath weapon. But even though my sense of smell had dulled, I was certain I still reeked.

A memory rose of my father, who years before thought he might have been sprayed by a skunk but wasn’t sure. So he walked through the entire house to locate my mother to ask if she could smell skunk on his clothes. Of course he skunked the whole house on his quest to find her. Now I could empathize.

These days I habitually kept spare scrubs in my desk, for which I was extremely grateful that night. Debating whether to attempt washing my torn and soiled clothes or just toss them in the dumpster, I changed in the employee restroom and shoved my stinking scrubs into a trash bag.

The can of air freshener on the back of the toilet caught my eye. Carrying it through the clinic, I optimistically spritzed generous amounts in each room, but held no illusions that the stench would dissipate before the next morning.

Let’s see, half a bottle of injectable bupivacaine, equal amount of sodium bicarbonate, four syringes (or was it five?), antiseptic, six suture needles, maybe one-eighth of a spool of Fluorofil suture – grinning, I wondered how much the dragon liked the hot pink color – a paper surgical drape, one bottle of pain medication, and one bottle of antibiotics. Everything went on my own “first aid” account. Apparently the clinic manager had decided to ignore my unorthodox purchases since I always paid off my account out of each paycheck.

Rarely do dragons return to have their sutures removed. The pretty blue dragon had flown off following my instructions to somehow remove the bright pink sutures in 14 days, and I emphasized to him that I’d prefer to remove them myself (and leverage the opportunity to re-examine his toes and make sure they had properly healed). Whether he would actually come back, I doubted. Dragons might pull out the sutures with their teeth, I suspect, or perhaps even by breathing fire over the healed wounds.

Eventually I locked the clinic door behind me, had second thoughts, reopened the door, and fetched a bottle of Skunk Off pet shampoo from the retail shelf in the lobby. It worked on freshly skunked dogs, so maybe it would work on dragon breath weapon, which smelled undeniably skunky.

After that incredibly malodorous odyssey, I finally drove home. It was late, and my mood was possibly more foul than the stench that still permeated my skin and hair. It occurred to me how much my little Volkswagen would reek as well, and I winced.

My husband was asleep, and I crept into the bathroom to shower and scrub with the skunk odor shampoo. The results impressed me. As I slipped quietly into bed, I thought perhaps I’d successfully eliminated the smell at home… but I was wrong.

The next morning, entirely too early on my day off, I awakened to my husband complaining about the smell of my shoes. Oops. I should have left those in the garage.

“Holy hell these stink! What happened?! You must have seen a dog that was skunked?”

Squeezing my eyes shut tighter, I sighed. I’d always been truthful with Jon about my exploits with dragons, but he didn’t believe me and was getting tired of the “joke.” Sometimes it was easier to tell him a more plausible untruth.

“Yeah, it was a skunked dog,” I mumbled sleepily. “Sorry, I should have left them outside.”

He didn’t reply, and I could sense he was fixated on something. Cracking one eyelid open, I saw Jon frowning at the blackened toe of my shoe, the one that had been scorched by a dragon’s sneeze just a few days before. Maybe I should chuck those shoes in the garbage instead of the garage.

“How did you say you burned your shoe?”

“I told you. A dragon sneezed flames on it.”

“Seriously, come on. The dragon stories are funny, but what really happened?”

Now I was annoyed and really wanted to go back to sleep. “Fine, I was roasting marshmallows with my toes and I got too close to the fire. Happy?”

He shot an exasperated look my direction and carried my putrid shoes out the bedroom door. The only reason he didn’t suspect me of cheating, I think, was because I routinely arrived home in a most unsexy array of bloody, hairy, gross scrubs, hair disheveled, occasionally with dried bits of blood on my face and clothes, often sporting the scent of anal glands or cat urine. And this time I’d come home covered in skunky dragon breath. As I drifted back to sleep, I contemplated what other spectacular dragon messes I would inevitably get myself into. ?

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About DR. S.K. burkman

As a busy veterinarian, Dr. Burkman keeps her sanity by writing about dragons. Many of her own adventures and misadventures are woven into her novels.

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