First Clinic Encounter

Dragon Doc

It had been less than two years since I graduated from veterinary college, and I was in the very bad habit of staying late after work. Finishing records in a timely manner was a skill that still eluded me (and something I’ve never completely mastered). Also, I found complicated internal medicine cases intriguing but often thoroughly perplexing. Therefore long after everyone else had left the clinic, I’d typically be bent over my desk, furiously writing charts or studying textbooks and journal articles, filling in the puzzle pieces to work out what was going on with a complicated case.

The week after “the incident” on Humphrey’s Peak when I developed severe altitude sickness and hallucinated a dragon, and after the bruising from the IV catheter had faded, I was writing records at my desk late in the evening when I got the overwhelming feeling that someone or something was watching me. The feeling was accurate. I looked up to find a large green eye staring at me through the tiny office window. It frightened the crap out of me.

My chair crashed into the desk behind me, and I knocked a stack of records and several books to the floor in my haste to get the hell away from that eye and whatever it belonged to, because it most certainly was not human (not that I’d have been any more comfortable if it was). It took a few seconds and dozens of heartbeats for me to realize that the eye was familiar. I moved to another larger window to get a better view, not believing what I knew I was going to see. The eye went to the larger window too, but now it was part of a head, and the head was part of a body. With wings. A dragon head, and body, and wings. THE dragon, the one from Humphrey’s Peak. I was absolutely dumbfounded.

The dragon and I stared at each other through the window for a minute. I still couldn’t believe it. She didn’t seem to want to go anywhere. She was there intentionally, to see… me? I crept to the front door and finally found the bravery to crack it open, acknowledging that I have far more courage when my brain is swollen than when I’m in my right mind. The dragon’s head abruptly materialized just feet from the door, startling me again. I slammed the door shut, heart pounding, but then cracked it open again, peering through the tiny slit. We looked at each other. Her iridescent deep brown scales shimmered in the light of the streetlight as the sun faded. She folded her wing in front of her. Opening the door a bit wider, I squinted in the dim light of dusk. Oh. So that’s why she was there. The laceration wasn’t healing. It was infected, and part of the flesh had died and started to slough away.

“You need help? That’s why you found me? You want me to… treat you?” I asked. The dragon pushed her way through the door into the clinic lobby as I hurriedly backpedaled in front of her. I gathered that was a yes.

There were many thoughts swirling through my head, some along the lines of this can’t possibly be real and how am I having hallucinations more than a week after my brain swelled and do I have permanent brain damage, but also this is the by far the craziest coolest thing to ever happen to me and no one will believe this story, and also how did she find me at my clinic 60-some miles away from where I first saw her? And wait, this means I really did see a dragon on the mountain? What is even happening?

But she was really there, and really injured, and that wound looked bad. And apparently she thought I could assist her.

Veterinary textbooks don’t have sections on how to treat dragons, of course. But veterinarians are trained to manage many different kinds of animals and commonly extrapolate knowledge from one species to another. An infected laceration is similar regardless of species. So I winged it. (No pun intended.)

I stammered something about getting some things from the treatment area, thinking she would stay in the lobby. This was a small animal clinic, not equipped for animals like livestock, and the dragon was quite large by our standards (I’m laughing now to think how I would have reacted if a full-grown fire-breathing Wyrm had shown up that night. I’d have been paralyzed in terror). But she didn’t stay in the lobby. She followed me and squeezed through the space behind the front desk and through the door into the treatment area, leaving scratches and scrapes and a section of molding torn from the door frame. Oops. But at least she was closer to the supplies I needed.

My hands were shaking, and I was trying in vain not to drop things while I grabbed a tray, antiseptic solution, gauze, lidocaine, syringes, and instruments, all the while thinking frantically through a strategy for contending with this dragon and her wound. I threw frequent glances over my shoulder to see her watching curiously as I fumbled drawers and cupboards open and shut and rattled instruments into a tray. She didn’t seem fazed by my palpable nervousness.

The dying flesh needed to be debrided, basically scraped/rubbed/cut away to allow the underlying healthy tissue to heal. But that was going to be far less comfortable than just scrubbing the wound with antiseptic (I had done that, right? It really happened?), and administering a local anesthetic would sting too.

How would she react to the discomfort? Would she understand and tolerate it? Or would she react and bite or claw me? Or hold on, do dragons really breathe fire, and if so does THIS dragon breathe fire? (Are there more dragons out there?!?) Would she let me put a muzzle on? Seems unlikely… could I ask her nicely to wear a muzzle? That seems insulting… do dragons get insulted? Do dragons truly exist or am I out of my mind? Would a muzzle stop a dragon from breathing fire? Do we even HAVE a muzzle that big? Oh never mind, of course not…. And what about after debriding the wound, what then? She needed medications, but how does one prescribe medications for a species that’s supposed to exist only in storybooks and movies?!

In the end I gathered what I thought was necessary, took a couple deep breaths, and told her what I needed to do. “I don’t know how you were injured, but this laceration is infected and necrotic. I need to debride the dead tissue away so it can heal.” My voice became less tremulous as I went on, gaining some fortitude as I focused on the task at hand, strange as it was. “I’ll apply an anesthetic, but it’s going to sting, definitely worse than when I cleaned your wound on the mountain.” That had happened, right? Did she understand what I was telling her? Did I need to explain in simpler, non-medicalese terms? What am I doing talking to a dragon?

In reply the dragon shifted her weight and stretched out her injured wing so the laceration was in front of me. Okay, then. We’re doing this.

Much later I realized I inadvertently learned some important lessons that night. Always explain to a dragon what needs to be done to treat them. Even if they don’t verbalize it, dragons understand (I’m not convinced they understand the medical terms, but they seem to understand the intent). Gain their trust and permission to treat. And never try to force anything on a dragon, whether that’s treatment or a muzzle (I later learned some harsher lessons about what happens when you try to muzzle a dragon).

So I treated her wound just like I would on a big dog, only not sedated, and huge, and with scales and wings, and possibly the ability to barbecue me well-done in an instant if her mood changed. And also with no veterinary technician there to assist, or convince me this was really happening, or not.

The tissue was eventually debrided to my satisfaction, although I ruined a couple surgical scissors in the process, finding dragon flesh to be amazingly tough. Although if I’d ever contemplated it, that’s exactly what I would have imagined dragon flesh to be like. She never flinched from the pain, which also somehow seemed appropriate for a dragon.

I thought about bandaging the wound and said as much to her, although I wasn’t sure how I would bandage part of a dragon’s wing to where the bandage would stay in place. The dragon pulled her wing away from me. Alright, I suppose that means no bandage.

But that wound wasn’t going to heal without further intervention. She needed medication too. Figuring this out was more difficult than debriding the wound. I couldn’t decide whether to prescribe as if she was a reptile, because she seemed to also have some characteristics of birds and perhaps even mammals, and different types of animals have different classes and types of drugs that are tolerated and effective. In the end I chose an antibiotic that works for many different types of animals, and I made a wild guess on the dose after estimating her weight. And I chose an anti-inflammatory pain drug that I simply hoped would help and not hurt.

There was a full 250 count bottle of enrofloxacin on the pharmacy shelf, and a 180 count bottle of carprofen. I held both out in front of her. “You need to take these for the wound to heal. Can you swallow 20 of these”- I shook the bottle – “every day, once a day, until the bottle is empty? This is for infection. They’re even flavored… beef-flavored I think. Do you eat cows?” The dragon stared at me with skepticism, I thought, and perhaps amusement.

I forged on, waving the other bottle. “And this reduces inflammation and pain. Even if your wing isn’t that painful, reducing the inflammation helps the wound heal. Can you swallow 12 of these, twice a day? They’re flavored too, although I’m not sure what the flavor is, or if that even matters to you?…. Also I’m not sure how easily your stomach gets upset, but it’s probably best if you eat something when you take the pills.” Immediately I had some uncomfortable visions of her snacking on a human limb to take her antibiotics, and I winced.

“Since it’s not bandaged, keep the wound clean and dry. Don’t… lick or chew at the wound? I’m not sure if that’s something dragons do.” She tilted her head at this, and her big green eyes narrowed.

She regarded me for a moment, then clutched both bottles of pills in one massive claw, turned and squeezed back into the lobby (more molding from the doorway clattered to the floor) and out the front door, and was gone. I rushed to the door to watch her depart. It was quite dark by this time with no moonlight yet. I heard a vague quiet flap of wings for just a moment, then she was nowhere to be seen.

I closed the clinic door and turned the deadbolt, and turned around to see distinct claw marks in the lobby floor. Chunks of molding lay by the treatment room door, and one of the hinges was bent. An earthy but acrid scent hung in the air. Broken instruments were in the surgical trash bucket along with dead dragon flesh. I absently rubbed at the fresh blister on my thumb from struggling to debride the tough dragon tissue. How on earth was I going to explain what happened tonight?

Following some frenzied cleaning and tidying of what I could, and a trip to the dumpster to dispose of the dragon flesh and broken instruments, I finally drove home. I had put the drugs on my own account under “first aid,” supposedly to keep on hand at home. I’d have a tough time explaining why I needed huge bottles of enrofloxacin and carprofen at home for my own dogs and cats that were nowhere near dragon-sized, but that would be easier than trying to explain why vast quantities of drugs had simply disappeared off the shelf.

My husband was accustomed to me staying late at work, but he questioned why I was later than usual, and how did my scrubs get so bloody and smelly? Had I wrestled a javelina or something? And I told him the truth. But here’s the thing… just for entertainment I frequently tell my husband tall tales. So whenever I tell him a story that’s odd, or at least of dubious truthfulness, he’s never quite sure whether to believe me. It keeps the mystery and romance alive, I suppose.

He didn’t believe me.

My drive to work the next morning was filled with trepidation about the state of the dragon-damaged veterinary clinic. But the clinic was an old building, and somewhat dilapidated, and the owner was never much motivated to invest time and money repairing whatever fell apart.

Early in my employment there the monsoon rains began, and I discovered the roof leaked directly over my desk (and apparently had for years). When my boss seemed utterly disinterested in repairing it, I took my raincoat and rubber ducky to work and sat at my desk, water dripping on my raincoat hood, singing bathtub songs while writing records whenever he was nearby. Tired of my antics, he finally fixed the roof. That’s the level of obnoxious we had to be, as employees, to get anything repaired.

So nothing much became of the dragon’s minor mayhem. I overheard the receptionist complaining the next morning while she was trying to scrub the black claw marks out of the lobby floor. She gave up, and nothing more was said about that. For several hours I was certain I could still smell the scent of the dragon (like moss and soil and trees but also burnt coal and musk and perhaps a bit of skunk and… I’m not even sure what else), but no one else ever noticed, or mentioned anything if they did. The broken molding pieces that I had optimistically propped next to the door frame were ignored for ages and eventually discarded. The door with the bent hinge was perpetually propped open, and it took months for anyone to realize the hinge was damaged. The broken Mayo scissors were eventually missed, but assumed to be misplaced until everyone finally forgot about them. The inventory tech was confused at having to order those drugs again so soon, but no suspicions were raised.

The only serious harm was to my sense of reality. There is nothing like a visit from a dragon to make a person question whether anything they’ve ever known or been taught was factual, and I was truly shaken and disoriented. Eventually I would receive answers and solutions to my questions and doubts, and in time I would reconcile with this “new normal”… but the answers I sought came in the form of more dragons. ?

Share on:

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.

6 thoughts on “First Clinic Encounter”

  1. It is interesting to hear that other people's realities are often looked down on by others because they haven't shared the same unique experiences. Great story and I look forward to the next.

  2. Terrific! Children's book material for sure, you should start looking for a publisher or self-publish. Fantastic, in both senses of the word.

Comments are closed.