Tech in Crisis

Dragon Doc

  Meeting a dragon can be terrifying. Luckily my first exposure to dragons happened when my brain was impaired due to acute mountain sickness, so I was fascinated rather than frightened. Granted, I was petrified later when the same dragon came along once my brain was back to normal function. But at the least my mind-altered state during the first introduction helped soften the impact, I think. 

My veterinary technician, Diane, wasn’t so lucky. She’d just been accosted by a dragon outside the veterinary clinic, and so far the experience appeared to be absolutely horrifying for her. I hoped she’d come to appreciate the remarkable winged creatures as much as I did — of course, first she had to reconcile with the fact that dragons were real, just as I had — but in the meantime she was stunned and miserable. Diane really needed a drink, and I wanted to help her, so off to the bar we went.

It was early in the week, so fortunately there wasn’t much of a crowd, but the small group of people at the bar had clearly indulged in several drinks. We found an out-of-the-way table in a back corner where no one could easily listen in, away from the drunken rowdiness up front. Classic rock thumped in the background, guitar wailing. The bar would remain open for just over an hour. Needing to stay sober to drive and see other emergency patients if needed, I ordered a whiskey for Diane and iced tea for me. Although I would have loved a stiff drink as well.

Diane stared into her drink. Excusing myself, I exited to the parking lot, wincing as I called other veterinary technicians. Apologizing for the late hour, I implored anyone to please take over on-call since Diane “wasn’t feeling well.” By the second call I had a sleepy and reluctant taker, and returned inside to inform my traumatized technician that she was off duty for the night. She vacantly nodded her head and murmured “Thank you.”

Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” flowed from the speakers. Diane looked numb, but certainly not comfortable, I thought wryly.

She didn’t seem to know what to say. So I started telling stories about dragons and how I’d come to be a dragon veterinarian. Pool balls sharply cracked across the bar, shouts and cheers intruded, and I raised and lowered my voice to keep pace with the shifting background noise.

Diane already knew the tale of my dragon “hallucination” from altitude sickness on the mountain. I told her the deeper truth, that the dragon was real, that she’d visited me at the veterinary clinic and later brought others. And then more and more dragons came. By this time, I had treated two dozen or so different dragons.

In the beginning I’d been terror-struck too, I assured her. But the dragons were such incredible beings, and it was just so crazy, so wild, so utterly unbelievable to think that they existed, and yet they do. And the dragons really do get less intimidating with time, I promised. I felt so privilege to have been let into their world— Diane flicked her eyes at me. She didn’t look like she felt so fortunate.

The tech downed the first whiskey, then another, absently pushing the glass in circles on the table while she listened to me, staring blankly at the table or into her glass. The bar was closing and we made our way out, avoiding the small but loud group of inebriated revelers in the parking lot. Some guy wolf-whistled in our direction, and I shot a poisoned glance his way as we got in my car, resisting the urge to raise a middle finger. Pausing for several moments in the driver’s seat, I stared through the windshield and fantasized about “siccing” dragons on drunken morons, until my passenger pointedly looked at me. Guiltily I started the car.

Driving Diane to her farmhouse outside of town, I tried to get some feedback from her. She possessed a thousand-yard stare, and I couldn’t tell what her state of mind was. But she wasn’t interested in talking, so finally I let her be, focusing on the road slipping quickly away past my headlights. My Volkswagen still smelled a bit like burnt rubber and skunk spray thanks to a dragon’s breath weapon months ago, but I thought it best not to mention that.

The tech sat for a few moments after I’d pulled into her driveway. I turned off the engine and waited. Finally she turned to me, eyes shadowed and haunted, and said, “I just really don’t know what to think.”

“Diane, that’s okay. You don’t have to know what to think. At first I didn’t know either. So take your time. And… call me anytime if you want to talk.”

Without another word, she exited my car and walked up the steps to her porch. I waited until she was inside and the door was closed before backing out of her driveway to drive home.

Just as I reached my own driveway, my phone rang. Swearing, I picked up. It had already been a long and stressful night, and I wasn’t sure I had the reserves to see another emergency.


“Yeah, I got a question.”


“Can I put Neosporin on my cat?”

A glance at my watch revealed it was just after 3 a.m. People never cease to amaze me.

“…. …. Well yes, but—”

“Okay thanks.” <click>

I let loose with more profanity. Why someone felt compelled to call at 3 a.m. to ask about Neosporin was beyond me, but this kind of stuff happened on an infuriatingly regular basis. The poor cat probably had a bite wound abscess and really needed to be seen, at least the following day if not that night, but they had ended the call before that conversation could happen. 

It occurred to me, had I been awakened from a sound sleep by that phone call, I would have been even more irritated. People must think that a cadre of veterinarians spend their careers doing nothing but answer random questions during the night and sleep all day. But it’s not true. We work all day, answer the phone and see patients all night, then most often work the next day too. And I had to be to work in — another look at my watch — less than five hours. Diane was scheduled to work that day too, I was pretty sure.

However Diane called in sick to work that morning.

And again the next, although by then her pickup truck had disappeared from the parking lot.

Those two days I spent constantly worrying about her and also about the dragons. What would happen now that someone else knew of their existence? What if Diane told others? Would anyone believe her? I’d have to corroborate her story, because my conscience wouldn’t let me do otherwise. What then? Would I lose my job? Would I be able to find another, or would my reputation precede me? Would Diane be fired, or would she quit? Should I call her? Or just leave her alone? It was all a huge complicated mess.

On the other hand, I had a glimmer of hope that Diane might become an ally in my crazy complicated side job. It would be great to have someone to help. Even just someone to talk to about the dragons, to commiserate about the many challenges and dangers of dragon medicine. Someone who took the dragons seriously, unlike my husband who was convinced they were a joke. 

The following day Diane was back at work, quieter than usual and looking pinched and pale, but otherwise seemed her normal self. When I finally had a moment alone with her in an exam room, I broached the subject, eager to know where her mind was at.

“Hey, about the dragons, I—”

Her reaction was instantaneous and vehement. “Not a WORD!” She hissed. “I don’t want to hear anything, ever, about… dragons.” She cringed at the term. “Not ever, understand me?!”

Diane’s forceful response left me taken aback, but I could understand her sentiment. It made me sad that she wouldn’t be the ally I’d hoped for, but at least she seemed to be doing okay (as far as I could tell), and it appeared the secret of the dragons was safe with her. Thoughtfully, I nodded. Certainly I could respect her wishes.

“Okay I get it, not a word.”

Diane and I continued to work together at the same clinic for years, and never once did we discuss dragons again. It would have been great to have an assistant and confidant for my clandestine dragon medicine activities, but it was good enough not to have lost my job, or Diane’s job, or both. 

With some chagrin, I noticed that Diane made every effort never to be on-call for emergencies the same nights I was. And on the occasion when she couldn’t avoid an on-call shift with me, and we saw a “normal” dog or cat emergency together, she would finish up as quickly as she could and practically dash out of the building, driving away as urgently as possible. Ah well, I really couldn’t blame her. ? 

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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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