Tech Meets Dragon

Dragon Doc

    Dragons had the canny ability to determine what days I worked and when I was alone at the veterinary clinic. Or more likely, they hid nearby and watched the clinic, keeping track of who entered and left the building. But if dragons were hiding in the area, to my knowledge none of my colleagues or coworkers ever saw them, or believed their eyes if they did. I never heard anyone talk about seeing or hearing anything strange in the sky either. Their stealth is truly remarkable. But regardless of how they accomplished it, the dragons invariably arrived when I was alone.

That is, until the night a dragon turned up while a veterinary technician was there. It was my turn to take emergency call, and I had just sent home a dog, still wobbly from sedation, after removing several hundred porcupine quills from her face. It was close to midnight by the time we finished up. My on-call tech was leaving the clinic through the back door when I heard a short scream, then silence. Since the dragons consistently materialized only when I was alone, I thought it most likely she had encountered one of the local drug addicts in the parking lot, and that concerned me far more than dragons. So I ran to help her. But instead of finding her facing off with an unsavory human, I found her facing off with a dragon.

She was backed into the side of a dog run, pressed hard into the chain link, eyes and mouth wide, car keys dangling from a white-knuckled hand clutched to her chest. The jacket she’d been carrying lay several feet away. She was staring through the open back door in paralyzed fear. Outside the door, an adolescent dragon peered back at her with casual indifference.

Careening across the slick concrete floor between Diane and the dragon, I wheeled around to grab the tech’s shoulders.

“Diane it’s okay! He won’t hurt you.”

Keeping her terrified eyes on the dragon over one of my shoulders, then the other as I tried to block her view, she began to stammer at high volume.

“It’s a… it’s a… that’s a… a….” Her voice was shrill and tremulous with panic as she raised a shaking hand to point.

“Yes it’s a dragon. Diane I know them! I know the dragons. He won’t hurt you.” I glanced over my shoulder at the adolescent, who was now sticking his head through the doorway. He was starting to look agitated from my tech’s panic, and I hoped my assertion that he was harmless wasn’t mistaken.

The tech was so fixated on the dragon, I might as well have been invisible. Shaking her by her shoulders, I tried to get her to focus on me. “Diane! Look at me. Listen… I know it’s terrifying. Yes it’s a dragon. Yes they’re real. They come here—they come to me—for veterinary care. I promise you will be okay.”

No sound from her. She gaped at me in shock and disbelief.

“Look—just—stay right here. Stay here! I’ll find out what our dragon needs.”

Backing slowly away from Diane, afraid she might start screaming or run and frighten our visitor, I coaxed the young dragon to withdraw his head from the doorway and follow me to the corner of the parking lot, separated from the side street by several short palm trees.

As I evaluated the dragon, talking to him softly to calm him down, I kept one ear toward the clinic. Expecting any moment to hear the slam of Diane’s pickup door and her frenzied flight out of the parking lot, I was surprised to see her slowly and tentatively creep to within a few feet of me and the dragon.

She froze there, silent and motionless, staring wide-eyed at me and the dragon in turns as I examined him. Nothing yet was obviously amiss. The dragon was quite young and not entirely cooperative, plus he was distracted by Diane and kept looking in her direction. Evidently he wasn’t going to just show me what was bothering him. But he kept subtly chewing and chomping his teeth, and I concluded something must be going on in his mouth.

Hesitating, I considered how best to proceed. I’d been leery of spending much time near dragons’ mouths or noses, finding them quite intimidating. My trepidation was not at all alleviated when a dragon sneezed flames onto my foot several months prior, scorching my shoe. How fire breathing and other breath weapons worked was still a mystery to me, and I wasn’t sure whether opening the mouth or handling anything in there might inadvertently trigger flames or a horrible burnt skunky smell.

And to be honest, dragon’s teeth were simply… scary. Imagine the teeth of an alligator, but much larger, and with fire spewing from between the jaws. Or skunk breath, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

Okay let’s figure this out. Taking a deep breath, I persuaded the dragon to face toward open pavement, and away from me, Diane, and anything flammable, and open his mouth wide. It required some convincing, but he eventually complied.

Cautiously I approached his head from the side and peeked at the dragon’s formidable teeth. Would be nice to have a giant tongue depressor. An idea popped into my head and I scanned around the parking lot, looking for a discarded pallet from the clinic or the adjacent business. A pallet board would make a perfect dragon-sized tongue depressor.

But no pallet was to be found, and I’d have to do without. All the teeth and gums on the left side seemed to be normal, as far as I could tell. I spent a few moments examining how the teeth were arrayed, trying to distinguish between incisors, canines, premolars and molars. All the teeth were pointed, so it was difficult to tell the different types apart.

Several of the teeth along the mandible appeared to be only half-emerged from the gum line. Was the dragon just getting his adult teeth? No, teeth farther back in the jaw appeared mature and even had some tartar on them. I wondered whether dragons grew multiple sets of teeth. Vaguely I remembered some bit of knowledge from veterinary school about alligators and crocodiles, and how a replacement tooth would emerge after the original tooth was damaged or diseased; polyphyodont was the term, I thought. Were dragon teeth similar? That would make sense, considering alligators and crocodiles, and dragons too (I hypothesized), were all throwbacks to dinosaurs. I made a mental note to study crocodile dentition.

The young dragon’s mouth remained gaped wide, and he bobbed his head with impatience. A diagnosis still eluded me. There was a foul odor from the mouth, but I honestly didn’t know what dragons’ mouths normally smelled like. I’d been struck by a dragon’s breath weapon in the past (fortunately not fire), and the stench was absolutely horrid. So perhaps this degree of halitosis was normal for him?

Imploring the dragon to remain still, I carefully moved to the other side, taking a wide berth around what I imagined would be the dragon’s “strike zone.” No flames appeared. I exhaled.

Slowly I approached the other side of his open mouth, and there was the issue. A tooth near the front of the mandible – the canine tooth perhaps? – was fractured deep into the crown. The surrounding gingiva, or gum tissue, was swollen and angry red. Tentatively I retracted the lower lip to see the swelling extending deep into the lower tissues and then, wincing, I cautiously pushed his tongue away from the inner side of the tooth. The tongue was rough and sticky on my finger tips. A bit of pus was nestled around the fractured tooth. My nose wrinkled at the smell.

Periodontal disease and fractured teeth are common in dogs and cats, and I was accustomed to seeing tooth root abscesses in those species. For my typical patients I’d prescribe antibiotics and pain medications and plan to extract the affected tooth or teeth soon. But what to do for a tooth root abscess in a dragon? Medications I could handle. But I hadn’t yet experimented with sedation or anesthesia in dragons, nor did the clinic have dental instruments large enough to extract a tooth of this size. Nor did I know anything about dentition in dragons. If there was a replacement tooth emerging from below, would I damage that tooth by extracting the fractured one? Should I even try?

My inner debate went on for some time. Backing away a few steps, I told the dragon he could close his mouth. Two of my fingers itched and tingled where I’d touched the dragon’s tongue. Dammit, I really needed to start carrying exam gloves in my pockets.

Having decided on an action plan, I asked the dragon to wait as I turned to fetch medications from the clinic, then came up short as I encountered Diane, still unmoving several feet away. I’d been so focused on the dragon, I nearly forgot she was there.

The tech’s eyes were hollow and haunted, her jaw slack and lips slightly gapped open. She looked horrible. Her entire reality had just crashed down, much as it had for me a few years before. Had I looked this terrible when I first saw a dragon? Well to be fair, I was sick with severe altitude sickness when I FIRST saw a dragon, so there’s no question that I didn’t look so great. But what about the second time, when a dragon first showed up at the clinic? Had I looked this awful then? I shuddered to think that indeed, I likely had.

“Diane, I’m going into the clinic to get meds for this guy. Want to come with me?” I spoke gently to her, empathizing with her panic and turmoil.

Keeping her eyes on the dragon, she faintly shook her head.

“So… that means you’ll be alone with him for a few minutes. Are you comfortable with that?”

Moments passed. She subtly nodded, then again with more emphasis, eyes still on the dragon instead of me. Well then. The dragon terrified her just 20 minutes or so ago, and now she’s okay being alone with him. That’s some considerable courage.

“I’ll be right back, okay?…. Just think, Diane, you have llamas at home that spit at you. You can handle this little guy.” The corner of her mouth twitched. Did she just almost smile?

Stepping away, I watched to make sure the dragon and Diane both stayed put until I disappeared through the back door of the clinic. Worried about what might transpire in the parking lot in my absence, I practically sprinted to the pharmacy shelves. Antibiotics… oh, how much does this little guy weigh? Maybe 800, 900 lbs? Probably at least 800… pain medications… maybe a local anesthetic? Sure, why not… I grabbed a bottle of injectable bupivacaine and a syringe, then my lunch bag from the break room.

Drawing up the local anesthetic drug on the run, I hurried back to the parking lot, numbers swimming in my head as I mentally calculated drug dosages. About 50 feet away I stopped and walked slowly and deliberately toward the dragon and Diane, both of which were in about the same spot where I’d left them, suspiciously eyeing each other. Realizing I was panting, I paused for several deep breaths. The last thing I needed was to spook the dragon into further terrifying my technician.

Explaining to the dragon what I needed to do, I coaxed him to open his mouth again and carefully squirted the topical anesthetic onto the exposed angry tooth pulp. That would reduce the pain while the oral medications were taking effect. He shook his head and slid his tongue past the tooth several times, squelching as he tasted the bupivacaine, then closed his mouth and quietly chomped. He reminded me very much of a horse at that moment, and I laughed.

“See, Diane? Dragons are a lot like horses. Only with wings and claws and fire-breathing abilities.”

The technician blanched and retreated several steps. Oops, sorry. Apparently she hadn’t considered the possibility of fire-breathing.

Turning back to the dragon, I convinced him to swallow a bunch of the antibiotic and pain medications right then and there, mashed into my leftover half sandwich from dinner. He was so young and flighty, and I wanted to make sure he could do what I asked. Satisfied that he was able, and hoping he would keep it up according to my directions, I sent him off into the night with the bottles of tablets.

Diane gazed wide-eyed at the bit of sky where the dragon had disappeared, scanning back and forth to catch another glimpse.

“You won’t see him now, they’re too talented at disappearing. Magnificent, isn’t he?”

She looked at me. “I don’t… understand what that—what just—happened.”

Oh man, I’d been there. And I’d had no one in whom to confide.

Agonizing how best to help Diane, I debated what to do. Should I drive her home right away? Sit down in the clinic and talk? Call a therapist for an appointment first thing tomorrow? At minimum it looked like she needed a really stiff drink. I glanced at my watch. It was nearly one in the morning.

For the one and only time in my career, I took a technician to the bar. And worse, we were both still on call.

I’ll fill you in on the details of our bar conversation another time, but suffice to say it was a rough night for Diane. Everyone processes seeing an “imaginary” creature differently, and each person adjusts to that new reality in his or her own manner; or, in some cases, doesn’t adjust at all. Having gone through that crisis myself, I wanted to support Diane through it too. But it was completely new territory for me to no longer be the only person aware of dragons’ existence. And whatever Diane decided to do with that knowledge remained to be seen. ?

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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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