From a Dragon Doctor’s Case Files
I ran my hand over the scales on his neck. The sharp edges threatened to cut into my skin. A small cloud of dust rose from under my fingers.
He smelled of burnt gunpowder.
I jumped when he turned his great head around to look at his side over my shoulder. The heat of his breath was hot on my neck. Small tendrils of smoke rose in front of my eyes. I must have touched a painful spot because suddenly, he snorted. A cloud of fine white ash floated down around us. I listened to his laboured breathing. He was in pain. I could hear him crunch his teeth, somewhere just behind my left ear.
At the base of his wing, the scales were smaller and felt somewhat softer. As my hand moved towards the tip of his wing, there was a sharp indrawing of breath behind me. I looked closer, but I could see no obvious wound. I carefully and very slowly ran both my hands over the bones in his wing. He grunted so loudly that for a few seconds, I was completely deaf.
My hands, more used to examining human bones, found one end of a large bone, bigger and longer but probably much lighter than a human femur. I listened to his breathing as my hands moved down the shaft of the bone. The moment he started breathing faster, I felt it. Shards. Splinters. Heat. The largest bone in his wing was badly broken.
I turned my head and looked into his sad, soulful eyes. We both knew what this meant. He was going to die. Without thinking, I put my arms around his neck. I felt his massive hearts thumping against mine. I could not hold him long; the heat of his body would give me third-degree burns within minutes. I let him go and stood back. He sighed, closed his eyes and with the rattling sound of a thousand scales shifting, he let his head fall into the dust.
I am a doctor. My job is to cure and if that is not possible, to ease suffering. I did not know how to ease his pain. My throat constricted, tears burnt in the corner of my eyes. Couldn’t give up, just couldn’t. Had to find a way. Tried to think. What would I do with a broken femur? A case like this would need external fixation. There was enough discarded metal lying around on this rarely-used airfield in the middle of the desert to make this a viable option. I searched through the rubble and found two flat pieces of some or other alloy, light and long enough to do the job. I found screws and bolts in a tin on a shelf. Took me a bit longer to find an electric drill and even longer to find an extension cord and a power socket that worked.
The dragon had not moved. His injured wing lay useless at his side. This would be a good position if he could keep still while I worked. The problem was that I had nothing I could use as an anaesthetic. This happened in the early days when I still had no inkling of how to put a dragon to sleep. I trudged round to his head and sank down, uphill from his scorching breath.
“Balthazar,” I said. He opened one liquid emerald green eye. “Balthazar, I want to try to help you.” He opened the other eye and lifted his huge, heavy head to look at me, without much hope. “I want to try to immobilise the broken bone in your wing. It will hurt, a lot, and I have nothing here that I can use to dull the pain.” He looked at me for a long time. Then he raised himself so that he was lying on his tummy, with his wing still spread out to his side. I realised that he was making an effort to control his breathing, to breathe slowly and deeply. I had a strange feeling. It felt as if he was withdrawing into himself. His breathing became measured and steady; his body temperature fell. His hearts, one by one, started beating slower and slower.
I wondered. Was this a form of self-hypnosis? As I said, I did not know much about dragons at the time. I did know about the external fixation of bones, so I took the electric drill and drilled four holes, one at the end of each shaft of metal, big enough for the bolts and screws I found to fit snugly.
I considered the cold dragon. The next step was going to be dangerous. I would have to drill two holes through the broken wing bone, one at each end. Luckily, there was no displacement, though broken, the alignment of the bone was intact. I stopped to pray, that I would survive this intervention and that I would be successful in my attempt to help the dragon.
Nothing to use as an antiseptic either.
It was difficult to drill through the scales, but once through, the drill went through thin wing bone like a hot knife through butter. Several drops of blood, the colour of liquid gold, fell to the ground. The dragon never stirred.
Fixing the metal shafts in place with the screws was a simple affair, and I soon sat back on my haunches to take a critical look at my work. Maybe I should see if I could find some metal wire to tie the ends of the bones to the metal shafts? I decided against it.
Everything now depended on whether the dragon would be able to fly with this contraption attached to his wing. If a dragon can not fly, he can not regulate his body temperature and would soon go up in flames. That much I did know.
How to wake the dragon? No idea either, so I tried the first one that came to mind and shouted, “Balthazar!” as loudly as I could. Clearly, that was not the right way to go about it, because he woke with deafening roar and flapping of wings that knocked me over, flat onto my back, out for the count.
I came to eventually and found myself staring up a sooth-blackened nostril, sniffing at me delicately. When Balthazar saw that I was awake, he looked rather relieved. Rubbing the back of my head, I scrambled up and ambled round him to have a look at his wing. The contraption held fast. The wing was folded neatly at his side, back in its normal anatomical position.
He tentatively lifted his magnificent wings high above his head. He swept his wings down gracefully, mimicking flight. Everything held. From the thunderous frown between his eyes, I knew that the movement was extremely painful. He looked at me warningly and motioned, by lifting his chin, that I should stand back. I did, promptly. He stretched his wings to his sides. His wingspan must have been at least 30 metres. His scales rippled and sparkled in the bright sunlight. He took a deep, ragged breath and launched himself into the air. He managed to stay airborne for about three minutes. I could see how much that short flight cost him, but he had proven to himself that he could still do it. His demeanour changed. Back was the proud dragon I knew, with a twinkle in his eye and fire in his belly.
It took many months to heal and about three years before the wing was fully functional again. I know this is no more than anecdotal evidence, but I have written all this down here in case any of my fellow-doctors ever have to treat a dragon with a broken wing. I hope you find this useful.
Dr Margaretha Montagu is a recycled medical doctor, a rogue writer of self-help books and passable presenter of mindfulness and meditation retreats. She lives on a small farm in the not-always sun-blessed south of France with five opinionated horses and two battle-scarred dragons. All her books are horse-inspired, subtly French- flavoured and hopefully life-enriching. She shares her somewhat-outlandish ideas with you on her blog, Medium, Twitter and LinkedIn. To connect with Margaretha, her horses and her dragons, follow her here on Medium or subscribe to her blog.