Do you want me to hold that horse? Sure. Do you want me to pick up that dog? No problem. Yep, I can grab that massive eagle out of the cage.
One week in December: “Hey Brittany, can you watch this baby bearded dragon?” Of course, don’t worry about it. Much to my surprise and embarrassment, this last statement wasn’t true.
I was working evening urgent care during the last week of the fall semester. Evening urgent care is the service that takes in emergency cases from 4PM-11PM. I have never worked emergency medicine before and was excited to learn a lot. One evening, we had a call from an owner who was concerned about their baby-bearded dragon. After discussing the case with the exotic animal veterinarian on call, she was advised by the senior student to bring in the reptile. I have never really worked with reptiles except green iguanas and the occasional snake. Upon arrival the young critter was very lethargic, and we decided to place it under a heat lamp. A physical exam revealed no major abnormalities. The veterinarian and senior student wanted to go discuss options with the owner, and propositioned me with the question above. He was asleep in a little box, and had been so for the past few hours according to the owner. It was pretty easy to just stand there and watch him.
After 15 minutes his eyes opened. He blinked a few times, did a handstand sort of thing, and took a few steps. By this time, my eyes got huge and my pulse started going. I said I would watch the bearded dragon. I never expected to have to do something with it. Mind you, we are in an emergency room and we have a lot going on. Everyone has his or her hands full. I ask one of the senior students: Do these things bite? Her response was sometimes. I ask a follow-up question: How hard? She was distracted and didn’t answer me.
At this point, I’m having a staring contest with the tiny creature. Prior to this evening, I didn’t know what a baby bearded dragon looked like. They might be three inches long and probably cannot open their mouth wide enough to latch on to a hand. However, in that moment I was convinced it was going to launch off the table onto my head. I lost the contest, and the little dragon started scurrying across the table faster than I have ever seen anything move. One of the most respected small animal critical care doctors comes walking over to help me as I am putting my arm across the table trying to prevent it from running off the side. I was so relieved to see him until I got a closer look at his face. He was more scared than I was. “What is this?” he asked in a very high voice.
We then had the following conversation, and our “patient” was momentarily still.
Me: What do we do?
Him: I don’t know.
Me: But you’re the doctor.
Him: I still don’t know what it is.
Me: Well, pick it up.
Him: You pick it up.
Me: stares blankly at him.
Him: Okay, can somebody tell me how to pick this thing up?
Senior student walks over, cups her hands, scoops up the pet and places it in an incubator type cage.
We did not speak of that moment again. I did learn a lot on that rotation: primarily to put small critters that can scurry in the incubator. I also learned that I prefer animals that are heavier than me and can’t hustle up my sleeve in the blink of an eye.