The Dragon King’s Medic (pt. 1)

The strong scent of operating-room grade disinfectants didn’t faze Mario Zikmund as he followed the last of the chatting medical assistants through the darkened office, shutting off the remaining lights and closing doors as he went.

I love closing on Fridays. 

As the office manager, it was his duty to balance the needs of the doctors and patients while simultaneously being supervisor, mentor, and referee for the many assistants, techs, and receptionists. Sometimes his job felt like he was trying to herd cats, emus, snails, and an occasional brick, all at once.

I love Fridays, he thought, because I don’t have to come here where I wake up tomorrow.

The assistants, mostly young undergraduate students, pushed out through the glass front door into a crisp winter twilight. They marched with pep into the parking lot, smiling and laughing. None of them said goodbye to Mario.

Mario set the alarm and then stepped outside to lock the door. He thought, This week was rough... 

That was an understatement. 

The doctors were okay with everything... 

That was mostly true. 

The staff came together better than usual. 

Pfft, total lie. 

“But the patients were happy,” Mario said to his reflection in the glass door, “and that’s what matters.” 

Silence settled over the parking lot as the last if the assistants’ flashy cars turned right out of the lot and raced down the service road as a shortcut—like they weren’t supposed to per the posted sign—to the main highway.

That was his favorite part of the day. The stillness of the empty lot. No voices, no problems, no headaches. It soothed his frayed nerves. He walked to a the last car, a white sedan, which was parked in the back under a lamp. Something colorful was tucked under the windshield wiper on the driver’s side.

“Another flier? Seriously?”

Mario pulled a laminated 8×5-inch waste-of-paper from under the wiper. “C’mon, nobody wants these things.” Almost as supporting evidence, dozens of shiny papers strewn around the lot gleamed faintly in the fading daylight. “Take a hint, geez.” 

Grabbing the car door latch, Mario paused.

The flier’s content had been the usual advertisement about… something. Something typical but irrelevant to his life. However, upon removing his eyes from it, he drew a mental blank so abrupt that it surprised him.

Wow, am I really this tired?

He glanced down at the stupid card once more. Yup: typical, irrelevant flier. As he opened the car door, the content slipped his mind again. His eyes widened but he forced himself to let it go. Dropped the card in the floor of his car and climbed in.

“If I’m that tired,” he murmured as he fastened his seat belt, “I might have to sleep all day tomorrow just to de-stress. It’d suck because it’d waste half my weekend but If I need it, then I need it. The sooner I go home and to sleep, the sooner I have to come back…” He looked through the windshield at the darkened medical building. It wasn’t a bad place. But it was kicking his ass. “I need a whole week off. I haven’t taken any PTO since I started, I wonder how much I have saved up.”

Out of curiosity more than anything, he did some calculations in his head. Scowled. “There’s no way.”

Finding a pen in the center console and using the back of a crumpled receipt, he scrawled the same calculations against the steering wheel to make sure he was doing it correctly. He was.

“Holy crap. I have about a month’s worth of unused PTO.” 

Mario could log in to the employee web portal from his laptop and submit the request instantly. Take a few days off here, a week there. He could plan actual vacation things. It’d give him something to look forward to.

He didn’t know when or how it began but, for as long as he could remember, he’d been plagued by guilt when it came to missing a day of school or work for anything other than illness—for anything personal. Taking breaks were for quitters. For slackers. Missing work was for sick, injured, or lazy people. If he wasn’t sick or injured but decided not to show up then he was, by default, lazy. Lazy people irked him nearly as much as rude people; not quite as much, but it was close.

Shoving irrational internal debates aside, Mario made up his work-weary mind. He earned his PTO fair and square, he needed it if he wanted to stay sane, and nothing was going to stop him from taking it. 

A smile crawled across his face. Ideas for future time off began flitting happily through his head. “This is so overdue. Geez, I can’t believe how excited I’m getting about scheduling a few days off. Heh heh.”

Mario started the car and blacked out.

[to be continued…]

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