This week marked a monumental, life changing event for me. No, I didn’t have a birthday, neither of my kids graduated and I did not change jobs. Dr. Jim Hildebrand, DVM, retired. Dr. Hildebrand was my vet, or more specifically my animals’ vet. Oh sure, we had used other vets, when Doc was fishing or otherwise detained, but that was a very, very rare event. He is right at the top of my speed dial list.
To say that I had a long standing doctor/client relationship with Dr. Hildebrand would be an understatement. Jim and Callie moved to Wamego when I was two or three and my parents quickly became friends with the Hildebrands. Their son Gus and I were the same age and he was one of my oldest and best friends. We also went to church together, and I am absolutely certain some of the older members of our church went to their graves not knowing for sure which one of us was which.
Many of my earliest 4-H memories include Jim. He had a gentle, comforting way of breaking the worst news in the kindest way. Little things like don’t give your Grand Champion rabbit penicillin because rabbits are deathly allergic (advise we should have sought out before the shot). Over the years he helped my 4-H projects overcome everything from warts to chronic bloating. I learned a lot about animal health and husbandry from him.
He, Gus, Dad and I spent many afternoons hunting or fishing and those were some of my greatest outdoor memories. Did I mention how patient Doc is? When Gus and I were in our early teens he decided to teach us how to fly fish. Teaching a teenage boy anything is difficult and teaching them how to fly fish should get you sainted. His success rate was 50% on that endeavor, Gus ended up being an avid fly fisherman and I got good at untangling knots.
My junior year of high school I acquired a bird dog. I was so proud of Dot that I took her everywhere with me. Then, suddenly she got sick. I made a frantic call to Dr. Hildebrand and took the comatose body of my puppy to him. He reassured me that he would do all he could and kept her at the clinic. The next morning he called me to tell me that she had made it through the night and might survive. She did survive and lived to the ripe old age of thirteen. Dr. Hildebrand was my hero.
Remember how I said he had a way of reassuring you and making everything seem OK. Well, there was one phone call that was different. The night he called me to tell me Gus had passed away and asked me to be a pallbearer was hard on both of us. Even then he and Callie helped all of us close to Gus deal with a loss like we had never experienced and move on with grace and dignity.
As a young rancher Jim helped me understand how to take care of my animals. No matter how frantic or stupid (most often both at the same time) my questions were, he gave me the answer using the wisdom of a country vet who had seen it all. Jim knew when to keep trying with a sick animal and when to show them mercy.
In recent years, my kids have leaned on Dr. Hildebrand for their 4-H projects and corresponding emergencies. He has guided them through broken legs, prolapses, nutritional issues and various other maladies that befall pampered 4-H show animals. He passed along bad news and good news in the same calm, soothing manner.
He has even inspired my son, Isaac, to want to be a vet. Isaac has spent many hours over the years working on vet science projects for 4-H with Dr. Hildebrand. Dr. Hildebrand always took just a little extra time to show Isaac what he was doing and how to do it. I am sure Isaac will be a big animal vet just like Jim; however, we are probably still 10 years or so away from that day.
Dr. Hildebrand has more than earned the right to spend his days doing anything but roping cows out of the back of pickups and delivering their calves out in the pasture. Maybe he will even have the time to re-teach a 40 something the fine art of fly fishing. I am sure the patient is still there and I am also sure the kind, down-to-earth advice is still there when I need it. However, in the meantime I just have to figure out what I am going to do for veterinary emergencies between now and Isaac’s graduation.