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Dr. Ryan

By Bill Stork, DVM

I'mworking on a theory that if you dig a little, most people are prettyamazing.

Inthe University of Illinois class of 1992, we had Joe Whalen, who is afar superior veterinarian and college quarterback than limousine driver, alongwith "Natural" Dave Rosen, the second ranked light heavy weightkickboxer in the world, and "Sparks" Revenaugh, a Seattle streetmusician who is now a premier equine specialist. Not to be forgotten are aformer Marine, a Cajun Chef, a half dozen farmers, a beer truckdriver from Chicago... and Chris Ryan.

Notdissimilar to any rite of passage or apprenticeship, in four years ofVeterinary school your world gets pretty small. You become familiar with everywater fountain, vending machine and pair of chairs that can be pushedtogether for a seven minute nap, memorizing the cracks in the concretepath between basic sciences and the clinic.

Oneday Chris asked if I knew of any good ponds nearby. After six years inChampaign-Urbana and having worked in a tackle store only 40 minutes away, Iwas primed to help my friend.

"Dr.Nelson has a great little pond with a lot of nice bass, and there is one byMahommet with some slab-sized crappie, guaranteed." I held out my handusing my fingers to mark Interstates 72 and 74, making Sharpie dots on mypalm to mark the exact locations of the little lakes so he could drivestraight there.

"Ifyou have a little more time there is a pond over by Farmer City that hassome beautiful blue gills," I finished.

Alwayspolite, he drawled, "Ahh Bill, I really appreciate it, but that's alot of work. Which one is best for sittin' next to, drinkin' a beer, and takin'a nap?"

Itmay have taken a half-pot of espresso roast and a Red Bull to revChris all the way up to laid back, but he was a man of clear purpose and threepriorities: veterinary medicine, anything involving a ball, and sleep.

Adiligent student, 20 years later he is an outstanding agent of animalhealth and welfare in "the hog capital of the world".

Asfor sports, you could invent a new one over breakfast and Chris would kickyour butt after lunch. Like Happy Gilmore in surgical scrubs, he wouldtake one full step sideways, and drive a golf ball into nextsemester. Lob him a softball and he would crank it into the nearest cowpasture simply so he didn't have to run so fast around the bases. Which isnot to say he couldn't.

Then,there was sleep. Power naps, catnaps, or seven-minute naps were forrookies. Dr. Ryan scheduled his sleep with the commitmentand conviction of national board exams or kidney dialysis. "HeyChris, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are going to be serving free Guinness andbacon cheeseburgers at Murphy's on May 5th!" May 5 may have beenthree weeks in the future, but it was after a long stretch of final exams."Ahh Bill, I really appreciate the offer, but I'm gonna be sleeping then."

OnMay 15, 1992 we crossed the stage at the Krannert Center for the PerformingArts, shook hands with Dr. Erwin Small, and accepted ourdiplomas. We raised our right hands in oath, switched our tasselsfrom left to right, and where students had stood were 78 newlygraduated veterinarians. Some moved to Wisconsin, some back to school tospecialize.

Chriswent to Henry County, Illinois, a bucolic heartland potpourri ofagriculture both new and old, and home to a number of Amish farms. By way ofdedication, demeanor and skill-set, Chris was exquisitely suited toserve the community, or so it would seem.

Bymy way of thinking, one of the best ways to ensure maximum productivity isto have some sort of victory lap at the end of the day. There is an art andscience to it: the little release needs to be significant enough to feelrewarding, but doable on a daily basis.

OneMonday evening, Dr. Ryan strolled to his mailbox, pinky wrapped around aBudweiser longneck in the hand that cradled the day's mail, faded flannel shirtuntucked, unbuttoned and flapping in the breeze. As he flipped through solicitationsfrom the alumni association and flyers from Kohl's, he stopped dead in hisblack leather work boots.

Aplain white postcard, with letters bolded and blocked, "DOC, COMEQUICK, COW HAVING TROUBLE CALVING." Yoder farm.

Throughrain, snow, sleet and hail, the United States Postal Service will deliver.However, they will not move an envelope six inches onSunday. It had been at least two days since the smoke signal had beensent.

Abit apprehensive, Chris approached the iconic red hip-roof barn. A hordeof formally dressed Amish children swarmed his truck as he rolled into thedoor yard. Nearly pulling the door off his 4WD Ranger, the kids exclaimed,"Oh thank you, thank you for coming so quickly."

Thechildren's gratitude was trumped only by the look of helplessness in the bigbrown eyes of the crossbred Jersey. From her back side protruded a calf,bawling and sucking, oblivious to the novelty of her first three days oflife. Birtha was quite ready to be done with it.

Thecow had begun to deliver on Saturday morning, but when she progressed topushing the calf's pelvis through her own, they became locked like a 3-D puzzle.Never satisfied with the obvious, veterinary taxonomists call this "hiplocked."

For72 hours without rest, the children had diligently propped three bales of strawunder the calf each time the cow stood, and removed them when she lay backdown.

Dr.Ryan scuffed his shoes on the barn lime and stroked his whiskers, nodding as ifthat's the way it happens every day. Minutes later, he had delivered thelast quarter of the calf. The children rejoiced, Birtha was relieved,and the vet is still shaking his head, 20 years later.

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