My Visit With An Old Friend

By Dr. Randy Lange

July 13, 2018

It wasn’t that long, but it seemed like we hadn’t seen each other for a long, long time.  As I pulled up outside his new home I have to admit I wondered how my old friend had been doing.  I thought I should have come sooner, but this is the busiest time of year at work, and you know how it is, there’s always something that prevents you from making the time to visit an elderly friend.  Having never been apart from him for almost 26 years I felt not only lonely but guilty:  guilty about uprooting him from his home of twenty five-plus years and then moving him unexpectedly to a totally new home in a different part of town.  I felt guilty that his move could lead to severe emotional and physical stress which could then be a stepping stone to a cascade of events leading to illness or worse. I had assured him that he would be fine, that it would just take a while for him to adjust to a new home and new friends, but I knew he didn’t understand.  He wanted to stay in his home, and even though I hoped he would understand, I’m sure he was totally confused.  I knew this move had to be done, and yet I felt sure he was struggling.  As the days and weeks passed I wondered and worried as I waited for that dreaded phone call from his caretaker advising me that he wouldn’t eat and seemed to be slowing down, and he wouldn’t socialize with his new friends and seemed to be giving up.  The more I thought about him the worse I felt.

Well.  Enough of that!  Gotta go see my friend!  I got out of my car, exhaled deeply then made my way to the front door of his new home, pushed the door open, felt the coolness of air conditioning, then peered in and made my way to the front desk.  A pleasant young lady behind the desk smiled and asked if she could help me.  I explained somewhat sheepishly that I was here to visit my old friend, and could she take me to him?  I told her he had been with them for a while and when I mentioned his name and his age she said she didn’t recall him and wasn’t sure where he was.  Just then a young male attendant walked by and I asked if he knew my friend?  When I mentioned his age he laughed and smiled as if a light had just come on!  He quickly spun around, changed directions and started walking towards the back.   “Come with me!  I know exactly where he is!”  I smiled and followed him and he stopped, pointed to our left and said, “He’s in there.”

I slowly approached my friend and again wondered if he would even recognize me.  With advanced age he had developed cataracts and I wasn’t sure he would be able to tell it was me.  I walked up, bent over, and saw that my friend had his back to me.  Gosh, I thought, he’s probably not even going to want to see me, and if he did, he probably can’t see me.

Oh, well.  Here goes!  Still bent over, I got really close to the glass and shouted loudly, “Hey, Buck, how ya doing today?”

What happened next gave me chill bumps and brought tears to my eyes.  Buck quickly turned around and with a quick flip of his tail shot out of the opposite corner and made a beeline to me, nuzzling his nose up against the glass, staying there and staring at me through his cloudy eyes.  He suspended himself with only his lateral fins moving, and seemed to be in a state of suspended animation.  I placed my hand up against my side of the glass and he followed it as I moved it left and right, then up and down.  Is he really following me, or am I imagining this whole thing?  I repeated the exercise again and believe it or not, my old friend responded in the same manner again!  Buck finally moved to the back of his new home, but just for an instant.  I briefly stepped away from his aquarium and he must have thought I was leaving as he quickly burst again to front and center, all the time keeping his eyes on me.

By now I’m standing in the dark, goose bumps all over, wondering how to make sense of this?

It can’t just be coincidence and it can’t be dumb luck that Buck followed me again and again, or was it?

I choose to believe that Buck knew me, recognized me, and showed me as only a fish can that he was happy to see me again.  I stood there in the dark room full of many beautiful aquariums with thousands of colorful and exotic fish, and I realized that more of God’s creatures crave man’s attention than I previously thought.  I now realized that after so many years of life-sharing together, Buck and I had made a connection few fish and people make.  My friend Buck had never really left home—I think he knew he had simply been taking a short vacation, all the while knowing his friend, Dr. Randy, would one day come and pick him up and take him to a new and better place to call home.

I thought after over 40 years of practicing veterinary medicine I had experienced just about everything one could experience pertaining to our non-human friends, but today I was amazed and actually quite touched by something that is too cool for anyone to even make up.

Almost four weeks ago our large aquarium which divides the dog and cat waiting room at Lange Animal Hospital developed a leak which could quickly be catastrophic to the fish residing within.  Fortunately, we discovered the leak and contacted our friends who take care of our fish and our aquarium, they immediately responded and saved us from both a larger mess in the reception area but more importantly, they were able to remove our fish and transport them to the Aquarium (on Weisgarber Road in the Bearden area) for safe boarding until a new aquarium could be built to replace the 25-year-old aquarium which was built and placed in our hospital in 1993.

When Rick and I placed the aquarium in our new animal hospital I  ‘93, we picked out several really special fish, all very small and new to their new habitat.  Two of these fish were red tailed tinfoil barb fish, both very small (less than 2 inches in length) and both fun to watch in the tank.  They both thrived and got bigger and bigger, and when mature they dominated the whole tank.  Other fish seemed to know not to mess with the barb boys!  The two entertained thousands of people over the years, and like all of us, Mother Time passes and they both aged.  We lost the first of these two fish three years ago, after he passed away at 22 years of age.  And, believe it or not, we still have Buck, the king of our aquarium even at the ripe old age of 25 years old.

The story I just shared is true, and I am still contemplating what it really means.  I think just for an instant I was blessed to be an important part of a life that most wouldn’t even think could show emotion or react to anything other than food.  But what happened today convinces me that we truly have a very limited understanding of many of God’s creatures, and I am thankful He allowed me to take one step into a time and place where a very special fish and a simple man seemed for an instant to connect.  A fish?  A man?  Who would’ve thought!

All of us at Lange Animal Hospital are thankful to have shared Buck with countless people over his 25+ years, and we are counting the days until his return.  His new home will be even better and we look forward to sharing his remaining time together.

Hmmm…  I wonder what 25 human years is in fish years?

Guess we’ll just wait until Buck comes home—I’m sure he knows!