James Rising is a Renaissance man’s Renaissance man.
He’s a family doctor, veterinarian, engineer, pilot and former Navy flight surgeon.
“When you get more initials behind your name than you have in front of it, then it’s time to quit,” Rising said with a chuckle recently at his home on the shore of Hauser Lake.
Rising, 51, will start work soon at the Silver Valley Medical Center, a struggling Silverton hospital that re-opened in December 1994 after three years in mothballs.
Rising looks the epitome of the country doctor, with his boots, flannel shirt and graying beard. And it’s not play-acting - he’s neutered the neighbor’s cats and sutured a horse that tangled with some barbed wire.
He stitched up the thumb a neighbor boy sliced open with a new jackknife. He delivered a friends’ puppies, then prescribed an anti-inflammatory for the owner’s arthritic shoulder.
“I don’t mind being called a country doctor or a horse doctor,” he said. “I’m a small-town person.”
Hospital officials have said recruiting another doctor is key to the success of the hospital, which now relies almost entirely on Dr. Chris Christensen.
With Dr. Rising, hospital board member Robin Stanley said, the medical center expects to increase the number of patients and services.
“It’s really exciting for a hospital that was on its knees even a year and a half ago,” said Stanley.
An Illinois farm boy, Rising worked for a veterinarian during high school. Some nights he’d sleep in barn stalls next to sick horses.
“You’ve seen ‘All Creatures Great and Small?’ It was that kind of practice,” he said.
“You’d see great big guys come in with little bitty dogs that were beyond saving, and would have to the euthanized. The guy would just be standing there with tears in his eyes.”
He graduated from veterinary school at the University of Illinois in 1966. Then, to indulge his fascination with bone structure and movement, he went to engineering school.
He decided he wanted to become a physician. But in 1969, he had three degrees, a 4-year-old daughter and a lot of college loans to pay off.
“Funds were short. I decided to go into (veterinary) practice for a few years, maybe five,” he said.
He liked it. He liked operating on dachshunds or beagles paralyzed by spinal problems, allowing them to walk again. When one dog’s paralysis was too severe to fix, Rising stripped the wheels off his daughter’s doll carriage, and made a tiny cart for the dog to lie on.
Rising liked being a veterinarian so much that the five years he’d planned to work turned into 17. He and his wife had two more children.
“I paid a lot of bills and got very comfortable and rooted,” he said.
Then he and his wife divorced. In the ensuing turmoil, he decided it was time to pursue the dream he’d left behind in 1969. He was 43 years old.
Twenty years after graduating from veterinary school, he enrolled at the University of Illinois’ medical school.
“I showed up the first day with a sport coat and tie on,” he said. “In vet school you wore a shirt and tie every day. That’s just the way it was.”
He was taken aback when his fellow students showed up in ripped jeans and T-shirts.
“I figured I’d better fit in. I bought some blue jeans and sweatshirts.”
Throughout medical school, he moonlighted as a veterinarian, sometimes working two 24-hour shifts a weekend at veterinary clinics.
He graduated in 1990 and came to Spokane for a one-year residency at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
A lieutenant in the Navy reserve, he then went on active duty as a flight surgeon. Two years ago, his foot tangled in a parachute strap while getting out of a jet fighter after a training exercise. He fell, tearing ligaments and rupturing two disks in his back.
After several surgeries at Navy hospitals, he returned “home” - to the Northwest and his new bride, Spokane nurse Susan Rising. Their home overlooks Hauser Lake.
“I’ve been all over the world with the military, and this is the most beautiful place I’ve seen,” he said. “It’d take a lot of C-4 (explosive) to get me out of here.”
The two hunt, ride horses and take care of their dogs, birds, horses and cats. Rising loves to hunt ducks and build wooden toys for his three grandchildren.
The walls of the couple’s home are covered with furs and skulls and muskets; a coonskin cap hangs in a corner.
Once Rising begins work in Silverton, the couple is going to look for land around Rose Lake. Rising’s had a lifelong dream to build a log cabin.
So what career will come next for Rising?
“Not plumbing,” he says, “I hate plumbing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo