Our last breath - honoring Dr. Hoppe

By Jon Reeverts

Standing at the counter of WB Drug prescription drop-off window, I pointed out to Heather his name - I don’t know what to do about this - I’ve never experienced this.

Many doctors lose patients over the course of their medical careers; I imagine it is a source of a lot of pain and sadness. Yet, I had never, as a patient, lost a doctor. I pointed to Dr. Hoppe’s name and the refill status on the small container. Heather nodded her head - yes that was a new situation.

In the months leading up to this moment, I had suppressed quite a bit of anger. I grieved the loss of Dr. Hoppe long before he left this world. I know that I am part of a community that felt and recently expressed that; however, I’m speaking for his patients. I believe that for those who were in my shoes - they shared a moment of panic.

In the fall 1981, fresh out of college, new to eastern Colorado, I walked into the Medical Clinic for help. I sat in a rigid plastic chair to wait my turn - the room was packed. I surveyed the faded paneling, tile floors and most impressive wood beams. In 2020, I made my last appearance there with Dr. Hoppe. As usual we closed by talking cars - I have a classic 1988 Honda CRX, that day he was driving his Bentley - not exactly common ground - but I loved watching his pulse race and the serious joy on his face as he described every detail.

Weeks later COVID was at full throttle and soon thereafter Dr. Hoppe had been transported out of Burlington. His medical gifts to this community and to me were over.

Doc and I were both Minnesota natives, while that bond never seemed to move him, I honestly loved his quiet, calm, and somewhat unresponsive demeanor nurtured in that majestic land ‘o lakes. He listened, even when I would try to self-diagnose. Then, he calmly and respectfully dismissed my ignorance - set me straight - and treated me.

Please understand that, by comparison, just as about every contractor in Burlington seemed to have a hand in our Colfax house remodel back in the day, so too, just about every doctor has held my file in his hands over the years. My former students, Dr. Pimentel and Dr. Perez, have most often been my primary care physicians. But it’s the emergency thing.

I have a habit of putting off treatment until I can’t take the pain any longer - probably like some of you. (Nod your head now.)

That usually meant that Jenny was hauling me off to emergency, usually on a holiday - Thanksgiving and Christmas being my frequent flier events. And, Dr. Hoppe always seemed to be on call.

I remember the first time we danced that dance. He asked if I had had any major surgeries in the last ten years. I began the list which he expected would end with one or two… but it went on and on with dates and medical terminolgy and surgeon and hospital until we arrived at only having one lung left. “You’re in trouble. You shouldn’t have waited,” he reprimanded me. (Watch Jenny’s head nod here, again and again.)

Finally, and most recently, he let me know that with every case of pneumonia and with aging, I was losing lung function and I was headed for being put on oxygen - I was shocked - (Remember my ignorance and his patience.)

At that point we had a new understanding, at any hint of respiratory infection, when I was struggling for that next breath,  he was to know and possibly see me, or as he warned, “I’d be sent to the big house.”

Not every doctor offers that grace or makes a personal pact - but I expect he had many similar understandings with his other patients.

Thus, my sadness, my grief, and my panic. 

Yours too???

I know what many of you are thinking right now, “How selfish of you, Jon.”

“Yup.” You’re right - patient’s often are, because in our crisis, we are thinking only about us and our families. It’s all about our hurts, our needs.

Do you know that that is true in our spiritual life too? Most of us are oblivious to our faith-walk from day to day and invest little in that arena, until there is a wedding, funeral or family crisis. When desperation strikes and we should have sought a remedy earlier, but now, we’re in emergency. We’re in pain, often self-diagnosing and crying out to the LORD.

God gets that! He’s there in emergencies and He’s there after the healing begins. But He also was there walking us through our hesitancy to seek Him. God is faithful - He desires that we might know Him on an intimate basis through His Son Jesus Christ. But all we can see is “us”.

He delivered to us the breath of life and is our next breath, now and now and now.

One speaker described it this way:

“Some pronounce the name ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh’ although in many traditions the name isn’t even pronounced, because it’s considered so sacred, so mysterious, so holy. In fact, the ancient rabbis believed that these letters actually functioned kind of as vowels in the Hebrew language. They believed that they were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing. 

Yod, Hey, Vav, Heh. 

Is the name of God the sound of breathing?

If the name of God is the sound of breathing, how does that change the way you view yourself as a living being? How does it change the way you view others?

In the Bible, the word for "breath" is the same as the word for "spirit." In the Hebrew language it’s the word “ruah.” In the Greek language, it’s the word “pneuma.” 

One scripture says that when God takes away the "ruah," the breath of all living creatures, then they die and return to the dust.” But when God sends the “ruah,” the Spirit, they are created. Breath, Spirit, same word.

If the words for “breath” and “spirit” are the same in the biblical context, does that affect how you see yourself and others?

When you let God in, when you breathe [in His Spirit], what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of.

If you and I were to be totally honest about what is going on inside of us, is there anything we need right now to breathe out?

What do you need to let go of - what do you need to breathe out?”

Many of us have breathed differently in 2020.

Many of us have also modified how we seek treatment these last few months. COVID has had waves of effects. The medical industry can’t get many of their routine or elective patients to return, and medical offices and hospitals are not sure they want everyone to come in person.

The odd thing is that Dr. Hoppe’s old-fashioned, never-changing clinic gave my heart a greater sense of peace than the modern, antiseptic architecture of most medical facilities. I breathed easier, and left less fearful I had walked away with something more infectious than I arrived with. But, maybe that was not the space, but also the in person occupying  that space.

In the side conversations about faith that ended with a quiet nod, could I recognize the breath of God in that man?

I miss you, sir. And yes, I believe so.


On the Saturday morning, September 12,  we joined the parade honoring Dr. Hoppe which meandered from the high school to the fairgrounds; I should have driven my CRX. 

We were scheduled to be out of town that day, so when it was over, we quickly headed home to keep our engagement, but I couldn’t help putting off the departure to return to the north entry of the grounds to take a seat in the back. What a perfect eastern Colorado morning to celebrate his life.

Our communities were well represented and the speakers spoke blessings that helped my heart rise from the depths of sadness to arrive at the thankfulness I had, that I had shared life here in Burlington with this extraordinary man and doctor.

I captured only a few moments and not everyone’s remarks. But I loved how Greg Penny put it - Dr. Hoppe was all about family. That seems so ironic, because he had no family here of his own. But as Greg put it, “He treated all of us as if we were his family.” As Greg added, Dr. Hoppe held and watched as over 1500 children took their first breath in his hands, and he  also sat by his patient’s sides as many of those close to us took their last breath. I thought of the “ruah”.

I can tell you God was present as Wayne breathed God’s name for the last time.

What a faithful gift.

If you were not able to be at his service on the beautiful morning, I have embedded what I recorded there. I think you will agree that we are all better for having known Dr. Wayne Hoppe. I also hope that the special thoughts shared here will speak in some way to your spiritual need to receive all that God wants to give to you through the life and glory of Jesus Christ.

As you take your next breath, or converse with those around you who express their lives in different ways than we do and deliver different gifts, may you hear the name of God.

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