Monthly Archives: July 2013

Thoughts On Love

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. And when I say this, I mean with its many facets. Strangely this began when our daughter Katie and her dog Olive visited last weekend. Olive does not appear as your typical dog. Olive looks like a dog put together by a committee. As best we can determine, she has German shepherd and either Corgi or Basset hound in her background. Olive is a very sweet and a good natured dog but one that elicits gasps and startled comments, such as “Oh my gosh, what is it?”

Olive has the face and head of a German shepherd but possesses a low slung body with front paws that angle outward at nearly 45 degrees. Now how exactly a German shepherd and a short-statured hound got together, I don’t know. My guess is the German shepherd mother got drunk one Saturday night and fell into a ditch- then along came Daddy.

Katie and Olive

Katie and Olive

Another reason for my recent fixation on love is that I have been reviewing chapters from my unpublished nonfiction book (tentatively entitled The Man Who Played Pinochle With Dogs). One chapter describes an elderly lady with a massive stroke who EMS brought to our emergency room. Initially we didn’t even know her name but determined from the CT-scan that the brain hemorrhage  gave her a very low chance of survival. The  woman physically was in very poor shape and not much to look at. Her hair was stringy and yellowish, finger nails grimy, skin fissured and aged, and she looked malnourished. I must admit at that point, we looked at her more as an old lady with failing physiology and decrepit body than as an individual with particular wants and loves. In our defense we had nothing else to go on.

The next day Ned, her octogenarian husband, with mincing steps walked into our medical intensive care unit and filled us in on her background. Ned not only gave us factual information about her health, but also absolutely changed the way we thought about this woman. We learned that both husband and wife had spent their lives as migrant workers. The had met as children at the end of a long cotton row and later started a common law marriage. Neither could have been described as anything but common in appearance. They had little in the way of worldly possessions and possessed little education. They had no children that might have cemented their relationship. Despite this  rocky foundation on which to build a relationship, their love had thrived.

It soon became clear to us just how much in love they had been. They never had been apart in all their years together. They worked hard, looked out for one another, and moved about together following the crops. The husband was absolutely devoted to his wife, a woman in the story whom I refer to as Maggie.

Whether it was Olive’s speculated upon parents or this pair of octogenarians, love always seems to play a central role for all of us in our lives. Whether it was simple lust as I suspect with Olive’s parents or a deeper, longer, and more meaningful love as with my memorable couple that love provides tremendous importance for our lives.

As I review my medical stories, how often I find an underlying theme about some aspect of love. It enters in the form of caregiver sacrifice, spousal love, love of a parent for a child, or love among unlikely and inherently unlovable people. Love often becomes the engine of transformation in my creative nonfiction stories. The stories also underscore the affection doctors and nurses develop for the people they care for.

Medicine is a calling like no other. I am fortunate to have experienced not only an education in medicine but having medicine provide for me a greater understanding of human nature, human strivings, and human fallibilities. Thank you Maggie, thank you Ned for helping me to understand a bit more about love.

Hutton’s Calves Take A Trip To Town–And Then Back Again

This morning with the help of my ranch hand, Francisco, and my long suffering wife, Trudy,  I loaded seven calves into the cattle trailer. They were big enough and ready to head off. I might have known something was awry, when the loading turned out to be easy, really too easy. It went without a single  calf bolting or hitch in the procedure of any kind. It was almost as if the calves hurried into the trailer in order to take their morning ride.

On arriving at the auction barn in Fredericksburg, I immediately became suspicious when no line of trucks with trailers existed waiting to unload their stock. It was then that I spotted a small but all too informative sign posted in the window of the auction house- “No sales on July 2 or 3”.

Silly me, I had failed to remember the auction barn closes on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It had never occurred to me that it would close for sales during the week of the 4th of July. Isn’t anyone going to eat steaks, hamburgers, or beef ribs, I fumed. Regrettably I was forced to point the nose of “the Old Goat”, my gas guzzling V-10 1999 Dodge pickup, homeward for the return trip.

I don’t think “cow” very well, but I would like to believe the calves enjoyed their outing. I know the ride along dogs enjoyed it, as Bella and Jack gave me numerous wet and raspy licks both on the way into town and on the way back to the ranch. With my face thoroughly washed and abraded, I unloaded the calves into the front pasture. They trundled out, looked blankly around, then kicked up their heels, and ran straight  in the direction of the herd. They appeared no worse for wear and had experienced a remarkably cool ride into town for a July morning in Texas.

My error today was certainly not my most painful as a rancher. For instance it does not compare to when I was pitched from a horse and broke my arm and jammed my neck, or in a second instance when i blew out a disc in my back trying to man-haul a stump out of the creek bed after a flood (in my defense, my tractor was broken and what else could I do?).

Now those two mistakes hurt! Mind you, I never in 30 years got injured swinging a reflex hammer at someone’s knee as a neurologist. Since retiring and becoming a rancher I have broken two bones, torn ligaments, blown out my back, and worst of all suffered numerous instances of major loss of face.

It’s also not the most foolish ranching mistake I have committed. Several candidates for this dishonor readily come to mind. Expanding my herd prior to the onset of a major drought might come in at most expensive. I never would have guessed that hay could get that expensive. Personally, I rather like the time when I determined to paint one of my pipe cattle guards red and black in honor of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Texas Tech University. I thought it would look nice and thought just maybe the cows would enjoy it too.

Trudy, despite otherwise having good sense and having utterly failed to talk me out of this folly, got down on her hands and knees and helped me complete the goofy project. I do recall her muttering under her breath most of the time it took to complete. Trudy, I think this would fall under the clause in the marriage contract, “For Better Or Worse”. You’ve got to admit, our marriage hasn’t been dull!

Looking back on it, I’ve made plenty of ranching mistakes. Perhaps it’s inevitable having been a “city boy” most of my life and having lived rural ranch life only for the last 12 years. But that’s the fun of it. I have learned more from my all too frequent mistakes than from the ranch books I have read or the Ranch Day Programs I have attended. It has been fun. Besides as Trudy and I say to one another if taking life too seriously, “No one is going to die from this.” In my previous life, I certainly could never say that.

On Creative Writing

Writing is hard. I have drawn this conclusion after working for 10 years, attempting to leave scientific writing behind and redirecting my efforts for a popular audience.

My agent has by now sent my nonfiction memoir of patient stories out for a second pass. While I felt I had a distinguished career in Neurology and won more than my share of accolades from various professional societies, State of Texas, and peers apparently this counts for less than a single appearance on Dr. Oz. Well at least that is what my agent suggested. Oh well… We will see.

In response to the need for a larger “platform” I will enter more writing contests. I reworked a story recently and sent it off to the Bellevue Literary Review Contest. I hope to enter several more over the next months. The cost is small but even if a person wins, no one is going to get rich writing for contests. Hopefully if I hit on something, it will enlarge my platform and improve my chances of getting the NF book in print. Meanwhile I will continue to play around with a novel- the first chapter of which was posted on this blog several days ago. I appreciate the feedback and encouragement I received on this.

While writing is hard, it also is an obsession. To develop characters, establish a plot, and say things in non-cliched ways is a challenge. It is nevertheless fun or else I wouldn’t do it.