Dog Lessons On Living- Part 2

In my previous post I dealt with how two dogs modeled how to deal with serious illness and impending death. The two examples were from our current Border collie, Buddy, and our long deceased Shetland sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy. Their love of life and passion for their favorite activities persisted despite their physical challenges.

If we abandon the arrogant notion that humans are somehow completely different from other animals and instead recognize our common genetics, anatomy, physiology, needs, and behaviors, then animal behavior can become a potential assist for our lives.

I am reminded of a story from my recent book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales about Mary from Minnesota. This story, like many others in the concluding chapter of my book, took place aboard a fictitious cruise ship and demonstrated great perseverance of some physically handicapped folks in the face of adversity. The very real members of a group that Trudy and I accompanied had been organized by a national Parkinson’s Disease organization. Despite Mary’s advanced disease requiring  her to have a feeding tube, tracheostomy, urinary catheter, wheelchair, and and full-time attendant, she had demanded to go on the cruise.

Unfortunately Mary didn’t make it and passed away during the cruise. When speaking that evening by phone to her daughter in far away Minnesota, I learned to my surprise that the family had  expected Mary to die on the cruise. After recovering from my shock, I further learned that Mary had a lifelong habit of taking on great challenges. Despite her failing health Mary in recent years had undertaken skydiving, ridden a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and been strapped to a dogsled in Alaska. Mary refused to give in to her illness nor would she be prevented from trying new, exciting, and life changing thrills.

From Sailaway Chapter of Carrying The Black Bag

While Mary was only one of our passengers with Parkinson’s disease, all of them despite their balance issues dealt with the swaying of the deck and with the many challenges of shore excursions and beach activities. They also managed the dietary differences that at times limited the effectiveness of their medicines. None of these brave people shied away from the challenging experience, showing their zest for life and denying their illnesses control over their lives.

Now I know not all people with PD would make such a challenging journey. Indeed life is like a marathon and all of us hit the wall at times. Some persist and break through the wall while others are unable to do so.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift but persistence is also demanded

Both Buddy our Border collie, Taffy our Sheltie, and Mary refused to give in. All lived their lives to the greatest extent possible. I don’t know where Mary derived her zest for life, but she might have witnessed it in her pet. For whatever reason, Mary had learned to live her life as fully as she possibly could, believing that the quality of her life was more important than the number of days she lived.

Therein may lie a lesson for us all. Our challenge may be to garner as rich and full a life as possible. We all will likely be faced with challenges. Some of us will continue to strive and others will find an easier but less fulfilling way to live. Nothing is wrong with either approach, but our pets may have at least modeled the more courageous approach to life. Without it would we have even considered such a course of action?

Dog Lessons on Living

Forty years of practicing medicine and having lived long enough to acquire some gray hair have allowed me to observe people dealing with illness and impending death. These challenging periods prove difficult for sure , but I believe our pets can help to cope with and even model helpful behaviors that benefit their owners. The mindfulness of the pet owner becomes necessary in order to learn these pet-assisted lessons.

At our house we’ve had two experiences that I wish to share that have brought me to this conclusion. Our Border collie, Buddy, unfortunately injured himself many years ago while leaping over a cattle guard. I found him shortly after the accident, dragging his paralyzed hind limbs. We were to learn that Buddy had ruptured a disc that had extruded into the spinal canal and traumatized his spinal cord. After evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation Buddy slowly recovered. He now has the reasonable use of his hind legs and moves about without any assistance. For this we are incredibly grateful.

Buddy had always loved to run and herd cattle. His racing around the ranch with his tongue flapping deliriously and with a goofy look plastered across his muzzle has for me defined unbridled enjoyment. With time he has regained the ability to both run and herd, although not with quite the same proficiency as prior to his injury. Nevertheless, Buddy still loves to ride in the pickup, watch the cattle, and when needed to jump out of the bed of the pickup and do a stint of herding.

It strikes me that Buddy during his convalescence never gave up on himself, nor did he permanently abandon his valuable role as chief herder on the ranch. Despite lingering weakness, he continues to carry out his job with typical Border collie passion and enthusiasm. A job for a Border collie is vital. As the old saying goes, “If a Border collie doesn’t have a job, he’s liable to become self-employed.” Trust me, when this happens it’s never a good thing!

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Our second pet-assisted experience resulted with our Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy, and occurred years ago when we lived in Lubbock. Taffy’s favorite activity and what she most anticipated was her evening walk. She would become so excited when we presented her leash for our walk. Unfortunately Taffy eventually fell ill and was diagnosed as having cancer. While we knew the cancer would eventually take her, we were given the encouraging, if incorrect, prognosis by her vet that she had at least weeks if not months to live.  Despite Taffy not feeling well, she still agitated quite demonstrably at the end of each day for her walk.

Taffy during her healthier days

I distinctly remember her recruiting us that last night. Trudy and I dutifully leashed up Taffy and began a slow trek around our block. Taffy seemingly sniffed  every tree we encountered and observed the goings-on in the neighborhood with her eyes glistening with excitement. Unfortunately despite her wanting to, her energy gave out a third of the way around the block. She simply was unable to muster the strength necessary to walk any further.

On recognizing this I reached down to gather our sweet dog in my arms and then continued our walk around the block. Taffy gazed out from the crook of my arm and noted the happenings of her final trip around the neighborhood. Later that night she died peacefully in her bed. I like to think Taffy died  happy having made one more glorious trip around her block.

The thing is, Taffy continued to do what she most enjoyed despite her serious illness. Her willpower and determination continued despite her substantial depletion of energy. It seems to me that a broader and more personal message exists for pet owners much like the messages both Buddy and Taffy have given us.

I will continue discussing this topic in a subsequent post and plan to give a few human examples. These people-related corollaries will come from my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

Please share your thoughts as to what you may have learned from your pet regarding illness or impending death.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Dogs and Storms

We experienced a tornado watch with lightning, thunder, and almost two inches of rain. While I am always pleased when rain falls on the ranch, Buddy, our senior Border collie, doesn’t see it quite the same way.

Buddy is on the right

You see, Buddy is scared to death of storms. During a storm he will either hide under the bed, crawl behind the toilet in the bathroom, or take cover in my closet. The latter is rather poetic since that’s where he was born almost twelve years ago.

I worry about Buddy’s bladder capacity during these storms but have found him difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge from his safe spot. Last night I stuck my head under the bed and tried to talk him into going outside. Buddy who is normally very well mannered and responds immediately to commands, stared right back at me, as if he had suddenly gone deaf and paralyzed.

I sensed he was telepath-ing me a message that went something like this, “You must be nuts Buster if you think I’m getting out from under this bed in this terrible weather!!!” When I increase my encouragement to the extent of physically trying to remove him, Buddy growls. It is not a menacing growl nor one that worries me. He would never bite me but his lack of enthusiasm for going outside becomes quite clear.

Poor Buddy, thunder visibly shakes him up. His eyes become furtive, he shivers, and he takes immediate cover. With his dog ears, he knows when a storm is approaching far earlier than his seemingly deaf, slow footed human companions. (Our good points consist of feeding him, having cattle to herd, and letting him ride in a pickup.) I know we could get Buddy some doggy Xanax but the storms are pretty rare and, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Buddy is getting on in years but his tolerance for storms is not improving with age. Typically after feeding the stock and doing ranch chores in good weather, he retreats behind a screen in the living room where we have his dog bed (actually one of three). There he can look out from beneath the screen, avoid the canine rambunctiousness of Jack and Bella, stay out of the human traffic patterns, and get a good nap. We refer to this corner of the living room as “Buddy’s Office.”

If the weather turns bad, Buddy slinks off to the bathroom, my closet, and at night to under our bed. He actually is able to find safe places which convinces me this dog is really safety conscious.

The storms bother Little jack not one bit. Jack, our “Texas Brown Dog” adopted us three years ago after surviving on the road for over a month. Guess he got used to storms.

Bella, our female Border collie, has some wariness of storms in that this is the only time she becomes  affectionate. Last night during the storm she climbed up on my chest, put her head next to my neck, and laid there. This is most unBella-like behavior! She just doesn’t take well to affection. But last night she proceeded to lick my face with he raspy tongue until she had removed several layers of skin and acted like she had missed me for an eternity.

Am hoping for better weather tonight and a better night’s sleep.

Bella on the left and Jack on the right

Spring Bluebonnets

As predictable as spring calves in Texas are the coming of bluebonnets. These surprisingly hardy flowers grow along the roadside, in pastures, and even in bad soil. The bluebonnets and other wild flowers were once so widespread in Texas that a 19th century Texas Ranger once wrote that he could ride all day and never get off a carpet of wild flowers. The bluebonnets were said to be stirrup high and at times even to impede his progress. Forcing him to slow up and focus on nature’s beauty may have had behavioral benefits.

Considering that Texas Rangers were usually in pursuit of cattle rustlers, murderers, horse thieves, and Comanche on the warpath what an impact the peaceful bluebonnet must have had. Despite the violent ways of men, the hardy flower would grow and thrive and suggest a peaceful, calming effect for all.

Unsurprisingly, the bluebonnet became the official State flower of Texas. Rest assured this wild flower was around long before Texans. The Native Americans in this area, principally the Comanche, had a legend as to how the bluebonnet came about.

Since Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch derives from the “strong medicine” offered this area by this earlier culture, it only seems appropriate to share the Comanche legend on the origin of Bluebonnets here. It is as follows:

Comanche Long ago upon the great plains of Texas a young Comanche child named Stars-In-The-Sky lived with her family in her small Indian wicoti mitawa ( whi-coe-tee mi-tah-wah ), which means village. Each morning before the Wi ( wee ), sun rose in the Skan ( skhan ), sky Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota ( mahtoe’ – hoe -tah ), Grizzly Bear would leave their little village with the other warriors to go hunting for tatanka ( tah-tahn-kah ) buffalo. Lately when the warriors came back to the village in the han-yetu ( hahn-yeetoo ), nighttime no buffalo would have been sighted. Without the buffalo to provide for all their needs, Stars-In-The-Sky’s village slowly began to starve.Months passed and the summer days came into being. As is usual in Texas, summer drought dried up the rain and drove the smaller animals into the deep piney woods far from Stars-In-The-Sky’s village. With the smaller animals gone and the buffalo not yet returning to the area surrounding her tribe, the men turned to the guidance of Keema the Wicasa Wankan ( wih-cahsa wahn-kahn ) Holy Man of the village. Keema decided the warriors of the village must raise their voices together and pray to Nagi Tanka ( nahgee tahn-kah ), the Great Spirit, to ask for the rain to fall and the buffalo to come back.

One night later, when the moon was full in the sky, Keema gathered the men on a high bluff overlooking the village and plains. With one old, gnarled hand clutch around a burning cedar bow, Keema thrust the burning stick into a large pile of branches that had been gathered by the women and younger girls of the village earlier in the day.

The Holy Man stretched his arms to the sky and pleaded with the Great Spirit, ” Hey-Ay-Hee-Ee, Nagi Tanka! Bring back the rain, bring back the buffalo!” Deep into the night Keema prayed until his voice was rough and feeble from his freverent prayers and his eyes gritty and tired with unshed tears.

As Stars-In-The-Sky lay in her tepee listening to the sounds from the bluff, she wondered what she could do to help her family and the people she loved. She pondered what she, such a small girl, could give the Great Spirit to make him happy. Stars-In-The-Sky’s pride and joy was a small, handmade, leather doll her family had made her on her last birthday when she had turned eight years old. Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota (grizzly bear) had caught all the animals needed for the skins to make the doll’s body and dress. Her Ina’ ( eenah ) mother, had taken the time to dye and bead the small dress, and had used hair off her own scalp to make the dolly’s long, beautiful braids. Even her small brother Ki-ri-ki ( kee-ree-kee ), Bright Eyes had helped by donating a bluejay feather he had found last spring when the first bluejays had crossed in the sky. Stars-In-The-Sky was very proud of her doll.

With all of this running through her mind, Stars-In-The-Sky decided the best thing to do was to give her favorite thing to the Great Spirit. When she herd the men come back to the village and her father come into the teepee, she pretended to be asleep. As soon as her father fell into a deep, steady sleep Stars-In-The-Sky crept out of her sleeping furs and into the still night.

Her doll clutched in her trembling hand, she made her way up to the still glowing embers of the bonfire on the bluff. Holding her doll tightly to her chest and crying softly Stars-In-The-Sky started praying, “Hey – Ay- Hee- Ee, Nagi Tanka!

I am but a small, insignificant girl but I am trying wohitika (woah-hit-tih-kah ) to be brave. My younger brother is so hungry as is my whole village. Give me a So-an-ge-ta-ha ( soh- ahn – gee- tah- hah ) strong heart, Nagi Tanka. I beg you! Except my dolly as a gift in exchange for my village, my people, my family. I beg you! Pilimaya Nagi Tanka! ( pill- ah- mae- yah nahgee tahn-kah ) thank you, Great Spirit.”

As Stars-In-The-Sky finished her prayer she gave her beloved doll one last hug and then threw it into the fire. She turned away from the fire, paused to look over her shoulder one last time, saw the fire catch the dolly’s buckskin dress fire, and then walked proudly back to the village.

The next morning Stars-In-The-Sky was awakened by loud shouts outside her teepee. She crawled out of her sleeping furs and went to the tent flap to see what all the commotion was about. As Stars-In-The-Sky looked out she was amazed by what she saw. All over the prairie and covering the surrounding hills grew a strange, bright, blue flower the same color blue as a springtime bluejay feather.

For Stars-In-The-Sky and her village this flower was a blessing from Nagi Tanka. They found they could eat this flower and hold off starvation. With this flower as an ample supply of food small game came back into the area. When the buffalo came back, the large herds seemed to love this new blue flower.

The Comanche tribe called this flower Buffalo Grass in honor of the returning herds. When the wasichu( wah- sih -shoe ) white man came into this part of the country and made it into the state of Texas they renamed and adopted it as the state flower; The Texas Bluebonnet.


Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

A Farewell To…A Heron

I’ve written several blog pieces lately on a Great Blue Heron that has daily visited our stock tank. The heron and I have developed a predictable morning routine.  Initially I find it perched atop a tree on the opposite bank. Then I throw fish food into the pond. I backtrack to my pickup from where I watch the heron glide gracefully across the stock tank (what a sight with its immense six foot wing span), land, and creep to its protected spot alongside the water. There it stealthily awaits a fish meal to swim by. When this occurs and with lightning like reflexes, it dives into the water to retrieve a fish. Our routine has become part of my morning ritual and, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy and expect it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

Imagine my disappointment the past two weeks when the heron has failed to show up. Initially I shrugged it off as happenstance, as the heron had at times missed a single day. Now it seems all too clear that the heron has left our ranch for another lofty perch.

Spring has sprung in the Texas Hill Country. The Red Bud trees have blossomed and the Bluebonnets are up. The Live Oak trees are  changing over their leaves. Perhaps with the changing of the season, the heron has taken on new territory to fish. Alternatively, my heron may have fallen for a mate and been lured away by surging hormones- Spring is known to do that after all. I can only hope my heron has not befallen some worse fate, a consideration I’m loathe to even consider.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled each morning for the Great Blue Heron but fear it has departed the area or at least left my stock tank. If so,it leaves behind both good memories and hopefully good luck. To be sure, I shall miss its gorgeous flight, its prowess at fishing, its gorgeous appearance, its curious waddling gait, and the way it folds itself into a small package just at the edge of the water.

Come to think of it, The Great Blue Heron may just have tired of my bluegill! Why not for a change dine on Guadalupe bass or fat head minnows?

Farewell Great Blue Heron. You will be missed.

Best New Debut Author for 2017

Recently received the very good news that my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, won a national book award for 2017 from The Feathered Quill. This is a really big deal!

Will you please share this good news? The marketing/publicity from a regional publisher is limited and your help in networking my book would be much appreciated. Below is the news release for this award.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:                Maryglenn McCombs (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

 

TEXAS DOCTOR WINS NATIONAL AWARD FOR MEMOIR:

Carrying the Black Bag by Tom Hutton, M.D. among honorees in literary awards competition

 

LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas doctor Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales has been named among the winners in the Feathered Quill Literary Awards.

 

Sponsored by Feathered Quill, a leading web-based book review, the Feathered Quill Literary Awards is a national awards program that celebrates excellence in publishing. Recognizing books from both large and independent presses, the Feathered Quill Literary Awards honors the best books in numerous categories.

 

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, a memoir of Hutton’s career in medicine, was awarded the Bronze medal in the “Best Debut Author” category. Published by Texas Tech University Press, Carrying the Black Bag is available in hardcover edition (6 x 9, 257 pages; photographs; ISBN: 978-0-89672-954-4)

 

According to Ellen Feld, Editor at Feathered Quill “We were overwhelmed by both the number and extraordinary quality of entries for this year’s awards program. In particular, The Best Debut Author category was filled with worthy entries: consequently, it was difficult for our judges to pick among the many excellent contenders. Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag was a real standout: compelling, well-written, and an incredibly beautiful and hopeful testament to the human spirit. It is our great honor to recognize Dr. Hutton among this year’s Best Debut Authors. We can only hope he has more books in the works.”

 

During his thirty-plus years of practicing in West Texas and Minnesota, physician and neurologist Tom Hutton discovered that a doctor’s best teachers are often his patients. From these (extra)ordinary individuals, Hutton gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit. Hutton’s patients—and the valuable lessons they taught—served as the inspiration for Carrying the Black Bag. Part memoir and part tribute to the patients who faced major illness with grace, grit, and dignity, Carrying the Black Bag invites readers to experience what it is like to be a doctor’s hands, eyes, and heart. Imagine the joy of witnessing a critically ill five-year-old who, against all odds, claws her way back from a coma and near certain death. Meet a lonely Texas widower with Parkinson’s disease who hosts elaborate pinochle parties for a pack of imaginary canines. Step into the surgical booties of the author when he attempts to deliver his own child amid heart-stopping obstetrical complications—during a paralyzing Minnesota blizzard. Through real-life patient narratives, Hutton shines light on ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. Moreover, this captivating tale captures the drama of medicine—its mystery, pathos, heroism, sacrifice, and humor.

 

Tom Hutton, M. D., is an internationally-recognized clinical and research neurologist and educator. The past president of the Texas Neurological Society, Dr. Hutton served as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Medical and Surgical Neurology at the Texas Tech School of Medicine. He now lives on his cattle ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas. Visit Tom Hutton online at: https://jthomashutton.wordpress.com/

 

Members of the news media wishing to request additional information about Tom Hutton, M.D. or Carrying the Black Bag are kindly asked to contact Maryglenn McCombs by phone: (615) 297-9875 or email: maryglenn@maryglenn.com

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