Guess What We Found On Leaving Our Ranch Recently?

The other morning Trudy and I spotted something unrecognizable on the cattle guard at the edge of our ranch. Approaching closer I could tell it was a newborn calf, actually a Longhorn/Charolais cross. The poor little heifer had all four legs stuck between the pipes of the cattle guard and was totally helpless as she lay across the pipes.

The calf a week later doing well in the pasture

One surprising thing about a Longhorn calf is how quickly they stand up as opposed to other types of calves. This little heifer apparently stood up while its mother was down pasture grazing, wandered to a nearby cattle guard, and slipped and had ts legs plunge through it.

Trudy and I jumped out of the car and working together pulled the calf’s legs out from between the bars and carried it to the nearby grass. There we stood it up and encouraged it to move down the pasture to where its mother grazed. She saw us coming and raced to her calf. When last we saw the calf, it was chowing down at the milk bar.

The proud mother with calf by her side

The proud daddy, a Charolais bull

The calf has done well ever since. Let’s just hope it has good one trial learning when it comes to why cattle guards  are there in the first place. I did notice a few days later when we vaccinated her for blackleg that she didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Might she have been appreciative or at least remember me? I’ll never know. Turned out to be a pretty good excuse, though, as to why we were running late for Sunday School.

Suggestions for New Writers- A Twelve Step Program

The Fredericksburg Writers Group recently asked me to speak on publishing my book, Carrying The Black Bag, and to provide thoughts for new writers trying to become authors. I was pleased to do so and thought I might share these same thoughts to my readers.Carrying the Black Bag book

My book took me five years to write (on and off) and confronted many difficulties and rejections. Some suggestions on dealing with this process are as follows:

1. BE passionate about your story. In my case, my stories demanded to be told. I felt my patients  entrusted me with their stories, and I was brimming to share my patients’ humanity and courage.

2. LEARN to write for a popular audience. This may seem simplistic but it is not. I found it challenging to break away from scientific and medical writing. Texas Tech University in Fredericksburg offered popular writing courses that proved  very helpful. I developed the courage to begin using similes, metaphors, alliteration etc., something as rare in medical writings as finding the Lochness monster.

3. REWRITE, Rewrite, and Rewrite some more. I had at least a dozen edits that I thought were wonderful, until I reread them. Your finished product (or at least what you think is your finished product!) must be your best to stand a chance of being published.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

This young reader gave me a great morale boost when I saw this picture of her reading my book between surgical cases

4. JOIN a critique group. Critiquing others and having them critique your work are extremely helpful for improving your writing. It may seem a little threatening, but you’ll get over it. Once trust has been established you will end up sharing what you may never have shared with your spouse or even with your dog.

5. IDENTIFY beta readers for your best version. These are a few folks well versed in literature and grammar and can provide a good editorial review.

6. FIND an agent. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by going to Literary Conferences. Many conferences have agents and publishers present and interested in the subject material of the conference.  It’s a great way to practice your pitch, gain feedback, and make helpful contacts.
In my case I landed two prospective agents at a medical writer’s conference. I selected Don Fehr at Trident Literary Group in New York City. It is the largest such group in the U.S.A. and has substantial expertise and reach.

7. From my agent I learned that for nonfiction, publishers did not buy books, they bought book proposals! This was news to me.
Many books exist on how to write a book proposal. My agent stressed the proposal be at least 65 pages long and be extremely well written. This was quite a task.

8. The agent then sends the proposal (in the case of a nonfiction work) or the entire fiction manuscript  to a number of potential publishers. Then you wait, wait, and wait some more for the reviewers to respond. Ugh!

9. Once a publisher says it is interested, the publishing house (in my case Texas Tech University Press) will assign an editor. I can only hope you find someone as good as Joanna Conrad at TTUP. She was delightful and made the book better.
Following the review process by your press (mine being an academic institution, the manuscript had to be approved by, of course, various committees!) The next step is copy editing. I had a contract copy editor who proved extremely helpful. It’s humbling to learn that errors still exist in your much pored over manuscript.
Expect your publishing house to change your title. It’s inevitable. Also it will assign an artist to develop the cover, but hopefully it should ask you for your opinion. Also you will be asked to supply the “information about the author” and various blurbs for your book.
The whole process of publishing may take one to three years before your book reaches the bookshelves. This considerable delay is a frequent surprise for most new authors.

10. HIRE a publicist. Unfortunately even the largest publishing houses these days have limited marketing budgets. While this seems strange given that marketing sells books, but it is a truism. Authors are being asked to do more and more to market their books. As an aside, my barber even keeps a supply of my books in her shop. Customers ask about them and she has sold a number of my books. Be Creative!
Actually I have enjoyed marketing my book. It has been a heck of a lot easier than writing it. I began by forming a “street team” of people that liked my writing. These wonderful folks became “Tom’s Wranglers” and were invaluable in spreading the word, writing initial reviews, identifying book events where I might present, and providing much needed encouragement.

Two of my Wranglers- Betty and Cecil Selness

Madeline Douglas and La Nelle Etheridge, two more of my wonderful Wranglers

Now back to publicists– these are invaluable. A cost is involved but you really didn’t think you were going to get rich on your book, did you? The publicist can arrange for reviews of the book and may put your book up for awards.

11. Speaking of awards, nothing builds the confidence of a struggling writer as much as public recognition. In my case I won a third prize early on in a writing contest.  Woo Hoo! This provided a surprising amount of confidence.
I next won The Creative Expression Award from the American Academy of Neurology. Now this award, given by my peers, made me feel like a real author. You likely too have some outlet through your vocation to provide an outlet for your work and an possible award. It is worth a try.

In my case the agent and I went through some thirty publishers before finding one that wished to take on the task of putting my book into print without having to do a major rewrite. Authors best have thick skins as this process can be painful. There is simply no way to sugarcoat this– rejection hurts.

12. Once published my book won an award for best debut author and became a finalist for the Montaigne medal. These awards proved reassuring for me as a writer. How much they contribute to sales is highly questionable, but undeniably recognition provides a stimulus for the author to keep writing. Again, these awards were the result of the knowledge and expertise of my publicist, Maryglenn McCombs.

 

So there you have it. Becoming an author is arduous. It is nine tenths perseverance. One author I heard speak recently said success publishing depended on three things: 1) talent, 2) determination, and 3) luck. I agree that a degree of talent, a lot of perseverance, and finally a little luck are all needed to move from being a writer to becoming a published author. I wish all of you good luck in this process.

Jealousy and Dogs

Jealousy affects animals as well as humans

 

My dogs display clear-cut signs of jealousy  I observe this when I scratch or pay extra attention to one of them. My other dogs will attempt to put their heads between my hand and the dog being scratched or try to run the scratched dog off by licking on its face or pushing it away.

I also observe this in their eating behaviors. When I put the same dry food in their three bowls, one dog will inevitably, after finishing his meal, check out the other two dogs’ bowls. This seems to indicate that the other bowls might have something better in them than did that particular dog’s bowl.

At times their jealousy seems more focused on keeping the affection away from the other dog than gaining attention for the jealous dog. What gives?

And I thought jealousy was a human emotion! This “green-eyed monster” as Shakespeare referred to it clearly extends to dogs as well as people. I bet others have noticed these behaviors in their dogs as well.

Jealousy must be a very basic and primitive emotion in animals. It likely benefits in achieving attention that may lead to increased survival. As such it may be beneficial in an evolutionary way.

I’ve noticed that older dogs do not show jealousy as much as young dogs. This seems consistent in what I’ve witnessed in people. Who among us as youth did not suffer the pangs of jealousy and likely thoroughly embarrass themselves as a result. While older age isn’t a complete guard against jealousy, it doesn’t appear to be as compelling an emotion in older humans nor does it appear to be so in dogs. My older dogs have largely avoided the whole jealous bit.

Jealousy affects both genders in both dogs and humans. It’s aroused by a perceived threat to a valued relationship from a third party. Jealousy is also a painful emotion as most can attest. I presume this is also true in dogs as well. No doubt jealousy has bad effects on dogs just as it causes suspicion, doubt, and fatigue in humans.

So how best to deal with jealousy with dogs? I usually try petting both dogs simultaneously. This works to until a third dog shows up wanting petting. I quickly run out of hands and begin to feel like a one armed paperhanger. I’ve not found adding a extra attention to a dog insures that dog from becoming jealous. Would love to learn the opinions of other human dog companions.

To share the emotion of jealousy with dogs is just one more example of how people and dogs are alike. But come to think of it, I’ve never witnessed a jealous dog do something really stupid like I have with some humans, especially men.

 

Celestial Pasture

Doc, our roan gelding

Doc, our roan gelding, and Fancy, our paint filly, failed to show up for their morning meal several days ago. While not entirely novel, Doc does love his food and hasn’t missed many meals.

The next morning in front of our home I found Doc lying on the ground. Beside him stood Fancy, alternatively looking from Doc to me. She appeared anxious.

Our paint horse Fancy sensed Doc’s distress

Fancy acted as if she knew Doc was in serious trouble. The horses had made it to where they knew I would find them. Doc had been in obvious pain, as he had rub marks on both sides of his head. He was weak, shaky, and initially could not regain his feet.

With prodding Doc stood up and walked slowly to the barn, a distance of three quarters of a mile. There we loaded him into the trailer and I drove him to our vet’s clinic.

Fancy wanted to go too.  She followed Doc to the barn and had to be haltered and tied to the hitching post or else she too would have climbed into the trailer. This was no surprise as she has been utterly devoted to the big roan ever since her arrival at our ranch.

Doc will be missed

Unfortunately my story doesn’t have a happy ending. We learned Doc had colic, likely resulting from a twisted colon. He was suffering. At his advanced age his chances of survival, even with major surgery, were not good. His heart rate continued to be high despite three times the usual amount of sedation and pain medication– his elevated heart rate reflecting his discomfort. Unfortunately, after learning the limited options, we had to put him down. Talk about a painful decision to have to make.

All that day Fancy had stood waiting at the gate through which Doc left the ranch that morning. She continued to gaze longingly down the road, waiting for Doc’s trailer to return.

When finally I drove the pickup and trailer onto the ranch, Fancy followed it at full gallop. She ran around the trailer with mane flowing, nostrils flared, and tail held high. She circled excitedly behind the trailer, looking within it. Not seeing Doc, she shook her head, and headed off to a nearby pasture.  Fancy appeared agitated.

I’m certain Fancy missed Doc and showed signs of her grief. I am worried about her. Animals are capable of showing affection, grief, and longings, as do humans. Admittedly, I have never viewed great affection between horses and their human companions, at least not like I have between dogs and humans, but today I witnessed clear signs of affection between a filly and a gelding.

We have been trying to console Fancy. She has received extra attention and treats. We even had a horse from a neighboring come over for a visit. Fancy and Trooper  enjoyed each other and his visit seemed to raise Fancy’s spirits. We hope Trooper will return.

Fancy isn’t the only one who will miss Doc. He was a good and gentle horse. I traveled many a mile on his broad back. My favorite memories of Doc are with children astride. Doc was a great child’s horse. Even in his later years when his arthritis caused his retirement from trail rides, Doc would accept children to sit on his bare back. There the children would pat the big horse and view the world in what I hoped was from a different perspective. Doc received vast amounts of carrots and apples from appreciative children who would come to Medicine Spirit Ranch mainly for the purpose of seeing him, patting him, and feeding him.

One teenage neighbor girl who used to ride him regularly in his more active days was once spotted lying on his back, sound asleep. Doc was so gentle he would not move without his rider urging him to do so. What a peaceful memory!

We are left with only our memories of Doc, as he has departed Medicine Spirit Ranch for his Celestial Pasture. Let’s hope he finds laughing, excited children to sit astride his broad back. Doc would like that.

At The End Of The Road

 

You might recall the stray dog that wandered onto our ranch several years ago that we named Little Jack Kerouac. We named him after the author of the same name who wrote On The Road and who was the forerunner of a beatnik. Our Little Jack had been wandering the county roads of Gillespie County for months and had traveled many miles when the skinny pup was finally herded into a corner of our yard by our Border collies. The small brown dog was half-starved and intensely fearful. His fear, nevertheless, relented before a succulent piece of fried chicken, prompting the little brown dog to climb into my arms.

Despite his bad condition from his long tenure as a road dog, it became apparent that he had been neutered and house broken. These aspects suggested at one time Jack had enjoyed a close relationship with a human friend.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

We still don’t know what all he encountered as a road dog and Jack isn’t talking. We suspect he must have scrounged whatever he could find to eat including roadkill. We know Jack is a canny survivor.

His breeding has proved an ongoing mystery. When asked what breed he is, we finally gave up guessing and simply began replying, “He’s a Texas Brown Dog.”

Since Jack’s arrival, let’s just say… he’s matured and settled in well. He has adapted to his new home on a hill at the end of his very long road.

Sometime ago I wrote several blog pieces on Jack stealthily loading himself into various vehicles and stowing away for rides. We do not think he was trying to escape his adopted home but that he merely wanted to go for rides. Fortunately, after a few bad moments of being unable to locate Little Jack, we were able to place phone calls and have him returned.

Jack is no longer the skinny road dog he once was. He has, in fact, chunked up. He still loves to go on ranch walks, run errands and ride in the pickup. Whereas the Borders ride in the bed of the pickup, Little Jack proudly expects to sit on the console in the cab where, if hot, the AC is on and, if cold, the heater warms him. He likes his creature comforts.

When our Borders are let out of the pickup to exercise by running up the hill to the house, Jack preemptively jumps off the console and hides in the back seat. No silly running up the hill for Little Jack. Why get out of a perfectly good pickup and wear out my foot pads?

At night Jack has inched his way closer and closer to the head of the bed. Initially when he came into our lives he slept under the bed or on a nearby dog bed. He later transferred to the foot of the bed. Now Trudy and I find the little rascal snuggled between us, his head lying on a soft pillow. Imagine going from the hard life of a road dog to a pillow top mattress!

Jack likely thinks, “Heck with Pearl Buck’s ideas of a place in the sun, I have a soft mattress in an air conditioned home.” When asleep, he becomes an almost immovable lump. If Trudy or I get up in the middle of the night, he migrates to the vacated warm spot, claims it, and is difficult to dislodge.

It’s said every dog has its purpose. The purpose of our Border collies is clear, herding our cattle. Jack’s purpose has been harder to determine. Surprisingly, he sometimes has helped the Border collies with herding. But mainly Jack is a varmint dog and represents an absolute terror for squirrels and armadillos. This job of protecting the world from squirrels and armadillos, though, is not full time for our Little Jack.

Several years ago my mother came to live with us and it was then that we learned what Jack’s real job was–companionship. My elderly mother would sit on the couch for hours with Jack snuggled up against her, stroking his furry head. He returned her affection with gentle licks and made his belly available for endless scratching. Mom and Jack became thick as thieves, although we worried my Mom might rub Jack’s head bald.

“I think I can still feel the pea!”

My mother possessed a huge capacity to love, and in her final years she so enjoyed Jack’s companionship. Jack became a willing recipient for her love, and in turn he reciprocated his love for her. I’m convinced Jack made her final days much happier.

I suppose companionship is the major role for many dogs. Dogs have such an amazing ability to relate to humans, to sense their emotions, and to offer their unconditional love. It takes all kinds of dogs, but Jack has stolen our hearts and in their places left behind his paw prints.

International Praise for Carrying The Black Bag

I am immensely gratified to have received an international award for my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales. In an act of shameless but necessary self-promotion, I share the good news with you. Hope y’all will help to spread the word!

 

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

TEXAS NEUROLOGIST WINS PRESTIGIOUS INTERNATIONAL AWARD
Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag, Among Honorees, Finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award

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 Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

A prestigious international award that honors the memory of American philosopher Eric Hoffer, The Eric Hoffer Book Award has become one of the largest and most sought-after awards for small, academic and independently-published titles. Presented annually, the Eric Hoffer Book Award was designed to highlight salient writing and celebrate the spirit of independent presses. This year’s award program yielded over 1300 book entries.

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, a memoir of Hutton’s career in medicine, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Health category. Moreover, Carrying the Black Bag was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award’s Montaigne Medal, which celebrates those books deemed the most thought-provoking.

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/

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) Carrying the Black Bag was also awarded the Bronze Medal in the “Best Debut Author” category of the Feathered Quill Book Awards.

For additional information on the Eric Hoffer Book Award, visit: http://www.hofferaward.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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Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.