Category Archives: Carrying the Black Bag

When My Writing Was Just Too Late

I enjoy writing and can become engrossed when doing so. I’ve  been known to forget appointments and, on occasion, have absentmindedly left my wife waiting for me at restaurants while I merrily click away at my computer.

What about me? I stood for hours beside an empty feed trough

What about me? I stood for hours beside an empty feed trough waiting to be fed

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Don’t forget, I laid for what felt like forever beside your desk when we could have been taking a walk or herding cattle or doing something fun

In some ways though my writing has been just too late.  What I mean is that timing the appearance of your work product is important. If only this was always possible.

For example I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my maternal grandmother, Grandma Corp. She was smart, independent, feisty, and not afraid to state her  opinions. She cared for me and I for her. One opinion she shared was that you could tell if someone was “right in the head” by looking into his/her eyes. That is, their eyes provided subtle information about the quality of their thinking processes. I never forgot her observation but it took many years to fully understand it.

Much later when working on my PhD I needed a dissertation topic. My subject matter, oddly enough, became eye movements and eye fixations in various forms of dementia. I wrote of how the eye is the window to the mind and how eye movements (scan paths among other tests) and duration of eye fixations could provide information about how people process visual information and how they think about what they are viewing. I hypothesized varying forms of dementia would process visual information differently and that their eye movement measures might provide diagnostic insight as well as heuristic value.

The direct approach to understanding The Thinker

The direct approach to understanding thinking, if it were only that simple

Yes, the fabric of my thesis reflected the very thoughts grandmother Corp had stitched into my memory at a young age. But by the time I wrote the research grants, received the grant funds, carried out the experiments, wrote the thesis, and successfully defended it, my dear grandmother had become lost in the mental swamps of neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Sorry about the jargon, she’d developed Alzheimer’s disease.

I had dedicated my dissertation to my grandmother. Sadly by the time I was able to read to her my endearment that began my dissertation, Grandmother had advanced  too far into her disease to comprehend it. She responded to me though with a wonderful and endearing smile.

Six months ago my first popular book came out, Carrying The Black Bag. At several points in my memoir, I praise my wise mother who offered sound advice and encouragement. I wrote in my book of when she braved a Minnesota snowstorm (worst blizzard in twenty years) to drive my wife, Trudy, who was in labor to the hospital where I was the intern on call for Obstetrics. Mother went where the local ambulances feared to go. She never was one to admit it couldn’t be done. And I proudly pointed out in my book that she was from sunny Texas and unaccustomed to the northern climes. Carrying the Black Bag book

This story of my son Andy’s birth along with others in my book where she offered sage advice captured, I hope, how valuable she had been in my life.

Several weeks ago I visited my now 95-year old mother in the Alzheimer Special Care Unit at Arabella in Athens, Texas. I attempted to update her on the progress of my recently released book and to thank her for all that she had contributed. I again was too late.

Again, Mom was too deep into her dementia to track the meaning of my words. But I know she felt the love I had for her and smiled when I stroked her hand and head. Her endearing smile affirmed my presence and seemed to light up the room.

In some ways, two of my most significant writing projects (my PhD thesis and my memoir) proved emotional busts due to Grandma and Mom’s memory and cognitive losses. My testimonials brimmed with profound appreciation for them, but both came just too late for them to recognize my appreciation for their special roles in my life.4335496

But I’ve learned from these unfortunate events. Recognition and affirmation can’t always be earned but can be enjoyed. Perhaps it’s like grace in the Christian religion. It is beyond our efforts to earn grace just like I was unable to gain the hoped for response from Grandmother and Mom. Their love for me and their smiles, like grace, came automatically. For their endearing smiles I shall be forever grateful. I shall also forever hate the scourge that is Alzheimer’s disease.

West Texas Book Tour

Trudy and i at book signing following the Lubbock Women's Club presentation

Trudy and i at book signing following the Lubbock Women’s Club presentation

Pleased to say I had three book presentations last week- two in Lubbock (Lubbock Women’s Club and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Texas Tech University) and one in Big Spring (Greater Big Spring Rotary Club). Enjoyed seeing the historic Settles Hotel that has been recently refurbished and was at 15 stories for a time the tallest building between Fort Worth and El Paso. Had a great time meeting some wonderful folks and presenting on Carrying The Black Bag.

Special thanks to Judy and Paul Rostad for arranging the Lubbock events and Emily McCann for setting up the Big Spring event. I continue to be gratified by the impact the book has on people, many of whom have a family member with a chronic illness or else care for someone with one.

Paul Rostad who organized my OLLI presentation and an attendee

Paul Rostad who organized my OLLI presentation and an attendee

Blog Tour and Recent Presentations

My wonderful publicist, Maryglenn McCombs, recently arranged a 10-Texas Blog Tour. This has brought about increased information and excitement for my book, Carrying The Black Bag. One blog asked me to answer a series of questions. Since I have found these to be frequently asked questions, I wanted to share this now with my blog readers (see below).

Also have enjoyed recently speaking at the Hondo Rotary Club and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the Texas Hill Country. These were a lot of fun and met many nice folks. i continue to be extremely gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response to my book including reviews by the Manhatten Book Review, The Chicago Sun Times, and the Austin American Statesman among others. I welcome opportunities to share these stories with other organizations. Just let Trudy or me know if you would like for me to speak to your groups and we will see if we can schedule an event.

 

Blog Tour Questions

  1. What made you want to share your story and write this book?

One reviewer described Carrying The Black Bag as part memoir and part love story between a doctor and his patients. While unusual, this statement is largely true. The wonderful patients described in my book have by now passed on, making me the last person standing who can share their poignant, humorous, and courageous stories.

The sobering impact of life altering illnesses crystalizes what is most important in our lives, deepens commitment to spouses and families, increases reflection on spiritual lives, or even, in rare instances, as described in the book, leads to revealing hallucinations due to loneliness and illness.

Family caregivers are usually irrevocably changed by intense caregiving and might just discover unknown depths of resolve and determination.

Such insights allow intriguing insights into the human condition.

 

  1. What do you want people to take away from reading this book?

First, I want them to experience a good read. Without reading enjoyment few would continue turning the pages. Secondly, I hope these stories will help others deal with current or future medical problems with greater insight and confidence and be inspired by the patients described.

I also hope readers will develop greater understanding of the importance of good doctor-patient-family communication and how this benefits patient care. The reader should as well enjoy and experience “a behind the curtain peek” at the medical profession.

 

  1. What is the most important thing you have to do as an author of nonfiction vs. fiction?

Nonfiction must have authenticity as well as be engaging. Whereas fiction can be spun from whole cloth, nonfiction must strive for accuracy, develop context within our life experience, and inform to a much greater extent.

 

  1. Did you find writing about your life as a physician a difficult or therapeutic process?

Reliving the excitement of a fulfilling medical career was a wonderful experience. Admittedly dredging up the intense challenges, the anxieties of a newly minted physician, and recalling the overwhelming fatigue proved emotionally difficult but overall proved therapeutic and satisfying.

 

  1. Now that you are retired, what do you say was the most challenging part of your profession?

Doctors along with their families must sacrifice in order for the doctor to be available for patient needs. Illnesses and injuries ignore social calendars. For example, my formally dressed wife on several occasions spent her evenings sitting in a busy emergency room amid feverish people, inebriates, and the injured waiting for her sidetracked husband to finish up. Trudy fortunately was able to accept my demanding schedule. Many doctors were not so fortunate and suffered high divorce rates.

I don’t know if my children realized the effort required to be present for their events, to enjoy a regular family dinner, and make sure family vacations came about. On the other hand, I know I missed events important to them while attending my patients who had first claim on my time. This proved painful for me. Managing these medical versus personal challenges proved the most difficult part of my professional life.

 

  1. What do you say was the most rewarding part of your profession?

Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of my medical career was the unique relationship that develops between a doctor and patient. The doctor/patient relationship is like no other in that trust has to exist. Few other relationships involve this degree of intimacy and sharing of personal information. Open communication also becomes vital in order to provide the best of care. The trust and appreciation shown by my patients proved incredibly rewarding.

Practicing neurology also proved extremely satisfying. Neurological diagnosis requires careful history taking and examination. This teasing out of clues is paramount to making a correct diagnosis. In a way in this day of enhanced medical imaging and laboratory evaluations neurology is an anachronism. Due to the amount of medical instruments required for the examination, its practitioners may appear old fashioned as they still carry black medical bags.

 

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing medical care now and in the future?

The inherent conflict between the need to combat rapidly escalating medical costs and the ongoing desire of people for individualized medical care presents the greatest challenge to medicine today. Drastic limitations on time spent with each patient driven by third party reimbursements, increased record keeping requirements, and cookbook medicine detract from patient-specific needs.

I hope the art of medicine and careful communication between doctor and patient will not be compromised in a headlong pursuit of cost saving nor will the art of medicine give way entirely to technological advancements such as in imaging and laboratory evaluation.

The sharing of electronic medical records has potential for great benefit. A less attractive aspect is the growing diminished face-to-face communication among members of the medical team. Such institutions as the “midnight meal” for interns and residents may become a thing of the past. Nevertheless newer means of exchanging and gaining further information than from chart reviews and fostering collegiality will be needed.

 

  1. Any other projects planned for the writing world of Tom Hutton MD?

At least two projects interest me. First I would like to write a sequel to Carrying The Black Bag, perhaps titled Retiring The Black Bag. With the tremendous number of baby boomers retiring each year, a continuation interests me including my own personal challenge taking off the stethoscope and becoming, what my wife refers to as a real person. Further I wish to share the unusual/incredible role an amazing Border collie named Bandit had in effecting this challenging transition. Moreover the colorful people involved in this important phase in my life would provide interesting reading and relatable events. It might prove helpful to others anticipating and hopefully planning for their own retirements.

Secondly, I am interested in writing an expanded version of the account of Adolf Hitler and his medical problems. In addition to his neurological disorder, Hitler had serious heart disease and a litany of other medical complaints and disorders. The horrendous impact that der Führer had on the twentieth century continues to fascinate and too little attention has been paid to the impact his poor health had on his decision-making.

 

 

 

My Writing Process

One frequently asked question readers have asked since publishing Carrying The Black Bag is about my writing process and any efforts utilized to foster creativity. I’ve decided to add some thoughts here on my blog to answer my readers more fully:

Yes, some authors do goofy things to stimulate their creativity. i’ve known some and read about others. The superstitious may choose to sit only in a specific chair or drink only one brand of tea. Others play up-tempo music or stirring classical works. Admittedly, I’ve been known to don a cap (my Greek fisherman’s cap’s my favorite) to prime the creative juices. But the goal for each author, no matter what the idiosyncrasy, is to achieve a creative fervor whereby the characters take command of the story and  fingers simply race to keep pace with surging thoughts.

For me I appreciate sitting before my word processor with a clear mind, a comfortable chair, and an exciting idea. I usually outline the story before beginning it. This isn’t an absolute but generally I find outlining helpful. I try and determine what the chapter requires for plot or subplot and then with trepidation shove off into the unknown.

Nothing inspires fear more in writers than a blank page or screen. Once immersed in the story, my pace inevitably picks up. Usually after the first draft I simply hate it. I often think what I have written is not fit for bathroom walls. It is not until  many more drafts later that I begin to like it even a little bit.  I 22109118then put it “in the can” for awhile. Usually after a week or so, I am able to spot additional flaws and weaknesses. I then adjust the story, much like adjusting a recipe to taste, substituting stronger verbs, adding apt similes/metaphors, and creating further descriptions.

The next stop for me on this literary journey is my writing group. Our group of five writers has met for many years and by now has developed a sense of trust. While we possess vastly different styles and genres, the feedback never fails to benefit my story. Soon thereafter I make the additional changes. After a final read through with minor edits I may write THE END. If the writing project is particularly important I may ask a beta reader for his/her thoughts. These are extremely valuable folks who must like your writing and be anxious to share their precious skills.

The question among writers that repeatedly comes up is whether the spouse should act as an informal editor or serve as an alpha reader. The usual response and one to which I hardily agree is NO, absolutely NOT! Having said that, almost every author I know or have read about uses (abuses) their spouse in this way, so long as he/she is halfway literate. I fully recognize this marital extortion is totally unfair to my spouse. In general the writer’s wife or husband feels torn between being supportive and being honest. To this I say, “tough.” No one ever said marriage would be easy!

So yes, Trudy regularly reads my stories. I ask her to do this when I am simply written out or else in need of a fresh eye. She also is good at word choice and grammar. Sorry Trudy. Such editorial services I’m sure must have been hidden in the fine print of the marriage contract.

My inspiration often springs from my surroundings and experiences. I love to tell stories. I love to watch people and animals and try to figure out what makes them do what they do. I love seeing people in extraordinary circumstances do extraordinary acts (this is the watermark underneath my patient stories  in Carrying The Black Bag). These stories show real people demonstrating courage and perseverance that, in some instances, they never knew they possessed. They tell us something good about the nature of our humanity.

Animal behavior also strikes me as overlooked for the substantial insights it provides for human behavior. I love animals. Maybe that is why in college I majored in Zoology. It wasn’t simply because it was a good Pre-Med major, and Chemistry, the other option, held for me no allure.

Much has been written on the creative process. I’m convinced creativity steals into the picture and cannot be forced. When it hits me, it does so unexpectedly much like a pigeon dropping. A rested mind, a beautiful scene, and a tickling of intellectual stimulation all enhance my potential for creativity.

Since the writing process per se is language-based, it is is strongly left brain. However, sudden insights like solving a problem or flashes of intuition come from the right brain. This  ability to perceive a solution requiring synthesis is right hemispheric and cannot be arrived at verbally. To write well, both sides of the brain need to work together. To paraphrase and alter the old Greek saying, we need a strong left hemisphere and a strong right hemisphere. That is, the brain must process verbal material, but also be able to discern some broader interpretation in order to tell a good story.

I believe this to be true, and try to put this into practice. And now so much for superstition or goofy acts. Now where was it I laid my Greek fisherman’s hat.

Cover Release

 

 

My book, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, will be released mid-November by Texas Tech University Press. The cover design for the book is above. The design is simple and immediately conjures up a physician with his black medical bag and dangling stethoscope. I believe the cover describes what the book is about, a memoir detailing patient stories that tell of courage, pathos, and humor.

I welcome your thoughts on the book cover. My book is intended for a popular audience. It shares  stories of brave individuals living with and thriving despite their neurological illnesses. All of us at some time will likely face a chronic illness in ourselves or loved ones and this book will assist in preparing for this challenge. It also should benefit health care professionals and serve as a reminder of the wonderful opportunity we have to involve ourselves so intimately in the lives of those for whom we care.

The book is dedicated to those who trusted me enough to share their personal stories of courage, pathos, heroism, and inspiration.

My Writing Process

22109118

One frequently asked question  readers have since publishing Carrying The Black Bag is about my writing process and any efforts utilized to foster creativity. I’ve decided to add some thoughts here on my blog to answer my readers more fully:

Yes, some authors do goofy things to stimulate their creativity. i’ve known some and read about others. The superstitious may choose to sit only in a specific chair or drink only one brand of tea. Others play up-tempo music or stirring classical works. Admittedly, I’ve been known to don a cap (my Greek fisherman’s cap’s my favorite) to prime the creative juices. But the goal for each author, no matter what the idiosyncrasy, is to achieve a creative fervor whereby the characters take command of the story and  fingers simply race to keep pace with surging thoughts.

For me I appreciate sitting before my word processor with a clear mind, a comfortable chair, and an exciting idea. I usually outline the story before beginning it. This isn’t an absolute but generally I find outlining helpful. I try and determine what the chapter requires for plot or subplot and then with trepidation shove off into the unknown.

Nothing inspires fear more in writers than a blank page or screen. Once immersed in the story, my pace inevitably picks up. Usually after the first draft I simply hate it. I often think what I have written is not fit for bathroom walls. It is not until  many more drafts later that I begin to like it even a little bit.  I then put it “in the can” for awhile. Usually after a week or so, I am able to spot additional flaws and weaknesses. I then adjust the story, much like adjusting a recipe to taste, substituting stronger verbs, adding apt similes/metaphors, and creating further descriptions.

The next stop for me on this literary journey is my writing group. Our group of five writers has met for many years and by now has developed a sense of trust. While we possess vastly different styles and genres, the feedback never fails to benefit my story. Soon thereafter I make the additional changes. After a final read through with minor edits I may write THE END. If the writing project is particularly important I may ask a beta reader for his/her thoughts. These are extremely valuable folks who must like your writing and be anxious to share their precious skills.

The question among writers that repeatedly comes up is whether the spouse should act as an informal editor or serve as an alpha reader. The usual response and one to which I hardily agree is NO, absolutely NOT! Having said that, almost every author I know or have read about uses (abuses) their spouse in this way, so long as he/she is halfway literate. I fully recognize this marital extortion is totally unfair to my spouse. In general the writer’s wife or husband feels torn between being supportive and being honest. To this I say, “tough.” No one ever said marriage would be easy!

So yes, Trudy regularly reads my stories. I ask her to do this when I am simply written out or else in need of a fresh eye. She also is good at word choice and grammar. Sorry Trudy. Such editorial services I’m sure must have been hidden in the fine print of the marriage contract.

My inspiration often springs from my surroundings and experiences. I love to tell stories. I love to watch people and animals and try to figure out what makes them do what they do. I love seeing people in extraordinary circumstances do extraordinary acts (this is the watermark underneath my patient stories  in Carrying The Black Bag). These stories show real people demonstrating courage and perseverance that, in some instances, they never knew they possessed. They tell us something good about the nature of our humanity.

Animal behavior also strikes me as overlooked for the substantial insights it provides for human behavior. I love animals. Maybe that is why in college I majored in Zoology. It wasn’t simply because it was a good Pre-Med major, and Chemistry, the other option, held for me no allure.

Much has been written on the creative process. I’m convinced creativity steals into the picture and cannot be forced. When it hits me, it does so unexpectedly much like a pigeon dropping. A rested mind, a beautiful scene, and a tickling of intellectual stimulation all enhance my potential for creativity.

Since the writing process per se is language-based, it is is strongly left brain. However, sudden insights like solving a problem or flashes of intuition come from the right brain. This  ability to perceive a solution requiring synthesis is right hemispheric and cannot be arrived at verbally. To write well, both sides of the brain need to work together. To paraphrase and alter the old Greek saying, we need a strong left hemisphere and a strong right hemisphere. That is, the brain must process verbal material, but also be able to discern some broader interpretation in order to tell a good story.

I believe this to be true, and try to put this into practice. And now so much for superstition or goofy acts. Now where was it I laid my Greek fisherman’s hat.