Category Archives: Creative Writing

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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Appearance on Alternative Talk Radio

What fun I had as a guest on KKNW 1150 AM, alternative talk radio for the hour long program “Sunny In Seattle“. Sunny Joy McMillan hosts this wonderful program and asked insightful and probing questions about my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales.  We also had well-informed callers who  provided thoughtful observations and questions.

Any opportunity to discuss my book and writing method is always welcome, but particularly when it is carried out with the joy and intelligence shown by Sunny. Below is a MP3 link to the interview on “Sunny in Seattle” should you wish to listen to the full program

I wish everyone a marvelous Thanksgiving. It is good to stop and ponder that which we are grateful among which I am grateful for you, the readers of my blog.

The Urge To Blog

Why are some compelled to write blogs? My own desire grew after assuming a new  identity in retirement, that of a newly minted rancher. The novelty of it intrigued me. Being a “city boy,” nearly everything including raising livestock, operating ranch equipment, mending fences, and building barns held a strong fascination.cropped-header-option-1.jpg

The thought occurred if I enjoyed learning about and living a rural and retired lifestyle, then perhaps others would like to read about it too. This interest eventually led me to begin blogging about my writing process and finally to aspects of my book. Admittedly, I also needed to decompress from my busy former career as a clinical and research neurologist and thought others might enjoy reading tidbits resulting from my inevitable backward glance at my life.

While still a young blog, I consider Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch  to have been successful. Its  popularity supports my original premise that others might enjoy reading about this subject matter. I very much appreciate receiving comments from readers and learning from them. The only experience better  is having friends and family visit the ranch, especially those who “get it.”

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Certainly not everyone who visits our ranch leaves with an appreciation for the land and for the animals in a way like Trudy and I do. That’s okay. Some would rather sit on the back porch and work their smart phones than absorb the tranquility and develop new ranch experiences.

Nevertheless, some who visit throw themselves into ranch life. A recent visit to the ranch by good friends LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas were two cases in point. Incidentally, both La Nelle and Madeline have been beta readers for many of my writing efforts and have fully supported my efforts to market my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

La Nelle and Madeline herding 'em up

La Nelle and Madeline herding ’em up

La Nelle, Madeline, Trudy, and I recently worked calves. This consisted of vaccinating for blackleg and ear tagging them. Both visiting ladies threw themselves into the effort, helping and enjoying the novel experience.  Both also managed to avoid being stepped on or pooped on. This was an accomplishment. Between swims in the pool they also tended the vegetable garden and hiked the steep green hills of our ranch. Both ladies are extremely intelligent and mindful such that our conversations on the back porch were for me especially pleasing.

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke, the neighbor’s grandson

I could see excitement in their eyes as they became engrossed in their experiences that were so different from their usual lives in Lubbock. They sensed the tranquility of a Texas sunset from atop a hill while sipping a glass of chilled wine. These “Sundowners” have become a regular feature of our ranch life.

The dogs and I enjoying a "Sundowner"

The dogs and I enjoying a “Sundowner”

Years ago at my retirement party my brother-in-law presented a large number of T-shirts on which was written “Tom’s Ranch Hand.” Paul Plunket in his humorous way predicted I would put friends and family to work on the ranch and possibly even avoid the need to hire any help. In this he was correct only to a degree.

T-shirt read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline on left and La Nelle on right with their T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands- Hutton Ranch

I had two T-shirts left over from my retirement party. At the conclusion of La Nelle and Madeline’s  visit, I presented a T-shirt to each. Both appreciated the gift, small tokens though they were. This further convinced me of the wonderment that exists at Medicine Spirit Ranch set in these green hills of central Texas. It is a wonderment for at least some. Perhaps that is the way it always is. Different experiences resonate for different folks. I hope for future visitors to our ranch and to describe in writing the experiences for those unable to experience it directly.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

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.

Buddy- The Slacker: Part II

In Part I of this story, I discover a destroyed fence at a water gap and immediately suspect our wayward bull. I then mobilize my long suffering wife, Trudy, to help me round up our missing bull. Meanwhile our Border collie puppy remains behind in the back seat of my pickup, sleeping. The story continues:

 

My good friend and neighbor, Tom Norris along with his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased our bull multiple times across a good chunk of our rural county. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about in his four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had greatly enjoyed the pursuits. Tom’s grandchildren had later pleaded with him, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”
But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we were fond of calling him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was off work for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me.

And we had no choice but to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning, pure bred Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stands out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had experienced once before and for which I had felt the need to apologize to my neighbor.
These bull chases had become a fretting issue for Trudy. While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, frequency of sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where  bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

 Charolois Bull

Charolois Bull

Earlier I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie, in the pickup with the windows down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, an immature trait I assumed, but one that imparted to him a comical appearance.

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

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

Trudy and I continued to trundle along the creek bed. Here we are busting our butts, chasing our bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time that I get rid of the bull?
Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our skin. Trudy’s arms were scraped and her hair became disheveled with twigs attaching to her curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwoods hinted at challenges that still lay ahead.
A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grass, we discovered the neighbor’s herd of cattle. We also discovered the location of our bull, Cool Spirit. Our peripatetic bull stood tall in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged from her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest.

The old saw came to mind about how after midnight the women in the bar must get better looking, and I wondered if such a sentiment might also be true for horny bulls.
Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to truly understand as lust simply trumps all logic.

Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. And this was by all accounts a very intelligent man. This is not to imply the sexual urge is not a strong one. In the case of our bull, he had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an apparently intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton had also paid his public penance as a result of his irresistible dalliances.
Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said, a note of urgency in her voice.
“Good Lord,” I yelled on spotting it. Apprehension shot through me like an electric current. By then the red bull with its head lowered was advancing in the direction of our Charolais. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire to the menacing shorthorn bull. In turn our bull lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared and snorted at each other from a distance of under thirty yards. Each weighed well over a ton apiece. My worry rocketed still higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.
Unfortunately our approach acted like a Toreador’s red cape. Just as Trudy and I edged closer, both bulls suddenly became determined to establish their dominion over the herd. They began pawing at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under massive, bulging bellies.
Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, dissuaded neither in the slightest. Their shows soon gave way to all out combat.

The bulls, like two hot rods playing chicken ran straight toward each other but then failed to dodge. They crashed head on into each other. With their muscles rippling, the huge animals strained to drive the other into a compromised position. They continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their fight by then had kicked up a thin brown cloud of dust that carried with it their rank aromas.
Their heated battle raged back and forth from bank to bank across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their combined bodies weighing close to 5000 pounds knocked over small trees, as if they were mere broomsticks. They clattered through the rocky creek bottoms. It was a frightening spectacle to observe.

TO BE CONTINUED

Buddy- The Slacker: Part I

Today I begin a three part series about Buddy, my male Border collie. I have written about him before. My story this time follows the story about Bella who acted as my reminder and is again in the vein of how our pets benefit our lives.  I think the story meanders a bit and would work better as a book chapter than as a blog post. The length alone requires it be presented serially. I would love your thoughts on this piece and how you’ve learned or benefited from your pets. I hope you enjoy my story about Buddy. Was he really a slacker?

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Wire mesh panels dangled askew from a heavy steel cable. I immediately understood what had destroyed the water gap, as our bull had previously proved an excellent breakout artist and a frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I reluctantly grabbed for my cell phone and dialed my wife at our ranch house.
“Guess what, honey? Bull is… missing again.” I heard my voice crack, as I forced these words out, words that I knew would be unwelcome.
“Oh shit, not again?” she shouted irritably into the receiver.
I flinched under the assault. Then I heard a long exhalation followed by a pause before she said, “Be there in a few minutes.” I heard her phone click off.
Within fifteen minutes Trudy and I were again hiking the rocky creek bottom at our Fredericksburg, Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation, heady juniper, and a hint of desperation. The glare in her eye told me she was displeased at being mobilized for yet another bull chase. Trudy hesitated at the damaged blowout fence, shook her head, and pivoted toward me, her eyes flashing.
“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her arms crossed, her lips tight. “What’s Francisco call him?” She knew full well what our ranch hand called him, but by reminding me, she’d already made her point.
“Hamburguesa,” I breathed the words in a barely audible voice, careful to avoid her gaze.
“Ah yes, hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, did he call him that?”
I gave a mental shrug. Since I desperately needed her assistance and was feeling trapped, I answered civilly. “Well, Francisco grumped that next time he met our bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”
Trudy’s hand shot up like that of a great orator and jabbed the air emphatically as she had probably done many times in court, “Yeah, sounds good to me too and make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! I’m watching my calories, you know.” With this she gave an exaggerated wiggle of her hips and sucked in her stomach.

Trudy with Hay bale

Trudy with Hay bale

I bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable and marched resolutely into the adjacent ranch. I had a bad feeling about the venture that lay ahead.
Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank, as I furtively glanced about in search of water moccasins. I felt inwardly embarrassed by my compulsive searching for the dreaded serpents but felt unable to resist my urgings.
Growing up in Texas, I’d heard stories about poisonous snakes. As standard a fare at Boy Scout campfires as s’mores was how nests of wriggling water moccasins could boil up unexpectedly from the depths of a creek and pull a hapless person down to an agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale, those of us in our Boy Scout troop remained convinced such horrible things must have truly happened.
Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my cogitations. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, she said with particular emphasis, “after countless breakouts, you haven’t already sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I know a practiced soliloquy when I hear one. She must be seething.
To be sure I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as she did. In the past we had scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, clomped through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides. All of left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and with Trudy barely speaking.
I had also not missed her emphasis on “COW-BOY” with the unmistakable sharpness in her tone. While stinging, I was at least relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her more scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”
“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. Once I lay hands on you it’s the one-way trip to the auction barn for you.
Trudy opened her mouth likely to harangue me further but before she could speak, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed down into the shallow creek. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible on a bad day.
I couldn’t help but smirk at her watery dilemma.
“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“
“You okay?”
She scrambled out of the chilly, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun. Needing Trudy’s help, she needed mollifying. “Well, we may sell the big guy. His escapes are happening more frequently and he’s learned how to evade us.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Reflections On My West Texas Book Tour

IMG_0363I enjoyed a busy week recently in Lubbock speaking on their NPR station at Texas Tech University, at an event at the Texas Tech University Library, to a private book party entitled “A Celebration and a Conversation” kindly hosted by Judy Wilkins and La Nelle Etheridge, and to the Lubbock Roundtable. Wow, each was a lot of fun. The comments on my book, Carrying The Black Bag, proved very positive and I enjoyed the interaction.
Below I’ve shared a couple of pictures from the library presentation and a very nice video provided by the library. Should you wish a similar talk to your organization, please contact Trudy, my wife, who keeps the schedule (don’t they always). Her email is trudy_hutton@yahoo.com

IMG_0383IMG_0386Here is the link to the presentation at the Texas Tech University Library:

https://youtu.be/yyh241N4zNg