Category Archives: Medicine and Humanism

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.

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.

Midwest Book Review of Carrying The Black Bag

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My book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales recently received this wonderful review in Midwest Book Review. I am gratified to share it with you:

From March 2016 issue of Midwest Book Review…www.midwestbookreview.com

MBR Bookwatch: March 2016
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

Dunford’s Bookshelf

Carrying the Black Bag
Thom Hutton, M.D.
Texas Tech University Press
PO Box 41037, Lubbock, TX 79409-1037
http://www.ttupress.org
9780896729544, $27.95, HC, 240pp, http://www.amazon.com

Synopsis: 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, he gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit. Part memoir and part homage to those patients who faced major illness with grace, grit, and dignity, “Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales” 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. Through real-life patient narratives, Dr. Hutton shines light on ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. Moreover, this captivating tale captures the drama of medicine, including its mystery, pathos, heroism, sacrifice, and humor. For more than just those working in the healthcare profession, “Carrying the Black Bag” also shares a behind-the-curtain peek at the rapidly changing American health care system.

Critique: Impressive, exceptional, absorbing, informative, thoughtful, and entertaining, “Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales” is a compelling and rewarding read from beginning to end. “Carrying the Black Bag” is very highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, as well as to the attention of non-specialist general readers with an interest in the ‘real world’ experiences of a dedicated physician.

Michael Dunford
Reviewer

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.

 

 

 

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.

Agents, Publishers, and Editors, Oh My!– Part IV

Seeking an agent is, of course, optional. Nevertheless, sending your work “over the transom” to publishing houses frequently lands it in their circular files. Publishing houses say they do not have time to review every manuscript they receive. But even finding an agent can be challenging. So what are ink-stained minions to do?

Various books such as Literary Digest exist with the names and locations of agents. These can be sought out and agents identified willing to review material from new authors as well as their expertise in the genre you write.

For me, I found two potential agents at the Harvard Medical Writer’s Conference. The conference had  distilled down the pool of agents to those interested in doctor stories. I submitted to these two and, to my surprise, both wanted to represent me. This represents the only time the time frame of the publishing process was shorter than anticipated. I know my ease in finding an agent is not the norm. Good luck!

I quickly learned from my experienced agent, Don Fehr, at Trident Media in NYC that publishers did not buy books, they only buy well-written and compelling book proposals. While I had labored mightily to complete my book proposal, Don with his knowledge had several suggestions that helped it. I lengthened the proposal to seventy-five pages, bolstered several sections (especially the comparative literature section), and cut off one sample chapter. An agent possesses knowledge about to whom the proposal should be sent. I didn’t have a clue about this and the fifteen percent fee charged by my agent seemed entirely reasonable.

My agent submitted the proposal serially in three lots. I learned from observing these acts of literary commerce that all publishers are not necessarily timely in responding, even from agents whom they know well. Months became years. The waiting time for me crept by like a caterpillar with sore feet.

The initial responses when they finally arrived consisted of “we do not have experience or expertise with this kind of book,” or “we are having to limit ourselves to only a few publications this year, or similar “passes.” “Passes”, hell, each and every one felt like a searing, bald-faced rejection, a real punch in the groin. So what if thirty-three rejections occurred before the final ACCEPTANCE? How sweet the acceptance.

Texas Tech University Press received my proposal with enthusiasm and asked me to submit the full manuscript. Another six months unfortunately slipped by when the then Director of Tech Press unexpectedly retired and failed to pass my book to a colleague or to even download it into their system. When eventually the error was discovered, my submitted book took flight, winging its way to two external reviewers. Both mercifully provided prompt and strongly positive endorsements.

My wonderful editor at Tech Press, Joanna Conrad, made several deft observations and tactful requests. I worked for three months responding to her requests that consisted largely of personalizing the manuscript more. What had been a combination memoir and medical narrative became a stronger physician’s memoir. After addressing her edits, the manuscript was re-submitted and was better for the extra effort.

A final editorial committee (you just knew there would be a committee at a university publishing house somewhere) gave the book a big thumbs up along with a positive recommendation from the Editor at Texas Tech University Press. Voila! I am at last to be published! Praise the Lord and pass the champagne!

At this point I thought my portion of the publishing process was largely completed. Again, my assumption would be proved wrong.