Category Archives: On Love

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.

Adele C. Hutton- In Memorium

I’ve been dealing with the death and funeral of my mother this past week. It’s been tough . I am overwhelmed that so many friends and readers of my posts have sent cards, emails, and called by phone.
Because of this, I thought I should post a bio I wrote about Mom. She had a very full and long life. For those of you who knew her, I hope you’ll find the following a worthwhile tribute and learn new aspects of her life.

Thanks for indulging me with this. Will return to the usual blog stuff soon.


Adele Catherine Hutton
1921 – 2016

In Loving Memory

Adele Hutton entered this world April 9, 1921 the third of four children born to Frank and Grace Greenway of St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to her parents and three siblings, she enjoyed close relationships with her Grandmother Simeon, who owned and operated a local boarding house, and with her many cousins. It was a different age when the grade school age Adele along with her young cousin, Dolly would ride the trolley unaccompanied downtown on Saturdays to the movie house. At other times, Adele would wander over to the nearby Mississippi river and gaze upon it- perhaps daydreaming about all the places the Great Muddy might take her. She was a bright, energetic, and frugal child.
Despite the passing of years, some wags claimed Adele never grew up, as her adult stature was only 5 feet 1.5 inches and a scant 98 pounds. A comment to which Adele might have responded with one of her often-repeated phrases, “Good things come in small packages.”
A product of the Great Depression, Adele developed frugal ways. She was known, as a child, to mine the couch cushions for lost coins where she invariably found spending money. She also had an endearing practice of “selling” her dog to the neighborhood fire station for a nickel, and later her dog would return home in time to curl up with Adele on her bed for the night. Given that she repeatedly sold that same little dog to the same firemen, they must have either especially liked the enterprising little girl, or else she missed her calling as a salesperson.
An early trauma in Adele’s life occurred when her parents’ divorced. Her enterprising mother, no doubt grievously pained by the divorce, struck out on her own and relocated the four children to Kansas City, Missouri. There she became a successful salesperson for Spirella Corset Company and eventually rose to become regional sales manager.
Adele’s mother forbade the children to ever talk about or have contact with their biological father. Perhaps therein Adele developed her lifelong penchant for keeping her personal thoughts to herself. With her mother working full-time, Adele became more self-reliant and helped rear her younger brother, Dick. Adele made friends easily, developing lifelong friendships during her junior and senior high days.
Adele’s mother met and married Charley Corp of Olathe, Kansas. Adele always considered Charley her father and frequently described his kindness to her and her siblings. Charley Corp worked as a mail clerk for the Kansas Pacific Railroad that became part of the Union Pacific Railway. Perhaps his travel related occupation also influenced Adele’s nascent love of travel.
In addition to being an excellent student, as evidenced by her becoming salutatorian of her high school class, she became a good athlete. Adele made a name for herself as the fastest girl in her high school. As the family story goes, one summer day, a group of girls and boys were enjoying a day at the park. The boys began to chase the girls. Adele liked the looks of young Howard, her eventual husband-to-be, but he wasn’t fast enough to catch her. Years later Adele admitted that she purposefully slowed up, just enough, for him to catch her. The rest was history.
After a year at Kansas City Junior College, Adele joined Howard at the University of Missouri. She there again made excellent grades. She also joined Alpha Delta Pi sorority and in her junior year was elected to be president of the sorority the following year.
December 7, 1941 not only lives on as a day in infamy, but also changed the course of Adele’s life. Following Pearl Harbor, Howard immediately signed up for the U.S. Army Air Forces and reported for service following his spring 1942 graduation.
That spring Howard also proposed to Adele who had up till then been contemplating a career in business. With the world in crisis and the future uncertain, she decided to leave school, marry Howard, and for the next three years trail him to a series of forlorn out-of-the-way military bases. This vagabond existence proved good training for her as she was forced to make new friends and become even more self-reliant, as the men were seemingly always off training in their military airplanes.
Adele also worked at the Fleur Corporation while Howard was assigned to a California military base. The extra income helped as the salary of a second Lieutenant proved meager. In addition to receiving income though, frugal Adele also helped the war effort as Fleur had many military contracts. Her vocational participation gave her a sense of patriotic pride. Adele exemplified what Tom Brokaw later called, “The Greatest Generation.”
Following the whirligig of the war years, Howard, Adele, and firstborn child, Joan, returned to Kansas City and the embrace of their families. There over the next years Adele gave birth to three more children: Tom, David, and Jim. In 1957 Howard’ job, as a pilot for Braniff Airways, required the burgeoning Hutton family to transfer to Dallas, Texas.
In Texas Adele faced a new physical landscape of rolling cotton fields, as far as the eye could see, a creek full of copperheads and Timber rattlesnakes, and marauding tarantulas that persisted in invading her garage. She later joked that at any time she had expected to see seething Comanche coming from over the horizon. Despite these novel challenges and the lack of available help from her extended family, Adele persisted doggedly and built new lives in Texas for herself and her family.
Concerned that the small town of Richardson, population 10,000, had too few activities for her children, she organized a dance club with its many social events, supported athletic interests of her sons, promoted youth groups at the First Presbyterian Church, and established increased PTA activities. As her offspring sheepishly will attest to this day, a youth event in those days was hardly ever held that Adele and Howard did not attend.
Adele always loved animals. Despite protestations from the kids that they would care for and feed the various stray animals they found, it frequently fell to Adele to do so. At times the Hutton household included a menagerie of dogs, cats, parakeets, turtles, a possum (his name was pouty possum), rabbits, lizards, and an ever-expanding number of white mice. Noah’s ark had little on the Hutton home. Howard finally put his size ten foot down and seeded the neighborhood with countless white mice and then swore the kids and Adele to perpetual silence. What exactly the surprised neighbors thought about the sudden unexplained infestation of white mice remains unclear.
In addition to having established a dance club for her children, she also created one for their parents. Adele loved to dance and she and Howard were accomplished dancers and enjoyed “cutting a rug.” Years later when Howard’s mother and father moved from Kansas City to Richardson, Adele established the Richardson’s Senior Citizens Club in order for them to meet new friends. When the children left home for college, Adele turned her loving attention to volunteering at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas followed by volunteering at the Richardson General Hospital. She became volunteer coordinator and was beloved for her organizational skills and hard work. She was active in the Richardson Women’s Club and served for a time as its president. Her business training later also kicked in and for over a decade she ran an AARP office during income tax season that completed tax returns at no cost for senior citizens. She also cared for her sister Grace during Grace’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease. With the death of Adele’s beloved brother, Dick, her already close relationship with her niece, Lynn, and her great niece, Laura, became still closer. Her caring and compassion for others seemed boundless.
Adele’s youthful but unrequited passion for travel was finally realized with the benefit of Howard’s airline passes. She and Howard proceeded to see the world. They visited the major capitals of Europe, toured Egypt, Russia, multiple countries in South America, Canada, Mexico, Iceland, Australia, the Caribbean, South Africa, Japan, various southeast Asian countries, and had repeated visits to her special place, the Hawaiian Islands. Adele and Howard also cruised extensively where she would dance until late into the night. She possessed an outward looking attitude and taught her children and grandchildren to be aware of and think of the world as a whole.
Adele had a gentile manner and capacity for love that translated to her grandchildren. In the summer her home became a destination for grandchildren where she would teach them to swim, shop, explore, play games, and enjoy Six Flags Over Texas along with numerous other children’s activities.
Years later during her decline when living with Joan, Tom, or David she was asked what was her greatest reward and achievement in life. Invariably she would reply by saying it was raising four loving and successful children. Her wise counsel, capacity to love deeply, and her urging of her children to be successful resulted in their four bachelor’s degrees and four advanced degrees. Her lifelong frugality and penchant for saving made paying for these educational efforts possible.
Her drive for education and improved understanding of her world passed through to the grandchildren as well. Of this she was extremely proud. She rarely seemed saddened by having not completed college but instead continued to read and learn on her own. Adele deftly steered the vocational successes of her offspring from which she gained satisfaction.
Those final years living with her children provided a wonderful time for summing up of her life and imparting final valuable messages to her children. It was clear she was at peace with herself and with her world. She continued to be a private person and to keep her own counsel. But when asked, she would always offer sound advice. Her children agree wholeheartedly that a better mother must never have existed.
Several days before her death, she was sitting and enjoying Joan and Joan’s husband, Eldon. In a picture taken of the three of them, Adele appears dressed in a flowered blouse and red sweater, is nicely coiffed, and wears a huge, almost beatific smile. It may have been that she at the time was flirting with Eldon whom she dearly loved and who has had that effect on many others. Alternatively, it may have been Adele was simply demonstrating her strong sense of satisfaction for her life, a life well lived. Her children like to think the latter is the truer explanation. Adele Catherine Hutton died peacefully soon after in her bed November 23, 2016.
We celebrate her life. Adele Hutton was well loved and shall be dearly missed. She is now with her Lord. She also lives on in the hearts and memories of those who loved her so dearly.

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.

Buddy- The Slacker: Part III

This final part of Buddy the Slacker concludes when our nine month old Border collie, Buddy, races to our rescue.  Trudy and I can do nothing but stand perplexed as our bull has engaged in a ferocious battle with another bull. I hope you enjoy this concluding episode of this true story and look forward to your comments as to how to improve the piece.


Buddy is on the right

Buddy on the right

Appalled, Trudy and I scrambled for safety behind a large live oak tree. Once there we cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing bull fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having lost all hope of driving our bull homeward.
I felt dejected. These trying circumstances had outstripped my capacity for retrieving our bull and now I worried that our bull would end up gored by the opposing Shorthorn bull. Just on reaching my emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flashing by me. Recognition soon set in. Trudy and I gasped. Young Buddy, ignoring shouted entreaties, raced headlong toward the bullfight.
“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy slumped down next to the tree; fearful to even watch, believing our half grown dog was about to be killed.
The bulls, focusing on their fight, paid little heed to the young, yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a head-to-head clutch, Buddy circled behind our Charolais bull. Relinquishing his attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave our bull’s tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a step backward and looked behind him.
Our neophyte herder, sensing his opportunity, then circled around and sped between the then narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. By bloodying him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge,Buddy then was able to turn him slightly away from where the Charolais stood. To my amazement, our young Border collie then began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn and, at the same time, gather the remainder of the cattle herd and drive the whole lot of them out of the creek bed and up a nearby hill.
I whispered to Trudy, ” Can you believe what we’re seeing?”
“Is that vicious dog the same sweet puppy that licks my face in the morning?”
When apparently satisfied by the degree of separation between the two bulls, Buddy looped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This feint forced our bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning the bull away from the Shorthorn and then ran the pale leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.
“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy up from her sitting position.
Trudy and I scrambled from our protected site and observed what was going on from a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek bank and into a copse of trees. While lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barking marked their exact location. Soon the panicked bull emerged from the trees hurried on by our overachieving canine.

Buddy provided constant pressure, hastening the bull always forward in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and neophyte herder, soon passed through the broken blow out fence and back into our home pasture.
I yelled to Trudy who trotted alongside the opposite creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned palms heavenward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided such amazing abilities?

To this day, I stand in awe of the talents of Border collies.
Trudy turned toward me and waded into, and through the shallow creek. She climbed the bank and approached me, her head down. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed me a warm smile. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed manner.
We did not know then, but never again when the bull broke out from our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back home— such was the respect the Charolais had gained for Buddy.
With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked under a pecan tree near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, staring in the direction of our grazing bull.
“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy. Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a loving, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and at the same time, admiring our collie. Soon I would need to make repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wished to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement and enjoy my wife’s change in mood.
With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his pink tongue bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. His amber eyes still sparkled with excitement. Over several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush begin to ebb. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and fixed on me an expectant gaze.
The bond between man and dog is like no other between man  and animal. The empathy and understanding of a dog is known to slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like never before, and I felt appreciation for a very special animal like never before.
“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”
“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.” Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.
Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I realized that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with the passage of years. I felt the love especially strong that day for both my wife and for my dog.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate to present day. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart. The second consideration is that help may arrive, when least expected. It may even charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.


Do Animals Mourn?

Not long ago my wife, Trudy, and I returned from an Kenyan safari. The trip was wonderful in so many ways, and one of the many amazing stories was how elephants mourn. When an elephant dies, the rest of the herd stands around the body for up to three days without eating or drinking. They then push over trees to cover the body of the deceased elephant, in effect performing a burial. Even years later when returning to the site they stop and stand silently, as if remembering their fallen family member.

I found this story engaging. It made me wonder if elephants engage in the same emotions of mourning as do humans. These elephant behaviors look like they are mourning the deceased.

Then a couple of days I saw something in my herd of cattle that called me up short. Tragically a calf of about a month of age died. I found it dead without obvious cause. The mother had wandered off by then to feed with the herd.CALVES IMG_0191

When I rolled the dead animal over, inspecting it for signs of predators or other hints as to why it  had died, I was surprised to look up and see the mother trundling hurriedly for where I stood. The mama cow maintained her protective instinct for her deceased calf, and I felt sure she would have defended the carcass. Needless to say, I quickly took my leave.

Admittedly, protectiveness of the calf’s body is different from mourning but still projects an awareness of concern and affection for the deceased calf. Watching mother cows cleanse, feed, and protect their calves has convinced me that these mothers feel strong emotions for their offspring. Even the bull on occasion ends up calf-sitting and demonstrates surprising patience and protective instincts for his offspring.

I have believed for years that human psychology could be better informed if we better understand the behavior of other mammals, especially those closest to us on the evolutionary scale.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think animals mourn? Do your pets show emotions?

Thoughts On Love

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. And when I say this, I mean with its many facets. Strangely this began when our daughter Katie and her dog Olive visited last weekend. Olive does not appear as your typical dog. Olive looks like a dog put together by a committee. As best we can determine, she has German shepherd and either Corgi or Basset hound in her background. Olive is a very sweet and a good natured dog but one that elicits gasps and startled comments, such as “Oh my gosh, what is it?”

Olive has the face and head of a German shepherd but possesses a low slung body with front paws that angle outward at nearly 45 degrees. Now how exactly a German shepherd and a short-statured hound got together, I don’t know. My guess is the German shepherd mother got drunk one Saturday night and fell into a ditch- then along came Daddy.

Katie and Olive

Katie and Olive

Another reason for my recent fixation on love is that I have been reviewing chapters from my unpublished nonfiction book (tentatively entitled The Man Who Played Pinochle With Dogs). One chapter describes an elderly lady with a massive stroke who EMS brought to our emergency room. Initially we didn’t even know her name but determined from the CT-scan that the brain hemorrhage  gave her a very low chance of survival. The  woman physically was in very poor shape and not much to look at. Her hair was stringy and yellowish, finger nails grimy, skin fissured and aged, and she looked malnourished. I must admit at that point, we looked at her more as an old lady with failing physiology and decrepit body than as an individual with particular wants and loves. In our defense we had nothing else to go on.

The next day Ned, her octogenarian husband, with mincing steps walked into our medical intensive care unit and filled us in on her background. Ned not only gave us factual information about her health, but also absolutely changed the way we thought about this woman. We learned that both husband and wife had spent their lives as migrant workers. The had met as children at the end of a long cotton row and later started a common law marriage. Neither could have been described as anything but common in appearance. They had little in the way of worldly possessions and possessed little education. They had no children that might have cemented their relationship. Despite this  rocky foundation on which to build a relationship, their love had thrived.

It soon became clear to us just how much in love they had been. They never had been apart in all their years together. They worked hard, looked out for one another, and moved about together following the crops. The husband was absolutely devoted to his wife, a woman in the story whom I refer to as Maggie.

Whether it was Olive’s speculated upon parents or this pair of octogenarians, love always seems to play a central role for all of us in our lives. Whether it was simple lust as I suspect with Olive’s parents or a deeper, longer, and more meaningful love as with my memorable couple that love provides tremendous importance for our lives.

As I review my medical stories, how often I find an underlying theme about some aspect of love. It enters in the form of caregiver sacrifice, spousal love, love of a parent for a child, or love among unlikely and inherently unlovable people. Love often becomes the engine of transformation in my creative nonfiction stories. The stories also underscore the affection doctors and nurses develop for the people they care for.

Medicine is a calling like no other. I am fortunate to have experienced not only an education in medicine but having medicine provide for me a greater understanding of human nature, human strivings, and human fallibilities. Thank you Maggie, thank you Ned for helping me to understand a bit more about love.