Review on 7-24-16 by Carol Ferguson in the Herald Banner in Greenville, Texas.
Interesting memoir by retired neuroloigist/educator must read — stat!
Medical dramas through the years have attracted faithful fans.
Whether it was “ER,” “House” or other TV shows featuring doctors and their patients, audiences followed the cases as if they were detective stories with a problem to be resolved, which in a sense they were.
I’ve just finished reading a memoir which combines the best of both themes — the dedication of physicians and the tension and challenge of genuine mystery stories.
“Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales” is a new book by Dr. Tom Hutton, a retired clinical and research neurologist and educator. Hutton describes a variety of situationsin which the faceto- face interaction between doctors and patients is uppermost, and he readily admits that a doctor’s best teachers are often his patients.
The black bag in the title refers to the iconic leather bag containing medical instruments and medicines that doctors carried with them back in the days when house calls, rather than patients’visits to offices (I suspect only the most senior readers will know what I’m talking about), were the norm.
The author also lets us in on little trade secrets: for example, the length of a physician’scoatshows the level of his/her training (short coats indicate less time on the job). And when a neurologist shakes a new patient’s hand, more than friendly manners may be involved; the doctor could well be focusing on the distribution and quantity of the hand muscles.
Hutton’s appealing writing style is a far cry from a clinical report. He compassionately describes his patients who suffer from epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and we readers have a seat in the consulting room. We feel the anxiety of the parents whose 5-year-old daughter is close to death from Reyes’ disease but whose faith in Hutton’s skill andin the prayers of their friends is sustaining them.
In one of my favorite chapters, titled “Sleuthing at the VA,” Hutton tells the story of an elderly man whose medical appointments and subsequent blood work indicated he was suffering from repeated arsenic poisoning. But where and how was the poisonadministered?
The patient was sullen and defiant at first, and Hutton and an associate pursued the answers much as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson evaluated clues in Victorian London.
History buffs will be particularly interested in the chapter about Adolf Hitler — and what was almost certainly his Parkinson’s disease and how it may have affected his decisions after the D-Day invasion. After poring over films which show recognizable symptoms of Parkinson’s and after studying eye-witness accounts from those years, Hutton has presented a number of scientific papers on the subject. He assisted in producing a British documentary onHitler’s medical problems and participated in another TV documentary which appeared in Britain and in the U.S. on the National Geographic Channel.
Hutton makes the point that Parkinson’s disease is not responsible for Hitler’s brutality or anti-Semitism. These character traits were formed long before his disorder developed, and the dictator alone is responsible for his horrible deeds. However the disease did affect his executive functions, reducing his ability to make reasonable decisions and conduct effective warfare. These observations are seconded by other experts in the field, and the chapter is intriguing.
On a lighter note, “Rolling the Dice” is an amusing account of Hutton’s move from Minnesota to Lubbock in 1981. The relocation involved a cross-country road trip in a compact car with Dice, the Dalmatian dog from hell. Hutton had accepted a new job with Texas Tech’s School of Medicine, and he drew the short end of the stick, which meant taking Dice with him, while his wifeand children remained behind until the conclusion of the school term.
I could well appreciate his level of frustration because my husband and I had once driven in July from northern California to Texas with two toddlers and a St. Bernard mixed-breed dog named Clancy. The animal leaped through a partially open car window while we were parked in a Needles, Calif., gas station, breaking the glass, cutting his front leg open to the bone, and resulting in our frantic drive to locate a veterinarian.
Hutton, who is now retired and lives inFredericksburg, has ties to the Greenville community. His wife, Trudy, is the daughter of the late Sarah and Paul Plunket, who co-owned a photography studio here for many years. Hutton is currently working on a second book which is tentatively titled “Retiring the Black Bag.”
In the meantime, I recommend you pick up a copy of this first volume.
It’s my prescription for a good read.“Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales” is published by Texas Tech University Press and is available in stores and on amazon. com.
Posted 7/2/16 by Ann Flint at Rambles.net (http://rambles.net/hutton_carrying15.html)
Oliver Sacks, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and AbrahamVerghese, physicians all, are authors that write engagingly, with thrilling and insightful stories, fiction and nonfiction. Their words bring so many of us back to read their books again and again. In some cases, these men and women have written fascinating nonfiction books that further our knowledge about their lives as physicians, and what their patients teach them. The late Oliver Sacks and, more recently, Paul Kalanithi wrote beautifully and deeply about their own illnesses, and how dying was another way of learning how to live. Tom Hutton is a member of the class of physicians who write from the heart, and he gives the reader insight into the life of a physician, and the critical empathy, and common decency so necessary to his or her practice.
In Carrying the Black Bag, A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, Hutton has written a most unusual book that not only describes certain neurological conditions, but also the effects these diseases/syndromes have upon those that have them. Robin Williams famously portrayed Dr. Oliver Sacks in the 1990 movie, Awakenings. Like the doctor in the movie, and similar to the books and articles written by Sacks, Hutton has movingly and effectively written a book about what his patients taught him, and by extension, all of us about the final, still unmapped frontier, the human brain.
Hutton writes about a 6-year-old child who suffered from Reyes syndrome, brought on by the ingestion of aspirin to help bring down a fever during a bout with chickenpox. As an intern, he worked closely with senior medical personnel, and his mentor, Dr. Don Blossom, was working closely with him in trying to help this little girl survive. Many of us grew up taking aspirin to bring down fevers, and now we know that children under age 18 cannot process this medication through their livers. In 1972 little was known about this relatively rare syndrome, or at least not enough to lead a child back from the brink of death. The child’s prognosis was grim, and since there was no Internet available, and physicians could not often find the time to read journals in between rotations, it was serendipitous that Blossom’s reading in the medical library journals provided an untried, yet ultimately successful procedure to cure this child.
There are chapters in this book that discuss Parkinson’s disease and, fascinatingly, Hitler’s bout with this disabling disease and the disease’s possible symptomology for his horrific final solution; the angelic hallucinations suffered by a woman dying of cancer, and the genuine devotion Hutton has for all his patients and their loved ones. This is a book for anyone to read, learn about the human spirit, and gain insight into the mind of a practicing neurologist.
Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales by Thomas Hutton, M.D. tells the human side of medicine. Hutton’s warm storytelling will draw you into his book as you learn about what it’s like to become a doctor to practicing medicine. There are some truly heartwarming stories and some truly funny stories too. Last night I read the chapter about Hutton’s Dalmatian Dice. Dice is not the brightest nor best-behaved dog on the planet, according to the author, as Dice managed to get tossed out of obedience school (a first I think) for his bad behavior. Dice and Dr. Hutton took a road trip, which Hutton carefully documents in his book. The chapter about the road trip is worth reading and will have you laughing. At least I was quietly laughing, as I did not want to wake up my husband who was sleeping next to me. (I love to read books in bed every night before heading off to dreamland.) Dice managed to save the day during their road trip, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.
Hutton as other delightful tales such as the veteran who had a go-round with arsenic; there’s his tale of a Parkinson patient who played Pinochle every afternoon with his canine buddies (a hallucination probably caused by medication, according to Hutton’s book); or how love is lifelong under the most trying circumstances. You will also read about a mild mannered engineer who turns into a true Mr. Nasty thanks to a medical disorder.
Overall, this is a heartwarming book that illustrates the human side of medicine.
If I could give this book 10+ stars I would.
We visited a Barnes & Noble store in Lubbock, TX on Dec 18. Dr Hutton was having a book signing and we stopped to talk to him. We subsequently purchased two books and couldn’t put them down once we started. His book is masterfully written. We use that phrase because Dr. Hutton was able to awaken within us memories from our own life experiences, especially with elderly parents. His ability to express his patients’ feelings and views using their words and their colloquialisms makes this book very interesting, authentic, and entertaining. Be prepared to have your emotions tugged in all directions as Dr. Hutton applies empathy, professional skills and healing to both the body and the spirit. This book is a sketch covering a lifetime of practicing medicine and if you read carefully, including the prologue and the afterword, you will discover a bonus chapter hidden in plain sight. Dr. Hutton is revealed as a physician to whom the black bag represents dedication and responsibility; he is a person you would enjoy having as your doctor and your neighbor. Dr Hutton went the extra mile, refused to quit, and worked to resolved the many medical mysteries encountered during his professional life. We are betting the black bag still has a prominent position in his home and that it still sees occasional use.
We detected stories untold such as living in the soviet Union during the Cold War. Living with the Russians and studying with some of the Soviet’s top scientific minds could open a window for us to view Russia from that perspective. We hope for a sequel.
I can only add emphasis to the praise of Dr. Hutton’s wonderful book, Carrying the Black Bag. Read the book. It is a rare gift comprised of vignettes culled from Dr. Hutton’s over thirty years as a physician, scholar, and teacher. As a neurologist, Dr. Hutton came to know the courage of patients struggling with diseases that changed their perceptions, their emotions, and their physical abilities. He tells their stories with honesty, humility, respect and often humor. He varies once from personal experience to relate his intriguing study of the probable effect of Hitler’s Parkinson’s disease on the outcome of World War II. Dr. Hutton applies the same skill and dedication to writing that he obviously did to his medical calling. He weaves in just enough medical fact and historical background to keep the reader moving effortlessly through the stories without losing the intrigue and focus of the narrative. The stories stand alone as gems, and together enrich our knowledge and appreciation of the complexity of the mystery that links neurological medicine to understanding the human spirit
Early on in his forty years of practicing medicine, Dr. Hutton learned to listen and to treat the patient, not the illness. That lesson greatly enriched his life, and his life stories will keep readers captivated. Given his education and credentials, it may seem redundant to say that author Dr. Tom Hutton writes intelligently; however, I have read more than a few books where despite an amazing portfolio of accolades, the author’s writing was a mess. Carrying the Black Bag is not one of those books. Dr. Hutton gives readers credit for being able to follow along and doesn’t dumb-down his content — indicators of why he was such a wonderful doctor.
“Love has the utmost importance in the lives of ill people.”
As Dr. Hutton shares a series of stories from over the years, what shines through is the importance of love, hope, and humor in patients, loved ones, and doctors. Hutton repeatedly plants seeds that regardless of the advances in technology, “the practice of medicine is, in the final analysis, a human-to-human transfer and rendering of care.” Truly, this should be required reading for medical students as a reminder of how one of the finest skills a doctor can possess is listening.
Readers inside and outside the medical world will enjoy Hutton’s insights and reflections. The symbolism of the black bag is woven throughout his stories, and Hutton uses lots of figurative language to provide wonderfully rich descriptions. Also included are interesting tidbits for readers from the non-medical world: for example, the length of the doctor’s coat indicates his/her level of training (longer is most experienced.) Good to know!
The writing is outstanding, and since I had a copy-edit version of the book, I will assume the very few errors will be corrected. I could see some placeholders in the copy-edit, so it appears that the final version will have some illustrations or figures and that there will be an index, both of which will bring even more to the book.
The stories of the people and patients met between the book covers will stay within readers’ hearts. As they turn the final page and close the book, readers will feel that their time was well spent.
5.0 out of 5 stars “One of the best medical memoirs I have read.”
By Yankee Cowboy
Rarely, does a book make me laugh, much less cry. I did both while reading Tom Hutton’s memoir of selected case histories. I cried for an eight year old girl who miraculously recovered from a terrible disease. I laughed frequently at Hutton’s superb use of similes. For example, “as slow as a caterpillar with sore feet.” I could cite many others.
Mostly, I love this book for the deeply personal and compassionate way Hutton describes his patients. Along with Hutton, as a result of this book, I am again truly in awe of the capacity of human beings to cope bravely and spiritedly despite debilitating diseases. Hutton spends a lot of time discussing Parkinson’s disease. My father died at age 90 of complications from Parkinson’s. I wish my dad could have known Dr. Tom Hutton. Dr. Hutton, I saw many doctors carrying black bags in my life. Fortunately for me, they were a lot like you.
5.0 out of 5 stars “One of my favorite stories is the one about Sam”
By Amazon Customer
This book is a readable, entertaining and thoughtful insight into one of our nation’s physicians as he reveals a lifetime of truly ‘caring’ for his patients. His portrayals demonstrate a rare human soul who, though a talented physician, is not willing to simply diagnose and treat an illness but seeks to heal more than just the body. One of my favorite stories is the one about Sam, an old cotton farmer and Parkinson’s patient who plays Pinochle with a group of imaginary dogs. After coming to the conclusion that Sam’s hallucinations need to be curtailed Dr. Hutton explains to Sam, “a healthy persons body is like a wagon being pulled by a team of 8 horses, with Parkinson’s, only two healthy horses remain.” He then goes on to explain that Sam was receiving “too much treatment” or was “whipping the two remaining healthy horses too hard” and thus soliciting the hallucinations. His homilies are infused with the vernacular of his patients and further demonstrate his deep caring and concern for the humanness of his patients. I found the book enlightening, uplifting and inspirational.
5.0 out of 5 stars “My favorite chapter introduces us to Maggie and her beloved of 60 years, Ned.”
By Amazon customer
Carrying the Black Bag is a gem! Dr Hutton gives us an up close and personal perspective of many of his patients and each one grows in front of our eyes into a full story with rich emotions and context. My favorite chapter introduces us to Maggie and her beloved of 60 years, Ned. Maggie, when we meet her is in an irreversible comma which takes her life. But as we learn through Ned’s loving and devoted eyes Maggie becomes, instead of a “shriveled up old woman with failing physiology”, an “energetic and skillful harvester” and we are left with Ned’s grief and his words “Doc, I love that old gal; she picked cotton like she was fighting fire”.
I laughed out loud and several times shed tears with Dr. Hutton’s skillful writing. He shows us how caring and insightful a physician can be.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Hutton’s wonderful book. Read this book”
I can only add emphasis to the praises of Dr. Hutton’s wonderful book. Read this book. It is a rare gift. Vignettes comprising this book are culled from the author’s over thirty years as a physician, neurologist, scholar and teacher. The stories are told with honesty, humility, humor, and respect for his patients and their courage, strength, and ingenuity. Dr. Hutton applies the same dedication to his writing that he obviously did to his calling as a physician. He weaves in just enough medical fact and historical background to keep the reader moving effortlessly through the stories without losing the narrative focus and intrigue. The stories stand alone as gems and together enrich our knowledge and appreciation of the complexity and mystery linking neurological medicine to the human spirit.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Real Stories about What Medicine Should Be About”
By La Nelle
In today’s world of electronic medical records and insurance led medicine, Carrying the Black Bag is a refreshing story of a real reason to practice medicine. Dr. Hutton weaves stories involving patients and life-long love of animals that are funny, poignant and thought provoking. The book contains stories of real connections to patients as human beings and how they shaped his life with their illnesses and lives, even many years after the encounters. My favorite chapters are “The Learning Curve” and “Mind Spark”. These stories remind us that a diagnosis isn’t always just the obvious facts but requires curiosity, determination and a real interest in patients as human beings first and not just another chart. The book examines enduring truths about family, story, fears and human nature.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Reading Carrying the Black Bag is like watching Marcus Welby”
By Judith A. Ungeron
Reading Carrying the Black Bag is like watching Marcus Welby, MD. In both cases, the doctor’s humanity and respect for his patients is front and center. Hutton is a natural story teller, and this memoir is a collection of stories about patients he cared for and cared about. In each story, he describes the patient’s condition and how he/she was was reacting and faring. An interesting inclusion is his discussion of Adolf Hitler and his conclusion – based on visual observation of Hitler’s movements in old films and news reels- that Hitler did indeed have Parkinson’s disease and that this condition impacted his ability to conduct effective warfare, especially concerning the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. All in all, this is an informative and engaging read.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Hutton carries the capacity to notice and share the moments of humor and delight that live in the same neighborhoods as complex and deteriorating conditions.”
There are many starting gates that open the path to compassion and meaning in life. Tom Hutton describes the potential for medicine to be one of those. It’s not inevitable. Hutton’s intention to see through the point of view of his patients, combined with the focus of his curiosity and the dedication of his intellect to contribute to their healing, leads to remarkably intimate and dramatic stories. Along with the black bag, Dr. Hutton carries the capacity to notice and share the moments of humor and delight that live in the same neighborhoods as complex and deteriorating conditions.
5.0 out of 5 stars “I highly recommend this book to all who are about to enter any field of physical or mental health.”
By Dr. Jim M. Spriuiell
Dr. Tom Hutton, in his book, Carrying the Black Bag will entrance the reader immediately with his masterful way of storytelling. A gifted writer with the heart of a psychotherapist , the soul of a priest, and the training of a skilled physician, he will capture you and transport you into the interview room with him as he visits with his patients. I highly recommend this book to all who are about to enter any field of physical or mental health.
Early Praise for Carrying the Black Bag
“Each story slipped into The Black Bag is a shining jewel, polished to perfection and written with empathy, sensitivity and humor. Hutton brings to life a doctor’s unflagging dedication to the human condition as a healer with utmost respect for each patient fortunate enough to be graced by his compassion and commitment. Every tale, once begun, entrances.”
–Antoinette van Heugten, author of USA Bestsellers Saving Max and The Tulip Eaters
“Being a physician is a privilege, in no small part because of the powerful insight it provides into the human condition. Tom Hutton addresses themes of interest to all readers – love, loyalty, family and mortality – and shows how he could affect a positive outcome, and how he, in turn, was changed by those for whom he cared.”
–William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP president, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
“How many doctors have you come across who can write this well, especially for the lay reader? He’s a natural, that’s for sure! Carrying the Black Bag is a must-read for anyone interested in following a wonderful doctor on his rounds.”
–Bartee Haile, Texas history author and newspaper columnist