Tag Archives: Carrying The Black Bag

Morning Symphony

Trudy and I continue to “camp out” in our guesthouse while our home undergoes renovation and restoration. Because of a flood, our wooden floors required replacing and we had to move out for three weeks. While we were at it, we decided to do a bit of updating as well. Fortunately we had a guesthouse to move into rather than having to move to a motel (a dog friendly one, of course). We plan on moving back to our usual house in just a few days. Hoorah!

While we have felt frustration over our inability to access certain items, my morning routine has remained unchanged. It begins with a canine symphony, or should I call it a canine cacophony?

You see, after I shower and begin to dress for the day, my two Border collies, Bandit and Bella, begin barking like crazed dogs. They become so excited by the prospect of going out onto the ranch. They are not at all patient


“Two-footed humans sure move slowly!”

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Jack, our little brown dog, appears nonplussed by the whole matter. If anything Jack places himself between the Borders and me, attempting to prevent the overly excited collies from jumping up  while I totter about on one leg, putting on my jeans.

I am a good dog in the morning, not like those noisy Border collies.”

I’ve found that the barking of the Border collies cannot be suppressed. I try repeatedly to shush them verbally, but to no avail. I even resort to gently squeezing their jaws together. Nothing works. Bella, bless her little canine heart, has even taken to nipping at my legs (very disconcerting for me), if I don’t move along at her desired pace. She clearly herds me in the direction of the pickup and becomes visibly frustrated if I need to double back.

Unfortunately, even on reaching the pickup, the morning symphony of dog barking doesn’t stop. My good neighbor and friend, Tom Norris, says he can always tell where I am on the ranch because of the dogs’ barking. You see, sounds carries very well in Live Oak Valley.

I suppose my dogs’ barking is a new form of G.P.S., i.e. godawful pet sounds! Or maybe it should be C.P.S, Canine Positioning System. Eventually the dogs stop barking, although I suspect it may be because of doggie hoarseness.

My frequency of blog posting (and FB posting) has slowed lately. This absence results from the time I’ve  devoted to writing another book. I am entering the final phases of finishing my next book (well prior to sending it off to potential agents and publishers and the lengthy process that is sure to follow). My book is tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription for Defeat.

The book seeks to answer the “Holy Grail” of questions about Hitler- that is, what was it that affected his reasoning to the extent that he made such colossal blunders in judgement toward the end of World War II. The premise of my book is that Hitler’s failing health and abnormal personality largely explain his errors in judgment and aided the Allies in achieving victory. The book goes into Hitler’s major and minor illnesses along with describing his unusual personality characteristics and how these aspects worked against him. His health is spliced into a number of the major battles of World War II. Wish me luck!

I have  received feedback from my beta readers on Hitler: Prescription For Defeat and have made the necessary edits. I feel so grateful for the time and expertise of Janet, LaNelle, Tom, and Madeline for carrying out this helpful task. Thank you. Extra sets of eyes prove very useful!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read my first book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick it up at your favorite bookstore or order a copy. The book has won awards, and received generous comments from Amazon readers. These reviews on Amazon are extremely welcome and encouraging.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My absolute favorite feedback about Carrying The Black Bag came in the form of a picture from a family member who was at the time training as a Pediatric surgical nurse.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

The days at Medicine Spirit Ranch are lengthening and warming, and it won’t be long until Central Texas looks like the picture below. Spring with the wildflowers is hard to beat!

Bluebonnets and Paints

Wrong Way Tom and Trudy

In reflecting on 2018, I’ve concluded that Trudy and I must have gone the wrong way or must have taken the wrong path in our lives. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population of Texas lived in the rural areas and only 10% lived in the cities. By the end of the 20th century these percentages had reversed with 90% of the population of Texas living in urban areas and only 10% living in the country. This trend toward urbanization goes unchecked thus far in the 21st century.

Meanwhile Trudy and I left behind our former homes in the cities (Dallas-area, Lubbock, Houston, Minneapolis, even Moscow and London) where we had lived our entire lives. Instead we went the wrong way and adopted a rural lifestyle living in the countryside outside Fredericksburg ,Texas. Clearly we moved counter current to the usual demographics, but why.?

Moreover, we chose to live on a cattle ranch and raise cattle at a time when the cattle industry has  swooned from the greatness of earlier times when cattle allowed Texas to become a wealthy state. We certainly don’t claim the same lifestyle as the frontier ranchers in Texas who lived in fear of marauding Indians, struggled against nature using primitive tools, and made their ranch rounds via horseback rather in a pick up. No, our experiences don’t compare to the difficult frontier days that were depicted in the western movies, but that doesn’t mean our lives are without challenges as this blog has at times depicted.

Buddy and Bella: “No way is this the wrong way. This ranch life is what we were bred for.”          Photo by Ramsey

Little Jack: “Hey Pick Up Man, had you not gone the wrong way, I wouldn’t have lived out my story at Medicine Spirit Ranch”

 

And while some would argue the western myth with its exciting cattle drives and western heroes springs more from Hollywood fantasy than reality, it still fills a void, a yearning, if you will, for a simpler life of raising and moving stock, enjoying good neighbors, and experiencing a simpler, less hectic lifestyle. These are the activities we have enjoyed since moving to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Perhaps springing from the innate narcissism common in writers, I’ve chosen to share our experiences on this blog. I’ve shared earlier stories of caring for remarkable people who developed neurological disorders, and, in so doing, shared extraordinary experiences that reveal much of what is good about human nature. These stories are in my book, Carrying The  Black Bag: A Neurologists Bedside Tales.  

Carrying the Black Bag book

available online or favorite bookstore

I am proud to say it has won several awards:

In a way writing books in the digital age also runs counter culture. Nevertheless, i can think of nothing more pleasing than sharing stories  in the hope my readers will gain a modicum of benefit from them.

I am working hard on a second book that time will tell whether it sees the light of day. I have tentatively titled it, Hitler: Prescription For Defeat. In it I’ve tried to bring my medical skills (retired though they may be) to bear on Adolf Hitler’s little known, but serious health issues. Too little attention has been devoted, in my opinion, to how his poor health impacted his leadership in World War II, inadvertently affected the great battles, and assisted the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany. Hopefully 2019 will see me finish the book and move forward toward publication. I’ll soon the manuscript to several wonderful folks willing to serve as my beta readers/ Any encouragement you might offer would be appreciated, or else any advice to move onto other subjects.

Looking forward to 2019, “wrong way Tom and Trudy” will continue to live our rural lifestyle. We’ll continue to enjoy our “wrong way” lifestyle” as well. Also Tom will continue to blog about his observations and experiences at the ranch and elsewhere. And in the meantime from Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, I extend to you my fondest wishes for your personal successes in 2019. Happy New Year!

Suggestions for New Writers- A Twelve Step Program

The Fredericksburg Writers Group recently asked me to speak on publishing my book, Carrying The Black Bag, and to provide thoughts for new writers trying to become authors. I was pleased to do so and thought I might share these same thoughts to my readers.Carrying the Black Bag book

My book took me five years to write (on and off) and confronted many difficulties and rejections. Some suggestions on dealing with this process are as follows:

1. BE passionate about your story. In my case, my stories demanded to be told. I felt my patients  entrusted me with their stories, and I was brimming to share my patients’ humanity and courage.

2. LEARN to write for a popular audience. This may seem simplistic but it is not. I found it challenging to break away from scientific and medical writing. Texas Tech University in Fredericksburg offered popular writing courses that proved  very helpful. I developed the courage to begin using similes, metaphors, alliteration etc., something as rare in medical writings as finding the Lochness monster.

3. REWRITE, Rewrite, and Rewrite some more. I had at least a dozen edits that I thought were wonderful, until I reread them. Your finished product (or at least what you think is your finished product!) must be your best to stand a chance of being published.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

This young reader gave me a great morale boost when I saw this picture of her reading my book between surgical cases

4. JOIN a critique group. Critiquing others and having them critique your work are extremely helpful for improving your writing. It may seem a little threatening, but you’ll get over it. Once trust has been established you will end up sharing what you may never have shared with your spouse or even with your dog.

5. IDENTIFY beta readers for your best version. These are a few folks well versed in literature and grammar and can provide a good editorial review.

6. FIND an agent. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by going to Literary Conferences. Many conferences have agents and publishers present and interested in the subject material of the conference.  It’s a great way to practice your pitch, gain feedback, and make helpful contacts.
In my case I landed two prospective agents at a medical writer’s conference. I selected Don Fehr at Trident Literary Group in New York City. It is the largest such group in the U.S.A. and has substantial expertise and reach.

7. From my agent I learned that for nonfiction, publishers did not buy books, they bought book proposals! This was news to me.
Many books exist on how to write a book proposal. My agent stressed the proposal be at least 65 pages long and be extremely well written. This was quite a task.

8. The agent then sends the proposal (in the case of a nonfiction work) or the entire fiction manuscript  to a number of potential publishers. Then you wait, wait, and wait some more for the reviewers to respond. Ugh!

9. Once a publisher says it is interested, the publishing house (in my case Texas Tech University Press) will assign an editor. I can only hope you find someone as good as Joanna Conrad at TTUP. She was delightful and made the book better.
Following the review process by your press (mine being an academic institution, the manuscript had to be approved by, of course, various committees!) The next step is copy editing. I had a contract copy editor who proved extremely helpful. It’s humbling to learn that errors still exist in your much pored over manuscript.
Expect your publishing house to change your title. It’s inevitable. Also it will assign an artist to develop the cover, but hopefully it should ask you for your opinion. Also you will be asked to supply the “information about the author” and various blurbs for your book.
The whole process of publishing may take one to three years before your book reaches the bookshelves. This considerable delay is a frequent surprise for most new authors.

10. HIRE a publicist. Unfortunately even the largest publishing houses these days have limited marketing budgets. While this seems strange given that marketing sells books, but it is a truism. Authors are being asked to do more and more to market their books. As an aside, my barber even keeps a supply of my books in her shop. Customers ask about them and she has sold a number of my books. Be Creative!
Actually I have enjoyed marketing my book. It has been a heck of a lot easier than writing it. I began by forming a “street team” of people that liked my writing. These wonderful folks became “Tom’s Wranglers” and were invaluable in spreading the word, writing initial reviews, identifying book events where I might present, and providing much needed encouragement.

Two of my Wranglers- Betty and Cecil Selness

Madeline Douglas and La Nelle Etheridge, two more of my wonderful Wranglers

Now back to publicists– these are invaluable. A cost is involved but you really didn’t think you were going to get rich on your book, did you? The publicist can arrange for reviews of the book and may put your book up for awards.

11. Speaking of awards, nothing builds the confidence of a struggling writer as much as public recognition. In my case I won a third prize early on in a writing contest.  Woo Hoo! This provided a surprising amount of confidence.
I next won The Creative Expression Award from the American Academy of Neurology. Now this award, given by my peers, made me feel like a real author. You likely too have some outlet through your vocation to provide an outlet for your work and an possible award. It is worth a try.

In my case the agent and I went through some thirty publishers before finding one that wished to take on the task of putting my book into print without having to do a major rewrite. Authors best have thick skins as this process can be painful. There is simply no way to sugarcoat this– rejection hurts.

12. Once published my book won an award for best debut author and became a finalist for the Montaigne medal. These awards proved reassuring for me as a writer. How much they contribute to sales is highly questionable, but undeniably recognition provides a stimulus for the author to keep writing. Again, these awards were the result of the knowledge and expertise of my publicist, Maryglenn McCombs.

 

So there you have it. Becoming an author is arduous. It is nine tenths perseverance. One author I heard speak recently said success publishing depended on three things: 1) talent, 2) determination, and 3) luck. I agree that a degree of talent, a lot of perseverance, and finally a little luck are all needed to move from being a writer to becoming a published author. I wish all of you good luck in this process.

International Praise for Carrying The Black Bag

I am immensely gratified to have received an international award for my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales. In an act of shameless but necessary self-promotion, I share the good news with you. Hope y’all will help to spread the word!

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryglenn McCombs (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

TEXAS NEUROLOGIST WINS PRESTIGIOUS INTERNATIONAL AWARD
Tom Hutton, M.D.’s memoir, Carrying the Black Bag, Among Honorees, Finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award

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 Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

A prestigious international award that honors the memory of American philosopher Eric Hoffer, The Eric Hoffer Book Award has become one of the largest and most sought-after awards for small, academic and independently-published titles. Presented annually, the Eric Hoffer Book Award was designed to highlight salient writing and celebrate the spirit of independent presses. This year’s award program yielded over 1300 book entries.

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, a memoir of Hutton’s career in medicine, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Health category. Moreover, Carrying the Black Bag was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award’s Montaigne Medal, which celebrates those books deemed the most thought-provoking.

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/

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) Carrying the Black Bag was also awarded the Bronze Medal in the “Best Debut Author” category of the Feathered Quill Book Awards.

For additional information on the Eric Hoffer Book Award, visit: http://www.hofferaward.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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Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.

More Accolades for Carrying The Black Bag

I have more good news to report regarding my book, Carrying The Black Bag.  My book has been named a Montaigne Medal finalist for 2017 under the auspices of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

For those of you who don’t know what this is which is probably most if not all of you, The Montaigne medal is given in honor of the great French philosopher and awarded to the most thought provoking titles each year. Given the many hundreds of titles under consideration, it is highly affirming to be listed among the finalists. Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales is also being considered for other awards including category, press, and grand prizes.

For those of us who write, we understand this can be a lonely exercise. The pathway to publication is often littered with rejections and disappointments. Such acknowledgements and awards as this one provides meaningful affirmation and encourages me to continue with my writing efforts.

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged my writing, acted as alpha or beta readers, and especially for those of you who have bought the book.

Dog Lessons On Living- Part 2

In my previous post I dealt with how two dogs modeled how to deal with serious illness and impending death. The two examples were from our current Border collie, Buddy, and our long deceased Shetland sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy. Their love of life and passion for their favorite activities persisted despite their physical challenges.

If we abandon the arrogant notion that humans are somehow completely different from other animals and instead recognize our common genetics, anatomy, physiology, needs, and behaviors, then animal behavior can become a potential assist for our lives.

I am reminded of a story from my recent book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales about Mary from Minnesota. This story, like many others in the concluding chapter of my book, took place aboard a fictitious cruise ship and demonstrated great perseverance of some physically handicapped folks in the face of adversity. The very real members of a group that Trudy and I accompanied had been organized by a national Parkinson’s Disease organization. Despite Mary’s advanced disease requiring  her to have a feeding tube, tracheostomy, urinary catheter, wheelchair, and and full-time attendant, she had demanded to go on the cruise.

Unfortunately Mary didn’t make it and passed away during the cruise. When speaking that evening by phone to her daughter in far away Minnesota, I learned to my surprise that the family had  expected Mary to die on the cruise. After recovering from my shock, I further learned that Mary had a lifelong habit of taking on great challenges. Despite her failing health Mary in recent years had undertaken skydiving, ridden a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and been strapped to a dogsled in Alaska. Mary refused to give in to her illness nor would she be prevented from trying new, exciting, and life changing thrills.

From Sailaway Chapter of Carrying The Black Bag

While Mary was only one of our passengers with Parkinson’s disease, all of them despite their balance issues dealt with the swaying of the deck and with the many challenges of shore excursions and beach activities. They also managed the dietary differences that at times limited the effectiveness of their medicines. None of these brave people shied away from the challenging experience, showing their zest for life and denying their illnesses control over their lives.

Now I know not all people with PD would make such a challenging journey. Indeed life is like a marathon and all of us hit the wall at times. Some persist and break through the wall while others are unable to do so.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift but persistence is also demanded

Both Buddy our Border collie, Taffy our Sheltie, and Mary refused to give in. All lived their lives to the greatest extent possible. I don’t know where Mary derived her zest for life, but she might have witnessed it in her pet. For whatever reason, Mary had learned to live her life as fully as she possibly could, believing that the quality of her life was more important than the number of days she lived.

Therein may lie a lesson for us all. Our challenge may be to garner as rich and full a life as possible. We all will likely be faced with challenges. Some of us will continue to strive and others will find an easier but less fulfilling way to live. Nothing is wrong with either approach, but our pets may have at least modeled the more courageous approach to life. Without it would we have even considered such a course of action?