Tag Archives: Creative Nonfiction

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

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.

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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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.

THE END

Crashing Into The Digital Age

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Thanks to Trudy’s cousin, Pud Kearns, I now have a website. With the release later this month of my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, it was important to increase my visibility. So much publicity these days is online whereas before it was done more by book signings and lectures.
To my amazement within the first 24 hours of a new FB page, over 100 likes came in. Wow, that’s an impressive reach- so many people and so quickly.
I look forward to answering questions and interacting with readers. And now I have a convenient and fast way to do it. This digital stuff is pretty impressive. Book out toward the end of the month. Hope to hear from you.

https://tomhuttonmd.com/

Early Praise for Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales

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Wow, I’m really pleased by this early endorsement of my book due out in November. The following  review recently appeared on Goodreads:

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 has 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.

Highly recommend.

Review written after downloading a galley from Edelweiss.

BlackBagCover

Man and Dog- A Special Relationship

When primitive man walked onto the pages of history, a dog no doubt trotted amiably by his side. And while the strength of this ancient bond has not diminished, the nature of the relationship between man and dog has evolved from those early days.
After wolf/dog allied with man, together they secured meat, provided mutual protection from predators, and shared body warmth during cold Stone Age nights. Man has since voyaged from caves to the moon, but this special bond, like no other between man and animal, remains.
While dogs may still fetch newspapers, retrieve downed birds, and guard against intruders, a visit to a neighborhood park nowadays reveals the main role of dogs is companionship.
Jon Katz in his book, The New Work of Dogs (Random House) depicts dogs as filling expanding roles in peoples’ lives, loves, and families.
Our lives have become increasingly private and relatively more connected digitally than by face-to-face contact. A headphone wearing skateboarder, on-line shopper, or P.D.A punching subway commuter could compete as icons of our modern age.
Diminishing direct contacts have created newer and unexpected roles for pets. Irrepressibly affectionate and endearing, our pooches provide emotional props for our lives. Our pampering, caressing, and crying over departed pets demonstrate our need both to nurture and be nurtured. Our behavior exposes, if we dare to admit it, a reciprocal dependence on our canine companions.
Many of us work from home offices foregoing daily commutes to busy workplaces. We sit at our computers, delivering services (while scratching our Canis familiaris under the desk), rather than heading off to tailor suits or hawk vacuum cleaners.
In recent years, family sizes have shrunk with less opportunity for sibling interaction. Dogs now, more than ever, serve as playmate, best friend, and protector. The Darling family, as depicted in “Peter Pan,” illustrated this point with Nana, their English Sheep dog guarding the children and serving as playmate.
Martha, a friend of mine, tells a childhood memory of having regularly been sent outdoors by her parents to play and undoubtedly to provide a rest for her parents’ ears. Lobo, her German shepherd, was always sent along with Martha who was still a toddler.
Martha and Lobo would chase and play ball in the unfenced yard that lay adjacent to a busy thoroughfare. When Martha would totter close to the street, Lobo would scamper after her, sinking his teeth into her diaper and hauling Martha back to safety into the yard.
Lobo, like the fictional Nana in Peter Pan, served as both playmate and trusted baby sitter.
The nature of friendships in modern society has evolved or devolved depending on your point of view. Some cultures today and many earlier ones held lifelong friendships as nearly sacrosanct. With modern mobility and inevitable relocations, such filial attachments have diminished. Often before indelible bonding can occur, a friend up and moves away. Such abrogation of nascent chum-ships prevents lifelong friendships from years of shared experiences from ever forming. Nevertheless, our societal mobility affects our canines not in the least, as they accompany us willingly, as we move about from place to place.
Changing personal traits may have also diminished the quality of our human contacts. Don Chance, a Louisiana State University finance professor, blames an increasing sense of entitlement among his college students on the late Fred Rogers. In an article written by Jeff Zaslow in the July 5, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Professor Chance describes what can be called the “Mr. Rogers effect”.
The late Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh Presbyterian minister, for years hosted a popular children’s TV program-“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” He possessed a gentle and affirming nature and aimed to make young viewers comfortable with their circumstances and improve their self-esteem. Toward this end, he affirmed them, by saying that he liked them, just the way they were.
Unfortunately, many parents, teachers, and much of intelligent humanity saw a yawning need for improvement in the decorum of many of these pint-sized reprobates. Along with improved self-image according to Zaslow, Fred Rogers contributed to leading generations of youth toward a finely tuned narcissism.
“If I am just fine the way I am, why should I improve or interact better with others? Why worry about the needs of others, as the kindly Mister Rogers likes me just the way I am?”
Obviously Fred Rogers cannot be solely blamed for excessive doting on our offspring. He undoubtedly meant well, instilling self-confidence in his youthful viewers. However, Mr. Rogers epitomizes a phenomenon among some young adults today of increasingly impolite and solipsistic behavior.
Despite our insular ways and self-centered behavior, many of us remain emotionally starved. Along with our 36-ounce drinks, we seek and need over-sized dollops of affection. If we fail to receive succor from large families or long-term friendships, then we look elsewhere, but where in modern life might we find it?
For the family pet, an opportunity has developed; one for which Fido has proves far more skillful than in retrieving the newspaper. But how can dogs communicate their support?
I know my dogs, Bandit and Mollie, patiently listen to my shtick. They have no difficulty making their wants known. For many lonely people, dogs represent their best, and sadly, only willing listener.
What about you and

Man's Best Friends

Man’s Best Friends

your dog? Let me hear from you.

Buddy

I love Border collies. This statement will never be called into question by those who know me. Not only do they make great pets, they have proved valuable in herding our cattle at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Especially impressive have been feats of herding involving our well-traveled bulls to neighboring, overgrown ranches. Without Border collies, the bulls might still be AWOL.
The story that follows is about Buddy. Please give me your feedback as I plan to submit this piece either to a contest or possible publication. It needs to be as good as it can be.
In its initial form the story had a middle portion showing Buddy’s incredible herding abilities. In this shortened story, I skipped the middle portion in the present version in the belief it took away some of the punch. I look forward to your comments.

 

Buddy

Impatiently, he waited for me to stop the pickup, piercing the night with excited, high-pitched yips. His succession of barks resounded up and down the hill through sheening groves of moonlit juniper.
Once the pickup had nearly stopped, I watched in the side-view mirror as my border collie burst from the bed of the pickup like a cannon shot. I pressed hard on the accelerator, attempting to outdistance Buddy to the garage a quarter of a mile ahead- a tiny victory, long sought after in this our nightly contest, but one not yet realized.
In the darkness, I could only make out the white “shepherd’s lantern” at the tip of Buddy’s tail. It appeared and quickly disappeared, as he sprinted through low brush, behind trees, and into gathering shadows.
I silently lauded his long strides as they gobbled up the gray ribbon of our ranch road. His youthfulness and agility made me a little envious as they contrasted with my increasing years and diminishing physical abilities. Age may have certain advantages but flexibility and speed are not among them.
The road bent away from the house in a semicircular direction while Buddy took a shortcut across a field of native grass. Before our paths diverged, I caught a glimpse in the headlights of the determined black and white collie, with ears back, charging confidently ahead. During this final sinuous stretch of ranch road, Buddy would typically overtake me, given his ability to out corner my hoary Dodge pickup. I galumphed over a rusty pipe cattle guard and plunged down the driveway toward the waiting garage and faux finish line.
Minutes later after parking the old truck, I looked for my competitive canine. I was surprised not to find Buddy waiting on the driveway with his usual smug look pasted across his muzzle. I waited a minute…. and then another, but he failed to arrive. I walked out onto the front lawn. The smell of newly mown grass and honeysuckle wafted over me. I breathed deeply, enjoying the scent. More minutes ticked by. My surprise became worry, giving way to eventual alarm.
I jogged awkwardly across the yard, searching the gloom of night for his familiar silhouette. What I spotted took several long moments to register. Slowly, like a photograph developing in a darkroom bath, it became clear, frighteningly clear to me. When it did, it filled me with an inky dread.
My normally agile Buddy moved oddly. I hurried closer to gain a better look. I was shocked by what I saw. My heart sank because Buddy with great effort was hauling himself along with his powerful forelimbs, his back legs lifelessly trailing behind. The significance crashed over me like a cataract over a broken dam. Oh my god, he’s paralyzed!
Within minutes I placed an urgent phone call to our veterinarian. Thankfully he responded immediately and said he was still working in his office and immediately to bring Buddy in. My wife, Trudy, and I gently lifted Buddy into the car and rushed back down the ranch road and across town. Red lights exasperated our progress, as did the sated, unhurried diners departing restaurants on Main Street. I felt additional tension welling up within me. On arrival at the one story, white stone veterinary clinic on the east side of town, I gathered Buddy in my arms and carried him through the double glass door Trudy held open. Within moments of Trudy ringing the bell on the counter, Dr. O’Neill appeared behind the main desk and proceeded to lead us down a darkened hallway to the first examination room. The clinic had a faint odor of wet dog mixed with an astringent smell.
Our vet flipped on the overhead light and asked me to place Buddy on the exam table. Following a quick examination of Buddy’s back, checking for movement in the limbs, and determining if Buddy felt a pinch to his hind foot, Dr. O’Neill gave an audible exhalation and said, “Mmm.”
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Well, Buddy needs an MRI–scan and may even need back surgery.” The weight of those words, while sympathetically uttered by the kindly, square-faced veterinarian, struck home like a hammer.
“Oh no!” Trudy cried out, her words echoing through the vacant halls of the clinic building.
The meaning of his words was all too clear, but I was flummoxed as to how Buddy had injured himself and what might be done to reverse it. “But, but what happened?” I asked while stroking Buddy, who lay quietly on the stainless steel examination table. His trusting, liquid eyes repeatedly searched our faces for an explanation for all this fuss.
“Sometimes these athletic dogs can explode a disc from their spinal column, causing weakness of the hind limbs,” Dr. O’Neill replied. He tenderly ran his hand over Buddy’s furry black and white head and gave his ears a fleeting scratch. “I’ll call ahead to an all night veterinary surgical center in San Antonio, let ‘em know you’re on your way and ask them to kick-start their MRI. Awfully sorry about Buddy, really am, he’s a fine dog. Sure hope they can help him.” His voice trailed off, containing traces of both hope and lament.
Shortly after and at high speeds, we hurtled southeastward through the deep Texas night on a winding U.S Highway 87. Overhead I viewed the blurriness of the Milky Way and Orion. Silvery moonlight fell between tree limbs and lay on the ground in shattered pieces. I switched the headlights to high beam to probe the uncertain darkness ahead of us.
We soon turned onto the four lane and divided Interstate-10 in the direction of San Antonio. I noticed eighteen-wheelers, heading at high speed in the opposite direction toward El Paso and, no doubt, the West Coast. Ahead of them lay over a thousand miles of desert with limited access to assistance should they break down. I, on the other hand, was headed east toward similar uncertainty. In the backseat Trudy cradled Buddy’s head in her lap, saying little.
On arrival at the San Antonio location, I hurried out of the car and opened the back door to gather Buddy into my arms. I rushed him across the asphalt parking lot into the nondescript emergency veterinary clinic. A diminutive and surprisingly young veterinarian approached us with a confident stride. She had high and well-defined cheekbones, a reassuring smile, light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and an air of quiet competency. After a brief exchange, she took Buddy, and with his added weight waddled away down the green tiled hallway.
I noticed Trudy had a frightened look on her face. I felt helpless to reassure her, fearing the worst possible outcome for Buddy. We lingered in the dimly lit waiting room that was filled with about a dozen worn, inexpensive chairs, a few marred wooden side tables, and a single TV that blared a documentary on the destructive nature of feral hogs. I tried to ignore the booming TV and paced restlessly, my mind full of thorns.
The petite veterinarian soon reappeared. Her green eyes darted about and her face expressed concern. “Dr. O’Neill was right. Looks like your dog herniated a disc fragment from his spine causing his paralysis. A disc can shoot out into the spinal canal like a bullet from a rifle. Your dog’s spinal cord received a pretty good wallop.”
“Can Buddy recover?” asked Trudy.
I saw the veterinarian drop her gaze and pause for several long moments before responding. She shrugged her shoulders, raised her head, evidencing a furrowed brow. “Time will tell. Whether the fragment still compresses the cord can be determined only by an MRI-scan. You’ll need to decide if that’s how you want us to proceed.”
If the disc still compressed the delicate cord, I knew de-compressive surgery would be required, and soon, to prevent permanent paralysis of Buddy’s back legs.
“I need to go check on a Labrador who decided to tangle with a pack of coyotes. The poor old boy got chewed up pretty good.”
I made a sympathetic comment regarding the Lab but my real concern lay with Buddy.
“Will check to make sure the MRI is free, that is if you decide to proceed that way. I’m leaving Farah here to answer any questions you may have,” said the veterinarian. She turned on her heel and with purposeful strides and ponytail bobbing strode away in the opposite direction. My gaze trailed the retreating veterinarian down the hallway like a lonesome puppy. I saw her pass through the door at the end of the hall and close it with such finality that it made me wonder if I would ever again see my collie alive.
Grief and fear overwhelmed me. Trudy’s cheeks glistened and I heard muffled sobs coming from her. We embraced, knowing not what else to do. The sad look on my wife’s face would have brought a tear to a glass eye.
The veterinarian had left behind a young, spherically built vet tech to answer questions. The plain-faced assistant appeared to have three chins and reminded me of the stolid, hardy pioneer women who, along with their men, had settled the Texas frontier in the 1800s.
What followed next was an unexpected and wholly different kind of trauma delivered by the no nonsense vet tech: “The cost of the MRI-scan is $2200 upfront,” Farah piped up in her flat, broad Texas drawl. “This is in addition, of course, to the afterhours clinic charge and veterinary expenses.” She said this while smacking her gum and fingering the stethoscope dangling from her side pocket. Farah had an unblinking expression, lacking in emotion or empathy.
Guess this is where she does the wallet biopsy to check our ability to pay.
She next rattled off costs for surgery including anesthesia, medicines, and rehabilitation. Exorbitant, I thought. Would Buddy really need weeks of pool therapy to recover? Somewhere in the conversation I confirmed her conjecture that Buddy had actually cost us nothing, being born to Mollie, our Border collie bitch.
This could end up running $3000, maybe $4000 even without the surgery! With surgery just no telling the final cost!
“Even with surgery, no guarantee this dawg’s ever gonna walk again,” she said. Her drawn out words seemed to hang in the air like a slowly dissipating puff of smoke.
I avoided her laser-like gaze by glancing out the window, viewing a faint glow in the east following the long and broken night.
The technician drew my attention back by saying, “Need to consider what kinda life a paralyzed dawg would have, especially a working dawg like your border collie.” I heard her talking but her words were slow to penetrate my thinking because of my great affection for Buddy.
“Might just wanna euthanize the dawg? Sure ‘nuf be a whole lot cheaper,” said the vet tech, impatiently looking back and forth at Trudy and me as if watching a lantern swinging in a windstorm. I noticed her cheeks and chins wobbled with the excursions of her head.
Neither Trudy nor I responded to her indirect advice, all gussied up and impersonating a question. I glanced at Trudy’s face, mirroring my own dismay. I slipped a supportive arm around Trudy, trying to steady both my wife and my own rocked emotions.
The course that the vet assistant advocated was, I knew, based on sound economics for a working dog. It was just as when a rancher makes treatment decisions based on price/expense ratios for his livestock. After all it didn’t make sense to do a thousand dollar surgery on a five hundred dollar steer. Wasn’t the same rationale also true for a working cow dog? To do otherwise invited financial loss in an already challenging vocation with a very narrow profit margin. I was new to this ranching bit, but I somehow felt differently about my dog. But I also knew the wrong decision could doom Buddy to a dreadful life of paralysis. My mind was dizzy with conflict. I felt a terrible resignation wash over me.
“So what you wanna do? Want us to just put the dawg down?” Each word struck like an icepick. Time passed as if in slow motion. Trudy took a step backward and slumped into a chair. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. The TV assaulted my ears with its cacophony of inchoate sounds. I failed to respond to the technician’s awful query, my mind in fitful desperation having by then escaped to a fonder memory of Buddy during cheerier times.

Years later, it was I who suffered from a back injury. I lay prone in my bed with my right leg frog-legged out, suffering from a ruptured disc in my low back. For six weeks I had assumed this awkward position, popping pain pills as if they were popcorn, and dreading the real possibility of impending surgery. For hours on end through the window I watched the flitting and swooping of barn swallows. I saw them disappear under the eves to their protected nests with morsels in their beaks for their hatchlings.
Along with her usual workload, Trudy had assumed my routine ranch chores. Her activities required prolonged absences from the house and this along with the remoteness of our ranch house forced an unanticipated silence in my life.
No longer was the opportunity for introspection competing with the demands of vocation, meetings, or ranch responsibilities. Following my retirement from a hectic medical practice, Trudy and I, as if compelled by habit, had become immersed in ranch work, volunteering, getting a new home in order, and establishing our presence in a new community. We had sought a reordering of our lives in a community, ripe with exciting opportunities. All my activities had earlier been put on hold weeks due to my injury.
It occurred to me, as I lay there hour after hour and day after day, that my existence before the injury had been like standing mere inches from a TV screen, unable to clearly make out the flickering images. Only now during my inactivity was I able to back away and see what was really taking place.
My new mental and physical distance from the hectic life had also brought about a sharpened awareness as to what was truly important. While travel, work, and professional accomplishments were important and had offered a degree of satisfaction, what seemed really important were the personal relationships and the imprint that love in all its forms had firmly stamped upon my life.
I lay there recalling the exhilarating intoxication of amorous love, the assurance and satisfaction that accompanied mature love, the quiet wonder of family love with the caressing voices and company of openhearted children and grandchildren. I thought of the nurturing love that comes from expanded knowledge and from my personal search for wisdom. I pondered the spiritual and devotional love that relinquished self to a greater good. I also recalled the unconditional love between pets and their humans. When thinking of pets I thought of Buddy. Love with its many faces had invigorated my life, comforted me through challenging times, and had fed and nurtured my spirit.
While convalescing from my ruptured disc, I frequently recalled Buddy’s tragic back injury so many years earlier. I assumed his back injury had been as painful as my own, but he had braved his injury with great courage and without pain medicine. I relived the mental anguish over that night at the veterinary clinic in San Antonio when presented the persuasive but repugnant option of euthanizing him.
At least there hasn’t been any talk of euthanizing me. I chuckled out loud. My long-standing feelings of hurt over Buddy resurfaced once again- a sickening mental all-time low in my life that just then co-mingled with my back pain.
I remembered during the darkest nights at our new ranch, walking behind Buddy’s white tipped tail and him leading me home. Like a beacon his shepherd’s lantern had always stood out, signaling both his movement and the path I needed to take.
As if controlled by an alien force, my hand stole out behind me and blindly searched the bed covers. I felt the coolness of the cotton sheet as my hand swept from side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. And there it was. I felt moist breath on my hand, followed by a distinctly wet nose, and whiskers that tickled my hand.
I scratched behind the soft, furry ears of my now elderly Buddy. His tail began to thump happily against the bed. I cocked my head around to see him gazing at me with expressive and soulful eyes, his head cradled on his paws. From his position of recline, he slowly and mechanically stood, his back abnormally humped. He gingerly approached me. Buddy then circled three times and he lay down. His gait and actions had slowed but he showed no hint of complaint or surrender to the circumstances life had dealt him. Buddy had not required surgery and with time and home therapy had largely regained his strength in his hind limbs.
Buddy’s life had been complete with joyful forays around the ranch. He had nimbly herded our cattle, frolicked in fields festooned with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, and had cared for his humans. I had no doubt he felt contented.
For weeks Buddy and I had lain beside one another in the quiet bedroom. There we shared our common sense of community. How unifying it all seemed. We two beings had been apportioned a common fate– suffering similar infirmities and growing older together.
I found Buddy’s presence comforting. Having witnessed his defiance of his injury gave me both increased strength and augmented my limited store of patience. Buddy’s tolerance for his diminishing physical abilities had imparted a life lesson not soon forgotten.
Just then, as if to show thanks and demonstrate his devotion, Buddy gave my hand a languid, velvety lick.

Am I In The Publishing Backstretch Yet?- Part V

I labored under the impression that an advantage of a traditional publisher over self-publishing was that marketing and manuscript processing would be done for you. Wrong!!! All publishers these days must suffer from financial pressures as they ask authors to perform as much of this work as they can. Limited budgets and limited staff time are the explanation I have heard.

I was asked to format the accepted manuscript according to Tech Press specifications. This consisted of converting the accepted manuscript into a form that was easier for the publishing process. Secondly, a lengthy marketing questionnaire instantaneously arrived via the internet, but required much longer for my research and completion of it. The standardized questionnaire asked how and where Tech Press should advertise and many other questions related to book promotion (now those were tricky ones and likely my thoughts will not prove very helpful).

Also I was asked to obtain permission for images to appear in the book. This seemed quite reasonable but was a challenge. Researching where the image first appeared and by whom can prove difficult. In my case I mainly sought pictures of Adolf Hitler held by various European museums and the Library of Congress. Gaining permission for using these for my chapter on the impact of his Parkinson’s disease represented new and unfamiliar ground for me to till.

Once this identification phase was completed, I contacted the museums or individuals holding copyright and, in some instances, paid to use them in my book, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales. This proved a time consuming slog.

The Tech Press questionnaire also asked me to pen promotional copy for the back cover and to provide a brief bio and picture. I admit, self-promotion is awkward and hard for me to do. Nevertheless with the help of my publicist and marketing gurus at the publisher, brag I did!

I completed each of the thirty-five queries. As it turned out the process forced me to shrink my conceptualization of my book down into sound bites. I had previously found “the elevator presentation” hard to manage.Every author needs to describe his/her book in simple declarative sentences that weave a strong argument for buying it. To be sure, completing the questionnaire helped me with this effort.

Feeling like this guy?

Feeling like this guy?

 

Winding my way through the publishing maze has at times made me feel like the mouse in this cartoon. It is doable but at various points in the process-confusing.

I hope my experiences will interest some and help others attempting to publish their books. Who knows what lies ahead? Publishing is not for the faint-hearted!

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.