Tom Hutton,
Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist's Bedside Tales
(Texas Tech University Press, 2015)

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.

book review by
Ann Flynt

2 July 2016

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