Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist's Bedside Tales

Rate this book
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, he gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit.
            Part memoir and part homage to those 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.
            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.
            For more than just those working in the healthcare profession, Carrying the Black Bag also shares a behind-the-curtain peek at the rapidly changing American health care system.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published November 7, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Tom Hutton

1 book1 follower
During his thirty-plus years of practicing in West Texas and Minnesota, Tom Hutton discovered that a doctor’s best teachers are often his patients. From these (extra)ordinary individuals, he gained a whole-hearted respect for the resourcefulness, courage, and resilience of the human spirit.

Tom Hutton is an internationally recognized clinical and research neurologist and award winning educator. A recognized expert on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Hutton’s professional career was split between academic medicine and private practice. He is the author/editor of over 100 professional articles and chapters and 8 professional books, several of which are targeted to patients and caregivers.

Born in Kansas City, Tom grew up in Texas, graduated from Texas Tech University and Baylor College of Medicine. He did his internship at Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis and residency at the University of Minnesota. He served on the faculty of the U of M medical school before moving back to West Texas where he joined the faculty of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and later enjoyed a rewarding private practice.

Carrying the Black Bag is his first book for a general audience. Inspired by those whose lives prompted his professional sojourn, he lovingly tells his patients’ stories, describes their immense reservoirs of courage and perseverance, and depicts their struggles to achieve balance for their disrupted lives. He shares these stories of pathos and humor in the hope they will inspire and help other patients, family members and health care professionals. He invites the reader into his exam room to meet remarkable people with uncommon coping skills and wonderful tales.

Retired from medicine in 2001, Tom and Trudy, his wife of 46 years, live on a small ranch in the Texas Hill Country where he ranches cattle, writes about neurological patients, Border collies, and retirement.

He is currently working on his second book, Retiring the Black Bag.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
12 (52%)
4 stars
7 (30%)
3 stars
3 (13%)
2 stars
1 (4%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews
Profile Image for Penmouse.
411 reviews7 followers
August 31, 2015
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.

Highly recommend.

Review written after downloading a galley from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Lorilei Gonzales.
163 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2016
I was given a copy of this book for a fair and honest review.

If you follow my blog, you know that I reviewed another book written by a doctor recently. I am pleased to say that this book is completely different. Hutton has a style that borders on quirky mystery (makes sense as he confesses to reading mysteries growing up). And funny/beautiful descriptions aside, the doctors in this book are in their profession to save people and better lives, not fatten their pocketbooks. (Hutton keeps it real by making side cash with ambulance and hockey game gigs.) They go out on the limb and try risky, new procedures to do everything in their power to help a patient get better, rather than sit back and play it safe to prevent lawsuits. After several family members went through the grueling schedule and schooling of med school, I thought that I already had a healthy dose of respect for doctors, but this book prescribed me even more.

Such an array of emotions we are privy to, from feeding off a family’s faith in a situation that seems hopeless and beyond medical/scientific ability, to being faced with having no choice but to care for an admitted family member, to playing detective to find out who is behind continuous arsenic poisoning. I’m glad that Hutton has chosen to share these incredible stories and insight with the world.
Profile Image for Christena.
207 reviews52 followers
January 28, 2019
“After all, I’d been lucky enough to avoid a sneak thief due to a very loyal, if not terribly bright Dalmation. Surely, good luck, along with the incorrigble Dice, must have been riding shotgun with me.”

Carrying the Black Bag is an eclectic and insightful collection of stories from the author’s time spent working as a neurologist in both Texas and Minnesota. The stories reveal an inside look about Hutton’s work as a doctor in both states. He shares the most important stories of his career with compassion, empathy, and humor.

In this well-written book, Hutton recalls the complexity of some of his most remarkable cases from the emotional toil to saving a young girl with Reye’s Syndrome to how he wound up playing detective on uncovering why a man was poisoning himself with arsenic. In one of the chapters, the author shares the humorous travel episode of him and Dice, the family’s dog as they traveled to Lubbock, Texas.

The symbolism of his black medical bag is interwoven throughout the book. Readers find out medical tidbits along the way like on the meaning of the lengths of medical coats.

Carrying the Black Bag should be a must read for all medical students. Why? Because Hutton gives readers glimpses in his memoir of his take on being in the medical profession to revealing that listening to patients is often more important than just treating an illness.
Profile Image for Deb.
258 reviews8 followers
March 26, 2021
I really enjoyed this book for several reasons. His black bag is an important symbol of his devotion to his calling. Tom's inspiration for studying medicine came in his teens after an accident led him to a friendship with a doctor. He worked at the VA IN Minnesota before moving back to Texas. Tom Hutton and his family lived in Lubbock when we did, and on a personal note, I taught his daughter and my husband taught his son. They are a fine family. If you or someone you know has Parkinson's Disease, you should read this book because Dr. Hutton studied and worked extensively with patients who had the disease. He taught at the med school at Texas Tech for years. The stories he shares about his patients,colleagues, and family are enlightening, poignant, and humorous. The chapter about Hitler's case of PD is most interesting, and the drive from Minnesota to Texas with the family Dalmation is hilarious.
Profile Image for Jacob Beene.
45 reviews
May 16, 2019
A great perspective into the upbringing of a neurologist. Not as much substance as other books on the same subject in respect to experiences with different patient cases, but still a great read nonetheless.
Profile Image for L.
13 reviews
October 10, 2020
I enjoyed reading this. My favorite chapter was a midnight meal. I particularly enjoy the theme of the black bag. A part that really struck me, was a line in the afterward about how medicine is the best avenue to learn about life and people...
101 reviews
August 17, 2017
kind of reminded me of all creatures great and small. It wasn't very much about neuroscience as a central theme. More about Dr. Hutton's experiences in medicine.
Profile Image for Mimi.
68 reviews3 followers
February 1, 2016
I'm old enough to remember watching Marcus Welby, M.D. on television with my family and being riveted by the personal stories and doctor/patient relationships highlighted in this popular drama. Dr. Welby was always so insightful and wise. As soon as he arrived, carrying that black leather bag full of magical cures, you knew the patient was going to get the best care possible and all would be well. But what was most interesting was finding out that doctors possessed the same doubts and frailties that we, regular humans have and their "super powers" are really just a best guess gleaned from a long road of education and hit and miss experience. I thought Carrying the Black Bag was a good example of the doctor memoir genre. We get to see Dr. Hutton's early days as a novice resident who is also trying to make ends meet at home. We don't often think about doctor's personal lives and the financial and personal struggles with new marriages, new families, while still maintaining rigorous schedules at work. I thought it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of a young doctor's first realization of the weight of his new responsibility, symbolized by the shiny, new leather bag as it is finally placed into his hands. There are few professions where life and death are the results of work decisions and the full impact of it all on a young doctor is fascinating reading.

I thought the book was well-written, medically technical without being overly so, and maintained a folksy, home-grown quality about it, reminiscent of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small. In fact, one of the best chapters in the book was about his beloved dog, Dice, whose goofiness and lovable personality reminds us that respect for life extends beyond humans. I loved the parade of colorful patient characters, vividly drawn by Dr. Hutton while still maintaining their dignity and the seriousness of their maladies. Funny, stubborn, and often familiar personalities are the heart of this memoir where the people, not the diseases, take center stage. Many of the vignettes cover years of patient history, beginning with the vague symptoms, following through to triumphant recovery or tragic finales. The narrative is clinical but sympathetic and deeply personal.

Carrying the Black Bag is a wonderful peek into the long career of a successful doctor whose resume is not so much filled with files of diseases he's cured as much as people who affected his life; whose humanity superseded the afflictions that changed their lives and whose courage gave hope, and a kind of peace, to those who came after them.
Profile Image for Nicole Brown.
713 reviews7 followers
August 15, 2016
Dr. Hutton writes stories about his time spent after he graduated from Baylor medical college and got his "black bag"and went on do his internship at the the Hennepin County General Hospital (also known as "The General") in Minneapolis, a teaching hospital for the University of Minnesota, where he would do his neurology residency. Eventually, he would take the job as neurology chief resident of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis. Then he and his family would move back to Texas in Lubbock where he would have an associate professor's job at a developing medical school where he would be creating a neurological clinical, teaching, and research program where none had existed before that would churn out not trained specialists, but primary care physicians. On top of this, he would do a great deal of research into Parkinson's.

http://nicolewbrown.blogspot.com/2016...

I asked Professor Luria what he considered to be good preparation for becoming a neuropsychologist and neurologist. The eminent clinician surprised me by answering that reading mysteries was a fine background. He revealed that identifying and cobbling together clues was really no different for making neurological diagnosis than it was for solving crimes. Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, I suppose, would have made fine neurologists.
-Tom Hutton, M.D. (Carrying the Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales p 10)
To be numbingly honest, Dice was light-years away from being a smart dog. The heavily inbred Dalmatian bears a well-deserved reputation as being a “slow learner”. While Dalmatians may look regal atop fire engines and Anheuser-Busch beer wagons, Dalmatian in terms of smarts ranks as the Elmer Fudd of the dog world. The befuddled thinking of this breed makes cocker spaniels and Chihuahuas appear as candidates for PhDs. Come to think of it, iguanas with special needs may be smarter than was our Dice.
-Tom Hutton, M.D. (Carrying the Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales p 109)
Babylon in all its desolation is a sight no so awful/As that of the human mind in ruins.
-Scrope Berdmore Davies
There is and elasticity in the human mind, capable of bearing much, but which will not show itself, until a certain weight of affliction be put upon it; its powers may be compared to those vehicles whose springs are so contrived that they get on smoothly enough when loaded, but jolt confoundedly when they have nothing to bear.
-Charles Caleb Colton



January 18, 2016
I enjoyed reading Dr. Hutton’s book very much. I found a lot of humor, love, honesty and care in it. It was very entertaining; I laughed and cried. It was authentic, and his relationship with his patients and colleagues was wonderful. He listened to them, had conversations with them, and no matter how advanced technology kept coming thru the years, nothing matched the
human - to - human touch he had.
A few chapters I recall include one at the VA Hospital where Billy has a walking difficulty due to hysteria symptoms. When they are ready for his treatment, Sister Theodora comes in and recites an incantation and chants and Billy gets up and walks. Another, Dr. Hutton’s adventures with Dice, his dog, traveling to Lubbock, and then, Sam the farmer, who played pinochle with four imaginary dogs because of hallucinations from medications given for Parkinson’s disease. These stories made me laugh.
But the chapter where Ned, who loved his wife Maggie after sixty years of marriage, and all he wanted was for her to be well. Or, when Mac loses his wife, and his son whom he has not seen for so long takes over and learns all about Alzheimer’s disease; Mac and his son adopt a dog that appears at their door step and manages to make his dad’s last few years lovable. These stories made me cry.
His chapter on Hitler and Parkinson’s disease was extremely interesting and made me think a lot. All in all Dr. Hutton made me understand how much a patient depends on his/her neurologist. It has to be a special kind of person to wear that badge and have carried that black bag for decades, I admire Dr. Hutton and his book.
December 28, 2015
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.

Tom and Linda Norris
January 8, 2016
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.
1 review
January 24, 2016
CARRYING THE BLACK BAG is an intriguing collection of tales from a man’s life journey as a neurologist, and some of what he has learned about people and life along the way. Dr. Hutton is a doctor who really listened to his patients, to who and why they are who they are, and how that merged with and is uniquely reflected in the bodies they occupied. He respected what he heard in determining what was best for the patient. A story I particularly liked is “At the Furrow’s End,” a sad but beautiful tale of the abiding love of two very simple, very real human beings. Ultimately, what IS healing, and how does it happen? There is much to reflect upon in this beautiful book.
Profile Image for Kristine Hall.
817 reviews43 followers
January 13, 2016
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. Thank you to Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me an eBook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. Full review on Hall Ways Blog http://kristinehallways.blogspot.com/...
Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.