This is my 199th column in the Clayton Tribune and I am often asked what process I use to get one column done each week. There are many answers to this question, of course. Sometimes it is easy and at other times it is a royal pain!  A major struggle! I do tend to have the kernel of an idea or the first sentence of several columns written down at all times so usually when I sit down to write I have something to start with.

First, I would say that the need to get some thoughts down on a page opens up my eyes to so many new experiences, people, books and dreams.  I am constantly looking for interesting, beautiful, humorous, or instructive quotes, places or people. My eyes and ears remain ever hopeful and expectant! And, of course, I am never disappointed because people are lumpy with talent, places are beautiful and groups accomplish remarkable miracles.

Writing a weekly column is actually quite easy after hearing some speakers.

For example, I heard Dr. Bill Foege (pronounced FAY -gee) speak at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta early this month.  Foege is often said to be THE person most responsible for the global elimination of small pox.  He is a giant of a man in public health and a giant of a man in terms of his physical stature – he stands 6 feet and 7 inches tall! He spoke about one vaccination program in Africa. It was at a time when there were about 2,000 communities throughout Africa where there was a smallpox outbreak.  It was a rural village in Nigeria.

It was hoped that many people would come in to get the smallpox vaccine but experience in other villages and with other important public health interventions had taught Bill that people often fail to respond to some of the most important public health programs. He spoke to the leader of the village at length and the village leader made comments in a language Bill did not understand to his fellow villagers who would then leave the meeting to get the word out.  One saw people joyfully running about and heard the beat of drums and saw expressions of excitement as Bill and the chief’s meeting continued and as the word got out.  Then the people began to arrive for their vaccinations.  The people came, and more came and then more came and it was a far more successful day of smallpox vaccinations than Bill had ever experienced.  As the vaccinations were coming to an end Dr. Foege asked the chief what on earth had been said to his fellow villagers and to people from neighboring villages to engender such a positive response. The chief said:  “I told them to come get their vaccinations and to see the tallest man in the world!”

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH
Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Georgia