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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers January 2006

vol. 2, no. 1

Years ago, when my family was living in Ethiopia, my father treated several patients who had diabetes. As a clinical researcher, he found the cases interesting since they were in stark contrast to those he had seen in North America. Unlike the great majority of American diabetics, who are middle aged or older and overweight, these patients were young, teenagers, and slender. They entered the hospital hyperventilating, dehydrated, and semicomatose.

So, he went to the medical college's library to see what he could find out about diabetes in Ethiopia. Fifteen years of the Ethiopian Medical Journal revealed no articles. An East African medical journal had only one small study of adult diabetes: they thought the pancreas was not producing enough insulin due to the patients' poor nutritional status. My father ended up doing a modified treatment, giving them some insulin but then turning to dietary restrictions and oral medications, based on his thought that these were intermediate cases, between adult onset and juvenile diabetes. The patients responded to his treatment and later could be treated with oral medications alone, unlike typical juvenile diabetics.

He mentioned the cases to my mother, who encouraged him to publish his thoughts. He demurred, saying he had only three cases and wasn't sure whether anybody outside of Ethiopia would be interested in them. Besides, he didn't think the findings were impressive enough to be publishable. My mother responded, “It's the first article on the topic, it doesn't have to be comprehensive, it just has to be written.” Maybe later, he said, as it was very busy at the provincial hospital. “Later rarely comes,” she wisely commented. So he took the time then and submitted a brief article to the Ethiopian Medical Journal on the cases he had seen. In 1969, it was published.

Thirty years later, in 1999, my father was walking towards his hotel in the capital Addis Ababa when he saw a sign for a medical clinic that had a lab. Curious, he decided to walk in. The clerk took him to meet the Ethiopian doctor in charge of the lab and they got to talking. The topic of diabetes came up and my father mentioned that he had treated some patients years ago and written a little article on the topic. The Ethiopian doctor exclaimed, “That was you?! I know that article. Everyone knows that article. It was the first article published about diabetes in Ethiopia. And one of the few articles to be written about rural medicine. It's wonderful to meet you.”

When I commented to my father that it was a good thing he wrote the article, he nodded. “I didn't know then what I know now, that even little things can have a long-term impact. At the time, it always seemed like an imposition to spend so much time writing something so small. But years later, that small thing would still be making a contribution, long after everything else I was doing, which seemed so important at the time, had been forgotten.”

Good News

A couple of newsletters ago I talked about Liz, who was on the verge of filing in the first week of September when she got bad news on two fronts: her chapter revisions and her health. Her advisor balked at signing off on her last chapter and her doctors informed her that she needed major surgery to avoid cancer. I am happy to report that Liz underwent the surgery in early December and is now completely cancer free! Before the surgery, she worked away on revising her dissertation through October and December, while teaching classes four days a week at campuses fifty miles apart. Her advisor finally signed off on the dissertation right before her surgery. Liz spent the week after surgery in bed, but then got up, went to campus, and filed! She was a doctor by mid-December. It was three months later than she had initially planned, but a total triumph under the circumstances.

I asked her if she had any words of wisdom for others pursuing their doctorate and she responded, “I wasn't always disciplined, but I always persevered. There were long periods where I didn't do anything (for various reasons, some good, some not so good), but I always managed to get back on track.” So, if you are feeling behind or slow these days, remember, it is the tortoise who wins the race.

Readers Write In

Speaking of perseverance: “I wanted to let you know, Wendy, that on Saturday night, December 17th, I stood in line with dozens of last-minute Christmas shoppers at the airport post office to send off my paper to the editors of [journal name omitted]. I finally finished making the final edits to the paper over the weekend, formatting it according to their specifications, and trimming it down to 30 pages (including double-spaced endnotes). When it was finally done, I wanted to send it off right away. Of course, only the airport post office is open late on Saturday night, so I drove down there at 8:00 pm and nearly turned around when I saw the line of people with packages. But, I decided that if I turned around and went back home, I might change my mind about something and try to make more changes to the paper, so I stuck it out and stood in line with everyone. They were all in good spirits. After a few minutes in line, I hesitated again, thinking my time could be better spent elsewhere, but when I looked behind me, the line was starting to stretch out the door. At 9:00 pm, an hour later [!], I sent off copies of my paper to each of three reviewers for the journal, as requested on their editorial page, and set up tracking numbers to my e-mail, so I will know when they arrive. Who knows, they might even have arrived by Christmas…”

News from the Editor

I can't believe that we are embarking on the second half of the decade: so many projects, so little time. But I am trying to put the important first and the urgent second. May we all have a good writing year!