Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revisiting Rochester (Minnesota)

I got a taste of the Mayo Clinic atmosphere this week and didn’t mind it at all!
by Charlie Leck

“Today, the Mayo Clinic complex is composed of 47 buildings (including the main clinic and two hospitals) and serves more than 240,000 patients each year. The staff of 18,000 employees includes 2,000 physicians and medical researchers.”

This is some town!
As a young business man, I came here to call on clients and customers quite frequently. For old time’s sake I had to stop in at Michael’s Restaurant right in downtown, on Broadway. This place has always been regarded as the best dining joint in town and one of the great steak houses in the nation. Until recently they always had a 32 ounce t-bone on the menu. I carried my note pad with me and started jotting this blog post as I sat at the bar talking about Rochester and the Mayo Clinic to a couple of fine locals who sat there with me.

With some time to kill before visiting the clinic, I also stopped in at Hanny’s Men’s Wear on First Avenue, just a block from my hotel. I “shot the bull” with the store manager and reminisced about the old days when I worked in a Hanny’s store in South Dakota. The Rochester store was owned by Harold and Marvin Hannenberger back in the days when I visited Rochester often. I had worked as a sales clerk for their brother, Duane, who owned three stores in South Dakota (Yankton, Vermillion and Mitchell). Tom Brokaw was a sales clerk at that time also and so was Bill Whistler, a football legend out of the University of South Dakota and, then, a tight-end in the Canadian Football League. There was always great competition between the three of us to be the leading sales producer each week. The Hanny’s brand has hung there in Rochester for over 60 years and is still partially owned by the family. They sell to a lot of the patients who visit the clinic. They come in to shop during their in-between or waiting times – just as I did on this warm summer day.

But this town is mostly, and nearly entirely, known for its medical treatment facilities and for the medical research done here. One gets an odd feeling, wandering around town, seeing so many shops selling things like wigs and prosthetic devices. There are so many breast replacement gimmicks and gadgets for women. Will the day ever come when we can put those shops out of business?

Thousands visit this place every day and that makes for a gold mine for the hotel and restaurant industry here. I stayed in a Marriott Hotel (my preferred hotel choice when I travel) and this one wasn't up to the usual Marriott standards at all. I had never stayed in a Marriott so poorly run.

Yet, it is the clinic – the world famous Mayo Clinic – that dominates everything here.

On my way back from making a required deposit in the Urology Department, I wandered by a meditation chapel that made me curious. I stepped up to its glass doors and they swooshed open for me. I was pleased to see it was a very secular place, beautifully done and peacefully quiet. It was decorated mostly in stained-glass that bore no symbolism. There was only one message in the place and it was done in bronze on the wall facing the entrance doors.

“We must not forget that happiness is a state of mind, not necessarily of body, and that life is what each person believes it to be. The sick man needs faith, faith in his physician, but there comes a time when faith in a higher power may be necessary to sustain his morale.” [Doctor William J. Mayo]

I’m sitting down at a table in a crowded cafeteria, with my note pad in front of me – waiting again. The next appointment is nearly an hour away. Around me, at table after table, are primarily older people, with a young person, looking out of place, mixed in only here and there and very occasionally. Most of these elderly are friendly enough, but they’ve frightened looks in their eyes – that deer in the headlights look. Wives are accompanying husbands, or husbands wives, seeking answers, solutions, game-plans. Each of the folk was, like I, once young and vigorous, limber, impatient and filled with dreams of the future. Now they lean closer, across the table, toward their mates, so they can hear what’s being said to them.

Nearly every person here has been sent by a doctor who has thrown up his own hands and admitted someone with more expertise ought to be consulted.

A fellow at the next table has come a long distance, from nearly halfway across the nation. He and his wife drove because they hate to fly these days. He shudders and says he won't fly again.

“It used to be fun. Now it’s a disaster. Too crowded! Too slow! Too unfriendly. So I just drive and enjoy the countryside. I take my time and take different routes each time I come up here – three or four times a year. Cancer, you know. I see a specialist. Hematology! A woman, don’t you know! It’s a good place. They've kept me alive.”

It’s a story, I’m betting, being uttered in one way or another all across the big dining room.

I must go now. A doctor awaits me and I have a long walk through corridors and subway halls, and a ride on a rising elevator, to get to his office.

I’ll tell you more about the Mayo Clinic in coming days. It is an institution that makes Minnesotans proud. I remember coming down here once, with my wife, to visit with Dinwoody, a dear, old friend up from Kentucky. That will be part of a future story.


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