There is something enchanting about the city of Rochester, Minnesota. It is known to many as the medical capital of the United States, for me the small city holds a peculiar feeling of home.
It is a place where being in your mid-twenties, walking with a cane, or in a wheel chair is comfortable. There, having a permanent health condition is not viewed as luggage you’re dragging around; it enhances your inner beauty. Rochester is a sacred location where people are brought together for the same reason; some degree of suffering. Others flock to the area for rewarding job opportunities. Many choose careers at Mayo Clinic because their life calling is to provide the most outstanding care for others who need it the most. It is a city that brings together a community of pure compassion.
Days before my initial visit to Mayo Clinic in 2015. I was in my hometown, Troy, NY at St. Mary’s hospital, gathering CD’s containing years of X-rays to bring with me to my appointments. As I walked from the parking garage to main entrance of the hospital an older man approached me and said “I will be praying for you.” I thanked him and continued on my way. Twenty minutes later I was leaving the hospital, this time the man was sitting on the floor inside the double doors leading into the hospital. I smiled as I passed, he said he was praying for me. I got to my car to realize the most recent imagining was not listed on the disc they gave me. I got out of my car and began walking back to the hospital. This time the man was standing at the front door conversing with a woman who was begging him to take her five-dollar bill. She expressed his words were touching and what she needed to hear. She thanked him repeatedly as she pressed the dollar bill into his palm, and closed her hands-on top of his. She was teary eyed, as she returned on her way.
The front desk struggled to find my other imaging on the computer, they were in the process of migrating to a new server. I told them to take their time. I was already aware of the changes in the local computer system, it caused an inconvenience at every one of my doctor appointments at the time. I had an EEG and X-ray of my hands that I never received the results due to the confusion at the time. Eventually, my X-rays were found and copied to another disc. This time leaving the hospital, the man was gone.
Two days later I was boarding the plane to Minneapolis, MN. There was a woman seated next to the window, I was in the middle, my mother to my right. The last person to board the plane in a rush, was an older gentleman who was seated a few seats in front of us. He opened the overhead compartment trying to stow his baggage above our seats. In aggravation, he began knocking around my forearm crutch causing a scene because his baggage wouldn’t fit. He questioned why someone would even put it there. Noticing the complaints, the flight attendant came over, I told him the crutch was mine. The flight attendant said he was going to move it and give it back to me once we landed.
I read and napped most of the way. As the plane was getting ready to land, my neighbor and I exchanged small talk. Her name was Merilee. She mentioned that she was on her way to California she had a layover in Minneapolis. My Mother butted in and said we were going to Minnesota, for me to be seen at the Mayo Clinic. Merilee asked if her and I could say a prayer together. I told her I am not religious.
I can appreciate one’s faith, and feel that is what some people need to remain hopeful in life. For me, I live off facts. I voiced before I stopped believing in Santa Clause that I did not believe in god. My immediate family identifies as Christian, but we did not regularly practice a religion growing up.
I am spiritual in the sense of; ethics, healing, art, giving, and life occurrences establish one’s inner happiness. If I were to relate to any religion it would be the fundamentals of Buddhism; God is within not an actual being. One who endures suffering will do what it takes to recover. This is human instinct that pairs with an invaluable life lesson. With each recovery, one becomes stronger and superior minded. Overcoming the personal fear of being exactly who you are is spiritually relieving. This does not happen in one’s life on command. Eternal happiness and self-satisfaction stem from the deepest suffering. Proceeding the death of a loved one there is no happiness, only loneliness. Loss and illness can cause life to come screeching to a holt at any minute. The only option then is to either be engulfed by your own sadness, or to tune into what truly makes you happy, paying no mind to what others will think once you do.
My mom becoming emotional, asked me to pray with Merilee. Maybe later tonight I will, I said, trying to make it stop. Merilee told me that she was Jewish. She had spoken to her savior when she was dying from a life-threatening accident, where she was struck by a van while attempting to cross the street. She told me he gave her the power to continue. She said to pray with her now and allow him in. She told me the light would open in my chest, I would know because I would feel him enter my heart. As the plane was rattling to a landing I was awkwardly repeating her words back to her as she asked. It was an odd yet meaningful moment for me. I did not instantly see the light, but I did gain a warming sensation in my chest. I wasn’t thinking about god, but where my life was going. What was going to come out of this. The Moment was here, we just landed in Minnesota.
I took Marilee’s exchanges and applied them to my life, apart from someone watching over me. Within the last three years I had lost three of my closest lifelong friends. I also lost a cousin and an aunt during the time, both to cancer. My relatives that passed were religious and attended church on Sundays. There was no one when they needed to be saved. When my cousin, only being middle age who had her son and husband to care for. It was not destiny that my best friend’s lives were taken by the age of twenty-five. Leaving their loved ones to grieve. My philosophy of religion is to believe in your own being and follow your inner self. Do good things, and good things will come to you, that is if you’re experienced enough to distinguish the good, out of the bad.
As we waited for the OK to depart from the plane Merilee began to tell me about her life and her need for religion. For over a year ago she was told by her doctors she only had months left to live. This was her second time overcoming cancer. Three times she cheated death. She awards her resilience to a higher power, who she feels is always protecting her. That day Merilee was traveling to California to her sister who had cancer, and was not doing well. She told me she had written a book called Plummet to The Pinnacle. I thought to myself I will receive a diagnosis that will be manageable and not terminal. For I still have much of my life to look forward to. It was an honor to meet Merilee she inspired me to have a positive outlook, regardless of whatever was thrown my way.
Once the plane landed I was ready to stand and stretch. The worst irritant to my back is prolonged sitting. As I stood significant tremors took over my legs. I let Merilee out of her seat and wished her and her sister the best of health. I then sat down and waited to spot the flight attendant that took my crutch. The flight attendant forgotten he had moved it.
We were the last people off the plane. I was struggling walking up the jetway, my legs still shaky. The first person I saw as we entered the airport was an employee with a wheelchair, as if she were awaiting my arrival. She waved her hands directing me to sit as I approached her. She was very pleasant and welcoming. The Minneapolis airport was large she pushed me from I one end to the other, collected our luggage, and took the shuttles with us bringing us straight to the rental car area. On our journey, she had said “bless you” to me a dozen times, not because I was sneezing. She eventually asked what we were doing in town, I told her we were driving to Rochester to be seen at Mayo Clinic. She asked me if it was okay if she prayed for me today. I said of course. We arrived she blessed me and wished me well. My mother and I were in line to pick up the rental car, my Mom looked at me, her eyes filling up with tears, she said this is a sign. How weird is that two people in a row pray for you, she asked. I laughed and said it was a coincidence, they were both very nice.
My appointment at Mayo Clinic wasn’t until the following day so we decided to find some food near the airport and check out the mall of America. It was 10am, the closest place that was open was Denny’s. We were seated by a very friendly waitress who was extremely personable, she had made our experience. After taking our orders she too asked what we were doing out this way. I told her about traveling to Mayo Clinic. She looked at me pleasantly surprised and saddened all at once. She explained to us how excellent the care at Mayo was and that I would receive answers. The waitress asked if she could sit next to me. I slid over on the booth and she took a seat next to me. She placed her hand on my shoulder and asked if she could pray for me. This being the second time praying that day, I gave in much easier this time. It was obvious that I was not at ease. The waitress asked if I was religious, I told her no. She told me she never was either but after hardships she endured it was the only thing that brought joy back to her life. She raved about Todd White who inspired her to continue. She wrote down his name so I could look him up and promised to pray for me every day that week. She requested us to come back on our last day in town she was scheduled to work that day and wanted to hear about the outcome.
My mother and I got in the car to leave, we looked at each other wide-eyed, causing us both to burst into laughter. Ok, now I will admit, this is out there, I said. My Mom insisted this too was another sign. After spending a few hours in Minneapolis, we took the hour and a half drive to Rochester. It was late November, there wasn’t much snow but the temperature was frigid. The roads were flat, stretched over miles of desolate, frozen corn fields.
We didn’t do too much in town besides my appointments, dinning at the local restaurants, and nearby antique hunting. I fell in love with the city immediately. The Mayo Buildings take up much of downtown, each building connected by sky walks or underground tunnels. On the inside, the Mayo Clinic buildings are the equivalent of a high-class art museum, featuring art from all over the world. There are pianos located throughout the buildings, which are often being played by patients. The experience of watching a stranger playing the piano in this setting is moving. You can walk into any building or use the main elevators and be greeted by employees who will transport you anywhere in the building via wheelchair or allow you to use them for the time there. I have never been anywhere this accommodating.
Once I received the news that all the doctors I wanted to see while in town were booked, my mother kept implying that I just had to pray. At this point I was over the religious coincidences following us everywhere. I asked her to stop telling me to pray, I had no interest and it was only causing me frustration. I saw this week as the opportunity of a lifetime and was beginning to have doubts. Due to the anticipation of where I was and what the next few days held caused severe insomnia and anxiety. There was literally not a minute of rest for the last three consecutive days. I was beginning to hallucinate; seeing spots, shadows and flashing lights out of the corner of my eye. My body felt like it had no mass as I drifted around like a ghost. My skin was pale and my eyes bloodshot. Physically I was exhausted, mentally my brain was wired. I went to the store and bought 10mg melatonin and took three of them, we had planned to sit as a checker to the spine specialist the next morning.
Another full night of no sleep. The next day I was groggy, my entire body felt like it was pelted by stones throughout the entire night. We sat in the waiting room for the spine specialist until they called they would not be seeing anymore checkers for the day. Around 6pm I took two melatonin and drank a couple glasses of wine in hopes to knock myself out. It did the trick. The following morning, we went back to the same office to sit as checkers. After resting I regained the confidence that I would get in to see the doctors.
I asked my Mom to go to the neurology department, located a few floors beneath us to see if she could sit as a checker there, while I waited for the spine specialist. I had approached the man at the front desk- who was now immune to hanging out with us the last two days. I said, I was just looking at the map and realized the rheumatology department is across the waiting room. I asked if I could sit as a checker for both. He was weary at first as he looked up my schedule. We began talking about how far I’ve traveled and I only had a few more days left in town. He said you know what, sit in the middle of the room and check in over there too. After I talked to him my phone started ringing, it was my Mom. She said that there was a huge line at the neurologists and the room was under construction, she didn’t know if she was even in the right line. She was a nervous wreck and rushed off the phone. She said she’d be up once she was done.
A moment after I hung up with her my phone started ringing. It was the neurology department. The receptionist said that she had an opening later that afternoon if I could make it. My Mom returned to the waiting room around the time I got off the phone, she looked upset. I said what’s wrong? She told me there was no appointments for months, and she was not allowed to sit as a checker for me. I was almost in tears, Mom, I just got off the phone with them I’m going there in a few hours I told her. They called me after we got off the phone. I assumed you were the one who talked to them and they had to call me to make the appointment or something, I said. Then I mentioned that we could check in at rheumatology across the waiting room as a checker if we sit in the middle of the waiting room. My Mom started crying she was so thankful. She walked to the other side of the waiting room to check me in, as a moved all our stuff to the middle of the waiting room.
In no time my mother approached me, handing me the revised itinerary. I was in disbelief. I had an appointment on Friday with the rheumatologist. She said when she went to the front desk the receptionist had just got off the phone with someone who had to cancel their appointment. My Mom told me that she knew I didn’t want to hear it, but someone was watching over us. My luck was consistent, I saw all six specialists within 4 days, who provided me with the information I was desperately searching for, the last five years.
From the second I stepped foot in Rochester, I felt a kinship. There was a semblance of the city that made me feel at home. Everyone I encountered on my travel there made the timing feel right. Entering town, the first street we drove down from the high way was 2nd street SW. Where we passed Saint Mary’s hospital, Anderson’s wheelchair store, The Ronald Mc Donald house, a dialysis center, therapeutic massage places, medical patient housing, as you continue straight you enter downtown where you are directly outside of the main Mayo building, as you reach the center of town everything is Mayo clinic. Nurses and doctors flood the streets, people of every ethnicity, and cars with various out-of-state plates. This is a sacred place of no judgment. People there don’t ask how you are today, they will tell you it’s a beautiful day. The nurses, doctors, surgeons, and technicians that work there walk with a sense of pride, who’s auroras radiate empathy.
I was not ready to go home, I was home. I was accepted. There, I was understood. I could go anywhere with my guard down. At home in New York I dread doing anything involving being around people. In New York strangers flock to me, waiting to hear how I sprained my ankle. Strangers ask, how long do you have to walk with that? To them, living is easy. I sensed leaving MN, that it wouldn’t be long before I returned. Something was calling back since the day I had left. During my time at Mayo I was referred to attend a 4-6-week pain management outpatient rehab. This was an experience to meet people in similar situations and to manage life with chronic pain. Due to work it was impossible to make the time off. I stored the program in the depths of my mind, where it waited patiently to see the day.