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The Plan

June 13, 2014

A few weeks ago, I went to Rochester, Minnesota to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic on the new cancerous growths recently found in my colon. I felt ambivalent about the trip; while I understand the importance of second opinions, I already had what I thought was a good plan with two surgeons I loved at Washington Hospital Center. These Mayo docs would have to really impress me to convince me to go all the way to Minnesota for surgery. Or what if they came up with a completely different diagnosis and/or plan? Would I have to then seek a third opinion for the tiebreak?

After sleeping only two hours the night before and getting up at 4:00 in the morning for a 6AM flight to Chicago, I spent most of the trip trying to catch a few winks, and didn’t pay much attention to my fellow travelers. As we filed into the tiny Rochester airport, however, I started to wonder how many of us were headed to Mayo. On the shuttle downtown, the driver told us that the Mayo Clinic sees more than one million unique patients each year and employs more than 30,000 people in Rochester. The second largest sector of the city’s economy is hospitality, with more than 5,000 hotel/motel rooms to serve patients and their families.

When we arrived downtown, it was easy to see that he wasn’t exaggerating. Rochester IS the Mayo Clinic (and the restaurants and hotels that surround and connect to the many medical buildings). I felt like Dorothy & co. arriving to the Emerald City of Oz to find solutions to all their problems.

After dropping my bags at the hotel, I made my way over to the Gonda building to check in, drop off medical records, pick up my itinerary, and have bloodwork done. It all went pretty smoothly – the service is impressively efficient, though the whole place exudes a somewhat industrial aura. I checked in at Desk G of floor 9E, then was sent to Desk C in the subway level of the Hilton building to wait to be called to Door Number Three for, according to Section A of my itinerary, Venipuncture Specimen Collection. (And I learned once I got there that if I wanted to have blood drawn through my port, I’d have to go to Desk L-A in the lobby level of the Charlton building.)

By this point, I’d decided this place resembled 1984 more closely than The Wizard of Oz. As I looked for a place to eat lunch (my itinerary gave me the rest of the day off), I thought, I do not like it here.

First of all, you could stay there for months without ever going outside. The Mayo buildings are interconnected – and linked to may of the surrounding hotels, restaurants, banks, etc – by a series of enclosed bridges and tunnels they call subways and skyways. And for those buildings that are not directly connected, such as my hotel two blocks away, there are usually free shuttle services. While I recognize the value of this system in a place that has below-freezing average low temperatures for almost half of the year, I think I’d rather avoid being there entirely than be stuck indoors for five months. Of course, the fact that I was visiting on a beautiful spring day made it all the more depressing to be sent underground when I asked for directions.

Second, you assume that everyone you see – unless they’re wearing Mayo Clinic badges – is sick in some way. In the hallways, elevators, waiting rooms, streets, we all look each other up and down, trying to gauge the severity of medical problems we encounter. Is this a perverted contest I’m trying to win by looking for people whose problems seem trivial? Or am I seeking relief, looking for someone, anyone, who looks worse off than I am? Since I was hobbling around in a boot, having sprained my foot the week before, I was sure that everyone sizing me up thought I was an easy fix.

But my opinion improved somewhat at my appointments the next day. I was strangely relieved to wait well over an hour – first in the waiting area, then (after being called to Door Number Two) in the exam room – before seeing the doctors. Finally, a sense of familiarity! And the oncologist and colorectal surgeon who reviewed my case were both fantastic. Best of all, they agreed that I’d be best off with the surgical team I’d chosen in DC. This was a huge relief to me, both because I was so ready to just have a concrete plan, and because I had no interest in spending my entire summer recovering from surgery in Rochester, MN.

Within the week, I’d spoken with the offices of both Washington Hospital Center surgeons, and scheduled the procedure for June 17. Four more days.

I am ready. I’ve been feeling less and less well over the past two weeks, and can’t wait to get this cancer out of me so that I can get started on my recovery. But first, I’ve got to finish packing up my house, go kayaking with local First Descents alums, go to a Willie Nelson/Allison Krauss concert, and move out of my house. Almost there.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb Herrmann permalink
    June 13, 2014 8:59 am

    You go, girl!

  2. Criquette permalink
    June 13, 2014 12:41 pm

    Hey Yings! Your plan sounds solid and specific, especially the FD part, which is exactly what you need to prepare your body for the upcoming surgery and the healing that follows. Wacky and I will be sending all of our positive energy, thoughts and prayers your way. So hobble and wobble your way through the next two weeks as you get your mind and spirit fully charged. We love you!

  3. June 13, 2014 10:03 pm

    Nice to hear that you’ve got confirmation for the treatment plan. Enjoy all the fun leading up to it, and best of luck on the 17th. Hoping for a successful procedure and easy recovery.

  4. Katie permalink
    June 16, 2014 9:15 am

    ánimo, rachel! sounds like a solid plan. i wish you all the best and can’t wait to see you later this summer.

  5. June 16, 2014 11:23 pm

    It is always good to have a plan … And a ton of people sending you love and support!! Hugs, love and prayers sent to you from your adoptive kin in South Florida!!! ~MaryEllen

  6. randomwritingsofme permalink
    June 22, 2014 8:03 am

    Keep #OutLivingIt!

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