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Multiple Myeloma – Our Pilgrimage to the Medical Mecca – The Mayo Clinic (Part II) – Getting to and Navigating Through the Mayo Clinic

Please note – this three part series was written at the request of my mother – who felt it was important information for other families struggling to get answers about Multiple Myeloma, and where (and how) to get to help.

As I said in my previous post – my Mum and I had decided the best next step would be to go to the Mayo Clinic to get some answers regarding her Multiple Myeloma and muscle weakness.

Getting an appointment was quite easy. I simply called the appointment line and told them what was going on and they booked the appointment, I had all my Mum’s insurance information – so no muss, no fuss. The appointment line lady told me, we would need to hand-carry all the pertinent medical records, including CDs of all imaging studies.

Now the hard part – I have to tell you, this was a logistical challenge, because I was coming in from the West Coast and my Mum was coming from Indiana. And my Mum was in such a weakened state, she was required wheelchair assistance at both ends – through TSA and to the gates for departure, and again from the gate. However, I did discover one could go to the airline ticket counter and be issued a “Gate Pass” – this allows an unticketed person to escort the person travelling all the way through TSA to the gate, and also allows an unticketed person to meet someone at the gate and get them to the Baggage Claim.

Booking the flights to get to Rochester was not an issue, it was the return flights that were of concern. We just didn’t know how long my Mum’s evaluation would take (I scoured the Internet trying to get a sense of how many days one should expect to be at the Mayo Clinic – there wasn’t really any solid information on this). I spent hours on the telephone speaking with airlines. I discovered that Delta Airlines (who were the most helpful) could issue a Medical/Family Emergency ticket, which was not refundable, but the flights could be changed – the only stipulations were that they needed the name of the attending physician, and we would have to pay the difference in the fare rate.

In the end we decided it was best my Mum flew into Minnesota, and I meet her there. It was a non-stop flight from her airport, and if we had flown all the way into Rochester, she would have had a 2 hour lay-over in Minneapolis, which was just not an option. I met her in Minneapolis, and we drove in a rental car down to Rochester.

I found out later, there are shuttles from Minneapolis to Rochester, for people going to the Mayo Clinic. One doesn’t really need a rental car, because even in Rochester, all the hotels seem to have frequent shuttle services to the Mayo Clinic – so really the exorbitant cost of a rental car could be avoided.

We had initially booked a hotel right downtown in Rochester, but it was so gross, we checked right back out, and headed for the Holiday Inn Express – which was a nice, clean hotel, just about 2 miles away (and much cheaper – they will offer and Family and Friends discount – which is a huge discount).

On the day of the appointment – we went to the Mayo Clinic. What an amazing place. Basically, the whole of downtown Rochester, is nothing but hospitals and clinics. It is really quite overwhelming. And it is busy. We were required to go to the Gonda Building – the original Mayo building, that is where my Mum’s appointment was. Even in the early morning hours, it is teeming with patients and families, trying to get to their appointments. We chose to take the Valet parking (and is only a couple more dollars than self-parking and really well worth it) – so our car was whisked away, and several Mayo Clinic staff members helped my Mum get into a wheelchair. We were directed to the clinic. As massive as the Mayo Clinic is, there are so many staff members guiding and directing people, one can’t get lost.

The Mayo clinic’s interior is just beautiful. There are gorgeous pieces of artwork, atriums, nice comfy chairs to sit in. The Gonda Building was completed in the 1950s, and it is very elegant, with beautiful wood paneled walls and marble floors.

Our visit with the Hematologist/Oncologist – Dr. Kourelis went well. He was dressed in a suit (as it seems – all the physicians are required to wear suits, and they look so professional). He listened to my Mum, and seemed to really understand her concerns about starting treatment, and the effects it would have on her already progressive lower extremity muscle weakness. We talked for a long time. He did not seem rushed, or seem to be in a time crunch at all – which was really refreshing. He ordered a battery of lab tests, and imaging studies, and laid out a plan – with which my Mum was happy.

We spent the afternoon going to MRI studies and the lab. The Mayo Clinic is so well orgainized, everything just works seamlessly. Each patient is given a list of all their appointments, the dates they are scheduled, the building and room numbers. There are a multitude of staff members to direct you to where you should be. And on the Ground floor – is what they call the “Subway Floor” it connects the maze of buildings – I am assuming so people can get from building to building, without going outside, which is a plus I am sure, in the depths of the Rochester winters.

We saw the Hematologist/Oncologist the following day – he went over lab results, and told us, that although my Mum had not received treatment for her Multiple Myeloma over the last 9 months, it was still in the early stages. Her labs were encouraging, but the MRI results (she had a cyst at the lumbar region of her spine, compressing the spinal cord) which indicated she would need a visit to a Neurologist. That appointment was scheduled for August 6, which was going to be impossible to attend. But the lady at the reception desk said, if we arrived the following day, and reported to a “Checker” (a person that scans the appointments for no-shows), she might be able to plug us into an unfilled spot. After my Mum’s scheduled Electomyogram – we sat in the waiting room, and I constantly reported in to the Checker. At 1:15 – someone no-showed their Neurology appointment (they are considered a “No-Show” if they are 1 (one) minute late for their appointment). The appointment was given to my Mum. All departments have Checkers – what a great system. And who in their right mind would no-show an appointment at the Mayo Clinic?

The Neurology team was amazing. They went through an extensive history and physical, and were openly puzzled by the results. More tests were ordered, and an additional MRI study was performed. We were advised some of the lab results would take several weeks to return, and based on the results my Mum might need to return for a muscle biopsy. After getting the additional lab tests – we were free to go. We stayed at the Mayo Clinic for 5 days – and accomplished what we set out to do. My Mum received some good news about her Multiple Myeloma, and someone actually listened to her concerns about her muscle weakness.

We decided to drive back to Indiana – as my Mum just didn’t feel like she had the strength to tackle the airports. We had a wonderful time driving through the Midwest – everything was so green and lush, and the countryside was scattered with tidy farms. It was really enjoyable. And it rained, which was most exciting – as I haven’t seen rain since March.

Delta Airlines credited our tickets back to us, we can use those credits at a later time. I was able to arrange a ticket back to California, and only paid an additional $150 despite scheduling the ticket at the last minute.

The good news – is my Mum has regained some strength and feeling in her legs – did the Electomyogram have something to do with that? I don’t know, but she is able to walk without a cane now. She has agreed to a modified treatment plan for her Multiple Myeloma – which her local Oncologist will manage, with the guidance of the Mayo Clinic.

Bottom line is – if you have a sick family member, and you need answers, or a second opinion – take them to the Mayo Clinic. It is an incredible place, filled with brilliant, caring and compassionate people. I am so glad we were able to.

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