To travel to Mayo Clinic is to be among the sickest of the sick. Some are only here for their routine medical care or for the peace of mind that they have done all that they can do to maintain good health. Others are here for that elusive diagnosis, or as a last resort for quality or quantity of life. They travel from near and very far, from states across the country, and from countries on the other side of the world.
It is humbling to walk the halls and ride the elevators with people, many in wheelchairs, too sick to support their own weight. The elderly being pushed by their elderly spouses, committed to their vows, “till death do us part.” Children being pushed by their parents, committed to the hope that they will outlive them. And some visiting alone, helped by Mayo volunteers and the kindness of strangers. But, no matter their age or circumstance, individuals are here looking for health but likely leaving with much more.
I’m no stranger to this place. I’ve spent over twenty years traveling to Mayo Clinic, enough so that I can recommend Rochester hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants, or a place to pray. For all these years, it has been as a mother, fighting for our oldest daughter to outlive me. Now into her thirties, I can say without hesitation that Mayo Clinic saved her life. And I can say without hesitation that Mayo Clinic has improved and maintained the quality of her life and of our family. I am deeply grateful. And now, for these last few years, I have come to Mayo Clinic as a patient.
Among the emotions I can see on the faces of patients, I often observe fear and despair. But I can’t help but see and feel hope. And I am always moved as I experience the dignity of the human condition. We will all die; it is just a question of when and from what. But, in the meantime, it is about life, about health, and about others.
I’m not convinced that one can truly comprehend the value of life and health unless one has experienced the suffering or death of a child. There’s a “wrongness” about it, something deeply moving yet troubling that life lessons must be learned at their expense. But what would be “more wrong” and “more troubling” is when those experiences provide no learning at all. Indeed, what a waste of a precious life.
Instead, it is a priceless opportunity to experience life from the “outside looking in” rather than from the “inside looking out.” It is an important lesson of empathy for another rather than only sympathy for oneself.
I don’t wish the need to travel to Mayo Clinic on anyone. But to experience it is to observe life’s lessons: the fragility of life, the importance of health, the value of compassion, the necessity of empathy, the gift of support, and the preciousness of love.