Stranded In The Southland

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Mayo Clinic -- Wow

I've been taking care of a fair number of people this year, from a week with my new nephew to trying to help out my ill neighbor over several months to Meg's cousin's cancer fight to her husband's aneurysm.

So when my mom found out that she had a cerebral aneurysm, it seemed only right that I step up and try to help her out. She was lucky, in that the aneurysm could be coiled via a catheter threaded up from her groin, rather than requiring the doctors to open up her head to clip it.

This procedure has a 5% - 10% rate of complications, but that's across the entire population. Mom, who'd tracked down lots of medical papers (both my folks are professors, and treated this as a research project), was a bit worried that as near-retirement-age woman who'd smoked three packs a day for years[*], she might have some serious issues.

After traveling around the country, talking to doctors about their papers, she finally settled on the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN. In January. Brrrr.

At least the town had good food -- we had several excellent meals, in friendly, comfortable environments. Aside from the fact the the liquor stores closed early on weeknights, I could really like that city.

In any case, I can see why mom chose the Mayo Clinic. These guys are incredable -- very thoughtful and patient-focused. Even the facilities are wonderful, with lots of wood panelling, and comfy armchairs. It must have cost a mint, but the effect is welcoming and nurturing rather than cowing.

The doctor took nearly an hour to talk to mom about the procedure -- she'd brought three pages of questions, laid out suspiciously like an exam. I'm happy to say that the doctor passed with flying colors, drawing diagrams and explaining his various research papers.

Unfortunately, the procedure itself required a 6AM start. I'd flown out from LA on a 6:40AM flight in order to meet my parents at the airport, but getting up at 5AM in Rochester was similar to a 3AM start back home. Shudder.

Fortunately, the hospital staff was friendly and did everything they could to make this a pleasant experience for mom, and for dad and me as we waited. Rather than putting all of the visitors in some big bullpen, they checked mom into an outpatient room where she could change and we could wait. There were comfortable waiting rooms just down the hall, as well as free wireless.

The doctor called us not once, but twice during the procedure, to let us know that he had successfully imaged the aneurym, and then that he'd successfully coiled it. The whole thing took around five hours -- mom went up to get prepped at around 8:30AM, and we were hanging out with her in the ICU at around 1PM.

By the time we saw her, mom was already chatting up the staff and waving her arms around. She seemed tired, but not nearly as done in as other folks I've seen after operations. I guess this catheter thing really is a great innovation -- she mostly just had to worry about a 2.3mm hole in her groin, which seemed to heal quickly.

At first she seemed a bit groggy (anaesthesia aside, she'd awoken at 5AM!), but over the course of the day gradually started sounding perfectly normal. They wouldn't let her move from a prone position for the first few hours while the catheter insertion site closed, and then she didn't really want to move much, except to get up to use the bathroom.

Dad initially planned to stay at the ICU overnight, in case something came up, although he couldn't stay in the room with mom. When they got ready to kick him out of the room at 10:30PM, mom convinced him to call me at the hotel for a ride, so that he could spend the night in a real bed. That was a good idea, although I was *just about* asleep when the phone rang.

The next morning, mom had taken a walk around the ICU and seemed upbeat about leaving, having removed her oxygen canula. Dad and I left to pick up her drugs from the pharmacy while she took a shower. Alas, when we came back, she was sunk back in the bed, feeling pitiful and unshowered. She decided that she needed an extra day of recovery, and the staff felt like that was okay.

I was concerned that she was just being a baby, but once we got her in to a regular bed on a regular ward, she went right to sleep. And when she woke up, her walking was halting, with little baby steps. So it was probably a good idea to take that extra day of recovery, especially since dad and I would've been trying to deal with her troubles.

She seemed stronger all day, making a couple walking tours of the ward. Dad stayed overnight with her, on a chair that folded out to a cot. The next morning she checked out with no problem, taking a wheelchair down from the ward, but walking from the front door to the car at the curb with no problem.

We got a wheelchair to take her from the front of the hotel up to the room, where she and dad immediately went to sleep, leaving me to spend the day answering e-mail from work. I ran out for some Arby's for the three of us (yeah, way healthy!) and to get some liquid Tylonol to treat her headaches.

That night, she tried to wimp out of going out for dinner, but I managed to get her to come down to the hotel lobby, and then out to dinner. We had dinner at a breakfast place serving Dutch food, and got her back in time to get some more sleep.

The next day, she seemed much better, and had no trouble getting down to the car, riding an hour up to Minneapolis, and then getting into the airport. We got her a wheelchair at the airport, and then got a ride on one of those electric carts, but she seemed to do just fine.

I have to admit that after a week of this, I was running out of patience with my parents little eccentricities (and, due to the stress, those eccentricities were somehwat magnified), but I got them on their plane (which was an hour late due to Northwest's maintanance issues) and back home.

I had a fine flight back, and even managed to get some work done on the computer. I was delighted that I went, and even happier that nothing came up that really demanded my presence.

I really was amazed at the quality of the Mayo Clinic. As I said, I've spent far too much time this year visiting people in hospitals, and this place stood head and shoulders above all of the rest I've seen (or, heaven forbit, the VA hospital where I worked my way through school for two years).

The staff was incredably well organized and pleasant. Rather than telling us to go away, they'd say, "Let us give you a tour of the unit," after which we'd mysteriously wind up outside of the unit. And the doctors and staff were very open about talking to us about what was going on and why. It was fabulous.

[*] I'm proud to say that she quit almost 15 years ago, after trying everything from gum to filters to smoking a pipe.