I will soon land in Rochester, M.N., home of Mayo Clinic and, well, very little else. I am not excited--I've been told to prepare for a short-term residency of five to seven business days. But as some readers of my recent health writing may know, there's a bit of a mystery going on here. And guess what? Just because I published an essay, written at one point in time, in a major men's magazine, diagnoses and docs can change. Or in my case, miracle meds may disappoint and due to a lack of any better advice, all the major docs in a major city may pass the buck up to Minnesota, because, really, why try anything else when you can cost your patients thousands of dollars and divorce yourself from failure? Heartening in this ego-driven, diagnosis-starved medical environment, no? But for young adult survivors of the mystery conditions that arise after sub-lethal cancer treatments--we first-gen crazy-chemo-and transplant mutations (call us The Chronics) often forced to research our conditions and communicate personally with the top of the toppiest docs via e-mail, so as not to miss out on something groundbreakingly helpful--this ain't anything newsible.
In my case, of course, there's something odd and apparently less-than-obvious hoppin' with my immune system. The result? Some damage to my peripheral nerves (think carpal tunnel in more than a few locations). But don't be scared: I look normal (and isn't that what really matters?). I just don't run up Runyon Canyon or bench 180 anymore. Plus, sometimes the hand slips when I'm mincing the shallots or trying to open the wine. Ok, I have a lot more serious complaints, but, seriously, you'd never know it from looking or even hanging out with me, and I'm not letting it impact my work. (Though, for those people who do look different, I'll probably be in your shoes one day, and I'm down with your sitch. Keep on rollin', and I'm sure I'll see some of you on the pea-shooter out of Chicago.) Indeedio, I'm writing more than ever now. I have to. I have the impetus. Medical bills pile up, I'm newly married, and the more I write, the more the cash flows. Besides, this is my passion. At least that's what readers and editors tell me. Gotta follow your dreams.
Anyway, I plan to record and comment on what happens at Mayo for a multitude of reasons, not least to provide a candid report card on the most elite medical institution we know written with a real live young man's point of view. In the past, I've used some of the esteemed hospital's sources for magazine stories, and I've read many of their studies. Impressive--by golly. Still, I haven't been given an appointment there with anyone that competes, bio-wise, with any of the bigwigs I've seen at other top U.S. hospitals. And maybe that's actually great: I haven't yet found too many famous researchers who exactly care about the people in need of their science, but I haven't looked everywhere (just 88% of everywhere), so I'm not that negativo yet. It's just that me and the corporate "branding" initatives, well, we don't mix too well (see my quick and dirty rejection of a publisher's offer to have me do a new-era Chicken Soup for the Soul). I just find it hard to trust a corporate approach, whether it's choosing Time Warner Cable for their excellent customer service (ha) or putting my faith in a guy about to shoot new, clean antibodies up my arm simply because he wears a white coat with words that come up a lot on Google when people are worried about spine cancer.
There's an "integrative"--"multi-specialty, group practice"--approach at Mayo, of course. Which is not to say that they push wheatgrass on you but that you're seen by more than one doc and discussed by teams in a concentrated amount of time. That's good, because I have issues concerning multiple specialties and subspecialties. I'll need the brain waves of--and more important, some human concern from--oncologists, nerve specialists, immunologists, endocrinologists, neurosurgeons, and others. One thing I'd like to make clear, though: nothing's happening to my brain. So apologies to anyone who thought I might get: cooler, nicer, stupider, or funnier from the progression of this insidious little condition. None of it's going to happen (you may be less bummed than me, believe it, champ), though I must say: my sense of humor has definitely skewed darker over the years (certainly in the more marketable direction), and if I have to thank something for that it's the stem-cell transplant in 1997 that saved my life from Stage IVB Hodgkin's Disease. Thank you, baby stem cells. May you never meet anyone from cold-ass Washington, D.C., right or left wing, and may you please keep on working as hard as the Los Angeles firefighters who saved our home last spring.
But to your question, readers: Is this here Shallot blog-thing becoming a diseased man's message board? Fear not. I can't stand those Google hell-bombs anymore than you can. But how many people visit the Mayo Clinic (should I precede the place's name with a definite article or not?) after my kind of multi-year diagnostic experience gone wrong. And less people have a viable way to chronicle the experience, and perhaps help, enlighten, and entertain some people along the way. Shallot to the rescue. Just know I'm certainly not doing it to "express myself." I don't need that kind of release. Trust me. If I did, you'd be watching a movie or reading a book about me now instead of reading this measly blog. I haven't ever been ego-maniacal enough to go gonzo on myself in quite that media-whorish a way. But stay tuned. For now, meaning this week, I just want to take good notes and fill people in on what the experience will be like. I'm generally private about this stuff (national essay, excluded), but now that I'm finding my close friends so removed from my day-to-day medical reports--to say nothing of some family--I might as well open up the floodgates. So, in summary: Keep on rockin' in this high-co-pay, insurance-fraudulent world and check back in tomorrow. I may well have something more interesting to discuss other than my serious need of a very warm winter coat and decent sushi delivery.
**Mayo Fun Fact #1:
The hotel I've reserved in Rochester includes the following text on its Web site description of its town as a "fun" city with much more to offer than medical services. Talk about great marketing copy and an uplifting spirit for those in distress:
Adventurer, novelist, and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in 1960. Diagnosed as suffering from depression, he underwent two months of electric shock therapy. Unfortunately, the treatments were not successful, for in July of 1961 the man who wrote such masterpieces as "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Sun Also Rises" returned to his Ketchum, Idaho, home and committed suicide.
What inspiration for a young writer descending on fair Rochester. I should be so lucky, no?