The server at Chester’s Kitchen and Bar looks at my tired face with concern and asks sympathetically, “Did you have a lot of appointments today?”
That question might seem odd anywhere else but here. This bustling,upscale restaurant draws crowds for its perfect rotisserie chicken, its locally sourced and inspired dishes and its playful bar and dessert menus. But in this location, the query makes perfect sense. Chester’s stands directly across the street from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Many of us with MS are familiar with Mayo. With more than 90 neurologists on staff, Mayo has one of the largest and most comprehensive neurology departments in the world, and people come from all over the globe in search of answers to their neurological problems. I traveled there last year for what became a diagnosis of primary progressive MS, and, unfortunately, I’m a patient there again, this time battling bone marrow cancer.
“Medical tourism” seems like an odd concept to those us dealing with debilitating diseases, but in Rochester, it’s a way of life. This city of a little more than 100,000 knows that many of the people who come to visit are facing serious medical challenges, and the shopkeepers, restaurant servers and hotel staffers keep that top of mind every time a customer steps in the door. Front desk clerks at the hotels know that patients’ stays can stretch with little notice, thanks to Mayo’s multidisciplinary, collaborative-care approach, and they work to offer patient rates and make sure you have a place to sleep for another night or two when you need it. The volunteer artists who staff the Semva Art Gallery, also across the street from Mayo near Chester’s, cheerfully greet customers curious about the works produced by southeast Minnesota artists and ask them if they’re in town because of Mayo.
An underground pedestrian subway system connects three hotels, a food court and classy shops to the Mayo Clinic buildings (making Mayo really easy to navigate for those of us with scooters!). But it takes a few tries before you really understand how it all comes together, and the hospital employees on break who fill the hallways are happy to point you in the right direction when you need help.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us wouldn’t plan a vacation to Rochester if Mayo Clinic wasn’t part of our vocabulary. But when you need to go, it’s comforting to know that you’re in caring, nurturing hands—not just in the doctors’ offices, but in the community as well.