Lessons I Learned At Mayo Clinic

For years Terry has encouraged me to go to Mayo Clinic for annual health checks. I have laughingly refused. I love my health care providers and I am generally healthy. But this year, aware that it is the last year I would be eligible to enter the program, I agreed.  “Okay” I said, “Lets go.”

We made appointments for April, filled out mountains of paperwork and carried our medical records with us.  It was to be a two-day visit packed with physical exams and tests covering me pretty much from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  I had consultations with an ophthalmologist, an ear, nose and throat doctor, a gastroenterologist and a cardiologist.

Mayo Clinic is a complex of buildings.  Hotels ring the complex. While financially beneficial to the hotels, it is extremely beneficial to visitors to the clinic.  For Terry and me it meant that we didn’t have to walk or drive through snow and ice before our 6:30 a.m. start time.  It also meant we could walk through the underground tunnel to get from our hotel to the clinic.  It was only seven minutes at the most from our hotel room to our first appointment in the Hilton Building.

With our schedules in hand, we quickly became familiar with the layout.  We moved from the Hilton Bldg to the Mayo Bldg. to the Gondo Bldg and from the lower level to the 17th floor.  We found the cafeteria, which serves employees, visitors and patients–at least those whose tests didn’t require fasting.

By 9:15 a.m. on Thursday I had given my blood, sacrificed my urine, and had an electrocardiogram and a chest x-ray.  Other tests were to follow. My general physical exam was scheduled for 10:45.  Due to the weather, the patient immediately before me cancelled.  My appointment began 30 minutes early and continued through almost the end of my scheduled hour.

I just had to take this photograph of myself in one of many hospital gowns. Unattractive, but very functional.

I just had to take this photograph of myself in one of many hospital gowns. Unattractive, but very functional.

Like all of the professional and paraprofessional staff with whom I interacted, my doctor was caring and informative.  He talked about my blood tests, explained what each of the results meant.  He cancelled one scheduled test to make room for another test he considered more important.  He encouraged me to email him if I had any questions about my test results that had not been answered by the end of the day Friday.

Each doctor described in detail the meaning of the test results pertinent to his/her specialty.  While much of the advice was applicable to every patient, there was also discussion concerning specific foods and vitamins that might be deficient in my diet: (zinc, vitamin E, AREDS) and books that I should read. [1]  The attentiveness to me as a person, and as a patient, suggests to me that the medical staff are hired, and retained, based not only on the quality of their medical skills, but also for their caring natures.

Mayo is not just about diagnosing and treating disease, it is also about wellness. While I was given one new prescription during my visit, much of the discussion was about prevention: diet, exercise and sleep. And of course, about the importance of eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables.  Not surprisingly, there was encouragement to exercise regularly and not to smoke.

I do not want to forget the patient services that surround the clinic.  There are hospital shops and national retail chain stores.  Clothing stores give patients what they call “shopping therapy” while they await appointments or test results.  But there were also wig shops and bra shops, IMG_2474shops that sold sleep apnea products and other medical equipment for those whose illnesses required/or benefitted by those products.  There is a library that provides patients, free of charge, information on virtually any disease that might have brought them to Mayo.  The Mayo Store also sold information about healthy diets.[2]

Seminars are held in the auditorium, live music is performed outside the cafeteria and the physical environment of the campus encourages optimism.

Terry and I consider ourselves very fortunate that we are generally quite healthy despite challenges that remind us that we are advancing in age.  But many visitors to the clinic are fighting serious, often terminal, diseases.  The environment throughout Mayo instills confidence in the quality of care available as well as a belief that the health care staff care about the people who come to them for healing and relief of pain.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend two days giving myself the gift of knowledge. Knowledge about my body’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as an understanding of how I can protect my own health to the extent that it is within my power to do so.

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[1] Including “No More Sleepless Nights” by Dr. Peter J. Hauri, PhD, former director of the Mayo Clinic Insomnia Program, and Shirley Linde, a well-known medical author.    Did you know 100 million people in the U.S., including most of my friends, have trouble sleeping?

[2]  When I saw this display in the Mayo Store, focused on the Mayo Diet, I could not help but reflect on our friend’s blog, “Livliga” that focuses on healthy  meals, recipes, heart healthy activities, inspirational poems and activities and even dinnerware designed to encourage us to eat healthy, low calorie (right sized) meals.

Sheila’s Passion For Health

Last Christmas after Meg and I told friends about our new blog at a holiday party, Sheila promised to become our first “follower”.  We didn’t know anything about followers, but we figured it out, her blog on healthy living became the first blog I followed.  I have read her blog faithfully ever since.

Sheila is truly passionate about healthy living, not just for herself, but for those around her.  She talks about obesity as an epidemic and wants to help others live healthier lives as she documents “my journey to better health”.  Her blog describes her commitment exercise, eat well, savor life.  Consistent with her theme, she recently changed the name of her blog to “Livliga Live Vibrant Blog”.  Livliga, translated from Swedish, means to live vibrantly, in an energetic, dynamic or lively fashion.

Sheila has now created a line of Livliga dinnerware products designed to help us “right size” our food portions.  Believe me that when she talks about her commitment to healthy living, portion control, and her dinnerware, her enthusiasm fills the room.  She describes her dinnerware as providing “a great reminder of what the right amount of food really looks like”.
Until recently the Executive Director of the Denver Affiliate of the American Heart Association, she takes health seriously.  She is an evangelist, of sorts, in her advocacy for eating healthy foods with appropriate portions for weight control. In addition, and this is where her passion for health has taken an unusual twist, she believes, and causes us to believe, that how food looks on a dinner plate is critical to our sense of satisfaction.  Food that is appealing and visually “fills a plate” gives us the ability to decrease the amount of food we need to feel full.

Important as her message is about portion control, Sheila wants us to be happy as we diet.  Her blog regularly features great recipes for foods that are appealing to our senses of taste, smell and sight. If we are eating less, she wants to be sure we are eating well.
Trust me when I tell you that after reading Sheila’s recipes for mustard sage grilled chicken, grilled salmon and flank steak, I really wanted to try them.  Her photos of prepared from her recipes look wonderful.  A right sized portion of her chicken, according to her post, is only 286 calories.  With a tasty Mediterranean lentil salad, the dinner counts is still only 492 calories.  Healthy, tasty and diet friendly, what more can we ask.
If  Sheila has anything to say about it, we will live healthier, feel better and enhance the overall quality of our lives.  Her mantra may well be described as “Eat thin, live vibrantly, Livliga!