My adventures at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix

The surgery I needed this summer was not available in Alaska. I could have had it done in several places in the lower 48, but I picked Mayo Clinic because of its excellent national reputation. It is the number one ranked hospital by U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek. I picked the Phoenix facility (as opposed to Mayo Clinics in Florida or Minnesota) for the food.

No need to be snarky. It was a dumb idea, but at the time I was trying to make the experience seem somehow festive, less tense, so I focused on southwestern food, which I love. I envisioned the huge medical facility in the middle of a bustling downtown Phoenix, with dozens of fabulous restaurants within a 15-minute walk. Spoiler alert: Consider the Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.”

Well into the lengthy admissions procedure, while I was still in Alaska, I decided to get onto Google Street View and start identifying promising restaurants around the clinic. I was stunned. I quickly discovered there were no fabulous restaurants near the clinic. In fact, there were no restaurants at all. In fact, there were no city streets at all. The Phoenix Mayo Clinic is way out at the very edge of Phoenix in the middle of the desert. There are a few huge Mayo facility buildings, a highway, and lots and lots of sand and brush.

My idea — and I don’t think I am alone in this — is that good food is important to keep up the spirits and to make a full recovery. My last hope was the two Mayo Clinic cafeterias. Surely, they served southwest cuisine. After I had been staying at the Residence Inn for about 10 days, I was joined by my wife, Christy, who helped me with post-operative care. Neither of us wanted to cook much in the little hotel room kitchenette, so we ate one or two meals every day at the cafeterias. Alas, with few exceptions, bland steam-tray-and-grill hospital cafeteria food. Bottom line: Don’t go there for the food.

How about the medical care?

I have never experienced a medical organization like Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic itself is a nonprofit organization. All the physicians are salaried and they are totally focused on the patient experience. They are not in business to make a profit but rather they are there to serve patients. And that focus comes through over and over again, sometimes in rather startling ways.

Initially it felt like I was applying to medical school or to an elite institution of some kind because I went through a screening process. In my case, the specific procedure that I required was not offered in Alaska. That’s a pretty good rationale for being accepted to Mayo, as far as I can tell. If you just have some ordinary condition that you can get adequately treated anywhere, it is my impression that you are less likely to be accepted for treatment at Mayo.

The screening process involves multiple discussions with various people including the physicians that are going to do the surgery or perform the procedure. A couple of times the physicians actually called me up to answer questions that they thought I might have, based on something that I casually mentioned to someone else.

No one seemed rushed, and everyone wanted to answer all my questions or refer me to someone who would. It was an unexpected but positive experience that helped allay anxieties I had about surgery. Once I arrived in Arizona and started going to appointments, I discovered that people were extraordinarily friendly. People would go out of their way to take me to some obscure corner of the facility, or would be comforting if I were stressed or in pain.

The whole functioning of the medical facility was professional and fine-tuned. Any department I spoke with had instant total digital information about all my appointments and everything relevant to my case. In addition, any notes the doctors had taken or any lab results or anything dealing with my treatment was and is readily available by computer for me to read, download or comment on. It also offers the capability to send and receive secure messages to and from anyone who treated me — and they respond within days. Once I arrived in Arizona, appointments were efficiently scheduled, often back-to-back, sometimes in the same room with just a change of providers and technicians.

In sum, the medical care was excellent, but my expectations of abundant southwestern cuisine were sadly dashed. Of course, I do love Cuban food. If I need surgery again, perhaps I should try the Mayo facility in Florida?

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

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