Rochester, Minnesota(?!)

Sometimes life tosses you unanticipated travel plans — a detour to a place you hadn’t planned to explore. Life’s curve? Some health issues that were misdiagnosed back home. The place? Rochester, Minnesota, home of Mayo Clinic.

From what we’ve seen, Mayo Clinic IS Rochester, Minnesota. Forty-one thousand of Rochester’s 117,000 residents work for Mayo Clinic. Over 600,000 patients from around the world are treated here each year. If you include campuses in Florida and Arizona, Mayo Clinic treats 1.4 million patients annually! Rochester has become the world’s #1 destination for those seeking answers, options and hope.

Mayo Clinic rises out of a southern Minnesota valley, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. Its history is interesting.

In 1883, a tornado ripped through Rochester killing 24 people, injuring 100 and destroying 150 buildings. The Sisters of Saint Francis and Dr. W.W. Mayo and his sons cared for the injured. One of the nuns who was teaching in Rochester lead the charge for a permanent medical facility and approached Dr. Mayo with a deal he couldn’t refuse. If he and his sons would serve as the medical staff, the nuns would figure out a way to build a hospital.

This collaboration led to the opening of St. Mary’s Hospital in 1889. Other doctors joined the Mayos, and by 1929, a staff of 386 physicians, formed the first “group medical practice” stating:

“The cooperation and combined wisdom of peers is greater than any individual.”

Ten blocks east of the St. Mary’s campus is Mayo’s sprawling downtown complex, which includes 30+ buildings and the Mayo Clinic Hospital Methodist campus. These buildings are a destination in themselves. The lobbies rival those in 5-star hotels. Waiting areas — even those on the lower floors — are flooded with natural light. Original works of art line the walls and ceilings, providing a beautiful and interesting distraction.

In the Rochester Mayo world, everything revolves around patient wellness and comfort. Minnesota weather can be brutal — hot summers and bitter cold winters — but have no fear. Patients buildings and parking garages are connected by a well-marked underground “subway” system of brightly lit hallways.

In addition, the Mayo buildings and subway are connected to downtown restaurants, shops and hotels via skywalks.

Countless hotels circle both campuses and patients receive a “Mayo discount.” This is our fourth trip here — one one-night, 2 three night and now for seven nights. It’s an easy four-hour drive from Milwaukee and once here, we can park and leave the car. If a hotel isn’t connected, there is a complimentary shuttle to main Mayo buildings.

For this weeklong visit, we were offered and accepted free lodging at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge. Rooms are offered to patients with stays of three or more nights. After managing events for the Ronald MacDonald House, it feels weird to be on the patient/caregiver side of things —- and we are very thankful!

Downtown Rochester is walkable and clean. The Zumbro Riverwalk is lovely, as are the pretty little neighborhoods surrounding Mayo. We’ve discovered some good restaurants (Thai Pop, Crave, desserts from Mezza 9) and there is no shortage of coffee shops (fave: Cafe Steam on Broadway). The shopping has yet to impress.

Rochester has more than 3500 acres of park land and more than 85 miles of paved trails. Quarry Hill Nature Center was a welcome respite from the hotel room.

So, besides Mayo Clinic, what else is Rochester known for?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Rochester is known as home to IBM. Operations began here in 1956 with 174 employees. Today, over 4,000 people work in this 3.6 million square feet IBM-owned and leased facility (equivalent to about 78 football fields!). The building was designed by Eero Saarinen, who utilized blue panels inspired by the Minnesota sky, as well as IBM’s nickname of “Big Blue.”

And, there’s this . . .

Yes, for many, the most iconic sight in Rochester, Minnesota is the Ear of Corn Water Tower. The tower is 151 feet tall and was built in 1931 as a nod to one of two main vegetables processed at a local cannery.

Not impressed yet? OK, then let’s get back to Mayo. Over the years, many famous celebrities have been treated there.

Ernest Hemingway came to Mayo suffering from depression. The Dalai Lama continues to visit Mayo for check-ups and often speaks in the area. George and Barbara Bush each received new hips here.

Helen Keller had her gall bladder removed at Mayo. Lou Gehrig came to Rochester in 1939 when he was experiencing muscle weakness and was subsequently diagnosed with ALS.

And now, the latest celebrity to be treated . . .

Our own Frank.