The lower level lobby area at Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building in downtown Rochester features a large sculpture of a man on the wall as well as a piano that is often played, sometimes used to accompany singers.  LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
The lower level lobby area at Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building in downtown Rochester features a large sculpture of a man on the wall as well as a piano that is often played, sometimes used to accompany singers. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
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The Mayo Clinic is known far and wide for its excellence as a medical healthcare facility.

It’s having a banner year in 2014, celebrating its 150th anniversary. But that’s not all. A couple weeks ago, U.S. News & World Report recognized Mayo Clinic in Rochester as the top hospital in the nation in the rankings for 2014-2015. Mayo Clinic is always at or near the top of any rankings for quality and excellence in the medical field.

Living in this area, we all know of the Mayo Clinic. But I bet there may be a surprising number of people who have had little to no contact with this healthcare facility. I was among that number until specific medical needs and emergency trauma care found me entering the hallowed halls.

My doctor in Preston is with the Olmsted Medical Center (OMC). We also know OMC with its clinics in the smaller towns outside of Rochester and a hospital in that city.

In late spring of 2012 I went to the emergency room at OMC's hospital in Rochester. I had really bad lower back pain and nausea. It turned out to be kidney stones. OMC gave me a prescription to help handle the pain, then sent me home to pee through a small filter/screen into a cup to see if anything would pass and be caught. In case it didn't, OMC also referred me to Mayo, where a laser or something could be used in surgery to shatter a stone so it could pass. OMC certainly does do surgeries, but apparently doesn't have a laser for that purpose.

It's kind of a surprise when you first go to Mayo. Patients, especially new ones, get a multi-sheet itinerary sent before an appointment. It explains which buildings to go to, what floors, what times, and anything to do or not do before your appointment, such as not eating so many hours before a blood test or surgery.

It may be kind of confusing at first, between the buildings in downtown Rochester that I figure are considered the "clinic" as far as I know; the Methodist Hospital (now part of Mayo) that's close to and connected to the clinic downtown; and Saint Marys (that's correct, readers – there’s no apostrophe in Saint Marys) Hospital and associated buildings (also all a part of Mayo) a mile or so northwest of the downtown Mayo campus and a couple blocks off Highway 52. But rest assured, there are lots of information desks to help people. Staff members are very helpful. And the clinic’s website has more information, including maps you can print of the clinic’s buildings.

Mayo runs free patient shuttles between the Gonda Building downtown, to Saint Marys, which stop at the Ronald McDonald House, the Transplant House and other similar sites if anyone on the shuttle is staying there. As soon as I could, I figured how to use the shuttle with my rollator walker, which conveniently folds up to a smaller size. It’s even more convenient to use with my cane. Of course the shuttle is handicap accessible with a second door and lift for wheelchair and similar needs.

By using the shuttle, I didn't need to have my driver hang around the clinic to provide a ride. He or she could run errands in Rochester and not return to the clinic until I was done for the day and called him/her.

I must say that Mayo staff people who schedule appointments try their darnedest to get multiple appointments in a single day to eliminate a lot of driving on my end. They also try to set appointments as close together as might work. One day I believe I had something like seven appointments. That kept me “running” from Gonda to Mayo to Charlton to North Charlton buildings downtown. It was a long day to be sure, but I appreciated it. I didn’t have to get a driver and potentially make five or so more trips to Rochester.

Of course, I wasn't really running. But that goal is included on my bucket list, which has been revised after my accidental fall and subsequent stroke in September of 2012. Much as 2014 is a stellar year for Mayo Clinic, 2012 was an especially bad year for me.

I used a wheelchair to get around for a few months. Mayo has employees who have the job of "transport." You check in with your wheelchair upon arriving at your building on the main floor, and staff members arrange for a transport person to wheel you to your appointment. You can also use loaner wheelchairs that Mayo provides near entrances.

I recall one time when I was using my walker. But as the day went on, I got tired. The check-in desk people at the floor I was on arranged to have a wheelchair brought up by a transport person. It's all very helpful.

Here's one thing you want to keep in mind if calling for transport, especially before your first appointment. You may want to arrive at least 15 minutes to half an hour or more before your check-in time. The transport people stay busy. It may take that long for one to get to you. In any case, it's a sweet service to offer.

I often wonder if other hospitals go to such lengths for their patients and visitors. The transport people are far from Mayo's only special service.

When arriving or departing Saint Marys, I am always reminded of being in an airport. There are nice waiting areas both in the lobby inside and the covered area outside. There is also a staff member who announces what's "boarding," such as the shuttles for Saint Marys to and from Mayo downtown, shuttles for area motels, hotels and even for shopping spots and taxi arrivals.

The staff members who greet you outside also help people into and out of vehicles and keep traffic moving smoothly and safely in three lanes, all while pointing out the temporary parking spots by the curb (or where there's no curb for easier navigation).

I was a patient at Saint Marys for five weeks. It started with my arrival by ambulance to this area's trauma emergency room. It continued to surgery, to ICUs and finally to the rehabilitation floor at 3 Mary Brigh, where the majority of my time as a patient was spent.

There are yet more conveniences for patients there. For example, there’s a library in the tower, which I believe is in the Joseph building that’s connected to Mary Brigh. You can go there and check out a book or a movie and something to play it on. I also find that library to be a nice place to hang out on days I have time to blow between appointments. It also has computers; additionally you’ll find them in little waiting areas on each floor of Mary Brigh.

Still more perks include lovely works of art and even a tour to get more details, free seminars around the lunch hour downtown on common health-related topics (like handling stress or sleeping better), a museum and more.

So you get the idea. The Mayo Clinic is tops in its field for patients – and I’d say for visitors, too.

If you’ve never been there, stop in and take a look around some day. It’s a very historic, yet cutting edge, amazing place.