At the Mayo Clinic I Stare at a Wall of Blue Sodalite Marble

Monday, January 15, 2018

                        It’s also called “wisdom

stone.” Here there are whole walls of it, shades of dark luminous

                        blue veined with white

so it looks like craggy mountains dotted with a few scrawny pines

                        bordering valleys

of snow, along the edges of which a road winds. Tiny people,

                        almost indistinguishable,

trudge slowly up the white winter road towards the blue mountains.

                        Theirs is a long

journey. Where are they going? The mountains are uninhabitable.

                        I know it’s all

imaginary, my own Rorschach. Instead of ink blots, blue sodalite

                        marble mined

from the Bolivian Andes, transported by train, boat, truck, then cut,

                        polished to a high sheen,

and set into a cherry-paneled wall in the Stephen and Barbara

                        Slaggie Family

Cancer Education Center. The placard next to the marble says:

                        “Wisdom stone

is believed to aid in concentration and to quiet inner turmoil.

                        Others believe

that it also has healing properties. We encourage you

                        to touch the wall.”

It feels smooth, cold. Its small blue marble people resemble

                        the parka-hooded

men, women, teenagers, and occasional children crowding this morning

                        onto the motel shuttle

bound in the dim blue light of dawn for the Mayo Clinic, our Lourdes,

                         thirteen blocks away.

It is seven degrees, a foot of new-fallen snow in Rochester, Minnesota,

                        where my wife and I

have come to consult a doctor about the side effects

                        she’s still experiencing

from the rheumatoid arthritis drug she discontinued five months ago,

                        a biologic

called Enbrel. She still suffers from slight, intermittent tremors,

                        but the neuropathy—

“electrical zaps” in her hands and feet, as she describes it—have abated.

                        We too boarded

the shuttle. We saw Dr. Michet, who examined Dana’s X-rays,

                        thought the joints

in her gray, skeletal feet and hands on the black velvet

                        film on his light box

“looked good,” considering the fourteen years she’s had the disease,

                        and that she

was “perhaps being over-medicated.” He was stumped

                        by her newly diagnosed

thiamine deficiency. “Perhaps celiac sprue?” He ordered

                        a blood draw

and then an MRI to rule out Parkinson’s. We took the elevator

                        down to the “subway

level,” walked underground to the Hilton Building, Desk C, and waited

                        in the waiting area

for Dana’s name to be called. No one paid any attention

                        to Ellsworth Kelly’s

eleven, brightly colored squares, rectangles, parallelograms,

                        and rhombuses

hung on the white wall. Or to Joan Miró’s lithographs

                        of larger-than-life

surreal figures—The Mad Woman with Ill-Tempered Pimento,


Warrior, Big Oysterwoman, Chauffeur of the Moon,

                        Wielder of Dumb Bells.

Miró’s wacky humor fell flat. Everyone sat in leather chairs

                        or in their wheelchairs

as if in a luxurious airport terminal, waiting for their flight

                        to Maui, the Cayman

Islands, or some other spot in the sun to be announced

                        over the intercom.

Instead, a nurse in a light blue lab coat called out,

                        “Anne Marie Kaufman,

Door B, please . . .” as if it were a game show that Anne Marie

                        had won. She had to go

to Door B to collect her mystery prize. In the back of the room

                        a black-haired woman

with an aquiline nose vomited quietly into a plastic bag.

                        I had heard

her tell the woman seated next to her that she had

                        Addison’s disease

and that her monthly infusions had allowed her to lead

                        a normal life

until two weeks ago when they had stopped working.

                        Now she couldn’t keep

anything down. We are traveling the high mountain passes

                        within a block of blue

sodalite marble. It is starting to snow. At this altitude

                        the air thins

and becomes harder to breathe. We get dizzy. We walk until

                        the cliffs that are

sheer, two-hundred-foot drops on either side of us disappear

                        in the blizzard’s

whiteout. We crawl on hands and knees, feeling for the path

                        as we go.

Monday, January 15, 2018