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Oddchester: A reminder of what Mayo Clinic means to Rochester

August 22, 2018

Mayo Clinic has been in the news recently. Especially, well, on CNN.

Sure, CNN’s stories — and the subsequent Mayo rebuttal and CNN’s rebuttal of that — can be argued on their own merits.

But, sometimes, we may be too close to it. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of what Mayo Clinic has represented since its inception in 1864.

Here’s a look back on one of those reminders.

On a Friday night four years ago (May 9, 2014), 5,000 people packed Taylor Arena for Mayo Clinic’s 150th Anniversary Signature Event, which included speeches and performances by Gov. Mark Dayton, Mayo CEO John Noseworthy, high school marching bands, and a tribute to Sister Generose by Shakespearean actor Michael York (you probably know him as Basil from “Austin Powers”).

Various performances depicted and honored monumental Mayo Clinic moments.

Here are some highlights.

7:37 p.m.: Dozens of people dressed in 1880s-era clothing take the stage as giant video screens show storm scenes. Three giant ribbons drop from the ceiling and four performers climb up the ribbons and spin wildly to ominous music. Acrobats are depicting Rochester’s deadly tornado of 1883. That description — when I read it again — seems wrong on so many levels. In person, the performance of the event that truly created the Mayo Clinic is profoundly moving. More than a few people around me have tears in their eyes. I may or may not be one of them.

8:08 p.m.: A doctor in a lab coat walks on stage, then begins juggling while spinning a ball on a stick held in his mouth. This is not Dr. Noseworthy. It’s someone from Cirque du Soleil. A second performer, dressed in footie pajamas, gives the doctor ping pong balls, which he sends high in the air by spitting them out of — and catching them in — his mouth. I’m not completely familiar with the story’s history, but this performance may represent Mayo Clinic doctors Edward Kendall and Philip Hench and their discovery of cortisone. Though probably not.

8:14 p.m.: A shirtless Cirque du Soleil performer (male) and a female gymnast perform one of those human-on-human acts that seem impossible. They balance and spin on each other in ways that, were my wife and I to try it, would leave one of us dead.

While I can’t be sure, I am hoping this performance does not symbolize the relationship between W.W. Mayo and Mother Alfred Moes. Because if it does, that would mean that she spent a lot more time standing on his head — with one foot — than I had imagined.

8:34 p.m.: The 8-year-old Carlsen twins, conjoined girls surgically separated at the clinic as 5-month-olds, take the stage with their parents and the doctor who led the surgery. Standing ovation. The girls blow kisses to the crowd. More than a few people around me have tears in their eyes. I may or may not be one of them.

9:03 p.m.: The Princess of Jordan talks about her father — King Hussein — and his treatment at Mayo Clinic. Lola, a Muppet from “Plaza Sesamo” (the Spanish language version of “Sesame Street”) joins her on stage.

Throughout the night, numerous references have been made to the Clinic’s international ties. Nothing, though, drives this point home like, onstage in Rochester, the Princess of Jordan bantering with a Latin American Muppet.

9:22 p.m.: A salute to the U.S. military includes audience sing-a-longs for each branch. More than a few people around me have tears in their eyes. I may or may not be one of them.

10:01 p.m.: For the finale, the Honors Choirs of Southeast Minnesota — made up of local kids grades three to 12 — take the stage and fill the lower aisles. Maybe 200 kids, each holding a tiny light, sing “One Voice.”

I realize then, that on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Mayo Clinic, this night represents ... all of it. The century and a half of people treating people, of a lifesaving partnership born from a tornado’s deadly destruction, of World War II flight suits, of arthritis treatments and Nobel Prizes, of conjoined twins successfully separated.

And of the stories we don’t hear, like the boy who left here after cancer treatment and hugged his nurse goodbye and neither forgot it. More than a few people around me have tears in their eyes. I may or may not be one of them.

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