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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

The spirit of a hotel

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

(Photo)
I haven't traveled that widely, or stayed in enough good hotels to be much of a judge. So when my daughter remarked that all such places seem to share a certain style that sets them apart, it started me thinking. She went on to observe that many fine hotels are near tourist attractions, so they have certain elements of gaiety and celebration about them. The historic Kahler hotel, next door to the Mayo Clinic, is quite another matter. An underlying element of serious concern, often bordering on tragedy, is almost palpable there.

First, a bit of background -- the Doctors Mayo, William and Charles, usually referred to as Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie, were the sons of Dr. William Worral Mayo who was born in England in 1819. He came to the US as a young man, and by a circuitous route, arrived in Rochester as a Civil War medical recruiting officer. Their famous sons were born to him and his wife, Louise, in a small cottage near his first office where he established a private practice after the war ended. The Siebens Building is on that site today.

William Worral Mayo, a man of small stature, was always known as "the little doctor." But he was "big" in almost every other way, influencing his sons to follow in his footsteps. William graduated from the Michigan Medical School and Charles from Northwestern University in Chicago. Both immediately entered their father's practice. By the turn of the 20th Century, other prominent doctors had joined them and the Mayo Clinic was under way.

Sensing the need for additional lodging as well as more operating space, the Mayo's convinced a group of Rochester business men, John Kahler chief among them, to build the Kahler Hotel. Part was used for lodging and part for hospital rooms. The latter have long since been turned into tiny hotel rooms, called economy rooms, which is where I always stay. Some scoff at their small size but it's all the space I need, and they are reasonably priced and conveniently located near the Mayo buildings.

There is a certain stately elegance about the Kahler lobby and mezzanine floor, but as I noted above, the preoccupation with more serious matters is always felt. It's easy to strike up a conversation because of that common interest. One evening we sat down by an attractive couple who greeted us with some jolly repartee but soon were telling us their poignant story.

It was one of those tales of misdiagnosis so often heard up there. He'd had ongoing health problems which had been compounded by severe back pain several months earlier. His home doctors kept insisting it was just a strained muscle. Finally, they'd come to the Clinic where more accurate testing and experienced practitioners discovered a serious and rapidly growing malignancy on his spine. The prognosis was not good.

We saw them a final time the morning before we left. He was obviously in great discomfort, but still made an attempt to lighten the moment with a clever quip. It saddens me just thinking about them. The husband, in another duo, was suffering from an unexplained dizziness. All of the possible causes of vertigo had been ruled out and they were waiting for a decision on the next steps to be taken. He appeared totally miserable, and the concern of his devoted spouse was equally evident.

I will end my stories here, but I want to tell you, once more, how fortunate I think we all are to have such fine local health facilities and personnel to treat most of our needs. Still, when rare problems arise, it is comforting to know that we are within easy reach of one of the world's greatest medical centers located by fate, or perhaps by God's grace, right here in the heart of rural America.