Fog and discomfort surrounded my consciousness when I arrived at the Claussen Casita last November. I recall my pleasure at the Southwestern architecture of the Village at Mayo Clinic centered by a huge fountain that spread the sound of healing water in the desert. Little did I know then, this would be my communal home through most of February 2019.
Casita. It’s a word more familiar to those who live in the Southwest. Casita is the diminutive word from the Spanish word for home, casa. A little house/home—usually used by guests. Arranged by a social worker at the Phoenix Mayo Clinic, I was assigned room 2A inside the Claussen Casita. With Spouse at my side I cautiously followed the brick path through a xeriscaped garden of tall, limbless saguaros and palo verde trees shading the grounds. Splashes of color from low lying flowers in fall bloom greeted us at the locked glass door to the casita.
A sign taped to the entry door warned that only patients and their caregivers were allowed inside. No exceptions. That seemed harsh. But I didn’t understand the logic until I met the five other outpatients and their caregivers.
A man was stretched out on one of the light teal sofas in the communal living area. He watched the large screen television while a woman, I assumed to be his wife, sat on the other sofa, clicking knitting needles that produced a long trail of square colorful yarn. They both greeted me. A NG tube (nasogastric tube), held in place by a mound of tape that covered my nose like a beak, removed my social sense. It persecuted my upper body to the point where I was convinced that this torturous device was my personal purgatory for all past sins. Even the two intravenous morphine injections upon the device’s painful insertion, did nothing but temporarily relieve me of this nightmare. So, as I walked past the teal sofas to the short hallway to room 2A, my best greeting was a lackluster, unimpressive wave of the hand.
“The fellow on the sofa is recuperating from a heart transplant,” Spouse said after he opened the locked, heavy wooden door to 2A. Like a better hotel room with two queen beds dressed in white linens, and a bathroom armored for physically weak outpatients, I grunted, “I’ll take the bed near the bathroom.”
I peaked outside through the window and watched a young woman with her hair tied in a stylish bun to the top of her head. She walked arm and arm with her caregiver past the fall-blooming shrubs. She looked too healthy and young to be in this healing facility — until I saw how the back of her skull was precisely shaved for brain surgery. “That young woman is from Wyoming and she’s here to heal from her second brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor,” Spouse explained. You see, Spouse moved in before I did because it took a few days to get me discharged from the hospital because I required a portable decompression pump that no one could find.
Outpatients with a heart transplant and brain cancer were two of my casita mates — all Mayo Clinic outpatients who had either undergone or were critically awaiting an organ transplant, or persons like me in complex treatment for cancer.
Talk about living in a bubble! This experience changed me for life. Not only was I forced to face the depth of my own diagnosis, but I shared space with others with life-threatening compromised immune systems and physical conditions.
The Village at Mayo Clinic represents generosity, volunteerism, and compassion — three of my favorite things. Benefactors helped fund the construction of the existing casitas. While there, the office staff announced that a former guest just donated $4 million to build another casita.
There, I met and witnessed the will to live. There, I witnessed a mother who came with her daughter awaiting a liver transplant — a transplant desperately needed to keep her alive — walk into the communal dining area and tearfully express her feelings after her daughter was rushed to the ER and hospitalized. She basically said, “Sometimes I give up hope until I come back to this casita and see five miracles living right here.”
Miracles. That’s a big word. It’s a word I judiciously use. Many of the Mayo Clinic patients are there because it is their last hope. Either their doctors at home told them to get their life in order because the disease in their body is their final fate, or they learned that this facility treats medical issues with a generous degree of success — in a manner unlike other medical facilities.
When we reach this stage of disease, we make choices Regardless of age, sex, culture or faith, medical science is the first hope of treatment for many. It seems to work hand in hand with the miracle of the positive action of treatment with hope, prayer and a plethora of other means of healing both the physical and the spirit.
So yes, as the woman who claimed that five miracles sat in that communal dining room, I had to agree. The kidney transplant outpatients counted the days when they would be discharged; Tim (not his real name), a man so battered from his war with leukemia and subsequent treatments, went from one who (like me when I arrived) lacked the strength to speak, and was now on the road to remission; and to me, now NG tube free and able to eat again and withstanding my carboplatin and paclitaxel infusions. We were miracles of science, faith and will.
Sweet Hanna, the young woman from New Mexico, still awaits her liver transplant. I beg each reader to give out to the universe a prayer of hope in her name. A young chef who just happened to be friends with a chef friend of mine and my daughter, now heals from his recent kidney transplant. And Tim, I still swell up in tears knowing that his last ditch treatment has brought him into remission.
And I don’t wish to discount the caregivers. The caregivers kept us fed and tended. They are the second element of our healing. They are the ones who rushed some of us to the ER because our temperatures were elevated, or we coughed up blood, or we were unusually lethargic.
Upon my recent return home, I commented on living in a bubble here in Cambria. But that bubble is nothing like the one I left behind in Phoenix, Arizona. My circle of reality existed within the Claussen Casita and the Mayo Clinic hospital and treatment facilities. There I witnessed others fighting for life as they battled any number of serious health challenges. It grew normal to walk among persons wrapped in bandages, persons in wheelchairs, persons bald like me, persons waiting to meet with their physicians, and persons with hope in healing.
I’m still a tad foggy in the brain with more treatments in my future. But I am now fueled by the miracles in the casita.
How to Donate
Do you wish to donate to the Village at Mayo Clinic? Click this secure link: DONATE TO VILLAGES AT MAYO CLINIC
You can also send your donation to: Help In Healing Home, The Village at Mayo Clinic
5811 E. Mayo Blvd. Phoenix, AZ 85054
Do you wish to donate to the Mayo Clinic? Click this link for more information: Giving to Mayo Clinic
Do you wish to donate to the Mayo Clinic Cancer Research Fund? Click this link: Mayo Clinic Cancer Research Donation
The above link will also allow you to donate to the organ transplant program at Mayo Clinic.
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2 thoughts on “Miracles in the Casita”
Thanks so very much for this very informative and heartrending article on life in the Casita. Our granddaughter, Hanna, and her mother, our daughter-the caregiver, have been living there over 2 months awaiting a liver transplant for Hanna. It has been hard for everyone, but being close to doctors, surgeons, the hospital and in the company of others facing difficult situations has made it easier. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who have touched their lives!! What a blessing the Casita is!! Bob & Margie Baldwin
Hanna and Cindy are special people. Be assured there is a community of people working on all levels to bring Hanna back to health.