Roy Exum: My Adventures In ‘Minne-snow-ta’

Friday, February 4, 2011 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Several years ago I was an in-house guest at the famed Mayo Clinic, which is about 90 miles south of Minneapolis in the state of “Minne-snow-ta,” and one memorable night about this time of the year two pretty nurses came into my hospital room rolling a gurney. It was about 8:30 p.m. and they said they had orders to take me for another test.
At the time I was really sick but it was manageable, with constant IV drips of antibiotics and pain medicines. So the nurses wrapped me in a skinny sheet, and we went down the elevator, where my giggling saboteurs immediately raced me outside of St. Mary’s Hospital to administer a test that would accurately determine “if you can tell if is cold or not.”

At the time it was 60 degrees below zero. It was the most unbelievable weather experience of my life. One laughingly told me to spit and, so help me, my saliva bounced and then rolled. The moisture on my eyeballs was beginning to freeze, and the girls thought it was hysterical until I asked through chattering teeth what was going to happen when the meds in the IV lines got iced up.

We weren’t outside for 30 seconds total and it was a great lesson. It has never been lost on me that – every winter – about 15,000 Mayo Clinic employees battle the worst weather imaginable to take care of patients like me. So this week I checked on my blue-eared chums, and they’ve already had 60 inches of snow this winter. Yesterday the wind chill was minus-45 degrees.

Mayo Clinic sprawls for almost ten blocks in downtown Rochester, but the main buildings are connected by a web of amazing underground hallways, all brightly lit and warm and sprinkled with pleasant art so people don’t have to brave the elements and become lab specimens. But the next time you grumble about a “wintery mix” in Tennessee, I’m here to tell you it could be a whole lot worse.

The Minnesota people are a hardy bunch. They get to work on time every day. A lot of them plug their cars in at night, and their autos aren’t exactly hybrids. The plugs keep the oil in the engine blocks warm enough to start their cars the next morning. The guys who drive the big diesel rigs actually leave them running all night.

When the snows hit, all the farmers around the cities and towns have huge snow plows on their four-wheel drive pickup trucks and, since they can hardly do much farming in ice, many of them make money clearing the parking lots before dawn. The public works crews are legendary, and the DOT trucks barrel down the main highways throwing up huge waves of snow.

It’s something to see. Every kid goes to school every day. One harsh winter I was there and the wind chills got to almost 70 below, so the governor called off school in the entire state. What makes that so odd is that it was only something like the tenth time they’d done it in the last 50 years. In “Minne-snow-ta” there ain’t no such thing as a “snow day” for school kids to pray for who haven’t done their home work.
What’s more, often the cars driving up to Minneapolis go about 50 miles an hour on literally a sheet of packed snow. I’ve done it. One time, after I’d been in the hospital about two weeks, I finally headed for home on such a glaze, driving to the Twin Cities in a rental car for the flight south.

When I was discharged that particular day, I left with an antibiotic device that actually pumps a bag of strong medicine through a PICC line twice a day. About the time I left, it dawned on me I could take a “feeding” during my hour and a half drive to Minneapolis.

So I rigged the contraption up on the coat hook over the rear door, wiggled in the driver’s seat and, with the both the heater and the radio blasting, headed north. About 15 miles out, I started to play goo-goo eyes with some blonde in a Camaro, and we started leap-frogging one another going up State Hwy. 52.

Just before we got to Cannon Falls, I’d fallen back a little. As I zoomed to catch up, an alert Minnesota Highway Patrol officer caught me speeding and “driving too fast for conditions.” It was about 10 degrees outside, but he was pretty determined. Little did he know I was, too.

I cracked the window about an inch and explained I couldn’t get out of the cozy car “because, as you can see,” I said as I thumbed towards the medicine swinging on the coat hook, “I’m having to constantly be administered the most powerful antibiotics known to modern-day man."

“Don’t worry, sir. I deserve the citation,” I said, “but, well, I just got out of Mayo Clinic. I’ve been in heavy isolation for three weeks.”
Right then I slyly plucked a nostril hair, which will really make your eyes water, and took a deep sigh. “After all, you can write whatever kinds of ticket you want because I don’t guess the court date will really matter. You see, I’m still really sick and have just been sent home. Maybe for good,” I told the officer, noting his eyes seemed to have become a bit disturbed.

“Say, you don’t have a rubber glove in your cruiser, do you?” I asked trying to seem a bit sheepish. “I’m going to give you my Tennessee license, but I can guarantee you that your wife and children would feel better if you handled it a little more carefully than you ordinarily would … I know you’re just doing your job ... I don’t want this to sound like some corny pun but, sir, I’d just die if you got what I got.”

Well, I knew that trooper just thought he’d heard it all, but he eyed the IV line once more before he sort of slinked back from my window. He said how sorry he was, that I was so sick and all, and that, come to think of it, he figured that we’d just call everything square if I would promise to slow down.

I promised I would, and we departed as friends. Try as I did, I never could catch up with the girl in the Camaro. You see, you have to be really careful on the Minnesota highways around this time every year. They are slick, too.

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