Traveling to MD Anderson for the first time? Here are a few thing I’ve learned about the premier cancer treatment center over the past few visits, 6 to be exact, on an outpatient basis. Please feel free to take something from this even if you are not a patient of MDA. I would be willing to put money on the fact that said cancer facilities operate in the same general fashion, and if not – get to MDA as soon as you can. (If travel is an issue see “Links I Love” for help with getting to Houston.)
No, really. VALET. This place is BIG. There are multiple parking garages and chances are you’ll have multiple appointments within the MD Anderson complex. The chances of you ending up anywhere near the garage that you initially parked your car in are slim to none. Instead, set aside the $15 it will cost you to valet. Hit up those relatives or friends who are always tell you that they want to help but don’t know how. Just tell them, “I know just the thing…Gimme fifteen bucks, sucka, so I don’t have to melt in Houston humidity.” The glory of valet at MDA is you can pull straight up to any main entrance to any building and the super-nice valet people will park your car for you. Hang on to your ticket and regardless of where you come out at the end of your day the valets will bring your car to you in a reasonable amount of time. It’s that simple. I can tell you by experience that you will not save money by parking on your own and you will be mad and tired that you did not heed my advice. Oh, and you can forget about trying to park on the street. Ha! It’s Houston.
2. Speaking of being mad and tired – Wear comfortable shoes!
On our inaugural trip to MDA I wore really cute, fresh, white converse and by the end of the day I was looking for someone to amputate the little toes on both of my feet. I mentioned having multiple appointments, which is always the case for us. With that means LOTS of walking because it is very rare that we have ever had two appointments back to back in the same building. MDA has the most amazing SkyBridge ever, and by amazing I mean LONG. I mean, it has to be a good half a mile, one way. Seriously. Today alone we walked that thing 3 times. But today, I was able to keep my lovely pinky toes because I wore running shoes…and socks. They do offer a tram that runs every 15 minutes, complete with a lovely tram driver who offers blessings and words of kindness but if you are running late from one appointment to the next you do not have time to wait for trams. You’ll have to hoof it. Lace up those Nikes and get to it. (If you are in anyway compromised healthwise, please, take the tram, call and let your doctor know you’ll be late to your appointment. They’ll understand.)
3. Don’t be alarmed by all of the white coats.
As you walk said SkyBridge, and anywhere else on the property, you will notice an alarming number of doctor looking people in white coats. Even though this phenomenon is to be expected (MDA being a hospital and everything) it is still a little unnerving, for whatever reason. Call it white-coat syndrome. Things to note: A. All of the white coats are not doctors. B. Only the long coats are doctors and many of those don’t see patients. They are the smarties who do the sciency stuff – research. They are usually moving much faster than anyone you’ll see in the place. Smile at them and leave them alone – they are trying to save us all. C. The short coats are any manner of intern, lab specialist, radiologist ect. They are trying to save us, too. D. The volunteers also wear short white coats and will go out of their way to help you. They are often cancer survivors. They, like all of the other white coats, are trying to save us all as well.
4. Bring a sweater!
It is cold in nearly every nook and cranny of the MDA complex. Do yourself the simple courtesy of packing a light sweater or hoodie – in your backpack.
5. PACK A BACKPACK!
You’re likely going to be at MDA for a good chunk of the day and a purse or pockets won’t cut it. Dig out that ole trusty backpack or Thirty-One monogram tote and put it to good use. You’ve got your sweater (see #4). There are cute little people who come around most departments and offer coffee and tea, but after walking the SkyBridge you’re going to need some water – so pack a few bottles or bring a reuseable water bottle with a big enough lid for you to use at the various ice and water machines the place offers that are scattered through out various departments. Pack snacks. The multiple cafes have great food and are beyond reasonably priced but they aren’t always convenient for when the boredom munchies attack and you get hangry. Keep that trail mix handy. Pack something to read, of course, but in case you leave the latest Nicholas Sparks at home there are books absolutely EVERYWHERE in this place – I ain’t mad at ’em for it either. Just pick one up as you pass a book tree and then return it to the next book tree you come to. Easy as pie. HEADPHONES – this is how I live, but they aren’t very effective with a dead phone battery, so pack that charger too. There are outlets coveniently placed throughout all buildings – plugging in is no issue. All MDA buildings also have wi-fi with easy connectivity (no codes, or login or anything dumb like that), which makes having a laptop, tablet or smartphone worth it. Don’t forget your wallet or pocketbook! Other handy items: handsanitizer, something to write with and on, your humongous medical folder, cards, any other small handy hobby to occupy your time because…
6. You are going to wait. That’s the way it is.
These people are in the business of saving lives and that takes time, people! Chill, but be smart about it. If you find that you are waiting too long for an appointment or in a lab politely let the attendants know. The staff does not like it when people are uncomfortable, having cancer is enough. We have found that they will do what they can to accommodate patients and caregivers. Is it annoying? Yes. Do I understand? Absolutely. So, as you are waiting…
7. Be on the look out for reclining chairs and gliders.
Most of the seating in buildings is as comfortable as hospital-type seating can get. They have couches (smaller and larger – for sleeping. Yes, people sleep there because…the waiting), small chairs, club chairs, wingbacks, recliners and gliders. Find a recliner or glider as soon as you get to your destination and hang on to it like it’s the last time you’ll ever sit in your life! Unless, of course, someone worse off than you comes along and needs a seat – then you get your butt up and move along, with a smile. You know what also goes nicely with a recliner? A nice toasty blanket.
If you’ve forgotten your sweater that you swore you packed in your trusty backpack simply ask an attendant for a blanket. They come nice and clean and toasty. They keep them in a blanket warmer, for goodness sakes. These people are about comfort, thank the Lord. So, don’t forget to ask for a blankie. You’ll thank me later.
9. Give yourself plenty of time.
Do everything that you can to be a little early. There is ALWAYS TRAFFIC IN HOUSTON and like I said before, MDA is big and they do the best they can to keep patients in one part of the complex but it just doesn’t always work out so be prepared by being early. With all that could go on in a day at MD Anderson, the last thing you want to combat is the stress of feeling late or the threat of getting your appointment bumped. So just do the best that you can to be a bit early. Murphy’s Law still applies – even when you’ve already got cancer – even if you’ve done all you can to be on time and things still aren’t going your way call the department, any department really, and just let them know you are running a bit behind. They are nice folks and they will work with you – within reason of course.
On any given day at MDA you can get a haircut or a shave, do yoga, attend a class on dietary needs for the oncology patient, get a massage or a facial, eat a delicious made-to-order omelet or a woodfired pizza at The Waterfall Cafe (which has a great patio, btw), or even legitimately get your shop-on in one of several gift shops. They have thought of everything. Simply pick up a newsletter hanging on any wall in any building and check out the days scheduled events. These handy pamphlets are full of information, including details about childcare (kids are scarce in this place because of their deadly cooties – should you have a carrier you’ll need childcare) and The Rotary House should you be in need of a place to lay your weary head whilst in H-town. The best thing about all of the things I listed above – they are free to patients and caregivers for the most part. Sweet.
I think that about covers it. I realize this Top 10 list is not exhaustive – so please feel free to let me know what I’ve left out. Oh, one last thing. The staff of MD Anderson is very diverse and they are top to bottom some of the nicest people we’ve encountered in our cancer-craziness. They take their jobs seriously and their jobs are to help us, the cancer people. So if you have any hang ups about race or gender or sexuality you can check that bad business at the door and simply say ‘thank you’ instead.
On a personal note, this visit was trying at times and nearly enjoyable others. Dr. MDA told us that for the most part that Trent is doing well. The large tumor, 11.5cm, is holding steady. The small tumors are as well. His platelets are below normal by layman’s standards (120k), but “Anything over 100k is great!” So, we’ll stick to that for now. Gavin ran over Trent’s toe this evening with his toy tracker and cut it pretty good and he bled for a bit – there goes that 20k. What now, Doc? With the big move to Mom’s coming up Trent has made the decision to put off the next round of chemo until after moving and Sabrinna’s graduation. Doc says that there will likely be growth in tumors, but she understands why he wants to do things this way and the growth should be manageable. Likely story, lady. We’ll see what Dr. Bo has to say about this on Thursday. Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of Trent’s decision, but I get it (he’d be a complete basketcase and probably end up hurting himself trying to help if he was bedridden during our move), and he’s an adult (thank you, Amber). It’s his decision. So, Trent will start his next round of chemo June 8 and in the meantime we will enjoy simply feeling good.
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Posted by Adrienne Ringer-Gibson
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