Last week, three of us and spouses visited MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. MDA is known as a center of excellence for cancer treatment.

Bill was there for his routine checkup of his melanoma. Andy was there to meet with docs about his recent diagnosis of esophageal cancer. I was there to talk with docs about pancreatic cancer.

We all headed to our different silos for the routine blood tests, CTscans, X-rays and other tests that were unique to each of us.

MDA is a daunting place. People are scurrying around the halls, in/out the elevators, like everyone is in college and they have two minutes to get to the next class. Hustle bustle.

Some wear the surgical masks to prevent them from getting infections. After all, everyone here is sick.

The amazing thing is how upbeat and jovial the patients are. While I was waiting for my CTscan, the waiting room was very cold. The nurses handed each of us a blanket just to keep warm. There were about 15 of us waiting for the test. Just chitchatting, you hear about the woman from Corpus Christi who came to MDA for her routine test and that she lives next door to the mayor of Corpus Christi, who takes care of her dog while she is away.

There was also Bubba, from Arkansas. While Bubba would easily fit everyone’s stereotypical image of a redneck (he called every guy ‘Sir” and every woman “Ma’am,” when he spoke), he was very quiet by nature. In his southern drawl, he told me, “I don’t like to raise too much ruckus here ‘cos I’m beatin’ the cancer. They took stuff out of my insides and they tell me I’m much better. I am not feelin’ bad in any way, so I am thankful to the Lord for his blessing.” With that, he walked into the scanner room, had his test and was gone.

At a point in the visit, I had to have blood taken. The phlebotomist that took my blood told me they had over 800 patients that day to take blood and that was a SLOW day. Usually, she said, they process around 1,200 to 1,500 people a day.

After shuttling from room to room for this test and that, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was caught in the maze of this vast machine with all sorts of interlocking parts. The image that came to mind was a cartoon image of an assembly line where human robots with blank stares look at each package that comes down the line and makes sure they apply the “This side up” stamp to the package.

No doubt very truly talented people, with care and dignity at the top of list of treatment protocols, but it is still a machine. You certainly get the sense of the machine when you walk out the door and see that it takes at least 8-10 people to handle the valet parking at every given hour of the day.