God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

( 36 )

Overview

San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the hôtel-Dieu (God's hotel) that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages. Ballet dancers and rock musicians, professors and thieves—"anyone who had fallen, or, often, leapt, onto hard times" and needed extended medical care—ended up here. So did Victoria Sweet, who came for two months and stayed for twenty years.

Laguna Honda, lower-tech but human-paced, gave Sweet the opportunity to ...

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God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

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Overview

San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the hôtel-Dieu (God's hotel) that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages. Ballet dancers and rock musicians, professors and thieves—"anyone who had fallen, or, often, leapt, onto hard times" and needed extended medical care—ended up here. So did Victoria Sweet, who came for two months and stayed for twenty years.

Laguna Honda, lower-tech but human-paced, gave Sweet the opportunity to practice a kind of attentive medicine that has almost vanished. Gradually, the place transformed the way she understood her work. Alongside the modern view of the body as a machine to be fixed, her extraordinary patients evoked an older idea of the body as a garden to be tended. God's Hotel tells their story and the story of the hospital itself, which, as efficiency experts, politicians, and architects descended, determined to turn it into a modern "health care facility," revealed its own surprising truths about the essence, cost, and value of caring for body and soul.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

When physician Victoria Sweet first came to the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, she did it to complete complementary goals: She wanted a practice while earning her doctorate in the history of medicine and by any standard, the hospital was historic: It was the last almshouse in the United States, a descendant of the Hôtel-Dieu (God's hotel) that had cared for the poor since the Middle Ages. What began as a two-month experiment became a twenty-year run. God's Hotel tells the story of the hospital itself thru Dr. Sweet's personal experiences and observations. (P.S. Of this narrative, Oliver Sacks writes: "A most important book which raises fundamental questions about the nature of medicine in our time. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the 'business' of health care—and especially those interested in the humanity of health care.")

Vicki Powers

From the Publisher
"[Sweet's] caring is always evident as she narrates her own book, and her reading is gripping." —-AudioFile
Booklist
Medical doctor Sweet's search for a position that would allow her to practice while earning a doctorate in the history of medicine brought her to Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the last almshouse for the poor and chronically disabled in America. "Old-fashioned and plain," dilapidated and imperiled, its six spacious, many-windowed wings housing 1,178 patients were surrounded by 60 acres on a hilltop with an ocean view. Here Sweet came to profoundly appreciate and learn from resilient patients who survived poverty, addiction, abuse, and severe maladies. She also immersed herself in the writings of the brilliant twelfth-century German mystic and medical practitioner Hildegard of Bingen, conducting extensive research in Europe, and making the famous medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Sweet's diverse experiences engendered her commitment to what she calls "slow medicine." Meanwhile, Laguna Honda came under siege, threatened first with burdensome bureaucracy, then with closure. But voter support led, instead, to a new building. Sweet's watershed book ambushes and transforms you with its visionary middle way between the irreplaceable skills of doctors and the benefits of holistic medical knowledge and twenty-first-century technology and standards. Vital, exquisitely written, and spectacularly multidimensional, Sweet's clinically exacting, psychologically discerning, practical, spiritual, and tenderly funny anecdotal chronicle steers the politicized debate over health care back to medicine and compassion. — Donna Seaman
Library Journal
This is a remarkable, poignant portrait of a committed physician on a quest to understand the heart, as well as the art, of medicine. Laguna Honda Hospital, the last remaining almshouse in the United States—a therapeutic community that houses and cares for the chronically ill or impoverished—offers veteran physician Sweet (clinical medicine, Univ. of California, San Francisco) a unique education in ministering to the body, heart, and soul. Her experiences there inspired her to study medieval physician, poet, and abbess Hildegard of Bingen's alternative approach to medicine of advocating that the human body be nurtured like a garden. Ultimately, Sweet embraced the notion and practice of slow medicine, an approach at odds with the contemporary rush for efficiency, a misguided trend to which even Laguna Honda eventually succumbs. VERDICT A marvelous, arresting read for anyone interested in medical practice. Of particular appeal to aficionados of spiritual medical narratives such as Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. [See Prepub Alert, 9/29/11.]—Lynne F. Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA
Kirkus Reviews
A doctor's experiences in a unique corner of the medical world. At Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the doctors and nurses provide long-term care for the sick poor; the working and living environments are unlike that of any other hospital in the country. Physician Sweet accepted a job at Laguna Honda because they were willing to offer her a part-time position (extremely rare at the time), and she was interested in continuing to practice medicine while simultaneously pursuing a doctorate in the history of medicine. The author had come to realize that modern medicine did not mesh with her idea of being a physician, and she sought answers in the teachings of Hildegard of Bingen, a German nun who practiced medicine in the Middle Ages and who had, miraculously, penned a medical textbook. Laguna Honda turned out to be the perfect place to put many of Hildegard's ancient theories into practice. What was originally supposed to be a months-long stopover turned into a career spanning more than 20 years and countless life-altering realizations about the nature of medicine. Sweet writes of Laguna Honda with unguarded affection, but she doesn't gloss over the negative phases. She is remarkably honest about the darker side of her experiences at the hospital: the patients who couldn't be saved, patients whose bad behavior was openly tolerated (smoking, drinking, gambling, etc.), the political infighting among the staff and bad managerial decisions. In the dozen or so patient success stories, Sweet's warm, anecdotal style shines brightest. The author's compelling argument for Laguna Honda's philosophy of "slow medicine" will make readers contemplate if perhaps the body should be viewed more as a garden to be tended rather than a machine to be fixed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594486548
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 58,316
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Victoria Sweet is an associate clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco. A prizewinning historian, she is also the author of Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky.

Victoria Sweet is an associate clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco. A prizewinning historian, she is also the author of Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky.

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Table of Contents

Introduction. How I Came To God's Hotel 1

1 First Years 11

2 The Love of Her Life 34

3 The Visit of Dee and Tee, Health-Care Efficiency Experts 56

4 The Miraculous Healing of Terry Becker 77

5 Slow Medicine 103

6 Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman 130

7 Dancing to the Tune of Glenn Miller 157

8 Wedding at Cana 188

9 How I Fell in Love 220

10 It's a Wonderful Country 251

11 Recalled to Life 281

12 The Spirit of God's Hotel 314

Acknowledgments 349

Notes 351

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(25)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 17, 2012

    Read this book, you will be better for it.

    This book should be read by anyone interested in modern history, medieval history, medicine, sociology, religion or humanity . Victoria Sweet is an exceptional historian, great story teller, caring doctor and felicitous writer. Her message rouses emotions of triumph, pathos and anger. Those who practice medicine will yearn for the collegiality, common sense and humanity afforded by "slow medicine" and recognize the threats posed to a once sacred bond between doctor and patient by efficiency consultants, electronic medical records and the change of medicine from a profession to a commodity.
    Would that those responsible for Health Care Reform, could inform their intentions with Sweet's message. Doctors, patients and society would be better served.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I'm a physician who was fortunate enough to have received an adv

    I'm a physician who was fortunate enough to have received an advance copy of Dr. Victoria Sweet's "God's Hotel." This is the true story of an internal medicine physician and her experiences at Laguna Honda Hospital, a place where doctors aren't constrained by the economic stressors of practicing modern medicine. Patients often stayed for months at a time, as their medical problems were addressed by looking at all facets of their being, not just lab results or x-rays. Her book describes in wonderful detail the concept of "slow medicine," where doctors and nurses write their chart notes longhand and have the time to review all aspects of their patients' health, without worrying about the three patients in exam rooms still waiting to see them. Whereas current medical administrators may consider this idea archaic and unrealistic, the stories of the many patients who benefitted from this methodical, holistic approach to treating patients are truly moving and affecting.
    Unfortunately, like most things in life, Laguna Honda eventually succumbs to the pressures of modern medicine, as "Heath Care Efficiency Experts" are hired to come in and make the place more profitable and efficient. While they help make the hospital shinier and more modern, the care of the patients suffers, and this old-fashioned, loving approach to practicing medicine finally disappears altogether. Dr. Sweet writes about these changes in a sobering tone, yet it's a testament to her writing skills that the reader is always infused with hope. "God's Hotel" is a really nice, eye-opening read with writing that reflects the care Laguna Honda gave its patients.
    Overall, "God's Hotel" is one of my favorite recent medical memoirs. This past year has been great for fans of this genre, so if you like this book I'd recommend two others that would serve as great companions.
    In Stitches is an immensely entertaining read about one doctor's journey through medical school. It's one of the only medical memoirs that's made me laugh out loud, shed a few tears, and reminesce about my years as a young doctor-to-be. It's my favorite of the past year.
    Dr. Meghan Weir's Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency is a really interesting memoir about a young pediatrician and her experiences in residency and overseas. I highly recommend this book for readers interested in pediatrics.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent

    Great story of the way hospitals and doctors used to be,personable,caring,underpaid. I worked in healthcare for 42 years and saw all the changes she speaks about. She must be an amazing physician.Easy reading

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    Great book!

    Was a very interesting and good book. Very informative learned a lot about the medical profession and how they worked in the past. Dedicated doctor.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2012

    I thought this was a wonderful book. I grew up in San Francisco

    I thought this was a wonderful book. I grew up in San Francisco and remember going to the "Laguna Honda Home" where both my grandmother and uncle died. We were pretty poor and I never could understand how my grandmother received such good care when we had no hospital insurance. That was back in the 1950s and I can still remember how imposing the big old hospital was. Dr. Sweet has written a beautiful, loving book on patient care and the wisdom in using "slow medicine". The reason I gave it four stars instead of five was that I thought there was a little bit too much written about medical politics, but then I realize that those politics are what has gotten us into the HMO mess we have now.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Although for some reason it took me a while to get through, God's Hotel was an amazing book. It shows a a doctor's, and a hospital's journey and transformation, as they grow and change together. It's not often that I add a book to my personal library, I usually end up passing them on, but this one stays with me. It'd recommend it to anyone, but I'm definitely not sharing my copy, it's a book I could read over and over again.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2012

    Highly recommend

    A great book especially if your are familiar with healthcare. It would be wonderful if all healthcare providers were so concerned and tuned in to their patients.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    A wonderful story that depicts the day in the life of a Doctor t

    A wonderful story that depicts the day in the life of a Doctor thinking outside of modern medicine.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2012

    :)

    :)

    2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2012

    A Pilgrim's Progress...lessons for life, business, government and community

    Dr. Sweet shares the fascinating chronicle of her personal and professional journey from a two-month commitment to be an admitting physician through a significant body of learning about the evolution of the health care industry, local government, business and management, and the fundamentals of community. Highly recommended for people who care and serve, those who manage or adminster in the public interest, and those who vote.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    Thank you Dr. Sweet

    I really liked this book. It's an interesting combination including stories and history tied together with a personal journey.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Well written, blending interesting patient histories and insight into the capricious politics of healthcare in such a way that the reader has an understanding of how modern medicine, even with it's wonderful capabilities, can sometimes not only fail to provide the best care, but can also impede it. Sometimes slower is better. Take your time and savor this informative and enjoyable book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2014

    Excellent read and good insite into the evolving world of medici

    Excellent read and good insite into the evolving world of medicine with an interesting perspective of how it effects the providers of care.

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  • Posted October 18, 2013

    Interesting and thought provoking - good read for these troubled times in healthcare

    Though this book focuses on changes at an almshouse in the San Francisco area, it highlights the trouble with the American health care provider system. I've been a victim of doctor's relying on technology when they should have listened to me, the patient and so I found the author's views refreshing. And the stories of her patients were interesting and entertaining, full of humanity.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 13, 2013

    As a retired nurse, I think this should be required reading for

    As a retired nurse, I think this should be required reading for all those who work, or have worked in the medical profession. It brings back the days of true compassion and caring before medical care evolved into a business of making money and disregarding the patients' needs and feelings. Tjhank you, Dr. Sweet for having the courage to tell it like it is, sad though that may be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2013

    A Sweet read

    Victoria Sweet delivers a very readable medical book that sagely evaluates illnesses within the context of the "whole" person. She objectively researches the broad spectrum of historical and current medicine and their relationship while offering charming personal stories from her own practice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2013

    God's Hotel

    Iloved this book. What a story of spiritual growth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2013

    :)

    loved it, a journey through the decline of our health system and when physicians were worried less about lawsuits, patients worried less about malpractice and we understood patients and health providers are humans. Great look who the patient was and then addressing the health need.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    To LC

    I want food

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    Karla to brooke

    So whats happening

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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