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

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

4.4 41
by Victoria Sweet
     
 

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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,See more details below

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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 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:
9781101561812
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/26/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
57,779
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Oliver Sacks
Victoria Sweet writes beautifully about the enormous richness of life at Laguna Honda .. and the intense sense of place and community that binds patients and staff there. Such community in the medical world is vanishingly rare now, and Laguna Honda may be the last of its kind. ... God's Hotel is a most important book. ... It should be required reading for anyone interested in the "business" of health care—and especially those interested in the humanity of health care. (Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and The Mind's Eye)
Jerome Groopman
This is a unique book about a healer and those in need of her healing. Charting her journey in God's Hotel, Victoria Sweet shows us that medicine is still fundamentally a sacred calling. By illuminating this truth, Sweet provides comfort and inspiration. (Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, co-author of How Doctors Think and Your Medical Mind)
Rachel Naomi Remen
Victoria Sweet is a master storyteller and a consummate physician. Her beautifully written stories from the frontline of health care document the struggle of all modern-day healers, to hold fast to the immortal soul of Medicine despite the pressures of economics, the self-interest of politics, and the reductionism of science. God's Hotel reminds us of the fundamental truth that medicine is and has always been an act of love and brotherhood ... and of the vulnerabilities we share and the compassion we aspire to. (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings)
Julie Salamon
A profoundly moving account of a remarkable hospital and the people who inhabit it, God's Hotel reveals intimate knowledge of the shift in modern medicine, from personal tending to industrialized 'health care.' Author and physician Victoria Sweet embodies the traits of a persevering and compassionate doctor, while conveying the wisdom of a philosopher, and the instincts of a born storyteller. (Julie Salamon, author of Hospital and Wendy and the Lost Boys)
From the Publisher
A Barnes & Noble and San Francisco Chronicle Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

“Transcendent… readable chapters go down like restorative sips of cool water, and its hard-core subversion cheers like a shot of gin… God’s Hotel [is] a tour de force… Others have written about the relationship between time and medical care with similar eloquence and urgency, but the centuries of perspective that Dr. Sweet brings infuse the point with unforgettable clarity.” –The New York Times

“A radical and inspiring alternative vision of caring for the sick.” –Vanity Fair

“Engaging… You might not expect a book about San Francisco's most downtrodden patients to be a page-turner, but it is. With its colorful cast of characters battling the tide of history, God's Hotel is a remarkable journey into the essence of medicine.” –San Francisco Chronicle

"Victoria Sweet writes beautifully about the enormous richness of life at Laguna Honda, the chronic [care] hospital where she has spent the last twenty years, and the intense sense of place and community that binds patients and staff there. Such community in the medical world is vanishingly rare now, and Laguna Honda may be the last of its kind… God's Hotel is 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 healthcare – and especially those interested in the humanity of healthcare." –Oliver Sacks, M.D. author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and The Mind's Eye

“A beautifully written and illuminating book… [Sweet’s] metaphors are poetic and hint at the mystical, but then she pulls back with the educated eye of a scientist… For both the agnostic and the believer, Sweet pinpoints the element of medicine that makes it a calling rather than a job: the unique and sustaining love that is sparked between a doctor and patient.” –Jerome Groopman, The New York Review of Books

"Remarkable… [Sweet] would appreciate that it took time for me to journey to and through her work since that may be one of the many compelling messages she so eloquently, yet simply by storytelling, conveys… permitting ‘tincture of time’ to also do its job." –The Huffington Post

"Sweet's warm, anecdotal style shines… 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." –Kirkus (reviewed as a Best Book of 2012)

“Captivating… with this humane and thoughtful work, Sweet joins physician-authors such as Oliver Sacks, Jerome Groopman and Abraham Verghese.” –The Dallas Morning News

“[A] watershed book ...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. –Booklist (starred review)

“Visionary… thoroughly subversive in all the best ways… This book’s lessons and conclusions should challenge doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and policy makers to stop and rethink their core beliefs.” –Journal of Health Affairs

“A remarkable, poignant portrait of a committed physician on a quest to understand the heart, as well as the art, of medicine… A marvelous, arresting read.” –Library Journal (starred review)

“[Our] healthcare system might function a lot better if every single American citizen, healthcare professional, politician and legislator would read Victoria Sweet’s insightful, beautifully written and moving book.” –Bookpage

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