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GOD'S HOTEL by Victoria Sweet


A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

by Victoria Sweet

Pub Date: April 26th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59448-843-6
Publisher: Riverhead

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 since 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, 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 monthslong 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.