A doctor dissatisfied with the modern delivery of health care details how she developed her ideas about how medicine should be practiced.
Sweet (Medicine/Univ. of California, San Francisco; God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine, 2012), a physician, historian, and master storyteller, has provided an autobiographical prequel to God’s Hotel, recounting her years in training to become a doctor and her early experiences treating patients. The moments she highlights here are those that revealed some aspect of what she calls Slow Medicine. Sometimes, it involves nurses and doctors showing calmness, confidence, expertise, and a personal touch; sometimes, it is patients whose treatments provide revelatory moments. Sweet recalls scenes from years ago in full detail, describing settings, physical appearances, and lengthy conversations. These personal scenes, which constitute the bulk of the book, make for a highly readable narrative. While the author appreciates the world of modern “Fast Medicine,” with its logic, methods, and technology, she argues that its view of the body as a machine to be fixed would benefit from a consideration of the body as a garden to be tended. Taking time out from clinical work, Sweet studied other medical systems—e.g., ayurvedic, Chinese, folk—and especially the writings of Medieval nun Hildegard of Bingen. The author learned Latin so she could read her work in the original, and it is from her that Sweet takes the concept of viriditas, the healing power of nature. The role of the physician, she writes, is to nourish this power, to remove what is in the way, to see the whole patient in her environment, and to think deeply about her life and figure out what is wrong and what can be changed.
Though Sweet’s firm belief that Slow Medicine is necessary in today’s high-tech world will strike some as impractical, the sick will take comfort in this physician’s warm, personal, knowledgeable approach.