Reading: God’s Hotel

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God'sHotel(677x1024)

Dr.Victoria Sweet’s memoir of her 20 years working at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda hospital is an original and fascinating trip into both the changing hospital and this doctor’s unique treatment of her patients. She describes Laguna Honda Hospital, a public long term facility, as a direct intellectual descendent of the medieval almshouse.  Basically it has served as a free hospital for those with chronic conditions. The emphasis is on caring for people who aren’t likely to get better. During her 20 years as a doctor she was able to practice an old fashioned, sometimes medieval approach to healing that she calls ‘slow medicine’: to really take her time and use hands-on methods.

Interspersed with accounts of her work with different patients and the politics of the City and the Hospital, is her study of the medical writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century Germany nun and abbess better known for her mystical religious writings. Because she became so involved with Hildegard’s thinking and work, Dr. Sweet then writes about her walking the Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage in Spain and how it changed her thinking. She gets many of her ‘slow medicine’ ideas from Hildegard.

This book comes alive because of how well the author writes, especially in her descriptions of her work with her patients. The case histories were the most moving for me.  Hildegard was interesting. The pilgrimage was the least interesting. By reading this book I was able to go inside a San Francisco institution that I have only driven by thousands of times. Now I know about the inside life of the place…at least from Dr. Victoria Sweet’s experience.

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