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

by Victoria Sweet
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (210 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 26, 2012 1594488436 978-1594488436 1

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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God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine + Hildegard of Bingen's Medicine (Folk Wisdom Series)
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Editorial Reviews


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

About the Author

Victoria Sweet has been a physician at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital for more than twenty years. An associate clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, she also holds a Ph.D. in history and social medicine. To learn more about Victoria Sweet and her work, please visit www.victoriasweet.com.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1 edition (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488436
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (210 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey To The Heart And Soul Of Medicine April 26, 2012
"God's Hotel" 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, 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.

This past year has been great for fans of this medical memoirs, 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.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God's Hotel April 28, 2012
By obsteve
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learned about God's Hotel from a blog by Dr. Danielle Ofri, one of my favorite medical essayists. She wrote the essay several days before the book was available and I got it as soon as I could order it and was definitely not disappointed. Dr. Sweet is an internist who was looking for a hospital in which she could work part time while pursuing graduate studies in the history of medicine. She found Laguna Honda hospital,probably the last almshouse in the country, caring for the castoffs of society in the way that medicine should be practiced....slowly, with attention to detail and individual caring for each patient.
She speaks of her triumphs and tragedies and of what she has learned from her patients. I have often felt that as a physician, I have learned as much from my patients as I have given them. I went to medical school in the Midwest at a time when you could still give that care that Dr. Sweet discusses. A place not unlike hers, in a building that was about a hundred years old with the occasional bat flying down the corridor on the top floors. I learned as she has, the incredible healing power that sitting with the patient and listening to concerns, fears, nuances of tone and voice could not only help healing but lead to the correct diagnosis.
I expected somewhat of a slow read but was delighted to find that her book is a page turner and written in an easy,lighthearted way but very authoritatively.
A great book and experience.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
It almost always annoys me when someone who isn't a professional writer produces a great book, but Victoria Sweet has written the best non-fiction book I've read this year and all I wanted to do when I finished reading it was to meet her and congratulate her and ask her a lot of questions.

So I did.

Something happened at the start of that conversation that made me realize why her book dazzled me --- the qualities that make her a great doctor are the same qualities that make her book so powerful, original and relevant.

She heard me. She paid attention. She made me her patient.

Before I asked my first question, I mentioned a health issue. When she returned to San Francisco, she wrote me: "Now that you've let me know you haven't been feeling well, you need to make sure to let me know that/when you are feeling better and the meds are kicking in. Otherwise, I worry."

You want a doctor who has infinite time for you? Who cares --- as a person --- how you fare? Who uses not just the tools of current medicine but learns Latin so she can scour texts a thousand years old to learn the wisdom of pre-modern medicine?

For 20 years, to get that kind of doctor, you went to Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.

To an almshouse --- a facility that provides medical and spiritual care to the poorest of the poor.

For free.

"God's Hotel" --- the term comes from the Hôtel-Dieu, the French charity hospitals of the Middle Ages --- is four books in one.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What we lost and gained from modern medicine July 13, 2012
Dr. Sweet's memoir, like her diagnoses of some of her patients, has multiple independet but interacting parts. In part it is about her work in San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital, a public facility which is a direct intellectual descendent of the medieval almshouse. The second part 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. The third strain, which appears towards the end of the book, is about how her experiences walking the Santiago de Compestela pilgrmage in Spain, changed her thinking. As the descendent of an almshouse, Laguna Honda is now a very rare institution in the United States. Basically it has served (this may change) as a free, public hospital for those with chronic conditions. The emphasis on caring for people who aren't likely to get better distinguishes Laguna Honda from the public county hospital in San Francisco, which is supposed to treat acute conditions, after which if need be the patients will be transferred to Laguna Honda. Although Laguna Honda does have many patients with drug abuse problems and mental illnesses, it is not set up (no locked wards, etc.) to deal with violent or severely mentally ill people

The characterization of Lunga Honda as a hospital for the chronically ill may not hold true in the future. In conjunction with the completion of a new building in the last couple of years, Laguna Honda may become a facility focusing on the mentally ill and homeless, though the new building was not designed with those patients in mind.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best
Our book club loved this book, one of the most inspiring books. I wish every physician would read it. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Christine
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read!
Fascinating book and very illuminating about our health care situation. She has tremendous insight. The Stories she tells ring true.
Published 7 days ago by Margaret
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
This book was recommended by a favorite relative who is a Registered Nurse by trade. This book is REALLY about healing. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Veda W. Elbe
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco
I loved this book because it is well written and discussed questions dear to my heart. I lived near the hospital many years ago and always thought it was a mysterious building... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Carmen Scholl
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating from page one.
I didn't expect to like a book about a long term hospital but was delightfully surprised. I couldn't wait each day to finish work and have or take the time to continue reading.
Published 13 days ago by Sally Kaufmann
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading.
this book should be required reading for all americans. as a healthcare professional i see the inhumane results of our industrialized system on a daily basis and i think of ms. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Allison J. Nugent
5.0 out of 5 stars great story
Wonderful story. Easy reading and not too long. I hope people like this still work there. Yes, I'd recommend it to a friend
Published 15 days ago by R. A. Battaglia
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good
I always thought Laguna Honda was a gothic nursing home - who knew it was a hospital with a fascinating history. The book's a little uneven but I was sad when it was finished.
Published 16 days ago by Laurel Monsanto
4.0 out of 5 stars The Efficiency of Inefficiency
Our most current bookclub choice, this book opened up new territory for me. I am most satisfied with the modern way
of doing things, but Sweet offers me a choice when she... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Jean Christie
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart Jackpot---Slow Medicine plus Hildegarde = VIRIDITAS
I truly loved this book. As a physician (Pediatrician then Psychiatrist) it made me nostalgic for the "lost days" of medical training, when the patients were training us... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Lynne
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