A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine
By Victoria Sweet
Riverhead Books, Paperback, 9781594486548, 432pp.
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
List Price: $16.00*
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San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the HOtel-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, relatively low-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 the body and the soul.