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

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  1,637 ratings  ·  367 reviews
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 month ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 26th 2012 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published 2012)
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The original Lagunda Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital was built in San Francisco in 1867 as an almshouse, which provided medical and spiritual care and a sense of community to the early residents of the city who could no longer support themselves. After it served as a place of refuge for many of the survivors of the devastating 1906 earthquake, Laguna Honda was rebuilt in 1909 as a 1,178 bed facility at the base of Twin Peaks, making it one of the largest almshouses in the United States throu
This is a book to treasure. Dr. Victoria Sweet practiced medicine at Laguna Honda Hospital for 20 years, the last years of the hospital's existence in it's original iteration, as a Hotel Dieu, or almshouse for the aged, indigent, chronically ill who were without resources. Over the years, Dr. Sweet experienced the shift to the new Laguna Honda Hospital as a state-of-the-art hospital, becoming the antithesis of "slow medicine" with all the care and attention to patient needs that implies. Along t ...more
While I found many of the stories of Sweet's interactions with patients compelling, I was deeply troubled by the lack of acknowledgement (awareness?) of the role of volunteers at Laguna Honda in creating and cultivating the community she writes about. As a Zen Hospice Project volunteer at LHH in the hospice ward, I was puzzled by her brief depictions of the hospice department as "too efficient" (p. 217) and by the lack of acknowledgement of the loving and life-filled/life-affirming community the ...more
I was able to read "G-d's Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine" because of the giveaways. I would like to thank goodreads and Dr. Victoria Sweet for posting this book as a giveaway.

Even though "G-d's Hotel" is different from any other book that I have read, it was still interesting. I enjoyed the medical anecdotes that Dr. Sweet retells which provide an insight into the hospital. The information within the book about medical terms, medical history she learns ab
Valorie Hallinan
The author, a physician, also has a Ph.D. in the history of medicine, and she studied the medical work of Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a nun but also a physician of sorts and practiced medicine based on the four humors. Sweet is a fascinating woman and physician, and practices a kind of slow medicine based on compassion and a nondogmatic spirituality, which I find appealing. However, her book is too long and episodic, with sections rather like a formula - here is yet another patient sketch ...more
This is a fantastic book. It is an excellent memoir filled with fascinating stories of patients in Laguna Honda Hospital, one of the last Almshouses or charity hospitals in the United States. This reads well as a study of conflicting medical philosophies, but is also a well-written entry in the more difficult genre of memoir.

The story of Laguna Honda--God's Hospital--is compelling in itself, as is the physician-author's relationship with the hospital and with the live-in patients and medical sta
This book was a wonder for me. I have worked at the SF Dept of Public Health since 2000. My job allows me to be involved in many different parts of the dept; I've been lucky enough to even work at LHH and on projects related to LHH. While I have the utmost respect for all those who work at LHH, I've been puzzled at times by the high drama, the resentment toward administration (sure, natural to a point, but still it was enough to make a person curious).

I was especially confused by LHH's intense
Deena Metzger
i read God's Hotel after the 10th ReVisioning Medicine Council. Medical people and medicine people gathered to see how we can help create (recreate or restore) medical / healing ways that sustain life and do no harm to individuals or the earth. ReVisioning Medicine tries to restore indigenous medical ways as appropriate in combination with the best of western medicine, enhanced by contemporary vision. God's Hotel describes the best of western medicine - kind, thoughtful, patient centered, healin ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Jonna added it
I loved, loved, loved this book. I've read it twice so far. In part, it's a memoir of Sweet's work as a physician at Laguna Honda, the last almshouse in America. There, she recounts how she learned the value of Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman, of how the patients found healing and how the doctors and the hospital community could help or hinder that. At the same time, it's a memoir of what she learned as she completed a PhD in the history of medicine, focusing on Hildegard of Bingen and wha ...more
Reread this, studying Sweet's structure as I prepare to leave on a month retreat to work on my book about a doctor. Second reads are so much fun because you are a different person because of time and circumstance and so the book touches different places. I was surprised by some of my earlier markings and dumbfounded that I didn't mark certain parts. My respect for Sweet and her writing has deepened and my determination to do more re-reading has grown. (Aug. 2014)

Victoria Sweet did an incredible
Jen Marin
God's Hotel is the story of what may have been the last almshouse in America. Dr. Victoria Sweet writes a riveting account of her experience practicing medicine in a place that exists between what she calls 'premodern medicine' and our modern health care system. In such a place, she discovers that "Tincture of Time" and a bit of attention can have a profound effect on how well the patient fares.

Set up during the Gold Rush, Laguna Honda is a hospital from a different era. Wide hallways and open,
This book looks at life and medicine from several different directions, and pulls them together wonderfully. The author was a doctor at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital for twenty years that spanned its identity as an old-fashioned almshouse through its transition into a modern hospital. At the same time, she was researching, for a PhD and for herself, the history of medicine focusing on the twelfth century nun, mystic, and medical practitioner Hildegard of Bingen. Her research included tri ...more
This is by far one of the THE BEST books I have read. Dr. Sweet is a great writer and depicts her experiences with such elegance. This story, her story, is a microcosm of the greater changes in healthcare going on over the past 100 years, and it is nice to have someone with such knowledge, wisdom, and patience speak about them.

Dr. Sweet's personal accounts show how many of the important subtleties in medicine are being left at the wayside to make room for the new models of medicine; Hospitals be
Tina Hamilton
I believe this is the first time I've given a book a five-star rating. This is the physician-writer at her very best. Victoria Sweet, MD, has written a book about the history of a place, Laguna Honda, its physicians, nurses, patients, and network of workers. In writing the history, she introduces select patients and ultimately reveals what makes up the "soul" of the place. In her telling, she also describes her journey as the practice of medicine has its stops and starts and new theories replace ...more
Laguna Honda in San Francisco is the last true alms house in the United States and it is the modern equivalent of the Hotel Dieu (God's Hotel) that existed during the Middle Ages to care for the indigent poor. Laguna Honda has provided medical care for anyone who has needed extended medical services and who hasn't had the means to pay for that care for decades in the San Francisco area. Dr. Victoria Sweet agreed to accept a position for two months at Laguna Honda and ended up staying for 20 year ...more
Victoria Sweet is one of those spiritual types. She’s a medical doctor, and, sure, medicine is a science, but that doesn’t mean it has to be heartless. It is the job of the doctor, Sweet believes, to get to know the patient—not just as a case, but also as a person.

Dr. Sweet first gets to know her patients by taking their medical history. Though she is lucky enough to live in the 21st century, when the medical field has a high-tech test to discover whatever ails you, Sweet would really just rathe
Beth Chandler
This is my favorite nonfiction book of the year so far. I rapidly fell in love with Dr. Sweet's description of the Laguna Honda hotel, one of the last "almshouse" style hospitals in the United States, where poor people could be assured of good health care at no cost. Dr. Sweet weaves a spell of romance over the open wards, crumbling yet beautiful architecture, staff who are busy but never too hurried to sit at a patient's side and do their work thoroughly, and the pathos and humor of life on the ...more
The subject matter of this book appealed to me and I was excited to read it, but I didn't like it at all. Every chapter was formulaic and predictable. They all followed this exact formula:

1.) Lengthy description the current state of Laguna Honda Hospital usually including much extraneous administrative detail (nature of charting, forms, etc.)

2.) The author's reflection on her Ph.D. studies re: Hildegard and the history of premodern medicine

3.) Some patient anecdote and lessons learned from thi

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 writtings. The third strain, which appears towards the end of the book, is

Kara Larson
An interesting take on medicine's movement from a patient-centered, physical exam, listening art to the modern, confidentiality, result-driven, money intensive practice. Full of interesting patient stories and diagnoses. The author learned many lessons during her 20 years at this "alms house" facility, but the reader is left wondering what the real point of it all is when the author ends the book with a feel-good sentiment about the doctor-patient relationship and no real lessons for eternity.

Lucy Barnhouse
I found this multifaceted book a fascinating one. Sweet is an engaging author, who recounts her practice of one specialty (medicine) and pursuit of another (medieval history) largely as a series of anecdotes. Either of these specialties could seem forbiddingly arcane, but Sweet explains them both lucidly. She also provides a vivid and moving account of her experiences as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. As a historian of medieval medicine, I found the book especially interesting for the port ...more
This would be a great book for someone to read who is thinking about a career in medicine. This is about a doctor in a hospital that serves only the patients who have no insurance, no money and often no family support. I like the descriptions of the caring doctors who not only prescribe medicine, they walk the patient to the pharmacy and then watch the patient take the medicine. The book describes doctors who sit down and talk to a patient or look at a patient before making a diagnosis. This is ...more
This is a wonderful book. V. Sweet tells the story of her experience as a physician at Lagunda Honda Hospital, the last alms house hospital in the country, located in San Francisco. The patients had all been sent to Lagunda as they left acute care hospitals because they continued to need care and had no place to go. She shares the evolution of her doctoring skills in a "slow medicine" environment where doctors are given time to spend with patients and doctors and nurses approach the body as a ga ...more
This is one of the most remarkable books I've read in a long time. The author is a doctor who worked for over 20 years at Laguna Honda, San Francisco's only "almshouse", extended care home for the indigent. She learned there to practice "slow medicine". The author simultaneously completed a doctorate in the history of medicine, focussing on Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century mystic, musician and physician. The author found herself turning to her medieval counterpart many times, wondering "what ...more
Dr. Sweet has a different take on how we care for the most needy population in today's world of healthcare. She combines her own personal journey with anecdotes of patients and coworkers to share her story of this remarkable hospital. I first saw this place 30 years ago when I first came to SF and worked at UCSF but I never knew anything about it. Now I mourn the loss of such a magical place of "slow medicine" I loved the way Dr. Sweet brings in the teachings of Hildegard and Florence Nightingal ...more
Kelsey Burnette
Really interesting memoir. Sweet did a nice job of weaving together her thoughts about medicine and healing and healthcare with her very interesting research into medieval medicine, her pilgrimages (could be their own memoir...hint, hint), and especially the anecdotes about her patients. She is charmingly plain-spoken, and you can imagine that she is a warm, patient, thoughtful doctor. I loved the sections where she talked about caring for her patients with dementia. Her interest in their indivi ...more
Disclaimer: I am not a medical person and abhor emergency rooms, waiting for doctors, the whole medical establishment. Why was I attracted to this book??
Dr. Sweet has written one of those life transforming books about her experiences at Laguna Honda, a San Francisco hospital that believes in "slow medicine". Each person is evaluated as an individual and not treated like a statistic to be reported to the state. The patients are not pretty. Many live on the streets and Simultaneously, Dr. Sweet is
Jonathan Hiskes
Sweet spent 20 years as a doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the country's last almshouse. The book charts her growth as a doctor, her side studies of Hildegard of Bingen's monastic medicine, and Laguna Honda's transformation in the age of bureaucratic health care. Ultimately, the book is a celebration of "slow medicine" -- medicine that allows time for chronically ill to heal, for misdiagnosed drugs to leave the body, for a more care-full form of medicine to emerge. I'll have mor ...more
I loved this book. It's even better if you've lived in San Francisco for a while (as I have) but it's good for anyone. I thought Dr. Sweet was a very talented writer, and her long sentences never confused or bothered me in the slightest. My only criticism is that I wish she had been a little more clear on establishing the time frame she was describing. I was frustrated and actually had to draw on my knowledge of recent SF history (from living here) to place it in time. Even so, I give it five st ...more
Robert Francoeur
This book was fascinating for both the historical account of Laguna Honda Hospital and Dr. Sweet's research about the medieval healer/nun Hildegard of Bingden. Dr. Sweet's research reveals some of the similarities/differences between the medieval approach to healthcare and her own and the shift from medieval to modern medicine. Dr. Sweet explores how the staff and the institution of Laguna Honda Hospital create an environment where the poorest and sickest patients are healed or die in a compassi ...more
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