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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  4,695 ratings  ·  668 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, 372 pages
Published April 26th 2012 by Riverhead Books (first published 2012)
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Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing

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
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some very good lessons for doctors and the health system.

Don't miss the obvious.
Take responsibility for making people better, as opposed to checking off some box.
Look at the patient and the chart and think for yourself.
Slow Medicine is better AND cheaper than modern high-tech "healthcare."
Use words to mean something; avoid garbage diagnoses like "Alzheimer's."
First thing, get rid of the bean counters.
Listen to people.
Notice what doesn't fit in the picture.
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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,
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 28, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
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
Valorie Hallinan
May 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual memoir of sorts; a memoir of the author's time at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, what she learned from her patients, about medicine-old and new-and about herself. It also documents the specifics of how the changes in medical financing of HMO's, which started in the 1970's and driven by economics, not care, impacted and changed Laguna Honda forever during her time there.
It's not a political book generally but I loved the way she
discusses taking her own, very pragmati
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
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs-bios, ocob
Knocking a star for longwindedness in the last third, but an excellent if depressing look at the evolution of neoliberal healthcare, as it misses the mark in healing patients while it focuses solely on "managing health." Slow medicine seems to make quite a lot of sense, not just common sense, but economic, too, though we're probably too far entrenched in the habitus of modern institutions to make any impactful change at this point. What a sad state of affairs we are in. And precisely why my fath ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of non-fiction
An interesting book about the last almshouse in the United States. Discusses "fast medicine vs. slow medicine" on the level of "fast food vs. slow food". This book doesn't only discuss the hospital, medicine, and patients, but also dives into Sweet's path of exploration of a nun's practice hundreds of years ago and also Sweet's pilgrimage Santiago de Compostela.
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was such an interesting read. The book is a gift from a physician-friend who shares my philosophies of caring for others. There were times I was completely drawn in and rather mesmerized. There were other occasions when I was less than enamored and, frankly, unpersuaded. In the balance, however, it was a good and deeply thoughtful book (personal letter?) from Dr. Victoria Sweet, a fellow soldier in the trenches of the American Healthcare Civil War.

The sections pertaining to the History of M
Jonna Higgins-Freese
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
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
Nov 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: female-author
I wonder if I would have liked this book more if I had removed my nurse's cap before reading. Others seem to like it a lot. What I took from it was a sense of "better than you" - regarding most of the patient stories ("look at me, helping these people who don't know enough to help themselves") and certainly regarding the other employees in the hospital. The nurse that this author seemed to like best was the one who knitted for all the patients on her ward (and, oh yeah, did some other stuff too) ...more
Mrs. Danvers
I feel like I should have read this book long ago and I also feel like I waited until the exact right moment.

I first became a volunteer with Zen Hospice Project in 2002, and during our training we spent a number of hours at Laguna Honda Hospital, one of two sites at which ZHP provides hospice caregiver volunteers. The hospice ward volunteer administrator, Eric Poche, is a saint, a gentle, loving, accepting, wonderful man and every volunteer who was under his care loved him with a cultlike rever
Alice Jiang
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Went into this with no expectations as it was for a class book club. I really enjoyed her patient anecdotes, focusing more on the lessons her patients taught her rather than how she miraculously diagnosed an obscure condition like authors of many other medical texts. I also like how she ties in her PhD and pilgrimage to the practice of medicine. Great lessons for physicians on slow medicine, the importance of supplementing medication with diet/rest/the little things, and deep listening. Could ha ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in the last “alms house” (charity hospital) in the US, this book chronicles one doctor’s attempts to explore pre-modern medicine and apply it to her changing world of modern medicine and the new health care system. Fascinating patient studies. In similar style to Oliver Sacks but with physical illness.
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health-medicine
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
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Tina Hamilton
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Josephine Ensign
Oct 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Nauseatingly New-Age-y (Hildegard of Bingen worshiping, "What would Hildegard do?"/ Going off on year-long pilgrimages across Spain, etc). Author comes across to me as self-indulgent and lacking self-insight. It didn't help that she is mostly dismissive and belittling of the contribution of nurses to healing/health care.
Jul 13, 2012 rated it really liked it

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

Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a love letter by Dr. Victoria Sweet to the Laguna Hospital, one of the last "almshouse" hospitals, or hospitals for the poor. Dr. Sweet tells her story of years working as a doctor at the Laguna Honda Hospital as it transitioned from an almshouse to a modern rehabilitation and long term care hospital that it is today. Dr. Sweet weaves together the Hospital's transition, her patients, her personal journey of study, and a pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago into an absorbing tale of perso ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Over the past few years, Dr Victoria Street has spent the majority of her career working at the Laguna Honda Hotel - a charity hospital in San Francisco. It is a long term facility caring for the patients who are unable to be looked after in the community dealing with aids, stroke, alchoholics, dementia and hospice care patients many of whom are discharged from local hospitals.

It is the patients stories that shine and help to push the story foreward. There is lots of pressure from administrator
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22 likes · 16 comments
“how many of those I called Bad Boys and Bad Girls were, in reality, spiritually thirsty and spiritually sick. Perhaps they were the most sensitive, the most easily hurt of all my patients, the most tortured by the human fate of knowing we are going to die.” 2 likes
“They ate and drank moderately, walked a lot, and had real vacations: They had not forgotten Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman. Page” 2 likes
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