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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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  5,212 ratings  ·  727 reviews
For readers of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, a medical “page-turner” that traces one doctor’s “remarkable journey to the essence of medicine” (The San Francisco Chronicle). 

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 m
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
Carol Bakker
Victoria Sweet weaves several narrative threads into this delightful book: the story of San Francisco's Laguna Honda hospital, built in 1867 as an almshouse, the last functioning almshouse in America; her interactions with patients using Slow Medicine, e.g. sitting on the bed and watching the patient for ten minutes; and the life of Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century Benedictine abbess who wrote about medicine and healing in Physica and in Causae et Curae.

If you enjoy doctor-memoirs from Ol
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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
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
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
Lilly Bakker
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work-reads
I really enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot. Discussed the importance of patient care and the relationships you form with a patient. “The best doctor walks with you to the pharmacy and stands with you until you drink your medicine.” I related to a lot of what she wrote about. I didn’t enjoy the hospital dynamics and bureaucracy chapters as much as the chapters about patient care and patient stories. Happy I read it. Thanks for the suggestion Amy :)
May 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth and I read this book aloud. Written by a doctor about her experience being on the staff of the last almshouse in America. Almshouses were initially founded by French nuns to carry for the indigent who needed long term care. Dr. Sweet also wrote about her experience with Hildegard and slow medicine and about her pilgrimage to Compostela. Fine book—worthy read that raises interesting issues about medical care and delivery.
Jul 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a hard story to rate. It's kind of rambling and the author takes a behind the scenes at city hospital. I listened to it so it was easy to log on when I was so inclined. It was interesting to see the author's enthusiasm and appreciation of Old Medicine. To listen and to take time. That's a cool concept and she shows the benefits. Kind of the opposite of modern medicine- to hurry up diagnose and treat and move the patient out . Then there's our current method of taking each ill person into ...more
Jesse Ortiz
Aug 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written memoir, also a deeply insightful history of neoliberalism through the lens of healthcare.
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
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