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

When Dr. Victoria Sweet began working at Laguna Honda, she knew the hospital's monastic turrets and arches, peeling paint and lively aviary distinguished it from its gleaming modern counterparts. But Laguna Honda wasn't just a hospital: it was an almshouse, with its roots in the medieval French "Hôtel-Dieu"--God's hotel. Populated with the poor and homeless, the ill and addicted, Laguna Honda was at once hospital, shelter, rehabilitation clinic and halfway house.

"Laguna Honda is a gift," a colleague told Sweet during her first week of work. But Sweet quickly learned it wasn't just the building, high on a San Francisco hill, that was special. As she witnessed a remarkable spectrum of resilience and defeat in Laguna Honda's open wards, Sweet came to understand that it was the hospital's inspirational patients, caring staff and slow, healing pace that made it unlike any other.

Part professional memoir, part meditation on the nature of medicine and part argument for a dramatic reframing of health care, God's Hotel is the story of Sweet's 20-year tenure at the hospital. Sweet, also an expert on medieval healer and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, merges modern training with her study of Hildegard's "slow medicine," a practice of intuitive observation that is striking in its effectiveness and in its opposition to the impersonal efficiency of modern healthcare.

But modernity eventually reaches Laguna Honda, and Sweet must negotiate the inevitable challenges and changes it brings. Still, the hospital remains "God's hotel"--and Sweet's book is a moving tribute to the place it was, and is. --Hannah Calkins, Unpunished Vice

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