A book review of God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet
God’s Hotel – A Doctor, a hospital, and a pilgrimage to the heart of medicine, by Victoria Sweet, Riverhead Books, New York, 2012
Dr. Victoria Sweet has spent her working life in pursuit of the best possible healing methods for her patients at the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.
This hospital was modeled on the European almshouse, or Hotel-Dieu (God’s Hotel), to provide care almost exclusively to impoverished patients, for which it is usually their last resort.
Although a firm believer in modern medicine, Sweet has sought through extensive travel and research additional means to alleviate her patient’s suffering, including medieval methods, primarily those of Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century nun. During this process she attained a Ph.D. in history and social medicine with Hildegard as the subject of her thesis, and Laguna Honda made a painful and often frustrating transformation into a 21st century health care facility.
This book weaves a colorful tapestry that illustrates what is best in the art of medicine from medieval times to the present. It records a 20-year journey, both physical and spiritual, during which the author searched for enlightenment in the art of caring including answers to the question, “What would Hildegard do?”
She describes Hildegard’s methods, which Hildegard called “viriditas” (meaning green, or natural, healing), as the essence of caring through thoughtful observance of her patients, an understanding of the natural processes of the body and, what is often lacking in today’s practice of medicine, time.
Abigail Zuger, M.D. gave “God’s Hotel” an excellent review in the New York Times in May and it is described by Dr. Oliver Sacks as, “A most important book, which raises fundamental questions about the nature of medicine in our time. It should be required reading.”
God’s Hotel is available at the Lanier Library.
– article submitted by Frances Flynn