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September 2, 2014

God’s Hotel (the Book)

by Brendan

Been reading Victoria Sweet’s book, God’s Hotel.  It’s about her stint (over) as a doctor at a God’s Hotel, a hotel Dieu, an almshouse, which originally meant a hospital for poor people.  It’s a tradition of caring for the sick that started in the Middle Ages and was mostly operated by monasteries.  Dr. Sweet worked at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, perhaps the last “almshouse” in the U.S.

Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda seemed to practice both modern and old-fashioned medicine — the doctors and nurses had machines for tests and surgery, but they also tended to look at the patients, talk to them, become part of their lives.  And Sweet develops along the way an appreciation for not only the medieval almshouse but for how medicine was practiced in the Middle Ages.  She ends up devoting herself to study (in addition to working as a doctor) getting a Ph.D. in history, specifically medieval history, focusing on Hildegarde of Bingen, who was both mystic and healer.

This M.D.\Ph.D thing (such highly, richly, and diversely educated people are a rarity), her decision to forgo riches and fame in practicing medicine elsewhere, and the way she writes about her patients makes me think that Victoria Sweet is perhaps the coolest person in the world.  I wish she were my doctor, though I’m in no way dissatisfied with my own doc.

Another Laguna Honda Hospital Picture

Another Laguna Honda Hospital Picture

Dr. Sweet explores the meaning of terms such as “hospital” and “charity” (from the root words for “hospitality” and “host” and for “caring,” respectively).  But what inspires me is how she writes about her patients with such love. Reading God’s Hotel gives me new hope that people are good.  As Uncle Monroe used to say, whenever I saw him and asked how he was doing, “Life is great.  People are wonderful.”

And maybe it is — despite the unending onslaught of addiction and illness, despite financial problems, despite loss (Sweet’s patients, not me).

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