"God's Hotel" by Victoria Sweet
Terri Schlichenmeyer | 5/31/2012, 4:24 p.m.
c.2012, Riverhead Books
$27.95 / $32.50 Canada
Your wallet has been open for years.
You've always been generous to your favorite charities. The food pantry, the free clinic, that children's group, the animal organization, they don't stop needing help just because it's not fundraising time.
So you give what you can. Charity knows no season. And besides, you may need them someday yourself, and you know it.
But who takes care of the people who are all but invisible, the ones who don't have ad budgets or front-of-mind real estate? Read the new book "God's Hotel" by Victoria Sweet, and find out.
Victoria Sweet's family was shocked.
Becoming a doctor wasn't fitting for someone coming from a long line of "businessmen and intellectuals" but she was undaunted, and "intrigued" by death, resurrection, heaven and hell. This eventually led Sweet to the words of Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval nun who practiced Old World medicine.
Degree in hand, and wanting to further study Hildegard's methods, Sweet sought part-time work in a hospital setting - something that's rare in the medical world - and found Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.
Laguna Honda was a rarity, a Middle Ages institution in the 20th century. The French would call it Htel-Dieu [God's Hotel] but it was known in the United States as an almshouse, a hospital for the homeless and poor, a place for sick people with no money and nowhere else to go.
Sweet made a two-month commitment. She stayed for more than 20 years.
Laguna Honda was a "special place" where rare ailments were surprisingly common and staff cared personally about their patients. Obviously, Sweet loved it there, but things changed when city officials took charge of the gently aging hospital: the old way of practice disappeared in favor of budget cuts, politics, government interference, lawsuits, and committees. Still, Sweet discovered a place for thousand-year-old medicine; for old-fashioned sitting, waiting, hands-on assessment, and for things she learned from a long-dead mentor.
As I read, I try to flag certain passages to jog my memory for writing this column. So let me tell you how much I enjoyed "God's Hotel": I forgot to take notes.
It wasn't the patient anecdotes that pulled me in, although I couldn't get enough of them. It wasn't watching the hospital morph into something different, although that made me scream in sympathy. I think what I loved so much about this book is that spending time with author Victoria Sweet's words proved to be so calming.
Sweet shares her journey - literally and figuratively - with readers in a voice that seems like a cool hand on a feverish forehead or a gentle rub on a shoulder. She lets us share her discoveries, both in the hospital and outside, and we're often transported back in time with them. Sweet teaches her readers, and we become eager students.
"... none of us knows what is valuable to God," says Sweet but I think you'll find this book valuable to you. If you're concerned about social issues, especially health care, then "God's Hotel" is a book to check into.