I discovered Victoria Sweet’s book God’s Hotel, A Doctor, a Hospital, and Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine via one of Roxie’s Two for Tuesday highlight offerings. The photography book, Infra, which was the primary interest draw for me still eludes my grasp, but Sweet’s tome was already strutting around the shelves of my public library awaiting my call–unlike most modern doctors of my experience. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to explore Sweet’s pilgrimage even when I put in the book request that would pull it from an inner city branch of the library to the eastern library outpost of my territory. The cover art online certainly did nothing to attract anyone’s attention–in my opinion. Nor was I really in the mood for a full course meal of the intellectual arrogance usually found with the profession that produces God complexes galore. But two things enticed me into giving God’s Hotel at least a ten page reading chance: the location of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and the concept of seeing the human body as “a garden to be tended.” I’ve spent just enough time in San Francisco to enjoy its quirky quality so a possible exploration of more quirky was enticing (Ahh the joys of discovering the quirky and dark side of Portland, Oregon as revealed by Chuck Palahniuk’s so-called travel guide of the city complete with rogue Santas. Reader beware–Portland will NEVER seem the same after you read Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon). The concept of the human body as a garden is a very old one which has always made perfect sense to me–though I’ve never met a living physician espousing this view–until Victoria Sweet. Though I’m not sure reading her book really qualifies as ‘meeting’ her at all. Written text is one thing and a person in the flesh is quite another. At first I wasn’t too sure about how far I’d venture into God’s Hotel with Sweet as guide. Luckily her own venturing into the world of Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine evoked my curiosity about Victoria Sweet’s mind and I continued reading until convinced God’s Hotel offered more than a self-centered memoir. Guess what God’s Hotel really really is. Come on, take a moment before reading further and guess just what this book about a hospital for the poor actually is. Not a fair question because you’ve not read the book–yet? True. So I’ll let out the delightful strange and wonderful secret–it’s an indictment of the entire medical system as currently practiced en masse in the United States. Yes, it really really is. It’s not billed as such. It’s not marketed as such. I seriously doubt any medically connected reviewer would dare describe it as such. But at its very heart that is precisely what God’s Hotel presents in the best possible manner using the element of direct personal engagement with people over the course of time as the means for presenting the case that damns the current practice of medicine as a service industry. As such God’s Hotel is a GREAT book. Why? It’s a learning experience that teaches, informs and gently demands serious questioning of what is generally taken for granted in the medical profession–and the damned medical insurance industry with its factory minded drones.
Sweet manages to do something very difficult–she actually takes us on her own journey to enlightenment via not just her own experiences and explorations but the life stories of many other people met at Laguna Honda. Dr. Sweet is a learner and grower and a woman with an interesting mind curious about the practice of medicine before all the gadgets, hard metal toys, and purple pills for everything under the medical sun. Her learning experiences are vital and vibrant. You will learn a great deal just from the patients she encounters and cares for at Laguna Honda. Oh my, did I use the word “care” in the same sentence with a doctor? Oh hell, yes I did. Will wonders never cease? I suppose NOT.
So please do give Sweet’s book at least a chance. I think at the very least you’ll be very glad to meet “Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman.” Oh yes there is a good dose of quirky in God’s Hotel. Such is the nature of humans engaging in self-determination. If you aren’t aware of Hildegard of Bingen’s existence you definitely will be via Sweet’s intellectual and physical pilgrimages. I daresay God’s Hotel could be a most excellent foundation for any discussion of the health care system in America that is in such dire need of evolution.
“I had changed, too, but in a diametrically opposed way. Back on the admitting ward, meeting my old self, I discovered I did things differently, I saw things differently.
I took back to the admitting ward the lessons I’d learned from Mr. Bramwell and Mr. Bramwell’s sister-in-law, from Mr. and Mrs. Teal, from Paul, and from so many others, and, somehow medicine no longer seemed so complicated.”
Oh hell can the medical profession in the United States find its own beating heart? Maybe it can. Might require a few transplants though.
Victoria Sweet’s website http://www.victoriasweet.com/
Roxie’s Blog http://roxieh.wordpress.com/
Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon via Powell’s Books–Portland’s HUGE glorious independent bookstore http://www.powells.com/biblio?show=Hardcover:New:1400047838:16.00