God’s Hotel, check in and explore– A Doctor, A Hospital, and A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine with Victoria Sweet.

Click to visit God’s Hotel site.

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



  1. Roxie said,

    June 28, 2012 at 12:02 am

    thrilled you enjoyed the book Eva…Victoria Sweet is a talented doctor and writer! namaste

    • June 28, 2012 at 8:29 pm

      Roxie, I sincerely hope Sweet’s book finds its way into the hands of medical students and doctors of all kinds. Everyone would benefit from her perspective and shared learning experiences. So glad I caught it on your blog. Thank you.

      • Roxie said,

        June 28, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        I agree…many would benefit from her insight, thrilled that she’s receiving such high praise! 🙂

  2. July 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Sounds like another interesting read. I once worked as a “standardized patient” at the local medical school for many years and participated directly in the education of doctors in training. I noticed that in the first couple of years, medical students were open to the idea that the health delivery system needed serious overhauling. Unfortunately, that same system has a way of beating young doctors down and maintaining the professional status quo.

    • July 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Nor does it help when The Government itself beats down the doctors and nurses demanding reform. Take note that 13 doctors and nurses who went to DC to DEMAND that univesal single payer coverage for everyone be included on the healthcare reform discussion docket were ARRESTED and thrown out of the discussion forum. Now that’s some heavy handed beating down indeed.
      Message seems to be Maintain the Status Quo of the Almighty Medical Insurance Companies.

  3. lesliepaints said,

    July 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    I think I’ll take your advice on this one and jot the title down. You have me interested, Eva! Thank you.

    • July 6, 2012 at 6:38 am

      Hello Leslie!!! If you do explore God’s Hotel, please do share your thoughts about the book and issues it raises. So good to see you! I wonder what sort of cover art YOU would create for Sweet’s book.

  4. lesliepaints said,

    November 22, 2012 at 2:30 am

    I read it, Eva. Just finished. I enjoyed every morsel and think it should be a gift under every physician’s tree this year; and I mean every! As I read, I remembered that, when very young, the doctors still made housecalls. Even my orthodontist did, when in some active play my permanent retainer became dislodged. Over the years, my doctor became more and more remote and began sending me for blood tests and x-rays and talking to me over the top of a piece of paper that became me. I liked many aspects of this book but the thing that impressed me the most is when she chose to sit on a patient’s bed and listen and “see” without a stethascope or a piece of paper. That she included that element of the human spirit and that which lives in us all, healthy or sick, is what totally impressed me. That she saw herself not as a God but a fellow human being and cared enough to search for this understanding. Thank you for writing this post. It is because of what you said, here, that I read it.

    • November 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      Leslie, I too was very taken with Sweet’s willingness to listen and pay attention to her patients. I don’t recall the last time any doctor ever “listened” to me in any manner. Can you imagine all our current “gods” ever making anything even resembling housecall these days? Whatever would they do without their white coats, machines and other toys?
      Am so glad you found this book as rewarding as I did, Leslie. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and memories.
      –Have you read Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies? It’s making me think about our bodies as gardens in a very literal manner. 🙂

      • lesliepaints said,

        November 25, 2012 at 5:50 am

        I’ve not read that one. I can fully identify with our bodies as gardens, though.

      • November 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm

        Hello Leslie. Well I just finished reading it and will try to persuade others to read it soon. It’s a very very interesting book in so many ways! O our bodies are indeed “gardens” for many other living things. LOL.

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