Author: Victoria Sweet
Victoria Sweet recounts the years she worked as a physician at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, California, a large hospital for the chronically ill, the last functioning almhouse in the United States. The tradition of the Almhouses was to give shelter to the poor, to the old, to people who had lost economic and social support.
Because it was a long-stay institution, the relationships between patients, doctors, and other health professionals were deep and long-lasting. The patients were migrants, street dwellers, drug addicts, the destitute of society.
God’s Hotel has four basic axes. The essential axis is Dr. Sweet’s work with the patients, her learning throughout the years of medical practice, and the development of a philosophy that the characteristics of the place allowed because there was no pressure for financial results or an incentive for patient rotation. The doctors had time to evaluate the patients, exchange impressions and experiences, make the therapeutic proposals they considered important, and monitor the results of their care. They had simple technological and therapeutic resources, where addressing basic issues made all the difference in the patient’s recovery. In short, Slow Medicine.
The book also covers Dr. Sweet’s studies in medical history. The life and work of Hildegard von Bingen, a Benedictine nun who lived in the Middle Ages in Germany, whose philosophy of work is explored in the book. Theologian, mystic, and artist, she left an extensive body of work, including a peculiar conception of health care. Her pre-modern medicine was based on the theory of humors, in which the caregiver was conceived as a gardener who cared for his patients as if he were caring for the plants in a garden.
Another axis is the author’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and the profound spiritual and experiential transformations that it provoked in her, including in her vision of medicine and patient care.
The book relates the changes that occurred over the years in the Hospital, and its transformation into a modern institution focused on rehabilitation. Most notably, the centuries-old humanistic philosophy of care, focused on the patient, has slowly evaporated in the name of technology, efficiency, and administrative management, characteristic of today’s health care models.
Victoria Sweet has the gift of prose. The book is enjoyable to read, has rhythm, and is enriching in many ways, both in a literary and spiritual sense. Essential reading for those who want to deepen their knowledge of Slow Medicine.
Book review wrote by José Carlos Campos Velho.