13. God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet
"Excuse me, can I see your book?" says the man next to me on the train. "I have seen so many people reading that book in the past few days, and I just want to see what it's about."
"Of course," I say, handing it over, even though I'm almost done and I've been taking notes on this book for the past week.
"It may be because the author was just in town," I say, though I'm surprised anyone other than me is reading it. I received it for review, and I'm wondering if he'll notice the author's signature on the title page.
He looks at the back, which includes glowing (and richly deserved) recommendations from the likes of Oliver Sacks.
"It's about Laguna Honda Hospital, in San Francisco," I say. "It used to be the county almshouse, then it became a hospital. Then, they shut down the old building and turned it into a health care facility. That's why the author wrote the book."
"Laguna Honda! Seriously?" he reacts with disbelieving laughter.
He's heard of Laguna Honda? I wonder.
"Man! I went there for my knee! Fixed my knee up at old Laguna Honda!"
"Really? That's incredible! Maybe you know the author, she's a doctor there!"
He flips to the author bio and picture on the back flap.
"Naw. I don't recognize her. But that's so funny."
"Is it any good?"
"Yeah, you should read it. I definitely recommend it. It's well-written, she tells interesting stories about her patients, and she knows all about the history of medicine. She talks about that a lot."
"It's good, like, comedic good or dramatic good?"
I have to think about this. "Dramatic, definitely more dramatic. It's serious...but there are some funny things."
"All right, well here's your book back. Sorry for hogging your book."
"No, no problem."
We go back to reading our respective tomes, his is some sort of fantasy, the Lost something or other. He gets off a few stops later, just as I'm finishing the last page.
God's Hotel is about a way of thinking, a way of treating patients like people, of treating the body like a garden, a Way exemplified in medieval medicine, in Sweet's hero, Hildegard of Bingen, an eccentric nun in medieval Germany. Even though the last almshouse in the country has been transformed into a modern facility, the spirit of Laguna Honda lives on in Dr. Sweet's book, in Laguna Honda's patients, and in the numerous, and I hope, growing, readers of her book.
"The best doctor walks with you to the pharmacy and stands with you until you drink your medicine. [The doctors, patients, and staff of Laguna Honda] taught me that the real name for the transference and the countertransference was love, and that the doctor-patient relationship was, above all, a relationship."
-Dr. Victoria Sweet
"[God's Hotel] should be required reading for anyone interested in the 'business' of health care-and especially those interested in the humanity of health care."