Victoria Sweet's new book, SLOW MEDICINE, is on sale now!
For readers of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, a medical “page-turner” that traces one doctor’s “remarkable journey to the essence of medicine” (The San Francisco Chronicle).
San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the Hôtel-Dieu (God’s hotel) that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages. Ballet dancers and rock musicians, professors and thieves—“anyone who had fallen, or, often, leapt, onto hard times” and needed extended medical care—ended up here. So did Victoria Sweet, who came for two months and stayed for twenty years.
Laguna Honda, relatively low-tech but human-paced, gave Sweet the opportunity to practice a kind of attentive medicine that has almost vanished. Gradually, the place transformed the way she understood her work. Alongside the modern view of the body as a machine to be fixed, her extraordinary patients evoked an older idea, of the body as a garden to be tended. God’s Hotel tells their story and the story of the hospital itself, which, as efficiency experts, politicians, and architects descended, determined to turn it into a modern “health care facility,” revealed its own surprising truths about the essence, cost, and value of caring for the body and the soul.
To its staff, San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital was a gift: a place with open wards that provided light, air, and a sense of community for its patients; where the emphasis was on "slow medicine" rather than high-speed computer time. Sweet, a physician at the hospital and a professor of medicine at UC-San Francisco, says Laguna Honda's model was the medieval French h tel-Dieu God's hotel which cared for everyone who couldn't care for themselves. But this unusual model led to problems in an age of cost-efficient medicine, and to complaints and a Department of Justice investigation . Sweet chronicles the internal politics and struggles behind the remarkable turnaround of this unusual hospital one where she was "able to practice medicine... the way I wanted." But if Laguna Honda felt like a gift to Sweet, the true gift was the courage of her patients, like the addled Mr. Bramwell, who demonstrated through a sweet and skillful dance with his nurses that even in such a patient, the soul, what the ancients called the "anima," remains. Sweet's tales of her hospital, patients, colleagues, and herself offer a fresh linking of medicine past and present.
Well told personal story of growth and maturation paralleling the decline of a local institution
Frustrating to read
The introduction to the book was very gruesome. I can stand a little blood and guts, but she goes into a LOT of detail (even about how the saw goes through the dead man’s head. Just saying it went through his head isn’t enough for some reason; she has to tell us all about it.)
And the whole book, she just keeps repeating the same stuff. How the word ____ comes from the word _____, which means ____! Wow! Exciting!
And she keeps giving herself pats on the back for not working at a “normal” hospital, but even when the hospital gets rid of things that HELPS patients (like a chicken that would make the patients happy), she did nothing about it.
Having been in the medical profession this book was just fascinating to me. I share many of the author's feelings. I just couldn't put this book down. Healthcare had changed so drastically in my 40 years and not for the better. Thanks for this well written book!!