Written by Victoria Sweet
I don't read nearly as many non-fiction books, as I do fiction. But occasionally I will come across a memoir or biography that peaks my interest. Even more rarely, a book about a certain philosophy or psychology will lure me in. When I read the description of God's Hotel, although it was non-fiction, it sounded intriguing. When I found out that I had won the book as a goodreads first read, I happily awaited the books arrival.
Since I work as a medical biller and a provider of medical supplies to patients in long term care nursing homes, I thought it might really help me gain some insight into the lives of the patients I provide for. I also hoped it would allow me to have a better understanding of what it's like for the physicians and all the other nursing home staff. With the seemingly constant changes going on in our industry, anything that can give me a greater clarity into what it's really like on the inside, could only serve to make me better at my job.
God's Hotel is an enlightened look at health care that kept me interested up until the final pages. Despite the fact that I know relatively little about the actual practice of medicine, I didn't find the book to be difficult to read or to understand. Sweet weaves the tale in such a way that even the most confusing medical procedures are simply explained.
I especially enjoyed her PhD research into Hildegard, a "health care practitioner" during the medieval medicine period. Her studies really revealed how modern medicine may have discounted too many of the old ways in favor of newer, but not always better, practices. Overall I felt like I really got a good sense of how medicine has changed since the Middle Ages, and what we can learn from the history of medicine.
The stories of her most unusual, most exciting, and most touching individual medical cases that she saw during her more than 20 years employment at Laguna Honda are fascinating. As a doctor in the admitting ward she saw it all: drug abuse, physical abuse, cancer, AIDS, even diseases so rare they are almost unheard of. Some patient's came there to rehabilitate, but for many, Laguna Honda was where they came to die.
Sweet describes many of the quirky characters she comes into contact with, staff and patient alike. She delves into the personalities of each of these characters with wit and candor. You find yourself actually picturing them, because they invariably remind you of someone you know. Each one has his/her own unique personality, and Sweet is a master of portraying them. You also get the opportunity to see how all the people who crossed her path have impacted her both as a person and as a doctor.
Another great aspect of God's Hotel is when Sweet details her time away from Laguna Honda. The year she took off to do more research into Hildegard’s life and work in Switzerland for her PhD and the time she spent making a three part holy pilgrimage across Europe were just as influential both personally and professionally as the patients and staff had been. It's very interesting to see the differences in her life while she was away and how these journeys change her in ways that help her to become a better doctor.
Victoria Sweet paints a picture of what it was like to work at one of the last almshouses, but more importantly, she paints a picture of what a doctor can do when allowed to practice medicine the way they wanted to.