No Other Tale The Same: God's Hotel

Victoria Sweet's God's Hotel: A doctor, a hospital, and a pilgrimage to the heart of medicine delves deep into the harsh truths of modern medicine. Sweet accepts a job at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the last almshouse in the country, a place that accepts anyone and everyone, that is "low-tech and human-paced" and that even allows time and space for the patients to be outside in the garden. Sweet practices what she calls "slow medicine", a practice that allows her to spend a great deal of time with her patients, to actually figure out what's wrong with them, and to allow healing to happen. It seems revolutionary in an era filled with ridiculous insurance policies, doctors who seem patients for 10 minutes, and systems that continuously force patients to advocate for themselves since if they don't, no one will.

Not only is Sweet a lovely writer, but the way in which she writes about her thought process and discovery is extremely compelling. She signs a two month contract at Laguna Honda and ends up staying for 20 years. During that time she also gets her PhD in history and social medicine and ends up making a pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain. She tests out her theories in her real life practice as much as she possibly can. Yet she also tells the heartbreaking story of how Laguna Honda changes; a team of consultants decrees that the hospital isn't efficient and therefore cuts staff, cuts costs and allows for fewer and fewer doctors to actually be able to do their job.

One of the most fascinating concepts in the book made medicine seem so simple; the System of Fours. "For premodern medicine, the cosmos was made up of four abstract elements - Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Each of the four elements, in turn, was made up of four qualities - hot and cold, and wet and dry. Thus Earth was cold and dry; Water, cold and wet; Air was hot and wet; Fire, hot and dry. Everything in the universe was made up of a mixture of these four elements and four qualities, but in various proportions, and these included the building blocks of the body, which were the four humors - blood, bile (or choler), phlegm, and melancholia. Blood was hot and wet; and bile, hot and dry; phlegm was cold and wet; and melancholia; cold and dry. Health was thought to be the proper balance of these four bodily humors, and disease was an imbalance." (Sweet 48). According to Sweet, only by taking the proper time and care can doctors diagnose these imbalances, and frequently, the diagnosis won't come from an X-ray.

This is more than just a book; ideally, like Slow Food, Slow Medicine will become a movement. The health care system doesn't value doctors or patients anymore. As Sweet says, "The best doctor walks with you to the pharmacy and stands with you until you drink your medicine...the doctor-patient relationship [is], above all, a relationship." (Sweet 338).

* For more information on Victoria Sweet, click here.