Book Review: God’s Hotel

Written by Dr. Victoria Sweet,  this book  combines the history of health care,  the history of pre modern medicine,  and the stories of several patients.   Dr.Sweet , in her pursuit in a doctorate of medieval medicine with emphasis on Hildegard of Bingen’s works, combines premodern medicine with current practices to help the patients of Laguna Beach Hospital, the last almshouse of the United States. 

Hospitals are the only institution not having a history starting at antiquity but rather  Christianity. Dating back with medieval monastries,  almshouses were started to take care  of those who could not take care of themselves which included not only the sick , but also widows, orphans, and the poor.  Nuns and monks studied botany quite efficiently. In fact, modern medicine uses many components only different concentrations and artificially made, rather than from  the garden monastery.  It was a largely accepted institute and still is in countries such as Switzerland, but not in the United States.  Economists theorized that in order to make health care efficient, hospitals should have a budget  on each disease and doctors are paid per patient.   Add that to technological advances,  almshouses and their “slow medicine” method  disappear save one-  Laguna Beach.

Sweet explores the  efficiency of “slow medicine” that is actually giving a person as much time as their body needs along with a doctor who    personally examines the patient instead of mostly  looking at charts.  However, she does not argue for a complete substituion of modern medicine with premodern.  Many a patient were referred back to the County Hospital. However, pre modern medicine allowed for more accurate diagnosis- at least in the examples Sweet writes about.   However, it is interesting to note that our current U.S> health care system  was institued by economists .

Her book ends with a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a Romanesque pilgrimage church in Spain as well as the rough final transition Laguna had to endure to the modern health system.  Faced with many budget cuts, Laguna is forced to be modern and as you may have already inferred Sweet advocates subtly  against it. However this book raises an interesting question : In our pursuit to be efficient in the short term, are we inefficient in diagnosis and treating patients in the long diagnosis?