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God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet MD: a Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

Before I read God’s Hotel, I had never heard of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco in specific, though reading the book I did realize that I may have known a real life person who was hospitalized there, Marim Jones. (not her real name)

Before I first knew Marim, who was one of my first teachers at the Rolf Institute, 1983, she had gone from one doctor to the next and received no help for months. At last, resources mostly exhausted, she began to come out of the lingering malaise of her illness with a provisional diagnosis of a brown spider bite, and went back to work, assisting teaching our Basic Rolfing SI class. I can see her in vision still, with two or three of us outside of class, telling about the mystery of her illness, looking healthy if a little peaked and thin. I liked her, she had spunk, and she was a really good teacher.

I didn’t see Marim after that. Then, I heard that she had been diagnosed with HIV and then AIDS the year after our class, and had moved to San Francisco where there was care for those with no resources and her devastating disease.

Laguna Honda hospital, “the last almshouse in America”, is revealed here as a lot more than an AIDS hospital. It had modern medicine, the diagnostics, the intensive care units, the transfusions, and the antibiotics. It also had the premodern medicine that had the more able patients growing their own food, all of them resting in quiet good care, and aspiring to lightness of mind without worry. (Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman in Dr. Sweet’s translation of the Latin premodern talk of recovery.)

Here we find the old saying “tincture of time”. It is one Rolfers often use quoting Ida Rolf, who said that the body could heal itself on certain levels. One needed to get the body into appropriate structure in gravity, more appropriate movement, and have tincture of time.

However its poetry and heart, God’s Hotel is irritating on a lot of levels. I am going to have to go back again and look at Dr. Sweet’s analysis of costs in hospitals and her analysis of how “slow” medicine could be used for cost savings. (page 126). There must be something wrong here—it makes too much sense.

It is irritating to have to go ahead and read Hildegard of Bingen’s book to figure out why it is “presentist”.

It is irritating to realize what the problem is with those newfangled “cost effective” ways of taking blood pressure—and other vital signs.

Way irritating is the idea that Alzheimer’s disease is being dumbed down and diagnostics are being lost.

I’m not sorry I read this, though.



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