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.
Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association at the beginning of July, a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Dr. Lawrence Hergott calls upon his fellow physicians to fight for their profession by fighting for their own souls. "I have seen that the preservation of the soul of medicine is also the preservation of the soul of the physician, and that both are essential," he tells us.
In 1985, Shelby Smoak was diagnosed HIV positive, a fact that he did not learn (by choice) until a few years later. Smoak’s diagnosis is compounded with the fact that he is also hemophiliac.
Set in the 1990s along the North Carolina coast, Bleeder traces Smoak’s quest for love in a world that feels increasingly dangerous, and despite a future that feels increasingly uncertain. From the bedroom to the operating room, and from one hospital to the next, Smoak seeks out hope and better health.
Smoak, a poet and novelist, who now teaches at Northern Virginian Community College in Arlington, has written a memoir of his experiences with both diseases, Bleeder.
After a full-throttle brain bleed at the age of twenty-five, Ashok Rajamani, a first-generation Indian American, had to relearn everything: how to eat, how to walk and to speak, even things as basic as his sexual orientation.
Dr. Paul Lemanski is founder and director of The Center for Preventive Medicine and Cardiovascular Health, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Albany Medical College, a fellow of the American College of Physicians. WAMC’s Alan Chartock hosts.