Victoria Sweet is one of those spiritual types. She’s a medical doctor and sure, medicine is a science, but that doesn’t mean it has to be heartless. It is the job of the doctor, Sweet believes, to get to know the patient—not just as a case but, also as a person.
Dr. Sweet first gets to know her patients by taking their medical history. Though she is lucky enough to live in the 21st century, when the medical field has a high-tech test to discover whatever ails you, Sweet would really just rather perform “the physical examination of the patient, on whose body [is] written, if [she] could only read it, the real diagnosis.” She takes a temporary position at the last alms house in America—Laguna Honda Hospital—where public funding allows staff to treat the poorest of the poor and high-tech medicine is yet to be discovered.
While at Laguna Honda, Dr. Sweet pursues a PhD in the history of medicine. She becomes engrossed in the experience of Hildegard of Bingen, who ran a monastic hospital in Europe during the Middle Ages. Hildegard based her diagnoses and herbal treatments on careful observation of her patients. Sweet recognizes the parallels between Hildegard’s patients and her own, and she gains an intense appreciation for the nun’s medical approach—and for the value of really knowing the patient.
So that’s why Laguna Honda Hospital is the perfect match for Dr. Sweet. By the time her patients make it to Laguna Honda, they are in desperate medical condition—so bad, in fact, that the county hospitals are sending them there to die. But, as Sweet works Hildegard’s “slow medicine” on the patients, thoroughly examining and getting to know them, she discovers what really ails them and how to cure it. And she discovers something else: that her patients are not so much victims of their diseases as they are victims of the high-tech, production-line medical care designed to save them.
Dr. Sweet is not the only one who feels this way. When the city’s political machine sets their sights on Laguna Honda, with the objective of increasing efficiency and bringing the hospital into the 21st century, the staff puts up a fight. They know the value of their cloistered space, their unique style of medicine.
Readers will grow to love Dr. Sweet as they share her hopeful journey through the hospital’s slow and painful transformation into a “modern medical facility” and come to know the patients that defy the current logic that new means better. And while Sweet doesn’t always manage to persuade hospital administrators of the benefits of “slow medicine,” she does a heck of a job convincing the reader.