on 21 January 2014
"Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital" by Sheri Fink is one of the books that you will think a lot after you will read it. The author tells us a story of events that happened in one of the New Orleans hospitals where medical staff were accused of euthanizing patients after Hurricane Katrina happened.
The story is split in two parts; the first explaining what was happening in the hospital during the hurricane while in second is described legal process that was held several years after these incidents happened. The main book character is Dr. Anna Pou, who worked back then in the hospital and was subsequently arrested. The author is telling her story based on views of many people who were part of the incident and although this was a complex story she done good work combining all those views into an overwhelming story that is easy to follow.
It's evident how well researched this book was and the author managed to, in an impressive way, speak about the moral dilemmas that are almost essential part of such human tragedies. It's almost inconceivable how much all human technology and the progress we have made in thousands of years had crumbled to pieces after this tragedy occurred, how miserable was the planning before and reactions were after the tragedy happened. Some things are almost bizarre, like the issue that all water, food and energy supplies were located below the sea level, in the city for which it's known under which kind of flooding threat is constantly exposed, making them instantly unusable after the disaster occurred. Or lack of any evacuation plan for patients who were in the hospitals resulting in complete chaos due to the lack of priorities which patients should be given the fastest save based on disease severity.
The author had done fair portrait of hospital employees picturing them as human beings not heroes, although they did their job bravely under the worst possible conditions, at the same time making some incredible mistakes, even stupidities that could have prevented the deaths of some people.
I assume you know what happened at the end with Dr. Pou, although the questions of doctors' responsibility for giving a lot of medication to reduce pain that lead to death remained unresolved. Can we in this normal conditions answer the question whether in these moments the doctors thought only to help the patient or actually wanted to help others reducing patients number only to those for who they thought there is still a chance to survive? Whether would these patients without such strong doses of drugs maybe survived?
The author chose well because she didn't provide any answers to these questions, but she left it to each reader to decide.
"Five Days at Memorial" is somehow sad book that tells a story about humans, the humans who are brave, but also the humans who make mistakes.
In some moments it's not easy to read it due to the truthful image of the tragedy that occurred, but it probably won't be put off your hands until it will be read.
on 12 June 2014
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is the story of the Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. The author is Sheri Fink
Eight years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Floodwaters rose in the Uptown streets surrounding Memorial Medical Center, where hundreds of people slowly realized that they were stranded. The power grid failed, toilets overflowed, stench-filled corridors went dark. Diesel generators gave partial electricity. Hospital staff members smashed windows to circulate air. Gunshots could be heard, echoing in the city.
When evacuations were done, 45 patients did not made it out alive. The State of Louisiana began an investigation; forensic consultants determined that 23 corpses had elevated levels of morphine and other drugs, and decided that 20 were victims of homicide.
In her book “Five Days at Memorial,” Dr. Sheri Fink explores the excruciating struggle of medical professionals deciding to give fatal injections to those at the brink of death. Dr. Fink, a physician turned journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize for her investigation of these events in a 2009 joint assignment for ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. This book is much more than an extension of that report. Although she had the material for a gripping disaster story, Dr. Fink has slowed the narrative pulse to investigate situational ethics: what happens when caregivers steeped in medicine’s supreme value, preserving life, face traumatic choices as the standards of civilization collapse.
The book is well paced and covers the five daysas the title states. The viewpoint shifts to an entwined legal and political story in which state authorities pursue a homicide investigation. That so many people, starkly divided over the question of whether crimes had been committed, come off as decent and appealing makes this book an absorbing read. Dr. Fink brings a shimmering intelligence to its many narrative cul-de-sacs, which consider medical, legal and ethical issues.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others.
Thank you for reading my review.
on 24 August 2015
Sheri Fink, a journalist with a medical qualification, has written an excellent and compelling account of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of multiple patients, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans. The book is divided into two main sections. The first gives a very detailed and vividly-presented account of what happened, focusing on the clinical staff and the patients, both those who survived and those who died, many of whom were elderly and with complex conditions. The essence of what happened is that many of these patients were allegedly injected with large doses of morphine and midazolam, apparently to hasten their deaths when the hospital had been without power and air-conditioning and had been sweltering in 100 degree + heat for five days - and with the surrounding areas flooded, lawless, and seemingly abandoned by the government. The second half of the book deals with the criminal case taken against Dr Anna Pou and two nursing colleagues, who were alleged to have administered the injections - a case which the Grand Jury ultimately decided to drop, leaving the charges unproven. Fink presents a very difficult situation and an almost impossible set of considerations regarding end of life care and euthanasia with clarity. Her book is a real page-turner and sets out the major ethical and moral dilemmas involved with compassion. Fascinating and very readable.
Five Days at Memorial takes us back to the devastation brought upon New Orleans in August 2005. The action takes place inside Memorial Hospital as a team of unprepared doctors and nurses are faced with unanswerable questions in regards to patients lives in the face of faltering power and medical supplies. This battle takes place as the hospital struggles to uphold order against reports of rampaging vigilantes outside of its walls.
The story moves on to cover the aftermath of the hurricane, as many of the healthcare professionals find themselves defending their choices when stranded at the hospital; lawsuits and media coverage ensues. Sheri Fink handles this behemoth of a story with unfaltering panache. Legalese and Medicalese are peppered throughout but never explained patronisingly and moments of tension and drama throughout the book unfold with thrilling narration whilst always remaining truthful and unbiased.
Five Days at Memorial is a true pedagogical tour de force which hurtles itself at the readers beliefs and demands to be considered and discussed long after its final pages are turned.
on 24 September 2014
Divides into three stages. First is the story of the five days up to Sept 1st 2005 after Katrina at Memorial hospital in New Orleans. The full horror and danger of the circumstances are conveyed along with the sheer heroism and devotion to duty which the medical staff showed. Without this knowledge what happened next cannot be understood so it is worth sticking with its confusions and complexities. Second is the account of how the authorities tried to bring one doctor and two nurses to trial for second degree murder on allegations of 'euthanising' patients who could not be rescued from the hospital. I found myself repeatedly pulled in contrary directions and the writer skilfully takes the reader through all the ethical ambivalence of the case with both the medical and non-medical communities divided in their views on what happened and the ultimate grand jury verdict. Third is an interesting and disturbing consideration of the lessons of Katrina and other disasters for our preparedness in the future to meet natural and health crises where medical resources will be limited.
on 18 November 2013
My daughter,who is a trauma nurse at San Francisco General Hospital,told me about the book,and I bought it for her,but she suggested that I read it first.I did,and found it a compelling read.It describes perfectly what must have been a truly terrifying period for those poor souls caught up in it.
on 20 September 2014
I found this book compelling. As a Registered Nurse practising on the Gulf Coast for forty years I know the system and the terrain and the weather risks. As a Nursing Administrator I had to make decisions about evacuation of patients, transportation and the care of staff during these conditions. I must say I cried and found the situation harrowing. I thank God that I never had to make the ultimate decision these Nurses and Doctors had to contemplate.
I have thought long and hard about this and I seriously believe, that in this world of severe weather issues, infectious epidemics and terrorism all over the world, we the healthcare providers must have urgent dialogue about the final triage. Don't leave it to the desperate people left on site to make these decisions.
God Bless the patients and staff involved. God help those people at the corporation who failed to act!!
on 31 October 2013
It was a great read, kept my interest at top level all thru the book and from page 50 on I couldn't put it down!
Will highly reccomend
on 6 March 2014
A straight reporting of what went on at Memorial, during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
The reader is left to come to his or her own conclusions.
Who knows how we would act under such stress? One would like to think that one would act with more compassion, who knows?
This is a horrifying account - how often is this scenario acted out in our hospitals, when there is no hurricane?
on 30 May 2014
A well researched and thorough account of events. The loss of one star was purely because, whilst the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was riveting, the legal aspect, for me, was not so. For those who like investigative and legal procedures it would be a five start book.