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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

by Sheri Fink
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (504 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 10, 2013 0307718964 978-0307718969 1

Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.
After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better.  A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As the floodwaters rose after Hurricane Katrina, patients, staff, and families who sheltered in New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital faced a crisis far worse than the storm itself. Without power, an evacuation plan, or strong leadership, caregiving became chaotic, and exhausted doctors and nurses found it difficult to make even the simplest decisions. And, when it came to making the hardest decisions, some of them seem to have failed. A number of the patients deemed least likely to survive were injected with lethal combinations of drugs—even as the evacuation finally began in earnest. Fink, a Pulitzer Prize winner for her reporting on Memorial in the New York Times Magazine, offers a stunning re-creation of the storm, its aftermath, and the investigation that followed (one doctor and two nurses were charged with second-degree murder but acquitted by a grand jury). She evenhandedly compels readers to consider larger questions, not just of ethics but race, resources, history, and what constitutes the greater good, while humanizing the countless smaller tragedies that make up the whole. And, crucially, she provides context, relating how other hospitals fared in similar situations. Both a breathtaking read and an essential book for understanding how people behave in times of crisis. --Keir Graff

From Bookforum

Five Days at Memorial is Sheri Fink’s elaborately researched chronicle of life, death, and the choices in between at a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina. What’s important, it slowly emerges, is that despite Fink’s painstaking re-creation based on five hundred interviews and mountains of documents—we weren’t there. We cannot know. Fink, under the guise of third-person journalistic objectivity, drives us towards a kind of uncertainty so great that it’s revelatory. There are conclusions to be drawn from Fink’s collection of dilemmas. She seems to indicate that she believes “a crime had occurred.” The scope of that crime—not just a legal trespass but a moral and ethical one as well—is the true subject of this book. This isn’t just a policy brief ornamented with characters. It is, like all great journalism, a document unto itself, an artifact of what we thought about “life and death” issues in the early twenty-first century. —Jeff Sharlet

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307718964
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307718969
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (504 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Days You Won't Forget August 1, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The first half of this book reads like an apocalyptic thriller while the second half is like a legal drama and in fact was dramatized on the television show, Boston Legal.
The tragedy that occurred at Memorial Hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is unflinchingly detailed by the author. The horrors that the staff and patients had to face will haunt you. The actions that were taken to save lives was heroic. There were also decisions made, however, that led to at least 7 deaths. Were these unavoidable casualties of the disaster or were these people murdered to effect a long overdue rescue of the remaining patients and staff?
The questions surrounding the deaths led to an investigation of one doctor and a couple of nurses. This legal investigation is what comprises the second half of the book.
The author, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, gives a fair and complete assessment of the five day ordeal in the storm ravaged hospital. There is also background information for many of the staff and some patients who were stranded in the flood. There were points that actually had me near tears as I read of their struggles.
The investigation after the incident and the legal battles which ensued are equally as compelling. The political machine that took over so much of the Katrina recovery is a big part of the story. The reader is left to come to his own conclusion based on the information given. Through the stellar reporting of this author, it is easy to empathize with both sides in some respects. Was euthanasia necessary? I'm not going to go into my own personal beliefs but I will say that you will look at the whole situation differently after reading this book.
You will also be forced to take a look at the choices available to us as the end of life approaches.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those prepared to grapple with major ethical issues September 5, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is not the type of book that anyone should pick up if they are not prepared to deal with some extremely grim realities. Although certainly all of us have heard, and some of us have experienced personally, the horrors resulting from "natural disasters", Sheri Fink's exhaustively detailed description of events at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is uniquely powerful.

This is a book that SHOULD make one angry as well as profoundly and deeply distressed. It is also a fascinating investigation of the evolution of human perspective as "technical medicine" has become ever more complex and infrastructure-dependent. It includes an extraordinarily focused discussion of the historical issues - the fact that this hospital was flooded previously, but the necessary upgrades to provide better protection for the backup generators as recommended was never accomplished, being the most cogent.

For anyone who is not aware of the background story: As well as having a complement of "regular" patients, some in Intensive Care after such things as open heart and cancer surgery, the hospital had an organization called LifeCare that leased space on the 7th floor of the main hospital complex. Their patients were mostly elderly, and were in long-term care for extremely debilitating conditions that required extensive life support and monitoring, including dialysis, tube feeding, ongoing oxygen therapy, and so on. When the hurricane first approached, on Saturday, August 27, 2005, it seemed wise to move LifeCare patients in from a less secure, smaller facility in St. Bernard Parish, to the much larger location at Memorial.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks September 10, 2013
Fink takes on a story with moral and ethical overtones- what killed 45 patients at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina, in her incredibly fascinating Five Days at Memorial. Fink interviewed dozens of people who were there- doctors, nurses, aides, family members, patients, hospital administrators, rescuers, police investigators, coroners and more to tell her gripping story.

Fink drops the reader right into the hospital during the hurricane and in the horrific aftermath of the storm, when the levees failed and the hospital was completely surrounded by floodwaters. The reader feels the rising panic as generators fail, toilets stop working, medicines run low, cell phones die and communication is lost with the outside world.

Close to 200 people were evacuated from the hospital by helicopter and boats, but 45 patients died, most of them either terminally or gravely ill, the most of any hospital in the city. And most of them died of an overdose of morphine and Versed, allegedly by the hands of Dr. Anna Poe, a surgeon at the hospital. She and two nurses were arrested for killing those patients after a lengthy investigation.

Fink methodically lays out what went on at the hospital during those days. The corporate owner of the hospital, TenetCare, had an emergency plan that lacked some key elements. After 9/11, hospitals had to beef up emergency plans.
"The doctors at Memorial had drilled for disasters, but for scenarios like a Sarin gas attack, modeled that April, where multiple patients arrived at the hospital at once. Not in all his years of practice had Thiele drilled for the loss of backup power, running water, and transportation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Days at Memorial
A frightening book especially from a retired nurse's point of view. I can't begin to imagine how the medical personnel did what they did in view of taking care of the patients. Read more
Published 2 hours ago by Karen Pratt
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense Read
As a member of the medical profession, I thought I was going to side with the doctors and nurses on this one. However, after listening to the facts, I switched teams. Read more
Published 4 days ago by JD
5.0 out of 5 stars What a powerfull story WOW!!!
This is a gripping story of the work of the hospital staff during Hurricane Katrina. I was a first responder working for FEMA and the scale and scope of Hurricane Katrina is hard... Read more
Published 5 days ago by technicalman
5.0 out of 5 stars Book
Still in the process of reading the book. It is appalling that there were not people and resources available for the hospitals. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Joyce
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
My children and I were all born at "Baptist ", therefore, having left New Orleans before Katrina I was very curious about this story after having heard about it. Read more
Published 8 days ago by jennifer maxwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorial
Excellent both on detailed and human side. Close look at people under pressure, first really
cognizant book I have read about the floods in New Orleans post storm. Read more
Published 8 days ago by cecemae
4.0 out of 5 stars An eyeopener for sure
Appalling! A story that grips your senses of wondering what happened to common sense and intelligence even during extreme conditions. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Bonnie
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough Slog
This book is probably well researched and certainly shows how chaos reigns in the absence of advance planning and leadership. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Denver B
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Days
The author's research is remarkable with such detail that I could not put the book down. Not only has she documented the events of the 5 days, but also the aftermath in both the... Read more
Published 11 days ago by JMcHale
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story that still leaves questions
This is a well-told story that recreates the around-the-clock nightmare inside a hospital without electricity, supplies, sanitation and hope. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Thomas E Beach
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