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116 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Days You Won't Forget
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...
Published 13 months ago by Ferdy

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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing report examines moral and ethical quandaries during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath...
This nonfiction account of life and death at Memorial Hospital during the 5 days following the natural disaster is divided into two main sections. The first deals with the events at the hospital and the second probes the investigative and legal proceedings involving staff at the hospital. I found the account compelling and extremely disquieting as the horrors of trying to...
Published 10 months ago by Denise Crawford


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116 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Days You Won't Forget, August 1, 2013
By 
Ferdy (Georgia, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
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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.
Five Days at Memorial is a compelling book that documents a particularly horrible natural disaster and the mess that our government and some corporations made of the rescue process. You can't read this and not be changed. It isn't a story that has a happy ending but it's the kind of thing that needs a light shown on it so that, hopefully, we learn a valuable lesson from the mistakes that were made.
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69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those prepared to grapple with major ethical issues, September 5, 2013
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
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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. In addition many others, including family members of hospital staff and patients, along with their pets, and some other community members, sought refuge at the hospital, which was deemed to be a safe location. Therefore when the hurricane actually struck on Sunday, August 28th, there were many more people in residence than the normal load.

There was considerable damage from the storm itself, but everything seemed to be on target for recovery until the flooding of Monday, as of course was the story for the entirety of New Orleans. Sadly, at this point, the failure to upgrade the generators became a very serious issue, and for the following four days, conditions went from difficult to impossible to horrific. It became obvious as power failed and violence and looting became ever more prevalent in the surrounding neighborhoods that rescue and evacuation was not going to be practical, especially for the most severely debilitated patients. Although the hospital DID have a helipad, which turned out to be marginally accessible, for some reason it never seemed possible to launch a major evacuation by air. Eventually, on the fourth day (Thursday), when rescue efforts seemed completely stalled and many of the "critical" patients were rapidly deteriorating due to the extreme heat, lack of support systems for their therapies, and so on, the decision was made that anyone who had a DNR order in place and was not easily transportable would be given an overdose of morphine. The second half of the book deals with the legal repercussions faced by the medical professionals who made these fatal decisions.

Obviously, in past eras when the "promise" of high tech medicine was not so deeply ingrained in the minds of both the medical community and the general public, these issues would not have arisen. People who were terminally ill would either not even BE in a hospital setting, or if they were, it would be clear that removing them would be inevitable, whether they died in the process or not. One of the poignant scenes in the narrative is the story of the euthanizing of some of the pets who had been brought to the hospital for shelter "because there was no room for them in the rescue vehicles". At that point, it struck me as symbolic that perfectly healthy animals, considered "family" by many of their humans, were summarily executed for lack of "space". Meanwhile, there was all the agonizing about the failure to find room in those same vehicles for admittedly terminal humans with their wheelchairs and other "paraphernalia", and the subsequent choice of the medical professionals to ease (while perhaps speeding up) the passing of those humans.

I would recommend Fink's book only to those who are prepared to be courageous in thinking about these torturous life-and-death issues, and who really want to grapple with some of the major ethical concerns of our era.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, September 10, 2013
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
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."
They had no contract with helicopter companies to evacuate the hospital (as other hospitals did) during a flood in a city where hurricanes and floods can be devastating. The person left in charge in the home office of Houston had no disaster experience or training, and the lack of communication with the hospital during the crisis was unconscionable.

The staff at Memorial felt they had been abandoned by their owners, as well as by their government. There seemed to be no one in charge at a local, state or federal level who could give them information as to when and how they would evacuate. All they heard were rumors of rampant looting, and the gunfire they could hear in the neighborhood made them fear they would be overrun by criminals looking for drugs.

When the evacuations begin, with boats commandeered by an older couple looking for a family member, and helicopters fly in, the triage that took place was the opposite of most; instead of the sickest going first, the healthiest patients were evacuated first. That decision had repercussions that had to be answered for later.

The first half of the book will have you on the edge of your seat, and the people who stayed behind to help the patients were heroic in their efforts. Fink sketches them with deserved empathy and compassion. As you read, you may ask yourself, "could I have done that?"

The second half of the book deals with the efforts by investigators and the state attorney general, who was looking to make a name for himself, to bring murder charges against the three women. Most of the general public did not feel this was warranted, and support for the women was strong.

But there were people, including doctors from Memorial, who were appalled at what happened and wanted to see justice for the people who died. They felt that these women violated their oath to do no harm and took matters into their own hands.

The one overriding theme of Five Days at Memorial is that governments and healthcare facilities must have effective disaster planning. There were so many failures on the part of government and corporations that allowed this to happen when it did not have to happen.

You may think you know how you feel about this situation, but Fink skillfully shows you all sides, and you will most likely come away from this book with more questions than answers as I did. This is a must-read book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, October 31, 2013
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This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
I read this book in a few days, which I did not expect from something non-fiction. However, the writing really is more like a narrative, and it kept me interested the whole time. I was surprised again when the legal half turned out to be just as intriguing as the actual telling of the events at Memorial. The whole book will also make you reconsider your own feeling about certain issues and practices in hospitals and during disasters.
Overall I was very impressed with this book.
As a side note, the external sleeve design is kind of cool. I actually questioned whether or not it was really water damaged when I first opened the box.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing report examines moral and ethical quandaries during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath..., October 11, 2013
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
This nonfiction account of life and death at Memorial Hospital during the 5 days following the natural disaster is divided into two main sections. The first deals with the events at the hospital and the second probes the investigative and legal proceedings involving staff at the hospital. I found the account compelling and extremely disquieting as the horrors of trying to care for extremely sick patients in those dire circumstances was recounted. I experienced many emotions while reading this very extensively researched book, but chief among them was a voice in my head that kept repeating - DON'T JUDGE. I was not there, I did not see or hear or smell the humanity in that hospital. I was not called upon to serve during the horrendous 5 days that those people were all trapped in that hospital without so many of the necessary things needed to provide patient care. When basic needs cannot be met, when staff is confused and exhausted, when the demands of the job surpass every bit of spiritual, mental and physical capacity the health care provider has -- what then? Examining the situation after the fact is much easier than dealing with an evolving life and death drama. Even with training, it would be difficult to be fully prepared to deal with everything that happened in Memorial Hospital over that 5 day period. I am glad I don't have to try to defend or condemn anyone for their actions, or lack thereof, because I imagine there are many who bear the burden of guilt for the way and the why of it.

Each person who reads this, and I recommend that you do, will take away his or her own analysis and assessment of what happened there and who was responsible. Collectively there is a lot of blame to go around, but individuals will always need to examine their own consciences and follow legal and societal guidelines whenever moral and ethical questions arise.

This would make a great book for a book club, but more so, I hope it will provide a touchstone for good debate on what constitutes ordinary vs extraordinary means, how does one assess the value of a life, and what explicit boundaries need to be firmly put in place.

3.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the ebook ARC to review.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, but painful, read ..., September 11, 2013
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
I approached Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital with some trepidation, but found it interesting, thought-provoking, and compelling. Dr. Fink is good at staying out of her own (and the readers') way, putting the reader into the situation and its context and asking the questions. Her descriptions of the events - the isolation, the lack of information, the fear, the rumors, the water rising - are simple, but direct. She puts you in the middle of the crisis and allows you to understand the context that led to certain kinds of decision-making. Her reporting on the aftermath, the investigation into the events at Memorial, and the forces that arrayed behind the health care workers that were there and that ultimately led nowhere.

This not a book that will allow you to find closure. It's rather a book that will make you question your own values, your own sense of right and wrong. The issues are complex and there are no simple answers. The one criticism that I have of the book is related to a failure by the author to explicate the corporate lack of response in more detail. The information was there, but this area of root cause doesn't get the level of attention that I think it deserves, although the author's concerns are more about the medical ethics of the situation. It's a good read and this is a very minor quibble. Recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!, November 2, 2013
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Compelling true story that will have you engrossed from the first page. How could this happen in the USA? Great read!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories of survival and sacrifice from the early days of Hurricane Katrina, September 16, 2013
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
For many Americans, Hurricane Katrina was defined by the images of people stranded on rooftops, wading through neck-deep water, or standing wretchedly in the iconic Superdome. But for those living in New Orleans and the surrounding area, these images were just the beginning. As residents tried to put their lives back together in the weeks that followed, those who were unable to evacuate also faced coming to terms with the raw experiences of those harrowing days in the city as they waited for help to arrive. Many who carried the greatest burdens were those who had taken on the greatest responsibilities: public servants, security professionals and health workers.

As was the case with the police force, questions were raised after the catastrophe about the emergency response of medical professionals staffing various hospitals. While some weathered the hurricane with notable success, others were not as prepared to confront the storm. One of the most notable cases was Memorial Medical Center, which sat in an area heavily flooded by Lake Pontchartrain. While nearby Charity Hospital lost only eight of about 350 patients, 45 of the fewer than 300 patients at Memorial died during the storm and its aftermath. Sheri Fink's FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL centers on the question of whether the opportunity for these patients was squandered, or whether it simply didn't arise.

For over 400 pages, Fink unravels a terrifying disaster and the consequences that continued to ripple through the Memorial community long after the last rescue helicopter took off. Her book is masterfully researched, and despite the chaos of those days, she is able to create a near-360° view of the days before the last living individuals were rescued from the hospital.

Almost 300 patients and over 1,000 others sheltered at Memorial, which had served as ample protection from storms in the past. This time, however, the hospital's resources did not prove up to scratch. Fink's description of the hospital, its parent company, and even the city's preparedness is representative of a crisis faced by others nationwide: too little money to complete necessary infrastructure updates and a hope that putting it off wouldn't compound the disaster that was bound to come one day.

Possessing an MD and a PhD, and experience as a rescue worker in disaster zones, Fink is uniquely qualified to tackle this subject. More importantly, she is a talented journalist who is more than capable of presenting information in an unbiased fashion that allows readers to make their own decisions regarding the ethics at play. It would be easy to pluck at heartstrings by focusing on the individual stories of those who died at Memorial, or to point fingers at the corporations and government players that didn't come through fast enough, but instead Fink centers the book on the ethics of a disaster zone.

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is built around a question that was not being hashed out on the news or discussed by politicians when the levees broke. In a situation of grave emergency, in which uncertainty reigns, just how far is ending a life from allowing a life to end? How should health workers determine the evacuation priority of patients when so much is uncertain? Some of those involved in the events have a clear, unwavering opinion. The majority, however, express ambivalence --- it could be that the claim of bringing comfort merely masks doctors' growing terror at their own vulnerability, but it is just as viable that sedation seems the only option left to dying patients with Do Not Resuscitate orders.

It may have only been five days that patients, doctors, nurses, families and loved ones were stranded at Memorial Medical Center, but this book makes it clear that what they experienced there will be with them the rest of their lives. Reading FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL will be with you for the rest of your life as well.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truthful image of the New Orleans tragedy, about humans who are brave, but also the humans who make mistakes..., September 10, 2013
This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
"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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging on many levels, October 26, 2013
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This review is from: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Hardcover)
I bought copies for each member of my family. The author is thought-provoking on several levels. By telling the story in the first half, she engages the reader in the human reactions to tough situations. In the second half, people interested in business will be fascinated by the way she demonstrates how communications can fail despite the best efforts; people interested in medical care will be drawn to the decisions people had to make in extreme circumstances and how medical groups have struggled to develop guidelines; people interested in legal matters will see how the legal matters (government and defense) were handled as both legal and human relations matters; and people interested in ethics will enjoy the authors treatment of the ethical issues involved on many levels.

I highly recommend the book.
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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (Hardcover - September 10, 2013)
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