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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital Paperback – January 26, 2016
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*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
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
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- incredibly descriptive and thoroughly researched.
- rather unbiased.
- gripping in some parts.
- my biggest problem with this book is that it might just be too descriptive and long. I found myself skimming some pages a lot because there is some unnecessary historical and geographical background. There are also just so many different people mentioned and involved that I often had to go back and check who exactly that particular individual was. For academic and research purposes, I think this book is a masterpiece because it contains such minute detail, but for a casual reader like me, who wanted to gain some insight into this particular event, the book is just too drawn out.
In all fairness to the author, perhaps this topic needed such breadth and detail, thus overall I do recommend this book because it is rather enlightening but I personally wish it had been briefer.
This book reads like an apocalypse novel, except that it's real, not fiction. Very eye opening. I wonder how much our leaders have learned from what happened those 4-7 days and if they'll react differently next time, because there WILL be a next time.
- it show how quickly we forget history. What happened here is not well understood by the entire country.
- it raises excellent public policy and ethics questions that need to be discussed and answered.
- it shows how people can use public relations to change the story - so much so, they come to sincerely believe the story they're telling!
- it shows how our biases affect whom we believe despite evidence to the contrary.
The only thing I haven't found yet is reaction to the book by the doctors and hospital systems, who were so unprepared and whose actions ultimately seem to be responsible for the euthanasia.
The movie rights have been picked up by the same producer who handled Captain Phillips. Should be an interesting movie - and this time, I wonder if he'll see suits by the people who undoubtedly will be on public display for poor decision making.
Thank goodness for authors like Sheri Fink who have the technical know how and grit to write the uncomfortable truth we need to understand to avoid another horrific situation like that. Mother Nature's worst was horrible with Katrina. People made it worse.
during and after the storm. The worst part is what they had to put with for months and years with lawyers, medical examiners,
prosecutors and public opinion on a subject that these "experts" had no idea what this group had to put up with.
This book held me captive until I finished it. I loved it because it was reported in an objective manner throughout the book. The best part was that it challenged my thinking at every turn and co had me constantly asking myself as an individual and as a trained nurse what would I do in a similar situation.