Tuesday, May 3, 2016


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.

If you have not read this book yet you should. It will enlighten you on how hurricane Katrina was just a catalyst for the loss of life and devastation that happened in New Orleans. It was known by the government as well as hospitals, numerous years before Katrina occurred the serious problems existing in a multitude of systems and structures which kept a city that is up to seven feet below sea level functioning and safe. Whereas, we all know in our society money or hence the lack of dictates everything, including safeguard of 109,000 residents in an aqua vulnerable city.

I enjoyed how Sheri Fink wrote this book during the first half the reader gets a front row experience of being at Memorial Medical during hurricane Katrina and traumatic days that followed while the second half consists of the investigation against a doctor and two nurses for murdering patients. The prose is exceptional, it is very well researched with a big section of notes, it includes an index if for any reason you need to reference anything, there is a helpful list of selected individuals at Memorial during the hurricane, and two maps orienting you to the hospital.  Anyone who reads Five Days at Memorial will have their own opinion on what happened and if it was done with or without malice. I personally believe that due to the circumstances the accused medical professionals made the right choices in a horrific situation. The doctors and nurses had been informed on September 1st, 2005 that they had to evacuate Memorial by nightfall by hospital CEO L. Rene Goux due to what was happening outside Memorial what would the outcome have been if they just left the dying patients? While there were a few who did not make good decisions, for example:

“CFO Curtis Dosch and COO Sean Fowler mentioned that the cancer institute connected to Memorial via sky bridges had a working generator and electricity throughout the disaster…”We sat there and watched TV for a little bit,” Fowler said. Dosch described…”feeling pretty good, ‘cause I got a fan, I got a recliner, and I got a TV, and I rummaged around and found a can of chicken noodle soup...I want to tell you it tasted pretty good!”

Those are the individuals who should have been investigated for murder and did any other medical professionals know? Could lives have been saved if patients had been transported to a building that had the power to work ventilators also the ability to keep their core body temperatures lower? That we will never know. Some very bad decisions were made at Memorial during hurricane Katrina, but euthanasia was not one of them. As patients are rescued from Memorial they were not taken anywhere safer instead patients were abandoned on high ground such as on the side of the road and on the I-10 freeway cloverleaf. Five Days at Memorial is a must read for everyone.  

“Didn’t military guys take a cyanide capsule to war, to have an option to avoid torture? And those, she reflected, would be people who would have hope for a meaningful life after their horrible torture. The people she saw on the second floor would, she thought, “have horrible torture and no meaningful life.” She knew it was torture, because the heat was hard enough on her, too, that, when she took breaks from working, she sought refuge in her air-conditioned car, grateful for having topped off her gas tank before the storm.”

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Dr. Sheri Fink’s reporting has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Magazine Award, and the Overseas Press Club Lowell Thomas Award, among other journalism prizes. Most recently, her coverage of the 2012 hurricane season and its effects on the health care systems of New York City and New Orleans won the Mike Berger Award from Columbia Journalism School and the beat reporting award from the Association of Health Care Journalists in 2013. Her story “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” co-published by ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, chronicled decisions made by the medical staff of one New Orleans hospital in the desperate days after Hurricane Katrina. 

Fink is a fellow at the New America Foundation. A former relief worker in disaster and conflict zones, she received her M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her first book, War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival (PublicAffairs), is about medical professionals under siege during the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Thank you, Blogging For Books, for letting me give an honest review”

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