Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

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by Sheri Fink

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One of the New York Times’s Best Ten Books of the YearWinner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for NonfictionWinner of the 2014 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, the 2014 American Medical Writers Association Medical Book

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One of the New York Times’s Best Ten Books of the YearWinner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for NonfictionWinner of the 2014 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, the 2014 American Medical Writers Association Medical Book Award (Public/Healthcare Consumers), a 2014 Science in Society Journalism Award, and the SIBA 2014 Book Award for NonfictionAn ALA Notable Book, finalist for the NYPL 2014 Helen Bernstein Award, shortlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award and the ALA Andrew Carnegie MedalAn NPR “Great Reads” Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, a Time Magazine Best Book, Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Nonfiction Book, a Christian Science Monitor Best Book, and a Kansas City Star Best BookPulitzer 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

The winds and floods of 2005's Hurricane Katrina induced thousands of dramatic stories of rescue, survival, or tragedy, but perhaps none more resonant than those at New Orlean's Memorial Medical Center. For author Sheri Fink and other critics, what the venerated hospital had offered those grim days was far different than shelter from the storm. Indeed, the forty-five corpses found after the calm suggested to several observers that Memorial's physicians had sometimes functioned more as angels of death than as life-givers. In Five Days at Memorial, Fink adds depth and breadth to an article that won her a Pulitzer and a National Magazine Award.

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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital 4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 62 reviews.
MdExTx More than 1 year ago
This book lives up to the hype it's getting. I received an advance copy of this and found it fascinating reading. I remember hearing about this hospital and the people trapped there in the New Orleans flooding after Katrina, but Sherry Fink's description of the conditions in the hospital really brings home to me how awful it must have been. The author apparently researched the subject intensively and provides details about the hospital and the people who spent 5 days in the hospital during and after Katrina. She draws no conclusions about what happened, just presents the facts and lets the reader decide for him or her self. The book lived up to my expectations in that it was well written and almost read like a novel. Even though I knew what had happened at Memorial Hospital after the storm, I found the book compelling reading. She fleshes out the personnel so the reader gets to know the doctors, nurses and patients. The only objection I had to the book was the amount of time the author spent on the history of euthansia and the debates about it in the past. It was near the end of the book, and I really just skimmed those few pages. Otherwise it is a great read, and thought provoking as well. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Katrina, disaster medicine and medical ethics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We have provided certain classes of people with authority to perform acts and direct actions. What happens to these people when you turn the power off and move them out of their usual bubble? Fink has opened a door on this question in a well researched and well presented look at Memorial Hospital during Katrina. There are no heroes here, just people asked to accept an elevated level of personal discomfort and risk to care for others. The success and failures to do makes clear that "question authority" should be frontmost in times of crises.
linhug More than 1 year ago
I found this book fascinating as it told about Katrina and the horrible "side effects" of misinformation, confusion and poor management on the part of the hospital's leaders. I have watched documentaries on TV about how so much out-and-out wrong information was given out by the news and then by the elected officials as they repeated the mistakes. I liked especially how the author did not draw conclusions, but just stated the events and let you make up your own mind about things. Obviously, there are lessons to be learned from the way that the different hospitals handled themselves. Charity simply continued their regular daily plan, and did pretty well. Memorial didn't, and ended up with euthanasia accusations. The lesson I learned is that when in an emergency situation, do not trust other people in institutional settings to do the right thing. Stay by your loved ones no matter what they tell you about how you "have" to leave. Question decisions that are made that do not seem right.
marystwin More than 1 year ago
The material presented in this book was so provocative that I read it twice. Imagine being a health care provider stranded in a hospital with a full house of patients with no direction or help from the corporation who owns the hospital. During the five days depicted, the environmental conditions were worsening within the hospital - floodwaters were rushing into the streets and hospital after a 200 ft. section of the levee was breached during Hurricane Katrina - no electricity, no elevators, no air conditioning, temperatures reaching 110 degrees in the building and inadequate & poorly located emergency generators; the power available to the patient units was insufficient to support the ventilator usage. In short, there was no emergency plan in place for evacuation in the event of a disaster. To further complicate matters, the only way to evacuate patients was to hand carry them up & down dark stairways, to a helipad in the hopes of being rescued by air. This is a book that has no happy ending. It will haunt you as you wrestle with the ethics of what happened in the five days of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Memorial Hospital. It begs the question of who is really responsible, who takes charge, when a massive disaster strikes?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Red Cross volunteer who helped during Hurricanes Rita, Gustuv, Sandy and other disasters, this book captures the chaos, feelings of desperation, and horrible conditions that exist during disasters and their aftermath. Everyone should read this book ...govt officials, those in the medical field, students, the elderly, law enforcement, public safety...I mean EVERYONE. It brought back memories for me when I worked the Red Cross shelters with no electricity, toilets clogged, no AC etc etc...Excellent journalism and hopefully this will win some awards..forces you to ask yourself what would you do in a similar situation...I will be buying more copies as gifts.
norway_girl More than 1 year ago
Reading it is living it. I could not put it down for the first half of the book, in fact I had to google some pictures of New Orleans and the hospital to understand the location and how everything was connected geographically.  This book is well researched and carefully crafted.  The reason it slows in the second half is only to do with the mind-boggling facts of the first half.  It surely gives us all pause as to what we would do in the same situation.  After being here in New Jersey after Sandy, this book really hit much closer to home than it would have before.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story captured the horror of dealing with the events surrounding Katrina along with the legal and moral issues involving a medical situational crisis. The end of life issues are broader than this country seems willing to face. Most depressing is that no action has been taken to learn and take action to prevent much of what came to light in this investigation. It would cost too much money to plan and train for further disasters. Fink is a great journalist and the book moves right along. +
pw38 More than 1 year ago
The details of the five days are so real that you feel you are there living in that moment. It's so full of details that you can't put the book down, and sometimes have to read over a few lines to make sure you didn't miss a single thing. Well written, well documented. It should get more than 5 stars!
Hootie31 More than 1 year ago
I've been a nurse in a variety of settings for almost 40 years. During my Master's degree program ( Holistic Spirituality and Health ) I studied medical ethics. I really wish the author had been able to get into the heads of those convicted. You definitely understand the conditions in the hospital during Katrina. I would not be so quick to condemn the actions of the staff without having walked in their shoes. Self preservation must kick in at some point regardless of your position. I also believe in the dignity of assisted suicide.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the detail can overwhelm at times, the author is grappling with a complex and fraught subject where too little detail would be worse. As we become increasingly dependent on organizations for our care, this book is a compelling read for the questions it raises. How will care be handled in extreme circumstances? How able will people and organizations be at adapting to extreme circumstances when the system fails? Well written, and thoughtfully presented.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really well written & does a good job at not just reflecting the situation at Memorial but raising some VERY good questions that most of us have never had to really consider. I lived through Katrina, albeit on the "Northshore, with a 72 year old grandfather suffering from Alzheimers. VERY VERY difficult with no running water or electricity. How much more difficult for Doctors watching even older patients struggle with no hope?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very even-handed approach to a disturbing story. I'm not one to praise reporting but this is a highly credible work. Very well done. Brings a great many issues to light. We should all rethink our preparedness and reexamine our personal and corporate priorities. The lack of communication at every level (from federal to state to city and even among the caregivers) was astounding. As a former caregiver I was shocked to realize that what I thought was a common vocabulary for end-of-life issues is in fact anything but common even without the overlay of a catastrophic category 5 hurricane.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a medical person, I read this book with a knot in my stomach. I could sympathize with both patient and care giver. And given the situation, being merciful ,I feel , was an act of kindness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction novel Five Days at Memorial is a chronological recap of the events that occurred at Memorial Hospital during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The descriptions that Sheri Fink composed captivated me, making me experience an atmosphere as though I personally had been at Memorial Hospital. Her descriptive citation of the story gave me the opportunity to perceive events through the eyes of doctors, patients, investigators, and prosecutors. Although the mood of the events taking place was disheartening, I could not help but to be intrigued by the details of the event. Growing up during events such as 9/11 and Katrina, our generation’s undeveloped and innocent minds were only capable of acknowledging the event, not comprehending the details and stories of the aftermath. Personally, I felt obligated to finally take the initiative and inform myself on the true devastation that was a result of hurricane Katrina. In saying this, I would highly recommend this book for those who grew up only seeing Katrina as a storm.  For a quick description of the plot, Memorial Hospital was struck by hurricane Katrina and due to breaks in a nearby levee, 15 foot flood water surrounded the building. The hospital staff soon found out when evacuations were moving quickly enough that the hospital was ill prepared to take care of patients. With multiple situations such as looters, power outages, and supply shortages, questions about euthanasia arose as terminally ill patients who seemed would not be leaving the hospital in time were suffering. The novel goes on to discuss the aftermath and investigation of what truly happened inside of Memorial Hospital. A majority of the story revolves around Dr. Anna Pou, but a mix of stories from numerous sources gives the reader multiple pathways to take their opinion of the story and build a foundation of evidence to support it. Fink’s mass research of this story paid off with the quality and quantity of material that was included in the novel. Depictions of the novel were perfectly described by giving the reader a picture of how truly awful the setting was while not being overly graphic with details that could be applied to the situation. Overall, Fink’s coverage of the complete story and the investigation afterwards answers every question that the reader could have. It accomplishes the purpose of informing the reader of a piece of American history that most of us have now long forgotten, and reminds us of the complex situations that Americans overcame in life altering circumstances.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Imagine this scenario: You’re stuck in a hospital without electricity, food, or proper resources to care for your patients. Some are going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it. Would you help ease their pain by euthanizing them, or hold out hope that help will arrive? And how would you decide which people to give the drugs to and which ones to rescue? These are, on the surface, the questions that the doctors at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans asked themselves while they waited out Hurricane Katrina. But what if there was more to the story than that? What if, in actuality, the patients weren’t about to die? These questions are exactly what author Sheri Fink set out to do when she started interviewing the hundreds of witnesses that helped recreate their five days in hell. Their choices would affect them forever, and for some would result in criminal charges. When I first started reading this book, I couldn’t decide what side of the ethical line I stood. On the one hand, killing someone without their consent is wrong, but on the other hand, I can’t even imagine being put in a situation that requires even thinking about such a thing, so who am I to judge? But as I started reading the book, or more accurately, as I started taking this journey, I found myself feeling every possible emotion a person can feel when reading a book. I started out sad, then turned sympathetic, followed immediately by horror, and ending with anger. As the facts unravelled, I found myself completely shocked by the utter breakdown in communication and both the hospital and government’s failure to prepare for such an event. Five Days At Memorial is an important and difficult read. Hurricane Katrina blew in to New Orleans and the city is still recovering, and so this book is an important part our American history. While it shines a light on our government and corporate failures, it also highlights the resiliency of the human spirit and will to survive. I highly recommend this book, but I do so with the warning that it addresses some very important and controversial issues involving end-of-life care and, in all honesty, will leave you a bit outraged.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was intrigued by thestory itself which is what led me to purchase this book.I am a medical person and was curious to see how everything played itself out in this type of circumstance. Besides the constant repetition I still found myself looking for more info as to what led to the decisions made. That never happened. I found the writing itself to be rather poor and lacking a good flow. It felt like someone had written pages and pages of notes, threw them up in the air and however they were picked up was how the pages were placed. Sorry to go on, but I hardly ever write reviews and am just trying to save you some money. Try Wikipedia. You'll get the answers you want much quicker.
Autismwriter More than 1 year ago
As a former resident of New Orleans, I was hoping for more detail about the city and the storm. What I got instead, was, a detailed account of all the administrative blunders at Memorial Hospital. This book has a lot of names and characters to keep up with, and almost all of them are administrators at the hospital. I would rather have read about the patients and their lives instead. if you are a hospital administrator, this is probably a great read. For the rest of us, not so much.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink tells the story of Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina hit.  While many doctors and nurses did all they could to save patients as the flood waters filled the hospital and shut off the electricity, a few were accused of something horrific: euthanizing patients. Sheri Fink investigates and shares this amazing tale. I loved Five Days at Memorial, but it was a tough read.  This book is not for the casual reader or for someone who doesn't read a lot of nonfiction. But if you are a fan of reading nonfiction, then this book really should be added to your list.  Five Days at Memorial is a compelling read that causes you to look deep inside yourself, put yourself in the doctor's and nurses shoes, to find out what your thoughts are on the idea of euthanasia. What nonfiction read did you find super compelling? Thanks for reading,  Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Anonymous 11 months ago
Loved it, felt very immersed in the events and connected with the people, and then I found myself wondering how anyone could have considered euthanasia in this situation. It was a very real feeling of confusion and judgment on my part as a reader, and it only hints at what those in the midst of it felt. Very real human drama!
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