Title: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
Author: Sheri Fink
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Genre: Non-Fiction, Investigative Journalism
Rating: 5 out of 5
Memorial Medical Center. It’s a name New Orleans knew well, and one that became familiar to those watching the Hurricane Katrina post-storm coverage. It’s a place where doctors and nurses fought valiantly to save lives and treat patients as the floodwaters rose. Short on supplies with no power, this is the story of those five fateful days at Memorial Medical Center. But it’s also a tale of darker things, of allegations of physicians hastening patient deaths and desperate acts during desperate times.
Five Days at Memorial is a searing account of one hospital during the chaos and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sheri Fink conducts an incredible work of investigative journalism as she tries to piece together what exactly happened during those five fateful days at Memorial Medical Center. The picture she presents? One of utter chaos and a lack of accountability. No one was prepared for Katrina; that much we know. Basic social structure broke down, and that is incredibly present in this book.
But Fink’s story in Five Days of Memorial is also one of heroes. These doctors and nurses stayed behind in order to treat patients. They bravely tried to save lives and make their patients more comfortable as things grew more difficult. Fink doesn’t try to discount that. Rather than writing a book of heroes and villains, she writes a book about people, both the good and the bad.
The book is written in a narrative style, which means that Five Days at Memorial is very easy to read. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to put down; it’s a book you’ll race through, wanting answers to urgent questions. Fink does a great job putting a human face on these characters as well. There are a lot of people in the book, but Fink assists the reader, reminding them of who they are, and if that’s not enough, there’s a list of people at the beginning of the book.
One of the most important aspects of Five Days at Memorial are the many questions the book poses. Why were the sickest patients evacuated last? Why did it appear doctors were resorting to hastening patient deaths when there were plenty of supplies? Why did the doctors choose a more circuitous, difficult path to the helicopter pad when an easier one existed? At times, there are so many strange occurrences that it seems like a conspiracy, but Fink does a great job showing just how crazy things were at Memorial. There was little in terms of decision-making processes; the reader gets a vivid, visceral picture of just how bad things were.
It’s hard to walk away from Five Days at Memorial without strong feelings. Fink highlights just how badly the Katrina evacuations were handled and how little coordination there was. It’s often difficult to believe that the events in this book took place less than 10 years ago; things were just that bad. And when it comes to the difficult moral questions of the book, Fink doesn’t provide any easy answers. Readers will have to search their own souls to come to terms with the true story of Memorial Medical Center, one that Sheri Fink presents incredibly well.