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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 chaosAfter 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 rationingIn 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

10 thoughts on “Five Days at Memorial

  1. says:

    I will be analyzing the content of the book NOT the events depicted thereinI've heardread a lot of positive reviews for Five Days at Memorial and I'm noticing some commonalities They tend to praise the story of the book They cite the author's neutrality They cite sometimes copiously the reader's own opinion on the larger ethical uestions posed by the book particularly regarding euthanasia They use words like gripping and thought provoking apparently praising the fact that a book made them think I will attempt to write a review of Five Days at Memorial that presents these cited strengths as what I perceive to be the main weaknesses of the bookFirst of all the story while compiled by Fink from extensively cited sources is not Fink's own creation While Fink's writing and descriptions put a tone on the re telling of the story that could be construed as hers this is not a work of fiction Of course readers and reviewers are aware of this but I don't believe the goodness of the story should affect the perceived goodness of the book All we can describe with regards to the story is the language Fink uses to tell it The language was usually pretty non intrusive although the descriptions did sometimes feel a little too artistically contrived paraphrased The cancer ward had provided him with comfort and shelter during the hurricane Now X was IN the cancer ward using it to cling to survival etcThat language level look at the text brings me to my second problem which is the supposed neutrality of the text Looking at things at the most basic level of the words Fink employs I have to disagree with those reviewers who commend her neutrality On the contrary I think it's very clear what Fink thinks of most of the parties involved The CEOs are described as uppity ups and we are constantly reminded that some of them worked from vacation as if this is somehow worthy of scorn The doctors are surrounded by descriptions painting them as harsh and pedantic caring for their patients aggressively or fiercely The neutrality really shattered once descriptions of the prosecutors started hero worshipping them and making them uber sympathetic to human tragedy One was grieving his daughter Another had a lifelong calling to catch bad guys and stick up for little old ladies They're BFFs they light each other's cigarettes they worked tirelessly every day Honestly I find it a little disturbing that of everyone involved Fink chose the lawyers as the heroes of the piecePou meanwhile was constantly described in terms of what she was wearing what her hair looked like and what information she got incorrect Even in otherwise neutral sentences Doctor Pou was described as haunting the seventh floor an emotionally charged way to say that she was walking don't you think? and again as a phantom Pou which Fink uses simply to mean that the party in uestion had an incomplete understanding of who she was as a person Still the choice of words that construe her as inhuman or soulless seems hardly an accident Pou is also uoted in a very different way from many other interviewees whose words make up the book While the first half of the book uses interviews to present a this is what happened account of the events in Memorial the second half prompts the readers to disbelieve Pou's account of what happened in subtle ways For instancePou considered herself harassed by the reporters Terrorized she called itNotice how the sentence has subtly been tweaked to suggest that Pou was alone in her opinions and that they were unfounded Or thisI had to give her three doses said Pou Pou's attorney later said that she never said thisThis is manipulating the order in which opinionsversions of a conversation are presented to make it look like Pou and her attorney are lying We have one person who claims to have heard Pou say something We have another person who claims she did not say that However the uote is given as though accurate and sourced with the X didn't say that claims isolated in parentheses and surrounded by language suggesting that it's a denial of the truth Also the uotes are always printed first and as direct uotes in uotation marks and the parenthetical denials second Which means that by the time you've reached the disclaimer X says he never said this you've already read a complete sentence asserting that they DID If neither party can prove that the conversation did or did not take place then presenting the uotes in this manner is not neutral not at the text level This is the perfect time to mention that I have not cited not once my opinions about whether euthanasia is moral what I think happened surrounding the deaths of the seventh floor patients or who if anyone I think is to blame for the way the hospital responded to the hurricane Because they don't matter Someone's enjoyment of a piece of journalism should not hinge on their opinions on the issue Because that further compromises the neutrality of the text If I say this is a good book because DNRs are bad have I not just admitted that the article treats the issue in a way that's favorable to my viewpoint?Finally the reviews citing 'thought provoking' and 'asking hard uestions' This is why I probably should've stopped reading when part 1 ended I have read study after study that ends in this same frustrating error it presents a fascinating set of data and then it draws conclusions that are NOT supported by that data For instance if a data set shows that people who drink diet soda tend to weigh than people who don't it does not necessarily mean that drinking diet soda makes you fat Similarly just because a book addresses accusations of euthanasia under disaster conditions it DOES NOT make it a book about the morality of physician assisted suicide or withdrawing end of life care at the patient's reuest Just because it's a book about post Katrina New Orleans it DOES NOT make it a book about post Sandy New York So much space in this book was taken up trying to make this intriguing but isolated incident MEAN things Are there things to learn from what took place during Katrina? Undoubtedly Can we use this to form a better contingency plan for the future? Yes Did a talk about Kevorkian have any place in this book? No There is a difference between contextualizing your work within a larger frame of philosophy and ethics and jamming in a bunch of extra issues and side cases to make the whole text seem monumentally important The whole thing suffered from an over inflated sense of self importance Fink would have been much better served crafting a shorter piece with emphasis on description and less on suppositionOn the whole it dragged In particular the second half focusing on the legal aftermath completely trashed my mild interest in and enjoyment of the first half which seemed to be a pretty well assembled account of things from what I can tell This is not a book about what happened in that hospital during the hurricane as the publicity dust jacket NPR led me to believe It's about the media frenzy that came afterward Had I known that I probably wouldn't have even picked it up

  2. says:

    I am from the New Orleans area and was one of the many thousands who evacuated for Hurricane Katrina I was also one of the large population of locals who were offended and dismayed when then Attorney General Charles Foti arrested a doctor and two nurses who had been at the flooded Memorial hospital during the disaster Public opinion at the time was suarely behind the hospital staff largely because we thought that the opportunistic former sheriff was blaming the very people who saved so many lives of not being even heroic This was my opinion and that of everyone I talked to until I read the ProPublica article about conditions at Memorial published in 2009 That article convinced me that perhaps something very unsavory had happened at the hospital during the disasterAnd so it was with great interest that I read the reporter's thorough examination of those days in this book This book deserves a Pulitzer; it is an unbiased well balanced and extremely thorough examination of the events at Memorial and the conseuences of those events I also have a PhD in philosophy and so I was hoping to see a studied examination of the ethical issues surrounding the events and I was not disappointed Ms Fink clearly and accurately explained some of the most basic principles of ethics and how they were or were not applied in this case The overall impression that I had of the medical professionals at Memorial was that they were so over taxed over worked and under prepared that they were not in a position to make truly rational choices about their sickest patients To prevent this kind of tragedy in the future our institutions must determine ahead of time how they will react in a disaster and the people in those institutions need to cling to their moral principles rather than abandon them in such a moment of crisis The contrast of Memorial hospital with Charity hospital is most striking in this regard Both hospitals were stranded in flood waters and lost power But at Charity they were prepared and had practiced for just such an event They evacuated the sickest patients first not last and they didn't give any patients lethal injections Three people died at Charity compared with forty five deaths at Memorial many of those in the last few hours even as helicopters were arriving en masse to evacuate the hospital Please read this book

  3. says:

    Harrowing Unapologetic and HeartbreakingThe events described in this book are thought to be true and may account for what took place five days following Hurricane Katrina in Memorial Hospital New Orleans What happens when a hospital runs out of supplies oxygen and resources? How is a twisted lottery system configured to make life and death decisions? Ethical uestions abound seek answers in this troubling reconstruction of the events that took place in Memorial Hospital five days following KatrinaThis is a highly controversial book and if I don't get all the facts correct I apologize There are a myriad of ethical uestions that are pondered in this book ie euthanasia and how to triage patients in a disaster situation The focus of this piece surrounds Memorial hospital's doctors and nurses specifically those that decided to stay and help or hurt the patients in the evacuation The focus of the narrative concerned Dr Anna Pou specializing in ENT The events described within these pages are extremely troubling if they are in fact non fiction Euthanasia was discussed in addition to how to triage the patients The sickest patients were going to be evacuated last In what cruel and unusual world does that make sense? The events highlighted within these pages are extremely controversial and may or may not have been the absolute truth A number of rebuttals about the events taken place have been recorded Some of these include The Time magazine article with the headline It was Heroism Not Homocide During Katrina A link to this story can be found are also some that agree with Sheri Fink This article from the Guardian discusses the staff that were accused you think this book is a work of fiction or not it is certainly worth a read I can't imagine being a doctor faced with such dire circumstances I don't know if we will ever know the truth about what happened within the walls of Memorial but I have to believe there were nurses and doctors that acted heroically And those that didn't will have to answer to their conscience night after nightFor an interview with the author of this book please click here

  4. says:

    This book is a devastating account of what happened at a hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 Sheri Fink spent years reporting on this story and her writing is strong filled with grim details and dreadful scenes but it needed to be toldAfter the storm Memorial Medical Center was flooded and lost power stranding a large staff and nearly 200 patients many of whom needed oxygen and ventilators to help them breathe Due to communication breakdowns a lack of emergency preparedness and massive failures from both the hospital's owner and the government rescue operations were slow and stalled leading doctors and nurses to prioritize patients into groups of who would be rescued first or at all Nobody wrote it directly in a message but some employees began to worry that the choice of which patients went out first could affect their medical outcomes A realization dawned on Memorial's incident commander Susan Mulderick that day The variability in the sizes of helicopters that were landing and the length of time it was taking to move patients to the helipad left her with one conclusion not all of the patients would be getting out aliveOn the third day after the hurricane the most critical patients — the ones who staff members didn't think could be evacuated and who had a slim chance of survival — were given drugs that would help ease their pain and also helped them to die Some called it euthanasia others called it a necessary decision during an extreme disasterIn the days since the storm New Orleans had become an irrational and uncivil environment It seemed to Dr Thiele the laws of man and the normal standards of medicine no longer applied He had no time to provide what he considered appropriate end of life care He accepted the premise that the patients could not be moved and the staff had to go He could not justify hanging a morphine drip and praying it didn't run out after everyone left and before the patient died following an interval of acute suffering He could rationalize what he was about to do as merely as abbreviating a normal process of comfort care — cutting corners — but he knew that it was technically a crime The first half of the book provides almost an hour by hour account of what happened leading up to the storm and in the days following its landfall It is a gripping emotional read and the situation is horrifying With no power or running water conditions worsened inside the hospital it was hot and humid the only light came from flashlights and there was an overpowering smell of urine and feces because the sewers were overflowing The staff described it as a hellish war zone and as a place that no longer seemed like America There was also a fear of looters and of violence breaking out amidst the chaos and gunshots were freuently heard outside the hospital Doctors tried to prevent panic from spreading both among the patients and among the staff It was difficult to read this section without freuently pausing to come up for air both out of sympathy for those who suffered and frustration for how the hospital and the city could have been better euipped and preparedThe second half of the book called The Reckoning focuses on the investigation into the patient deaths One doctor and two nurses were eventually arrested but charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence overwhelming public and political support for the workers and criticism of the lack of preparedness and support from the government The issue of larger responsibility and blame regardless of whether it would be admissible in a court of law was on many people's minds Individual decisions at the hospital had occurred in a context of failures of every sort Since the storm government agencies private organizations and journalists had churned out reports that analyzed and found fault with actions and inaction at nearly every level of every system Fink's epilogue highlights the lessons learned if any from what the hospitals in New Orleans faced after Katrina Fink compares the situation to what happened after the earthuake in Haiti and when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City In both cases health care workers had to make tough choices about who would get access to limited medical resources Fink's reporting is alarming because it addresses the issue of how many hospitals and other medical facilities have their generators in the basement or on the ground floor which can become useless in event of flooding Similarly not enough has been done to plan for emergency situations such as a massive flu outbreak or another natural disaster Life and death in the immediate aftermath of a crisis most often depends on the preparedness performance and decision making of the individuals on the scene It is hard for any of us to know how we would act under such terrible pressureI hope this book inspires some good discussion and decision making about emergency preparedness and the moral dilemmas of triage Who gets priority medical care when resources are limited? What else can be done to plan for disasters? I would highly recommend the book to health care professionals first responders those interested in bioethics and anyone who appreciates excellent reporting

  5. says:

    Full disclosure until recently I practiced medical malpractice law and it impossible for me not to view the events recounted in this excellent and I think balanced book through that lens What I'm left with is Conditions at Memorial were terrible exacerbated by terrible to non existent planning and very little support from Tenent the corporate owner of the hospital Because of these conditions staff and doctors were reuired to make difficult decisions regarding triage and patient care They were not reuired to euthanize patients at least one of whom was alert and reuired sedation first at the very time that the evacuation was underway in earnest I did not become outraged however until the DA's office mishandled the grand jury the medical examiner took it upon himself to disagree with ALL of the several experts he hired to look into the case who all found at least 9 patient deaths to be homicides because he thought it was best for the city and the medical community at large circled the wagons to protect their own at the expense of the truth The icing on the cake is that the doctor once no billed goes around the country grossly distorting the facts and bemoaning the fact that she was almost indicted for making difficult triage decisions never bothering to mention the sticky issue of homicide and getting legislation passed virtually immunizing healthcare providers for any decisions they make in disaster situations I understand that there are lots of gray areas in what happened down there but the deliberate whitewashing of the facts so that everybody could feel better about healthcare because if you can believe that doctors don't make mistakes you don't have to worry about a doctor making a mistake on YOU is unconscionable and bad for the world because it prevents honest assessments about how to handle future crises I think this is important reading

  6. says:

    THE UESTION did this doctor and the nurses working with her intentionally murder patients? The facts are all laid out here for you to decideToday is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina the storm that ultimately killed than 1500 of my neighbors This particular book is an OUTSTANDING choice for book clubs and for those who might be interested in seeing how a bad situation can be bent worse and then murderously deadly I am a New Orleanian who spent four months in this hospital in the year 2000 It broke my heart to learn what shocking things happened at this very place five years later but this thorough and intoxicating work of non fiction puts misery into perspectiveWhile drowning and mortal heatstroke killed 1500 souls in our community it was lethal injections that stole the lives trapped in a dark fetid hospital Did the kind caring women who injected the supposedly soon to be dead act as angels of mercy or were they so intent on escape that they put these people to death so that they the caregivers could finally board helicopters and escape? At the time with the coverage on our local news I did not believe they intentionally murdered people You'd have to ask me in person what I believe nowGranted we were all a bit whacked out psychologically during and after Katrina and we didnt want to face some of the ugliness that went on In hindsight there have been so many instances of good people cracking and going off their nut a newspaper photographer trying to commit suicide by cop a WWL radio broadcaster dressing like a homeless man shooting his wife cops burning a body to hide their mistake etc that for these upstanding women to execute patients is not that unbelievableY'all this is THE best of all the Katrina books It describes some of the political and corporate pit falls that lined up creating giant chasms of chaos You'll think twice before leaving your sick or elderly loved ones in the care of others when a storm looms Getting away with murder is the uestion at hand did they or didn't they?To be frank I generally hold most Katrina books in disdain Capitalizing on the loss of life the washing away of belongings and property the horrible anxiety and the dispersion of our population bothers me The only thing worse than dancing on a grave is making money doing it That said this author Sheri Fink wrote instead an expose an investigative report on not just what happened at Memorial but tracing the root causes of the failures that ended in horrific deathsOn a personal note both my children were born at Memorial and one of them was seriously pre term so much so that it is why we spent four months there in the hospital's NICU One of the doctors who plays a role in the book was my primary care physician during my hospitalization and for years before and after I knew other characters in the story as well and can verify the accuracy with which their personalities and attitudes were portrayedat least as much as a patient can know themFink did an outstanding job conveying the confusion the history and the red tape that bollixed up not just Memorial but our entire city Before we evacuated I was tied to the local radio station WWL every waking moment and heard our much maligned mayor repeatedly plead people to leave The Superdome was not supposed to be a storm shelter but was a last resort site for families of the disabled who might have run out of power for battery operated respirators Baptist Memorial Hospital was not supposed to be a shelter either yet all the coverage that the nation saw on CNN and Fox News about the Superdome could easily parallel what was going on at Memorial I did not see any such coverage we lost power in the place we evacuated to but heard live desperate call ins on the radio from mothers trapped in attics with their children the levee breaches flooding their homes so uickly that it was like a tsunami struck except that the rushing waters rose to two stories high For the few of them who were able to get a cell phone signal they had to describe the color of their roof tiles and whether there was any gingerbread on their eaves in order for someone anyone to possibly get a boat or canoe over to the home to hack them out of the roof Disc jockies became command center coordinators asking other listeners to try saving the doomed 911 was jammed so New Orleanians helped each other as much as possibleI heard the voices of people who likely perished from the water or the baking heat and their voices haunt me to this day While had evacuated 90 miles north of the city some of my friends remained We had no power in the 96 degree heat no running water and no way out past the trees that trapped usbut we were safe from flooding and from looters desperate to steal Listening to these trapped citizens call a WWL talk show to get help was surreal My point here is that I understand the anguish and desperation probably deeper than most other readers But I've never been trapped with hundreds of others with no working lavatories with sick and elderly and the feeble having to sueeze air into lungs by hand to ration water to carry 300 pound patients down 7 flights of stairs then back up 3 to wonder if citizens wading in wanted help or to kill for the drugs in the hospital pharmacy Memorial was another level of Dante's hell This book Five Days at Memorial Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital put me there and though you may not want to be there yourself I highly recommend it

  7. says:

    Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans did not have the resources to adeuately care for patients following the flooding and power loss caused by Hurricane Katrina In addition evacuations were slow and difficult and people feared potential violence from looters and desperate citizens Memorial Medical Center was surrounded by water after Hurricane KatrinaA nurse fans patients awaiting evacuation in the Memorial Hospital car park after Hurricane Katrina Some patients were evacuated from Memorial Hospital by boatAfter a few days the air conditioning failed and temperatures soared toilet facilities were inadeuate and the building reeked halls and stairways were dark and the staff was sleep deprived and exhausted In short conditions were unbearable Conditions inside Memorial Hospital became unbearableIn this book Sheri Fink describes the difficult decisions of several healthcare professionals to over medicate euthanize a number of patients who they believed would not make it out in time Afterwards state authorities initiated a murder investigation with plans to prosecute Dr Anna Pou and two nurses Sheri Landry and Lori Budo who allegedly administered the fatal injectionsNurse Sheri LandryNurse Lori BudoThere's plenty of blame to go around for the calamity at Memorial including the hospital's inadeuate preparation for disaster poor government planning and response chaos and violence in the streets and the foibles of human natureThe families of the deceased were angry and wanted justice but many people were outraged at the charges leveled against the women and accused Charles Foti the Attorney General of Louisiana of attempting to further his own career at the expense of the healthcare professionals Charles Foti Attorney General of LouisianaSheri Fink does a masterful job of describing the situation at Memorial during the crisis and the legal maneuverings of all parties prosecution and defense afterwards It's hard to say I enjoyed the book since the subject matter was so depressing and horrific but it was a compelling read Highly recommendedAuthor Sheri Fink You can follow my reviews at

  8. says:

    Like David Simon's The Wire and Dave Cullen's Columbine this book is about all of the moral dilemmas that surround massive tragedy and about the ways that interconnected systems succeed and fail and undermine each other when infrastructure breaks down Fink does a remarkable job of remaining for the most part neutral and yet there are heroes and villains often in the same person and no shortage of drama Natural disaster medicine corporate hierarchies crime law media they feed and play off of each other You ask yourself What would I do in such dire circumstances? Was what happened right or wrong? and as is often the result of the best investigative journalism I couldn't always answer those uestions with certainty It was hard to read sometimes but utterly riveting

  9. says:

    I received an advanced copy of this book and was excited to read it I've read several other books about Hurricane Katrina and the horrific aftermath and wanted to see what this book could add to the picture When I first picked it up I was very engaged from the beginning and couldn't put it down initially I just couldn't believe what they were going through in that hospital WowHowever after the first 100 pages or so it started to drag for me It felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again Part of the problem is that I was only able to read the next 200 or so pages in 5 10 minute sittings so it was hard to get back into things Then after getting through part 1 I started into part 2 and was disappointed that it felt like she retold part 1 all over again as the investigation and court process took placeIt has great themes to discuss on so many levels but in the end for me I’m struggling to consider it for our common reading program Other detractors for me was the length At 400 pages it is probably too long I had a hard time with all the people in the book For a simple mind like mine there were just WAY too many names to keep track of Finally one other candid piece of feedback is that I found the map hard to follow I must have looked at it a dozen times but could never really make sense of it

  10. says:

    Five Days At Memorial is a powerful balanced and clearly written if slightly dry account of the lives lost – or irrevocably altered – in a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina hitSheri Fink a physician turned journalist has obviously done lots of research; the book grew out of a series of articles she wrote for The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica that earned her a Pulitzer Prize Initially it's hard to keep track of the dozens of people involved – patients doctors nurses and administrators their families And that's not even counting the police officers lawyers and politicians who come on the scene after murder charges are laid against a doctor and two nursesThere's a reason this book took me several months to finish I kept reading a bit putting it down then picking it up again weeks later After the initial vivid description of those five days and an informative lesson about the hospital's flood history there's no single gripping story or narrative to command your attention You'll read about someone get interested and then they won't be mentioned again until 100 pages laterStill it's an often fascinating informative look at medical ethics and the importance of disaster preparedness Some sections are absolutely harrowing The epilogue in which Fink investigates how emergency efforts have changed post Katrina – in New York City after Superstorm Sandy and in Haiti after the 2010 earthuake – is revealing And while reading some sections it's hard not to think What would I do under these circumstances?