Five Days At Memorial
Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
By Sheri Fink
To be released September 10th, 2013
The tragedies surrounding this hospital in New Orleans - which was badly hit by Hurricane Katrina a few years ago - made headline news across the world. This is a cleverly conceived book which sets out to give a full account of the people involved: staff, rescuers, patients and their families and the general community.
One of the key controversies about the apparent decision to euthanise some of the sickest patients was introduced right at the beginning, whereas I would have preferred to read about that much further into the book as the chain of events unfolds. The book presents the persons concerned as very real characters under extreme and harrowing circumstances. It is easy for those who were not placed in the position these physicians and nurses were to make accusations and point fingers of blame for the course of action they pursued, but reading this book shows it was a horrific position for the staff to be in and they did what they believed to be in their patients' best interests at that time.
What I did find frightening was the apparent lack of official concern; varieties of disaster plans had been drawn up and even rehearsed, but when the potential for flooding affecting the electrical systems of the hospital was noted several months earlier, the capital cost of protecting/altering the system was deemed prohibitive and the work was shelved. Modern hospital care is so very technology dependent that power is an absolutely essential part of patient care and safety. Evacuation of the whole hospital had never been considered as a possible need, for some reason.
It also brings home the necessity for everyone to step up to the plate and take a pro-active stance in doing their best to ensure they have enough basic survival items laid away to last their families for at least a week should such a disaster strike in their own communities, no matter where in the world they may live. Official disaster relief may not be forthcoming for some time after these events, and even then it may not be effective - a frightening scenario to contemplate, but one which needs to be discussed openly.
After the events of that dreadful five days came the reckoning - the official investigation into the events surrounding the disaster and the actions of the staff tending the patients who had remained at the hospital, and this makes quite distressing reading. Detailed, harrowing and in some places simply heartbreaking, this is a remarkable piece of investigative writing but its length and quite gruelling subject matter may be too much for some readers.