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

by Sheri Fink

Hardcover, 2013

Call number

362.1109 FIN



Crown (2013), Edition: 1, 576 pages


Sociology. True Crime. Nonfiction. HTML: The award-winning book that inspired an Apple Original series from Apple TV+ �?� Pulitzer 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 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 of those caregivers 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 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. One of The New York Times' Best Ten Books of the Y… (more)

Media reviews

What developed over the five days, in a hospital ironically well supplied with bottled water and food, and resupplied by air with drugs, was a system of triage that varied depending on which company had responsibility for the patients. Against this background, it would later be alleged, key Tenet
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personnel discussed, and then carried out, euthanasia on the terminally ill patients even as relief was imminent. Fink is in no doubt that some kind of crime took place even if she is fair and deeply sympathetic to the plight of the exhausted medical staff involved. "Moral clarity," she writes, describing the moment the patients were injected with a powerful cocktail of drugs, "was easier to maintain in concept than in execution." If the beginning of the book is sometimes awkwardly structured, Fink finds her stride a few chapters in and make this a tight, provocative and gripping read.
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Five Days at Memorial is thorough reporting about what happened at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Sheri Fink, who is both a journalist and a Ph.D. neuroscientist, won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the 2009 New York Times/Pro
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Publica article “Deadly Choices at Memorial,” which became the basis for this book. ... Fink’s journalism chops show, particularly in her attention to detail and her unwillingness to paint anyone as a villain. Some readers may feel that she’s not tough enough on Dr. Pou, but what Fink has really accomplished here is putting the reader on the spot, with one crisis after another and no real hope of rescue.
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In her book “Five Days at Memorial,” Dr. Sheri Fink explores the excruciating struggle of medical professionals deciding to give fatal injections to those at the brink of death. Dr. Fink, a physician turned journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize for her investigation of these events in a 2009 joint
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assignment for ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. This book is much more than an extension of that report. Although she had the material for a gripping disaster story, Dr. Fink has slowed the narrative pulse to investigate situational ethics: what happens when caregivers steeped in medicine’s supreme value, preserving life, face traumatic choices as the standards of civilization collapse.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was unprepared. The entire country was unprepared and it was unnecessarily disastrous. In Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink looks at what happened in a single hospital during the hurricane and in the days that followed, as power failed and the people
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inside began to wonder if they would all survive. This is non-fiction that reads like a novel, with the days in the hospital described in chaotic detail. Things were a mess and there was a distinct lack of leadership, both within the hospital and on the part of the hospital's corporation and the American government outside of it.

In the aftermath, after everyone had left and the flood waters receded, there were found to have been too many deaths, especially when compared to the similarly struck Charity Hospital. There were rumors that some of the medical personnel had taken matters into their own hands, believing that certain patients were too ill to be rescued, if indeed rescue was even coming. Several patients had all died during the same time frame and all had high levels of morphine and sedatives in their bodies.

An investigation is opened, spurred along by intense media interest, and focusses on two nurses and the physician Anna Pou. Five Days at Memorial follows the investigation and the lives of those who were affected closely as lines are drawn between those who think this is a politically motivated witch hunt and those concerned that people got away with murder.

This is a gut-wrenching story. I changed my mind about what went wrong, who was to blame and what the motivations were for those medical personnel several times throughout. It was interesting to note how adeptly the corporations involved sidestepped any real accountability. The hospital CEO and a few other executive officers were present during the debacle, but stayed largely in the one wing of the hospital that retained power and air conditioning, relaxing and watching TV and eating chicken noodle soup while across the way patients died in 110 degrees heat and without respirators. The CEO failed to lead, although he did graciously bring nurses some coffee. It seemed to have occurred to no one to move the patients into the one place where their suffering could have been alleviated. And after rescue, while those same patients lay on the floor of an airport with inadequate care, those same executive officers were flown away in the corporate jet.

Meanwhile, the medical and support personnel were given no or conflicting information. There was no plan of rescue. Those patients flown out had to be carried down several flights of stairs, pushed through a maintenance shaft, driven through a car park, then carried up several flights of rickety stairs to a decaying heliport. Helicopters left without passengers when they were delivered too slowly. Seriously ill patients had to lay outside in the sun for hours waiting for the next helicopter to fly in. And there were constant rumors and fears that the hospital would be overrun at any time by gangs of looters.

Five Days at Memorial brings those days to vivid light. It was compelling and uncomfortable reading. The book has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It would be a worthy winner.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
The fact that this book will change forever the way you think about disasters and the individuals who do (and don’t) survive them goes without saying. The idea that, in the end, you will know an awful lot about what happened in the Memorial Medical Center in the five days following the arrival of
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Hurricane Katrina, and yet not know exactly what really happened is because the author, Sheri Fink, is a physician/investigative journalist who is at the top of her game. Her heart-pounding narrative reads like a terrific novel.

After the floodwaters rise around the hospital, the power fails, the heat is suffocating and the staff must arduously determine which patients can be safely evacuated by either boat or helicopter. The conditions in the hospital are ghastly, the staff is exhausted and questionable decisions are made. Should the sickest patients go first or last? Should elderly patients with DNRs be considered expendable just because they have a Do Not Resuscitate order? At the end of five days, those patients who are still alive are finally evacuated. But months after the event, some staff members are arrested and charged with deliberately injecting patients with drugs that would hasten their deaths.

As the facts are weighed and the evidence is collected, the author drives the conversation towards the inevitable questions: how can we be better prepared for disaster? What do we need to address about end of life care? How much do we value human life?

Absolutely riveting and oh so thought provoking. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member mkboylan
What would you do if you were caught in a flood in a hospital and knew your last nine helpless patients would not be evacuated but would in all likelihood drown? This Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story from multiple perspectives, some perspectives that I would never have even thought of. And
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that is my favorite thing about this book. It challenged my thinking over and over.

Fink introduces the reader to so many participants in this tragedy, helping the reader to understand multiple perspectives, telling the story in part narrative, but supported with facts and sources all the way through. The first half tells the story of Katrina at Memorial Hospital, the second half tells about the reaction of the community to the choices made by medical personnel. I didn't expect the second half to be as good of a read, but Fink repeatedly introduced intriguing ideas and concepts that were new to me and I could hardly put the book down till the last page. When I did put it down, it was to go to google and youtube and see and hear these people.

My initial thoughts before reading the book were that I was in no position to make any judgements about this story and would never know all of the facts. I still feel the same way, but appreciate the knowledge, emergency procedures and protocols developed due to the information given by the participants and others. As Margaret Mead was quoted in the book, "It is the duty of society to protect the physician from such requests." She is speaking of euthanasia and saying that we as a society must take the responsibility for making these decisions rather than putting it on one person. I don't think anyone has said it better.

So many questions were raised:

Who gets evacuated first?
Who is responsible for evacuation?
Who decides when to evacuate?
Who receives resources when they are limited?
In what situation does a DNR apply?
Is there a loss if we speed up death, a loss of interaction with family and/or God that we often put off until forced to face it?
Is there value in suffering?
What is the relationship between personal responsibility and group or government responsibility? What about corporations who now own most of our hospitals?
Are medical personnel more qualified to make some of these decisions that the rest of the community?

AND, this is after medical personnel have had to answer the question do I stay and work or go take care of my family.

I have difficulty holding anyone responsible for behavior under extremely traumatic, life-threatening situations simply on the basis of what panic does to the brain. There's not a lot of frontal lobe involvement happening during panic. Of course training can help with that, but I don't know how practical that is for civilians. I especially liked then, the idea presented by one person that justice does not necessarily require conviction, it could be achieved through retelling in the court system. I don't know that it has to be the court, but am reminded of the process of reconciliation used in South Africa.

Another idea presented, "Many ethicists felt that the conditions were so horrible that moral judgements could not be made about what happened there."

All I think for sure is that these medical workers were courageous way beyond what I would have been able to muster up and New Orleans was lucky to have them. I am also grateful that my parents made end of life arrangements for themselves very clear and taught me to do the same. Whether that makes any difference for me remains to be seen of course.

This was a five star read for me and my head is still spinning.
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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
It is an intriguing exercise to imagine how one would react in times of moral strife and pressure. Would we be brave enough to shelter a young Anne Frank and her family? Be a strong Judge handing down a highly contentious and repugnant opinion? Provide a funeral for a mass murderer? Are ethical
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positions perpetually back and white, or shaded with ambiguity depending upon circumstance? Do we hope we would be principled enough to do the ‘right thing’ -- only to question in our secret hearts a true willingness if facing personal danger?

With gripping immediacy, [[Shari Fink]]’s [Five Days at Memorial] follows the administrators, medical personnel, patients and family members of New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital through the horrific days of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Flood waters rising as the levees break, power generators lost, sanitary conditions worsening, sounds of gunfire everywhere, little support from ‘corporate’, conflicting information as to what help is coming and when. One can feel the anxiety and panic rising in tandem with the stifling temperatures inside the wards. As hours and then days pass, desperation mounts. In the days after it was evacuated, 45 bodies are found in the Hospital Chapel. Rumor and fear feed suspicion that several of these poor souls had been euthanized. Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses are singled out for prosecution.

In the ‘post mortem’ of the tragic natural disaster, coroners, doctors, investigators, lawyers and the media all enter into the discussion of what did or did not happen, and what if anything should have been done. I admire physician/investigative journalist Fink’s choice to provide ample detail from multiple perspectives without drawing final conclusions. This forces readers on their own moral gut check. I personally wavered in my opinion as I read one side then another. It is so easy as a ‘Monday morning quarterback’ to second guess those on the ground. Clearly these health care professionals had been placed in a position few had ever anticipated.

To stop there would have been a snapping good tale. Fink goes further by examining the lessons learned and the opportunities continually missed in the aftermath of the tragedy. Legislation has been filed to protect doctors. Other hospitals have placed better emergency systems in place (witness the reaction in NYC to Hurricane Sandy.) Only time and future crises will tell if enough has been done. If nothing else, after reading this book, like Fink herself, you will give serious consideration to personal health care directives and DNR orders. This was highly recommended by people I respect. They were spot on.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond—our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited; even our biases and blindnesses.

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Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the staff of Memorial Hospital in New Orleans struggled to care for their patients. Their emergency response plans did not prepare them for a situation of this magnitude, where there was flooding, no electricity, and a need to triage and evacuate patients. On September 1, a large number of patients died. Accounts from hospital staff raised questions about their deaths: some overheard a doctor and nurses talking about euthanasia earlier in the day.

What really happened at Memorial? Author Sheri Fink presents the results of her investigation, conducted over several years. The first part of the book tells the story of August 27 - September 1, and reads like a thriller. Things go from bad to worse as conditions deteriorate and help from the parent company and the government fails to materialize. The hospital is overrun with staff, their pets, patients, and family members. Sanitary conditions go downhill very quickly. Hospital personnel are stretched to a breaking point. It's a harrowing tale, ending with the sedation and death of several patients. The second part of the book describes the legal process that followed, as investigators pieced together events to determine whether the deaths were homicides. It's not quite as fast-paced as the first part, but was equally compelling. Having had brief encounters with the theory behind disaster planning and legal compliance matters in my professional life, I found it fascinating to see how these topics played out in a real-life situation.

Fink does a great job developing key players on all sides of the story: patients, family members, doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc. The reader can't help taking sides and at the same time, it's easy to see and believe both sides of the story. And since this is a true story, the ending is far from neat and tidy and Fink leaves us with a sense of how much work we have yet to do, in the medical profession and society in general, to be able to better handle situations like these in the future.
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LibraryThing member scenik1
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is the account of what happened to nine fragile patients at the Memorial Medical Center Hospital Complex in New Orleans during, and in the days following, Hurricane Katrina in August and September of 2005. It was an exhausting, troubling experience just reading this book; one
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cannot really imagine what it would have been like to live through the event or die during it. From the history of hospital failure during disasters, the subsequent approaches to solving the challenges those disasters and failures revealed and the lack of commitment to implementing solutions; to the intimate revelations of the love, hopes and dreams of the victims and their families, the reader is taken into a harrowing experience. Weaving together the facts revealed from hospital documents, coroners’ reports, flight schedules and many other sources, author, Sheri Fink, reconstructs the events that led to the deliberate killing of nine completely dependent, helpless patients. In the course of things, Fink explores the questions of how end-of-life care is determined, how other hospitals handled the same circumstances, and what it means to have one’s life in the hands of someone whose priorities may be unformed to begin with and warped by fatigue and panic. During and just after Katrina, these questions ceased to be academic. They bore directly on the futures of these patients and their loved ones. Fink is somehow able to sort out confusing timelines, accounts and information from sources that were, in some cases, very emotional and, in others, motivated by self-interest and self-preservation. She has done an impossible amount of work on behalf of us, the public, who need to read this book and be made aware of what happened in New Orleans and could potentially happen anywhere.

The muddy waters weren’t just the result of failing levees but also arose from the medical world’s sense of their own separateness from the rest of us. Clearly, when the independent and expert reports are in, Dr. Anna Pou and the two nurses who helped her did deliberately kill those patients. It is disingenuous to claim that they didn’t. To deny that and hide behind the legal barricade as they did denies society one of the most important open debates it can and must have. Clearly justice was not served and the cases should have been tried in open court, but the attitude of those responsible for prosecuting the case was not about bringing truth to light and seeing justice done, but about riding the biggest emotional wave to shore. FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is not really a disaster account, a legal puzzle or a medical mystery, but an account of people with the means and position to take lives and their completely vulnerable victims. It is an absolutely harrowing tale that even at over 400 pages is utterly compelling and impossible to turn away from.

Fink includes every possible perspective and doesn’t shy away from or flinch at the hardest of challenges. There are no easy answers, and trying to look ahead at what we learned from this or how to prevent its happening again seems beyond human capabilities. Planning ahead is good and helped spare the lives of patients at the public hospital across the city experiencing the same situation of failed power, chaos, nearby violence and slow evacuation, but pre-planning doesn’t replace independent bioethical statements on our absolute moral values. In examining the many questions that must be considered when attempting to establish disaster protocols, the reader just ends up feeling overwhelmed by them all, and that’s probably as it should be. Maybe, in the final analysis, it is a matter of attitude. As Dr. Horace Baltz observed upon hearing Dr. Pou’s remarks from the press conference after the Grand Jury decided not to prosecute the case, “Pou had genuflected to thank God that she wasn’t going to prison? He longed to hear that she had taken to her knees to do something different: beg forgiveness for having violated the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” Perhaps what is needed above all is the humility to ask God to have mercy on one’s soul when making such gargantuan decisions about the life or death of another human being.

Is this a good book? Considering, not the content or subject matter, but its structure, style, etc.? It is an exceptional book. Sheri Fink takes on an enormously difficult event, loaded with impossible dilemmas, and a vast array of resources, and crafts it all into a thorough, readable, clear, balanced and beautifully written tribute to the ones whose ability to tell their side of it all was terminated for them, both by Dr. Anna Pou and by the justice system that should have served them and their families. This is an important book, as it is likely the only way we will learn what really happened.
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LibraryThing member GaryKbookworm
Sheri Fink's book Five Days at Memorial offers us a re-creation of Hurricane Katrina, it's devastating effects, and the investigations that followed. It asks us tough ethical questions that have no easy answers. No one knows what he or she would have done under such dire circumstances. There are
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lessons to be learned from such catastrophes and we can hope that we as a nation can be better prepared for future emergencies like these. Top-notch reporting!
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is two books in one. The first relates, through the eyes of those present, the happenings at Memorial Hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana. The nurses, doctors, visitors and patients tell their stories as
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they happened with the result that it is sometimes difficult to follow the time line of events as the story shifts from floor to floor and person to person. Nonetheless the horror and fear is palpable as the storm rages and then as flood waters rise trapping those in the hospital for five days of increasing confusion and deprivation. No one appears in charge. No one appears to aid those trapped. Help is not on the way. Decisions are made and rescinded. Offers of help are sent, but do not arrive.
When help finally does arrive, many of the patients are dead and fingers begin to point.
The second part of the book covers the investigations into the allegations of murder or, more charitably, euthanasia, the resultant trial and the aftermath of the verdicts. FIVE DAYS is chilling reading, all the more so because of Fink’s straight forward reporting style. She makes no conclusions of her own, simply letting the participants words and actions speak.
Book groups will find many topics for discussion including euthanasia, DNR directives, patient/doctor relations, decision making in times of extreme distress, preparedness for disaster and governmental readiness.
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LibraryThing member LissaJ
Sheri Fink's excellent example of investigative reporting details the days during and after Hurricane Katrina at the New Orlean's Memorial Hospital. During that time, an extremely unprepared staff tried to maintain the patient's care while facing many difficult decisions. After many patients were
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discovered dead, a grueling investigation into their treatment left one doctor and two nurses under suspicion of homicide. This is not an easy book to read and I am still conflicted on where I fall on the case. There were too many things that went wrong during Hurricane Katrina that it is hard to make the ethical pronouncements about some individuals' actions.

Fink writes with an even hand and covers both sides aggressively and fairly. It is well-written and engrossing enough that it is hard to put down. Her extensive research is impressive but also overwhelming...I had to refer to her name chart prefacing the book more than once. She has written a document that serves as a testament to those involved with the Hurricane Katrina disaster and as a reminder of the ethical issues involved in a catastrophe of this magnitude.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
As the floodwaters rose after Hurricane Katrina, patients, staff, and families were stranded at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans for five days. In this well-written piece of journalistic non-fiction, Fink chronicles those five days in detail. She describes the difficult conditions under which the
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staff tried to maintain order and standards of care and the difficult decisions that had to be made in the process. This part of the book was so descriptive that it was difficult to read. I found myself exhausted after reading about the physical and mental challenges that faced everyone involved.

In the midst of this crisis, questionable decisions about how to relieve pain and who should be saved were made. Fink also chronicles the investigation into patients' deaths that may have been due to lethal doses of pain relieving drugs. The questions of who should receive care when resources are low are examined in great detail. In a refreshing contrast to journalism that takes sides and broadcasts talking points designed to make decisions look simple, Fink explores the difficult ethical underpinnings of the decisions that were made in this case. She presents all angles of the case and ultimately explores what we've learned from this devastating experience. While I was fascinated by the management challenges and the ethical dilemmas represented in this situation, I think that I would read anything that Sheri Fink wrote. Ultimately, it was her careful and balanced presentation of the situation that made this book such as interesting read.
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LibraryThing member celticlady53
Where were you Monday 29 August 2005? I was getting ready to enter my fifth and final year of college when I saw the devastating news that Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans, and hit it hard. The days to come were some of the most awful we as a nation had experienced since September 11th. But
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what many Americans were not aware of was what was happening in hospitals and nursing homes in New Orleans.

Years later, Sheri Fink has exposed details of exactly what occurred in the hospitals in New Orleans in the days following the storm, particularly Memorial Hospital.

Goodreads’ summary of her novel, Five Days at Memorial, is as follows:

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.

When I first heard about this book, I was excited to read it. Not only because New Orleans fascinates me, but because I remember Hurricane Katrina very vividly, even living thousands of miles away. New Orleans is a very unique city, to say the least. I traveled there in 2012 for a week and I was amazed at how tightknit the community is. There are two periods of time people refer to: before the storm and after the storm. We took a tour of the city and even seven years after the storm, there are still damaged properties, an incredible amount of homeless and displaced people from the storm, and even street signs and buildings to this day have watermarks.

Reading this book, not only was I brought back to the news coverage back in 2005, but I also went back to my own experience in NOLA. Watching the news coverage in 2005 made me very sad and hopeless for many NOLA citizens. The crime, the drownings, the lack of government aid, the mass confusion, and the cleanup. But what was new to me was the incredible struggles doctors, nurses, and patients experienced after the storm. Sheri Fink does an incredible job of writing a non-fiction book that is so factual and unbiased. Not once did I hear her own opinion of the decisions the doctors made because she allows each reader to come to their own conclusions. Given the desperate times, were the decisions the doctors made correct? You decide; Fink only gives you the facts. Given the fact that the hospital had no electricity, no security, no telephones, barely any rescue resources, would you have made the same decisions? You decide; Fink only gives you the facts. Do you agree with charging any doctor or nurse with a crime, given the situation, especially after reading that in the mass miscommunication between the owner of the hospital, the Coast Guard, FEMA, and anyone else involved, they believed rescue would happen sooner than it did? Same. It’s your decision. Sheri Fink allows readers to draw their own conclusions, which is great.

I, as a reader, have an opinion after reading this book. After Hurricane Katrina hit, this hospital suffered many setbacks. Most, unfathomable, unimaginable. These doctors and nurses are incredible heroes in my opinion. Some sacrificed rescue to stay on with their patients. Some had brought their beloved pets to the hospital after being told it was a safe refuge and rescue was on the way. Most, if not all, pets were euthanized given lack of food and water and they were suffering. Some patients are also thought to have been euthanized, but in order to not give away details of the book, I beg that you read it with an open mind and put yourselves in the shoes of these heroes, the doctors and nurses of Memorial Hospital.

I can only hope Sheri Fink wins multiple awards for her research and telling of the story of the doctors and nurses and other employees at Memorial Hospital. Hurricane Katrina got a lot of coverage in 2005, and it still does, but some things are swept under the rug. Like the situation at Memorial.

Great book. Great people. Great city. I encourage you to remember the victims of this tragedy, and as a reader if you were personally affected by this storm, to take action in some way to make sure the same events never happen again during a natural disaster. Lastly, next time you plan a vacation, take NOLA into consideration. You will be amazed and inspired after visiting a city like New Orleans.
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LibraryThing member fanoftheoffice
Hurricane Katrina was such a catastrophe from the storm itself, to the way the government failed to protect and aid the citizens. I am sure horror stories lurk around every corner of the city as a result. This book is an amazingly well-researched look at a set of events that occurred at one
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hospital during the storm. The events that unfolded at this hospital were compelling primarily because of the ethical debate they raised. Were the actions of the medical professionals merciful or murder? If the author had an opinion, it was not obvious. When I read the premise of the book I had an opinion, and that opinion changed multiple times throughout my reading of the book. Having finished it, I am not at all certain what to think. That is a testament to the author and her objectivity. This is a really long book but worth reading!
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LibraryThing member techeditor
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is nonfiction the way I wish all nonfiction books were: detailed without letting the details get in the way of an honest-to-gosh edge-of-your-seat story. This is an outstanding book, and any description of it won't do it justice.

You may think you know this story of New
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Orleans' Memorial Hospital, its staff and patients, during and after Hurricane Katrina. But there's so much you don't, and it looks like Sheri Fink, the author of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, has done the digging for us and found it all. And her presentation won't bore you, either. Yet all the details are there, with a journalist's skill of maintaining objectivity; Fink gives us no opinion, just the facts.

The first half of FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL is the five days at Memorial, hard to stomach but necessary to really understand what doctors and nurses were faced with and what patients, particularly the severely ill, endured. The second half involves mostly how various staff (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc.) reacted to their experience and presented their reactions to law enforcement, newspaper reporters, medical societies, etc. And we can also finally understand what went on with the intended prosecution of one of the doctors, how the media influenced the outcome.

During a book event with Sheri Fink that I attended at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan, she stated that this story all comes down to how ill-prepared our hospitals are for emergencies such as this hurricane. Of course, that's true. But it might not be enough to entice you to pick up the book.

Really, it's about so much more than that. And you want to read it; you really do. Not many books of nonfiction do more than make you smarter. FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL will grab you until the end. And you won't want it to end. Gees, I'm hoping the paperback will continue the Epilogue.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This book by a doctor and investigative reporter tells what happened at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Katrina struck in August 2005. It is tremendously well-researched. A doctor and two nurses as the people remaining at the hospital were preparing to leave--and while patients were being
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evacuated--took it upon themselves to inject 8 or 9 patients with mrophine and another drug, and said patients died and the doctor and nurses were then evacuated. The book details what happened, and one learns what support went to the injectors not only by the public but by many doctors who apparently figured doctors whould be supported, no matter what they did. No doubt Dr. Pou was a good person, but the question is should she have in effect murdered patients, even though people were being steadily evacuated and even though there were still resources at the hospital. What happened to the persons who did the deeds of death and the reaction to them makes for a chilling story. This book is one of the most improtant books I have read and throws light on what view some have on life issues.
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LibraryThing member Pickle115
Excellent read! I didn't visit Nawlins pre-Katrina but have a frequent visitor after the hurricane. I have grown to love that unique city and its residents so this read is just heart-breaking. Reads like a novel.
LibraryThing member EBT1002
This account of the events in Memorial Hospital in New Orleans on the day of Katrina's landfall and the few days subsequent is well-researched and well-written. Fink spends the first part of the book telling us what happened. She uses multiple points of view and provides no judgments. Later, she
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elaborates on the investigation by the District Attorneys assigned to the case by the Louisiana Attorney General. For the most part, this is still very interesting although it provides a less compulsive read. I suppose that is to be expected: reading about a group of people trying to survive the horrific flooding, loss of power, and rampant chaos in the days following Katrina is simply more exciting than reading about a bunch of state administrators looking into possible criminal activity. The book ends with an interesting epilogue which explores disaster preparedness as it has (or has not) evolved in the years since 2005. Necessarily exploring difficult questions of medical ethics, Sheri Fink has piqued my interest in learning more.

For the most part, Fink's writing is dispassionate and "neutral." But really, it's not that she lives and writes from the neutral zone as much as she attempts to write from the perspective of subjects who have very different opinions about what might have happened and what should have happened at Memorial Hospital. Fink can't resist an occasional snide jab at what she perceives to be outrageous decisions or outcomes (by investigators, the grand jury), but she doesn't get carried away with these and doesn't let them distract her from the story. Overall, this is an excellent work of narrative nonfiction.
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
From my Cannonball Read VI review ...

This book was on my radar for 2014, and was lent to me by a coworker before I left work on New Year’s Eve. I spent most of my day off yesterday reading it, and finished it up walking to work and on my lunch break today. The book is nearly 500 pages long, so
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that should tell you about the quality of the writing. Five Days at Memorial is a fantastic book, and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in Hurricane Katrina, medical ethics, or just great investigative journalism.

The book is broken into two parts: a description of the eponymous situation, which took place during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at a private hospital in New Orleans, and the investigation into the actions of some of the doctors (one in particular) and the nurses involved. It also raises two separate but related questions: what is appropriate for clinicians to do when faced with disastrous circumstances in a healthcare facility, and is what the doctor and nurses are alleged to have done at Memorial in line with that? Finally, another issue of interest that gets mentioned but is not the focus of the book is the responsibility of hospitals and the state have to be prepared for foreseeable disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The basic situation at Memorial was similar to one facing many hospitals in 2005 (and, as shown with NYU Langione during Hurricane Sandy, was still an issue in 2012): the generator and many necessary electrical switches of the major hospital were in the basement or ground floor of the building and thus susceptible to flooding. When the levees stopped functioning the days after Hurricane Katrina came and went, the flooding reached Memorial and resulted in a generator that ultimately petered out. That, coupled with the inability to quickly evacuate patients, meant that the clinicians, patients, and other family members at the hospital faced very unpleasant circumstance. By the time everyone was evacuated, many patients had died, including many who died in a three hour period on the last day.

The writing, the research, and the story Ms. Fink weaves together is gripping. It’s heartbreaking, and as someone who works in emergency management, it is one of my worst fears. The lack of planning, the lack of preparation, the lack of support from the parent company, it all is just devastating and infuriating. And yet … the hospital never ran out of food, or water. Clinicians were, for the most part, able to do amazing things in an utterly foul situation. But the big question around why did so many patients die on that last day, and whether Dr. Pou made the decision to help death along for those patients, is the focus. And while Dr. Pou makes public statements about doing 'what she had to do,' my take-away from this book is that while there certainly are times when this might be true, this specific instance, at this hospital, was not a situation where that statement needed to be made so far as euthanasia is concerned.

Dr. Pou seems sketchy, and seemed to make HER case be about a hypothetical situation that she was never really facing (and would not reasonably have thought she was facing), but that she spoke of as if she had indeed experienced it. Based on my reading of this book, what Dr. Pou chose to do to those patients is not an example of making decisions in a no-win situation. Not to spoil it (and stop here if you plan to read the book and are not familiar with the story), but on that last day, the helicopters were there, and those patients could have been evacuated. They weren’t definitely going to die, and Dr. Pou acted as though they were. That seems to be her defense. And while it’s a defense worth interrogating for real situations where the options are death in tons of pain in a day or death easily now, those weren’t the choices facing those patients that day.

As someone interested in medical ethics, I found the discussion of these issues to be well done. The topics of rationing medical care in an emergency, of deciding who should receive treatment first, and who should wait, are issues that need to be resolved. The clinical community is aware of this and is working on it. Hopefully books like this will make the issue more salient in the rest of the community as well.
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LibraryThing member ellenflorman
[Five Days at Memorial] by [[Sheri Fink]] is a riveting account of what took place at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city. The first half of the book presents the unimaginable conditions faced by patients and staff during the course of the hurricane. These
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conditions: lack of electricity, failure of backup generators, lack of an emergency plans to cover the situation, lack of responsibility by the health care parent companies and the federal and local governments, bands of marauding (and often armed) looters, and stifling heat within the hospital combined to produce some unimaginable decisions made by the doctors and nurses who were serving during the disaster and did not desert their patients (as some were alleged to have done). It was chilling and one could feel the desperateness of those unfortunate to have lived through it.
The second half of the book deals with the litigation and accusations of euthanasia and murder directed specifically at one of the doctors and two of the nurses. Ms. Fink does not make judgements here. She lays out all of the facts, interviews and recollections and lets the reader decide for themselves.
For an eye opening look at this subject I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member lgura
This book is a tour-de-force. Impeccably researched and written, Five Days at Memorial describes the disastrous situation at Memorial Hospital during the flooding post-Katrina as medical professionals faced conditions they were not prepared for. Allocation of scare resources, decisions about
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whether to rescue patients who are more likely to recover or critical patients, and the personal struggles of caregivers play out over a horrific few days. On the final day of evacuation, a group of dependent patients are not evacuated. Instead, they are abandoned under what appear to be suspicious circumstances. A physician and two nurses are suspected of hastening the deaths of these patients.

Sheri Fink manages to portray all the players in this tableau in a sympathetic light. From the Medicaid a Fraud investigators who spend months compiling evidence, to the physicians and nurses who weigh in on both sides of the case, as well as the families of the patients, one is able to view the tragedy through a complicated prism.

Sadly, it is clear by the end of this riveting book that we are no better prepared for catastrophe, as evidenced by Superstorm Sandy. This books allows us to ponder what societal solutions are possible in these situations, as well as what directives we might choose for ourselves.
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LibraryThing member Dawn1361
Everyone knows about Hurricane Katrina. Everyone watched the news reports as they lingered day after day of the distressed residents calling out for help. "Five Days at Memorial" by Sheri Fink does a superb job of retelling the tragedy of unresponsive agencies that created a downward spiral to
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unnecessary life and death decisions. Since the years have passed, it is easy for the cries for help to soften, but Fink is able to communicate the frustration, terror, helplessness, and creativity of those that found themselves trapped in this hospital. The gloss of Emergency Action Plans is stripped away when met with reality. This book should be a must-read by anyone with input into designing such procedures for large organizations.

The first section of the book is engrossing as we follow the Katrina victims. While some may feel the "cast of characters" was too wide, their stories give us a cross section of experiences and a cross section of medical issues for care that a handful of personnel needed to cover. The book continues well with setting up discovery and early legal manuverings however, given the scope of the case, the engrossing read of the first section is lost. If the book could have continued at the pace of the first section, I could have awarded 4 stars.

All in all, this was a positive reading experience and one I would recommend to others to discuss the larger questions of emergency preparedness. I received this book through the Early Reviewer's program.
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LibraryThing member muddypaws845
This book is amazing. Brings to life the experience of staff & patients at one hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The agonizing decisions faced by staff cause you to think about & question your own beliefs regarding life & death.
LibraryThing member LoveAtFirstBook
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
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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
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LibraryThing member hammockqueen
Well written book that allowed for lots of facts to get across to the reader. It often felt like I was there and feeling their mounting stresses..
LibraryThing member BarbN
A well-researched and well-written account of the complex and devastating situation at a hospital after Katrina, and the varied responses of the physicians, nurses and other caretakers, including one physician who appears to have used euthanasia on some patients considered too sick, or in one case
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too large, to move. This book raises important questions about both disaster preparation, and the general lack thereof, prioritization for rescue, and mercy killing, or euthanasia, or in some people's opinion, homicide. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
At Memorial Hospital after Katrina, doctors deliberately injected certain patients with morphine and Versed, hastening their deaths. How did it come to that? Fink recounts the uncertainties, rumors, miscommunications and fears that led to the injections, noting that racial anxieties made it easier
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for some people to believe that rioting and looting was a real problem—which then interfered with actual rescue attempts. What emerges is a portrait of a system unprepared for crisis, and while plenty of people innovated to save lives, some of the decisions were short-sighted and tragic. Unfortunately, Fink suggests, many of the lessons of Katrina remain unheeded in terms of preparing for crisis. (On the other hand, she notes, current proposals for triage have little empirical basis in terms of identifying people who are more likely to survive; to the extent that triage plans lead medical professionals to write certain patients off as not worth saving, having no triage plan and keeping “first come first served” as the general rule might actually save more lives—but “no triage plan” and “no disaster plan” are two very different things and we really need more of the latter.)
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