Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink


Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
by Sheri Fink
narrated by Kirsten Potter
Random House Audio, 2013
Length: 17 hrs and 33 min
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:

In the tradition of the best writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the listener into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst 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 listener 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.

My thoughts:

"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."

In a way, Five Days at Memorial seemed like two books. The first part focuses on Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Hospital - the storm itself, patient care and relief/evacuation efforts during the following days, and how management, staff and patients coped. It details the horrifying conditions and immeasurable human suffering endured by those within the hospital. The second part of the book deals with the aftermath of all that occurred during those five days - the investigation, allegations of euthanasia, and its ramifications.

This book held me spellbound for nearly two weeks. I have spent many years working in large, teaching hospitals and was utterly shocked by the lack of preparedness and breakdown of communication detailed in this book. As a former health care worker, I found it hard to believe that these events could have occurred in the 21st century United States. I admired the workers, both medical and support staff, who stayed and devoted themselves to patient care under such desperate and deplorable conditions. It is difficult to predict how one might react under such circumstances and even harder to judge professional decisions made at such a time.

If there is a bright spot in this book, it lies in the contrast with one New York City hospital during Superstorm Sandy. Perhaps lessons were learned.

A note on the audio production:
Kristin Potter, with over 150 audiobook credits, is a narrator I will listen to without hesitation. Her voice is clear and strong, with just the right amount of authority necessary for narrating a piece of investigative journalism. Overall, a perfect match for this book.

My rating:

22 comments:

  1. I'm not sure why I'm attracted to books like that. Hopefully I can get to it soon.

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    1. Kathy - This kind of book gets me every time, too.

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  2. Yeah, wasn't this something? Terrified me, actually, especially since I live in the middle of hurricane country. I told my husband to just remind me not to have any surgery during hurricane season! Ha. This is what non-fiction is all about.

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    1. Sandy - This was a pretty amazing book. Fascinating and terrifying... just hope lessons have been learned and improvements have been made. I think the Louisiana AG was an ass!

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  3. I really need to read this book soon. Your review is fantastic, JoAnn.

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    1. Vasilly - Oh, I hope you do read it! This was one of the best nonfiction books I've come across in a long time.

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  4. My book club chose this for our reading list this year. I think I read it in a couple of months. I am fascinated by medicine or anything having to do with medicine and also a little obsessed with disasters (to a degree) so this should be a good one for me.

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    1. Ti - I wonder if my book club would go for this... surprised I didn't think of mentioning it to them, The combination of medicine and disaster makes for some horrifying, but fascinating reading.

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  5. I own this book but have yet to pick it up. I used to spend my summers in New Orleans and haven't been back since Katrina. I had family who was in the middle of some of the storm issues and even now you can see scars from the storm as far as 300 miles north of the coast. I think I'm still a little too close to this one but I've heard it's absolutely amazing/terrifying. So glad you enjoyed this one!

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    1. Katherine - I've never even been to New Orleans and it was still terrifying. Can't imagine how locals would feel reading this book. You may be wise to wait.

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    1. Sheila - I may have had a problem staying focused in print, but the audio kept me interested all the way through.

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  7. Loved he audio of this one as well. powerful stuff

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    1. Diane - It sure was! I thought this was an outstanding book.

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  8. Wow - I had no idea there were criminal allegations, etc for health care workers following Katrina. That portion really has me intrigued...maybe I'll give this one a shot!

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    1. Sarah - They tried to bring murder charges against a doctor and two nurses. The Louisiana AG at the time came off looking like a jerk, IMO.

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  9. This would make me even more nervous about hospitals ;) Well, and hurricanes I guess.

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    1. Stacy - I kept wondering how something like this could have happened in the US in the 21st century... scary stuff!

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  10. I like the sound of this but possibly printed vs. audiobook for me.

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    1. Emma - Print or audio, this is a fascinating and disturbing book. Hope you get a chance to read it sometime.

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  11. I know I'll definitely read this one sooner rather than later but it's one of those that I'm terrified to read because I know how sad it will make me.

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    1. Lisa - I can certainly understand that. This book was very difficult to listen to at times..

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