Summary and book reviews of Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial

Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

By Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    432 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Book Summary

Winner of the BookBrowse 2013 Best Non-Fiction Book Award

Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink's landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and suspense-filled portrayal of the quest for truth and justice.

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

After Katrina struck, after 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 as Americans 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 will change your understanding of how we value human life. 

note to the reader

THIS BOOK RECOUNTS what happened at Memorial Medical Center during and after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and follows events through the aftermath of the crisis, when medical professionals were arrested and accused of having hastened the deaths of their patients. Many people held a piece of this story, and I conducted more than five hundred interviews with hundreds of them: doctors, nurses, staff members, hospital executives, patients, family members, government officials, ethicists, attorneys, researchers, and others. I was not at the hospital to witness the events. I began researching them in February 2007 and wrote an account of them in 2009, copublished on the investigative news site ProPublica and in the New York Times Magazine: "The Deadly Choices at Memorial." Because memories often fade and change, source materials dating from the time of the disaster and its immediate aftermath were particularly valuable, including photographs, videotapes, e-mails, ...

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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2014

  • award image

    BookBrowse Awards
    2013

Reviews

BookBrowse

Fink is a remarkable author. She comes from a school of thought that says, “Report the facts and let the readers make up their own minds. Don’t lead, don’t tease, don’t cajole. Just let the story unfold.” No matter how vivid Fink’s narrative becomes, amazingly culled from “more than 500 interviews,” various books, reports, photographs, Internet postings, articles, videotapes, notes and so much more, her words remain calmly stated. She is truly an objective observer.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

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Media Reviews
Shelf Awareness, Debra Ginsberg

To say that Five Days at Memorial is an engrossing read is a vast understatement. Throughout this horrifying, fascinating book, Fink maintains the highest journalistic standard. Her reporting is detailed, nuanced and far-reaching, yet it is never biased - a striking accomplishment in a story with this kind of moral complexity. ...This is a book not to be missed. It is, quite simply, required reading.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [S]he chronicles the chaotic evacuation of the hospital and the agonizing ethical, physical, and emotional quandaries facing Memorial nurses and doctors...

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Fink tells the Memorial story with cogency and atmosphere.

Booklist

Starred Review. Both a breathtaking read and an essential book for understanding how people behave in times of crisis.

Reader Reviews
Diane P

Disaster Recovery
This is such a sad story - For 5 days Memorial Medical Center became an island in hurricane stricken New Orleans. No running water, no electricity - a city totally unprepared for the tragedy that stuck. My personal take from this book is that ...   Read More

ChristyS

unsettling
I loved the way that Sheri Fink presented so many viewpoints simultaneously. This book doesn't set out to define the events that took place during those five horrible days of confinement at the hospital, as much as presenting as many sides to the ...   Read More

LouisianaProud

An Inconsistent Mess
I felt like a majority of the book was more rhetoric than fact. I picked up this book looking for the truth not a biased recounting of what happened at Memorial post-Katrina. There were many times when the author presents a quote but retracts it ...   Read More

Becky H

Five Days at Memorial
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 ...   Read More

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New Orleans' Levees

Though Hurricane Katrina did strike a mighty blow, it was only part of the catastrophe that befell New Orleans. As Sheri Fink writes in Five Days at Memorial, "Katrina rapidly lost strength after moving onto land. The rain lessened and the winds began to ease by late morning. The water level outside Memorial stabilized at about three feet."

Lake PontchartrainDuring the squalls of the hurricane on Monday August 29, 2005, water raced down Clara Street (Memorial's location) and "a red car and a red van were submerged to the tops of their wheel wells," but the hospital seemed free from disaster. Then a National Guard soldier informed Memorial's plant operations director that the levees had been breached. Fifteen feet of water from Lake Pontchartrain was ...

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