Excerpt from Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Five Days at Memorial

Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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About this Book

Print Excerpt

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, notes, diaries, Internet postings, articles, and the transcripts of interviews by other reporters or investigators. The narrative was also informed by weather reports, architectural floor plans, electrical diagrams, and reports prepared by plaintiff and defense experts in the course of civil litigation; and I visited the hospital and other sites depicted in the book.

Dialogue rendered in quotation marks is reproduced exactly as it was recalled in interviews, or is taken directly from transcripts and other primary sources. If one person recounted an important conversation, I generally attempted to contact all participants, but some declined to speak, and at times memories were at odds. The main text and Notes highlight areas of significant dispute and indicate the sources of quotes when they do not derive from interviews with me. Typographical mistakes are preserved in quoted e-mails to give the reader a sense of the urgency involved in their production. This book relates the thoughts, impressions, and opinions of the people in it, perhaps the most fraught aspect of narrative journalism. Attributed thoughts or feelings reflect those that a person shared in an interview, wrote down in notes, a diary, or a manuscript, or, less commonly, expressed to others whom I interviewed. As any book reflects the interwoven interpretations and insights of its author, I have tried to make these distinct. All errors are mine.

PART I
deadly choices

Blindness was spreading, not like a sudden tide flooding everything and carrying all before it, but like an insidious infiltration of a thousand and one turbulent rivulets which, having slowly drenched the earth, suddenly submerge it completely.
— José Saramago, Blindness

PROLOGUE

AT LAST THROUGH the broken windows, the pulse of helicopter rotors and airboat propellers set the summer morning air throbbing with the promise of rescue. Floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina had marooned hundreds of people at the hospital, where they had now spent four days. Doctors and nurses milled in the foul-smelling second-floor lobby. Since the storm, they had barely slept, surviving on catnaps, bottled water, and rumors. Before them lay a dozen or so mostly elderly patients on soiled, sweat-soaked stretchers.

In preparation for evacuation, these men and women had been lifted by their hospital sheets, carried down flights of stairs from their rooms, and placed in a corner near an ATM and a planter with wilting greenery. Now staff and volunteers—mostly children and spouses of medical workers who had sought shelter at the hospital—hunched over the infirm, dispensing sips of water and fanning the miasma with bits of cardboard.

Supply cartons, used gloves, and empty packaging littered the floor. The languishing patients were receiving little medical care, and their skin felt hot to the touch. Some had the rapid, thready pulse of dehydration.

Excerpted from Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. Copyright © 2013 by Sheri Fink. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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