Saturday, July 23, 2016

5 Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Hurricane Katrina seems like it happened so long ago that it's easy to forget just how devastating it was to New Orleans, and how they are still recovering from the destruction and rebuilding communities. Reading this book was a powerful reminder of how complex and difficult decisions were made in extremely trying circumstances, and how horribly unprepared we are for disasters.  

August 28, 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  While there was a mass evacuation, hospitals and hospital workers had to stay; hospitals had to remain open to serve those who were ill, and anticipate more coming into the hospital for care during and after the storm.  Memorial Medical Center had weathered many hurricanes and storms before; it had been part of the community since 1926.  People would leave their homes and bunk down in the hospital for safety; medical staff brought their pets and family members to the hospital to stay while they worked through the storm.  There was plenty of food and water; a few uncomfortable days and it would all be over.   

Except the levees broke, and the streets were flooded.  Memorial quickly became an island.  Staff worked feverishly to evacuate patients, and some managed to get out.  Generators quit working early Wednesday morning; overwhelming heat, darkness, and exhaustion worked on everyone.  Missed and wrong communication, rumors of martial law, and hearing sounds of gunfire scared everyone.  They felt abandoned by the city, state, and the owners of the hospital, Tenant.  Decisions were made that would result in suspicious deaths and a doctor and two nurses being arrested for second degree murder. 

What happened at Memorial?  Why did people die, and why did it take so long for an evacuation to take place?  How could the hospital have been better prepared?  This is a compelling read, and what might seem like a fairly easy choice to make isn't so easy.  I don't think any of us can possibly understand the circumstances because we weren't there.  I read this book a few days ago and I still don't know how I feel about what happened.  It is a book that you will have to talk about with others.  I recently presented this book at work as part of my Lunch and a Book talks.  I had a great audience, and we had very interesting discussions on medical ethics, preparedness, and the complex issue of "do not resuscitate".  

Everyone should read this book.  Whether you're in health care, or someone who cares for elderly parents, or loved ones with health issues.  We all will end up in a hospital at one or more points in our lives.  

One thing I will say about this book, is that the author clearly believes homicide did happen.  She does a good job of trying to see all sides, but there are so many people, and incidences, and hearsay that it can get a bit confusing sometimes.  There is a list of people in the front of the book, and a map of the hospital, including the route from the second floor to the helicopter pad on the roof.  They do help visualize the place and give some organization to the players.  

Rating:  8/10 for a compelling look at a human disaster that could have been prevented.  Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that couldn't be helped; but the lack of planning and action resulted in a terrible nightmare.  

Available in paperback, hardcover, audio, and e-book.     

1 comment :

  1. Wow, that sounds intense. Especially when you mention how unprepared we are for disasters. We are having heavy fires in the Los Angeles area this weekend so disaster is on my mind. Don't worry, I am safe, but many are not.