Five Days At Memorial

Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital is the exhaustively researched work of Sheri Fink about the dramatic events that occurred at Memorial Medical Center during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I've didn't follow the story of Hurricane Katrina very closely when it actually happened - I live in southern California, far removed from hurricanes and Louisiana, and I was also nearly 7 months pregnant with my daughter. I was preparing to give birth and focused on baby showers, getting the nursery ready, and washing all those tiny pink clothes. Of course, I heard about Katrina and saw some of the images on TV, but didn't fully realize the extent of the disaster and the consequences and aftermath.

When I came across this book, I wasn't sure how interested I would be in it. After all, I only knew the barest of facts about Katrina and it wasn't a story that had really captivated me over the years (not that it wasn't a worthy story - it just wasn't something I'd closely followed). However, this book had such incredible rave reviews that I decided to give it a closer look. It's been lauded with so many awards - National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, The New York Times Book Review "10 Best Books" for 2013, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Pen/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, and more. Sheri herself is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for a piece she wrote on this very subject for the New York Times Magazine. With all of this, plus the description of the story, I decided to give it a shot. The book description reads:

"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."

The first thing I noticed when I pulled this book out of the package is how large and weighty it is. It's a beautifully designed paperback, with a textured paper cover, with a color picture section in the middle (I always love when books include those so I can see what everyone looks like). The total page count of this book is 565 pages, with the bulk of the book being 476 pages. It includes a map, a selected list of people mentioned in the book and their titles/relationships to each other, a note to the reader, acknowledgements, an exhaustive and lengthy notes section, and an index. Sheri Fink has managed to take the heartbreaking story at Memorial and turn it into a suspenseful tale that reads like a work of thriller fiction - but unfortunately, it's all too real. With no bias, she puts a fair eye on the story and tells it as neatly and truthfully as humanly possible. This is the type of book that you will put down in tears and walk away from feeling changed - a better appreciation for humanity, moral failings and moral courage, tragedy, and loss. I highly, highly recommend this book. It's definitely a must-read for everyone. I'm planning on picking up Sheri's other book, War Hospital, now, and hope she writes more full-length books in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


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