In the tradition of the best investigative journalism and the finest writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink brings us Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital (September 10, 2013), masterfully reconstructing the events at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. Fink’s sources include more than five hundred interviews with hundreds of people: doctors, nurses, staff members, hospital executives, patients, family members, government officials, ethicists, attorneys, and researchers.
Situated at three feet below sea level—one of New Orleans’s lowest points—Memorial had served as a shelter from every storm that has pummeled the Gulf since the hospital was opened in 1926. Patients, doctors, and the surrounding community frequently sought refuge at the hospital with their families and often their pets. When Katrina hit on August 30th 2005, at least two thousand people were at Memorial, including two hundred and forty-four patients and six hundred medical and other workers. Surrounded by floodwaters, intense heat brought on by the failure of the electrical grid, disintegrating sanitary conditions, and confusion over false rumors that martial law had been imposed, a chaotic evacuation sputtered to a stop, leaving hundreds of very sick patients marooned in a hospital without electricity.
In Five Days At Memorial, Fink draws the reader into the lives of the doctors and nurses who struggled to preserve life amidst chaos. Patients at Memorial were first left vulnerable to an ad-hoc evacuation plan, and then to a cascade of decisions made by exhausted doctors and nurses about whose lives could be preserved and who would most likely die in the face of serious illness and limited medical care. The consequence was an almost unthinkable tragedy: several health professionals injected patients with morphine and the fast-acting sedative Versed—at least twenty patients died after being injected.
In the book’s riveting second half, the quest to understand what happened at Memorial is brought to life through the eyes of a prosecutor investigator team, Butch Schafer and Virginia Rider. Their investigation into the titular five days uncovers a whole new understanding of the human drama that fuels medicine and the unchartered territory of end-of-life care. Five Days at Memorial raises important ethical and legal questions about the way resources are allocated in crisis situations and throws into sharp relief some of the issues that dominate everyday headlines on healthcare reform and inspire significant debate, including rationing, justice, and liability.
(Excerpts taken from Crown Publishing website. Crown Publishing, www.crownpublishing.com, 2015)