Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

I think Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink is one of the most disturbing books that I have read in a long time. While there are no totally evil people on which to blame what may have been unnecessary Hurricane Katrina-related deaths at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in 2005, many seemingly good people behaved in ways inconsistent with their training and ideals. The doctors and nurses at Memorial were obviously in a crisis and not helped by the shockingly inadequate response of the corporation that owned the hospital, but they let their fears blind them to other courses of action than those that they took. Tragically, they had more resources within easy reach than they realized. Lack of planning and poor communications inside and outside the hospital led to confusion. Patients could have been treated for their diseases and kept more comfortable throughout the crisis. Some might have been saved. Fink tells the story in much fascinating and dramatic detail.

There are many lessons to be learned from Hurricane Katrina stories, but, as the author tells in the later chapters and the appendix to Five Days at Memorial, people are not learning them. Our society does not as a whole have a will to make the sacrifices and do the work necessary to prevent future tragedies. Fink tells how a hospital in New York performed much better in Hurricane Sandy, showing that preparation and clearer thinking can make a difference, but she also reports on many cases in which medical personnel and community emergency workers make the same mistakes made in New Orleans.

Five Days at Memorial is too large a book for many book discussion groups, which is unfortunate as there are so many topics to discuss. Groups that focus on public policy or meet quarterly (giving members more time to read) can tackle it. Five Days at Memorial is a great read for someone willing to make the effort.

Fink, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. Crown Publishers, 2013. 558p. ISBN 9780307718969.

Unabridged audiobook: Random House Audio, 2013. 14 compact discs. ISBN 9780804128094.


Citizen Reader said...

Great review, Rick, of a great book. I found the most disturbing part to be the fact that nothing has changed in planning or architecture since Katrina or Sandy.

ricklibrarian said...

Thanks, CR. Five Days at Memorial is one book that I think lived up to all its awards.