Friday, August 30, 2013

Five Days at Memorial

With school starting and there being a huge decrease in the time I can devote to leisure reading, it has taken me a few days to get through Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.  Her recounting of the events that occurred at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina was well researched and presented, and also extremely sad.

Hurricane Katrina is a disaster that I can recall with more details than many others.  The devastation that New Orleans suffered was brought to us via television, the internet and newspapers, and these many media outlets provided a wealth of coverage. However, Fink presents a story I knew nothing about. One of the hospitals in New Orleans, Memorial, tried to care for the patients that they were in charge of. They tried to evacuate patients.  When they realized they were deserted and no one was coming for them, some patients were euthanized.  The vulnerability the people at Memorial felt, along with deteriorating conditions and fear for the future all play a part in the decisions that were made by the medical professionals. 

Fink presents this story in a matter of fact manner. She doesn't take the side of the families who are grieving their loved ones and who want answers about what happened in the five days that medical personnel and patients were stranded during Katrina.  She doesn't take the side of the doctors and nurses charged with administering doses of Versed and morphine that were large enough that those patients receiving them died.
She shares the information she has found through her research and interviews, allowing me to form my own opinion.

And mostly what I have decided is that this is just a really sad story.  Hurricane Katrina was devastating, so devastating that no one was prepared to deal with it.  Even a well laid out disaster plan would not have been able to handle this storm.  And, the doctors and nurses, humans capable of making mistakes, used their best judgement to get through a storm they weren't sure they would survive.  In reading Five Days at Memorial, I appreciated Fink's ability to present the many facets of the people she write about.  Anna Pou, the doctor accused of administering lethal doses of medication to patients, isn't portrayed as a cold blooded killer.  Fink shares details of Pou's personal life, her commitment to her patients, even writing of certain patients that Pou has cared for for a long time.  People are complex, not all good or all bad, and Fink is able to convey this in her writing.

I have told many friends about Five Days at Memorial, giving just a few details to entice them to pick it up. Everyone I have talked to had no idea that patients were perhaps euthanized, making this little known story something that more people should be aware of.  Fink's book is an excellent work of non-fiction, well written and a worthwhile read.

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