Five Days At Memorial

What is your life worth? Would it be worth less if you were terminally ill? Would it be worth less if you were physically or mentally disabled? Would it be worth less if you weighed 380 pounds? If you were hospitalized when a massive hurricane hit and flood waters isolated your hospital, would you expect to be cared for and rescued, no matter your condition? Those are the questions that are presented and not successfully answered in Five Days at Memorial.

Sheri Fink has written an absolutely devastating indictment of….everything related to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans. Be forewarned that reading this book will make you sad, frustrated, angry and despairing at the events that happened at Memorial Hospital and other locations during and after the storm. This book made my heart ache and my blood boil.

The book follows doctors and patients at Memorial and the investigation into the deaths of patients at the hospital post storm. What struck me, is how easily and quickly panic set in. And the lack of an effective evacuation plan and the painfully slow response of the government to the disaster.

Dr. Anna Pau (pronounced “Poe”) was among those investigated for euthanizing patients who they deemed were too ill to evacuate. Most patients that had DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate Orders), no matter their current physical condition, were given injections of morphine and versed enough to be toxic and kill them. Dr. Pau was eventually arrested along with two nurses who aided her. Despite the arrests, they were never indicted.

This book is exasperating. Not in the “it was not well-written” way. But in the “how could these people possibly avoid responsibility” way. The thing that I find most disheartening is the afterword in which Ms. Fink shows that the lessons that should have been so obvious were only partially learned at best. As evidenced by similar events occurring during hurricane Sandy on the east coast.

I wish that everyone would take the time to read this book. It was eye-opening and it was written like a suspense novel. It is not an easy read and it will make you angry. But it will also make you think. I highly recommend this book.

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