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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospitalby Sheri Fink
Synopses & Reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation into the deaths of patients at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, a gripping portrayal of unfolding calamity, vital choices and the suspenseful quest for truth and justice.
In the tradition of the best writing on medicine and its power to reveal the most intimate of human truths, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of the patients, doctors, rescue workers, nurses, and family members who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst chaos.
After Katrina struck, the floodwaters rose, the power failed and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers decided whose lives to preserve and who would most likely die in the face of serious illness and delayed rescue. The result was an almost unthinkable tragedy: Several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, tough-minded and compassionate, Fink powerfully captures the fragility of human life, professional dedication, and civic duty.
Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, is the definitive account of those events and an engrossing drama that exposes the hushed dilemmas of end-of-life care. With her expert knowledge and remarkable understanding, Fink brings the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing. Fink shows just how ill-prepared we are as Americans for the impact of large-scale disasters and how we can do better. A remarkable book that is impossible to put down, Five Days at Memorial will change your understanding of how we survive unprecedented events and how we value life.
"'They were in a war zone,' Fink (War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival) writes of those stranded inside New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center in the calamitous wake of Hurricane Katrina. In this astonishing blend of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism (Fink, who also has an M.D. and Ph.D., won the award for the investigative reporting on which this book is based) and breathtaking narration, she chronicles the chaotic evacuation of the hospital and the agonizing ethical, physical, and emotional quandaries facing Memorial nurses and doctors, including a nightmarish triage process that led to the controversial decision to inject critically ill patients with fatal doses of morphine in order to refocus attention on those with a chance of surviving. An alarming 45 bodies were recovered from the crippled hospital, nine of which were deemed suspected victims of euthanasia. Yet investigators realized that unraveling the tragedies was 'as impossible as collecting fragments of a fractured mirror and then, somehow, inferring what image had once appeared there.' Some members of the medical staff were charged with murder, but a grand jury acquitted them. Plenty of hard-earned lessons were learned from the stunningly mismanaged response to the disaster, yet Fink acknowledges that for the families of those who never made it out of Memorial, the 'war against nature' could only be considered a loss. (Sept. 10)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"In a high speed world that reduces reality to black and white, Sheri Fink slows down to examine every achingly tough decision made by medical responders to Hurricane Katrina. The riveting result is nuanced and leaves you asking, 'Well, what would I have done?' Wow." Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and author of I Heard the Sirens Scream
"[Fink] offers a stunning re-creation of the storm, its aftermath, and the investigation that followed....She evenhandedly compels readers to consider larger questions, not just of ethics but race, resources, history, and what constitutes the greater good, while humanizing the countless smaller tragedies that make up the whole. And, crucially, she provides context, relating how other hospitals fared in similar situations. Both a breathtaking read and an essential book for understanding how people behave in times of crisis." Booklist (starred)
"Pulitzer Prize-winning medical journalist/investigator Fink (War Hospital, 2003) submits a sophisticated, detailed recounting of what happened at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Fink draws those few days in the hospital's life with a fine, lively pen, providing stunningly framed vignettes of activities in the hospital and sharp pocket profiles of many of the characters. She gives measured consideration to such explosive issues as class and race discrimination in medicine, end-of-life care, medical rationing and euthanasia, and she presents the injection of some patients with a cocktail of drugs to reduce their breathing in such a manner that readers will be able to fully fashion their own opinions. The book is an artful blend of drama and philosophy [and] with apparent effortlessness, Fink tells the Memorial story with cogency and atmosphere." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"A stunning examination of one of the most shocking and complex stories to come out of Hurricane Katrina." Shelf Awareness
"[Fink] raises important ethical questions in this fast-paced reconstruction of heart-wrenching events." Ms. Magazine
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 writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst 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 health professionals 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 in America 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.
About the Author
Sheri Fink is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and a former staff reporter for ProPublica, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Discover, and Scientific American and on Public Radio International's The World. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award. Fink received her MD and PhD from Stanford, has taught at several universities, and worked with humanitarian aid organizations in more than a half dozen emergencies in the United States and overseas. She was the recipient of a Kaiser Media Fellowship in Health from the Kaiser Family Foundation and a Public Policy Scholarship at the Woodrow Wilson Center and is the author of War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival.
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