Feature Book: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

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Review by Kathy Parker, Director of Libraries, Media, and Archives, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University Libraries

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

Image of Kathy Parker  provided by CSB/SJU.
Image of Kathy Parker provided by CSB/SJU.

Combining the best of both worlds, Five Days at Memorial has the tense plot line, complex characters, and life-and-death flashpoints of a thriller, but it’s actually a meticulously researched work of remarkable reportage.  Fink investigated events at a New Orleans hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina.  Healthcare workers struggled to keep critically ill patients alive as electricity winked off, generators flooded, HVAC systems failed, sleep was unattainable, looters were roving the streets, and rescue was uncertain.  In the end, some staff faced criminal allegations for injecting patients with drugs that hastened their death.   The author carefully avoids judgment, and instead helps readers understand how professionals trying to do their best in a crisis may arrive at very different decisions about how to respond.

As it happens, I was reading this book while updating and expanding our library’s disaster plan.  It made me realize that much of our plan is focused on keeping collections safe, and that I needed to pay more attention to how to keep people safe as well.  I learned some lessons about communication, coordinated responses, and compassion.  Sheri Fink’s book reinforced my fervent hope that I never have to live through such a horrendous disaster as Katrina; and it has given me the opportunity – the luxury, really —  to think about how I might wish decisions would be made should a disaster happen here.