Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital

Sheri Fink
Jun 11, 2015

Sheri Fink is an incredible investigator and writer. In Five Days at Memorial she takes an in-depth look at what happened at the Baptist Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The first section of the book covers what happened before, during and immediately following the hurricane. Before the hurricane, it was recommended that residents evacuate the city and surrounding parishes and those evacuations were underway or had already been completed. Some residents decided to stay and ride out the storm, as they may have always done in the past, and several care facilities were merged with hospitals. Fink follows the lives of the several hundred doctors, nurses, hospital staff and patients at Baptist as they buckle down and survive the wind gusts and rain. It's when the water breaches the levies of Lake Pontchartrain and areas of the city, including the hospital site, begin to flood that the people who have stayed realize their dire mistake.

In the following section, Fink describes the utter despair that hospital staff and patients experience as backup generators begin to fail. Patients are in need of urgent medical care and yet doctors and nurses are unable to provide for them. More importantly, the rescue efforts of the National Guard and other government agencies are unreliable and communication is all but lost between the leading hospital and government officials. No one seems to know what they are supposed to be doing and, even worse, how they are going to keep their patients alive. Doctors begin to categorize patients in order of evacuation priority and Fink focuses her writing on the patients labeled DNR - do not resuscitate. The stories she shares are deeply sad and disturbing as doctors give up on some patients while saving others, even when those labeled DNR are still alive and able to be rescued. The last section of her book follows the months that pass after the hospital is evacuated and the repercussions of the doctors' decisions.

Five Days at Memorial is very detail-oriented and although I listened to it on audio, I wish that I had also read the physical copy. There is such depth to Fink's writing and she includes historical information about New Orleans and the floods that have occurred there as well as information about medical practices and treatments. These details would be great to read. The content of this book is heavy and is not for the faint of heart. It paints a very dark picture of the lives of the patients who were stuck in that hospital during those days in August and September 2005. It has also been a point of contention between Fink and Dr. Anna Pou, one of the main doctors in the book, and numerous websites are dedicated to their differing viewpoints on what actually happened during that time. I recommend this book for adults interested in medical topics and investigative journalism.

Reviewed by Library Staff