Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink


From Goodreads:
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid 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.
The bare bones summary: Fink examines the events taking place at Memorial Medical Center during the five days they were stranded, without power during Hurrican Katrina and the allegations that hospital staff euthanized some patients rather than evacuate them.

Writing
This is truly an amazing piece of journalism.  I feel like Fink went above and beyond in getting the facts from as many sources as possible and verified those sources extensively.  She also does a great job of remaining neutral throughout the book, even as she deals with moral and ethical gray areas.  I can't say enough good things about the quality of the writing.  It's exactly what I'm looking for in a work of journalistic non-fiction.  Unbiased, many resources, verifiable sources.  Perfection.

Entertainment Value
Not only is the writing impeccable, but the story itself is fascinating.  I had no idea what those in the hospitals affected by Katrina went through and the details were unimaginable.  It was like reading a post-apocalyptic story, only knowing it really happened.  It was terrifying and tense and full of situations that I can't imagine having to be in, with doctors having to make the kind of decisions no one should be faced with.

In addition to the main story of the five days after Katrina hit, the author also explores numerous issues raised by Katrina, such as state emergency preparedness regulations, dilemmas faced by first responders conducting triage, and the history of the city of New Orleans itself.

Overall
I found it to be an engrossing, as well as terrifying read.  It's scary to think of how quickly the situation became dire and how much more trouble we would be in if a similar disaster destroyed more than just a single city.  I strongly recommend that you read this one.

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