Sunday, August 25, 2013

Five Days At Memorial

Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Sheri Fink

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 investigative journalism, 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 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. (from Netgalley)

My Thoughts

This story is riveting. I picked it up with the intent to read just the first chapter to get a feel for the writing. That was it - I was hooked. The first half of this book is a very detailed, sometimes minute by minute account of what occurred at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The second half is an equally detailed account of the investigation into some of the deaths that occurred at the hospital.

I still remember quite a bit of what we saw on TV about the conditions in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina, but nothing can prepare you for reading the details from people who actually lived the horror. I often put the book down to just take a breather from the tension as each day at Memorial got worse. Even when I wasn’t reading this, it was on my mind. Almost everyone I encountered would hear about this book - whether they wanted to or not (I never asked). So many questions came to mind regarding things like the ethics of triage, disaster preparedness, euthanasia, and assisted suicide just to name a few.

This story was extremely well organized. It flowed from beginning to end. While often technical, the information was presented in laymen’s terms and well defined. The first half read like a suspense novel, the second half like a murder mystery.

What I liked most about Ms. Fink’s writing is that she simply presents the information. She does not pass judgement on what took place at Memorial. At the end, she does document the final thoughts of many of the key players. The bottom line question is - what really happened at Memorial? Where some patients euthanized? Or where they given medication to keep them comfortable, and in their weakened state, succumbed to their illnesses. I think each read will have their own opinion. I know I have mine.

This is undeniably one of the best books I have read this year.

Thank you to Crown Publishing, via Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 10, 2013.


  1. I would be interested in reading this, so thanks for sharing the review.

    1. I hope you do get to read it and end up enjoying it!