Thursday, October 17, 2013

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

Title: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
Author: Sheri Fink
Publisher: Crown (September 10, 2013)
Format: Hardcover; Pgs 576
Genre: Non-Fiction

This book was very difficult for me to read. I had to take it in very small bites and not read it at night before I went to bed. What I read stayed with me. Even though I was two thousand miles away and had the “that happens to other people” mentality during Hurricane Katrina, this book made the time and the desperate situations all too real for me.

Cut to the chase, the hospital was not prepared for the catastrophe that they had to endure. The city was not prepared and the people that had taken shelter, not just the patients, at the hospital assumed that they would be cared for. That was so not the case.

Memorial Hospital had the range of patients, from the high maintenance critical care on the seventh floor of LifeCare to the neonates to the routine patients, the doctors and nurses on duty that day had life and death in their hands. Their statement of leaving no living patient behind could have been interpreted two different ways and that seems to be the crux of the story.

Sheri Fink is an exceptional journalist. At least that is what I think her title is. She takes the reader through the five days and without taking obvious sides, she guides the reader. Did doctors euthanize patients? Did easing pain, necessitate death? Did nurses assist and then turn a blind eye? Were walls put up to hinder the investigation? There is no way of truly knowing since very few are backing up the whistleblowers.

What I came away with is that “but for the Grace of God”. You do not know what choices you would make in which situations. I am also reconsidering a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order – one family did not know that it also stood for Do Not Rescue.

You need to spend time with this book, take it slowly, think it through and open up conversations.

By the end, what I found most interesting was that the surrounding hospitals that did not rely on second or third party rescue efforts seemed to fare better. When you know you are on your own, you do what needs to be done and you do not finger point. Memorial was waiting for the bailout and when it did not come, chaos pursued.

In the epilogue, you will see that many hospitals have not learned from this disaster. Medical professionals do the best with what they have – but what if they do not have enough and full rescue is five days away.

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