Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Stand back, world, I'm about to attempt to review an e-book.  This just in, I am absolute crap about reviewing e-books.  At this point in my sad, feeble blogging life, I am nearly always about 8 to 10 books behind when it comes to reviewing because reviewing books is hard and requires peace and quiet, and also I am a lazy procrastinator.  In an attempt to guilt myself into reviewing them, I leave all 8 to 10 books taking up precious real estate on my desk until I do right by them, so obviously, if I'm going to review a book, it's going to be one that's cluttering up my desk, right? 

Now, I have attempted to clutter up my desk with my Kindle, but it doesn't seem to have the right effect, and eventually it needed a charge, and it vacated my desk anyway.  Nonetheless, since NetGalley probably hates me (or probably should), I really should attempt to do the impossible and review e-books.  Speaking of impossible (watch out for this great segue), I thought it was going to be impossible for me to finally read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.  It's kind of a long book and non-fiction, too, which I tend to read at an even more glacial rate than my norm.  This is where I discovered another perk of ye olde e-reader.  Regardless of how long a book is, you can't tend to focus on it when you're reading it on a Kindle (or other device of your choice).  This was brilliant at keeping me from fixating on the length of the book instead of the quality.  Anyhow, let's try this review thing.

Five Days at Memorial, as I'm fairly sure you've probably heard, is Sheri Fink's non-fiction account of five days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and following the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.  Fink spends the first portion of the book re-telling of the events as they unfolded based upon the accounts of the people who were there.  It should be no surprise that under the natural disaster conditions things got ugly, but things got even uglier still through lack of disaster preparedness, abysmal communication, difficult circumstances for evacuation; all of which created a dire situation that put doctors in a position to decide who lived and who died.  The second portion of the book is dedicated to the aftermath: the investigation of what happened and why, the perspectives on who was right and wrong, and an account of the criminal proceedings against the doctors and nurses who decided that euthanasia was an option under the circumstances.

Five Days at Memorial is an impressive book.  The first half of the book, the part that offers a comprehensive re-telling of the events of the five days features the kind of writing that actually keeps readers on the edge of their seats.  Despite having some foreknowledge of the catastrophe, I couldn't help but rush through the pages, hungry to see whether the staff at the hospital could overcome nearly insurmountable challenges to evacuate their patients and staff.  The latter half of the book loses a little steam as it plunders the details of the investigation and criminal proceedings, but I was still impressed with the comprehensive look at what followed the disaster and the balanced perspective Fink offered.  Dr. Anna Pou, one of the most controversial figures of the events at Memorial, never looks completely like a villain or a hero in Fink's account.  Whenever you might be tempted to see her one way or the other, the perspective changes and any opinion you might have of her is conflicted again.

As somebody who has spent the last seven years working in a hospital, I was totally appalled by so much of this book.  I'm glad I didn't read most of it in public because I'm certain my mouth was hanging open in shock during much of the reading.  The appalling unpreparedness of the hospital, the inadequacy of communication and rescue efforts, the backward leadership of the evacuation, and the very obvious moral ambiguity of "relieving the suffering" of those who were thought to be close to death or even just too difficult to evacuate in Fink's account are jaw-droppingly shocking to read about.  That she could bring all this to light and still leave me with sympathy toward the over-burdened staff making morally questionable decisions is a credit to Fink's skill as a writer and journalist.  This book truly is a must-read for anyone who would be tempted to rely on the very fragile constructs of safety that we blindly choose to rely upon every day and for everyone who takes in disturbing disaster footage on television and thinks, "That could never happen here."  It can, and it did, and this is a book that displays it in compelling fashion.

(I received a copy of this book compliments of the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.)


  1. I pretty much stink at reviewing all books these days. This one sounds like the kind of nonfiction I love!

  2. I have been wanting to read this one for quite some time now.

    I finally got caught up with my review writing yesterday, thank goodness. Oh my gosh, the relief! Now to schedule when to post them. One thing I do to help me remember I need to write a review is starting a draft (even if it's just the title) on my blog--I just don't publish until it's ready. Since most of the books I read these days are e-books, it's what has worked for me. I also keep a spreadsheet in Google Docs of the books I read and when I finish them, so that helps too.

  3. What an awesome review, Megan! I get the feeling that I'm embarrassing myself by admitting that I hadn't even heard of this book before. Thanks for changing that--I definitely want to read it!

  4. I loved this one Megan. I'm pretty good about reviewing books I read -- my problem is requesting MORE eBooks thank I can read/review in a reasonable time :(

  5. Oh, man, this sounds like such an interesting read. I went to nursing school at a hospital for a couple of years, so the weird behind-the-scenes stuff is fascinating to me. (Also, I'm pretty sure Netgalley hates me, too - but they just KEEP GIVING ME MORE BOOKS!!)

  6. I really liked this e-book - like you, I was fascinated but also appalled at what went on and the total lack of disaster readiness. Saying that, however, I watched during Hurricane Sandy when they had to evacuate NYU Hospital when the generators failed because they were in the basement which was below the flood lines. Amazing that after what happened in NOLA they didn't move those generators to the roof!