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

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  16,612 Ratings  ·  2,564 Reviews
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 c
Hardcover, 558 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Crown
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Kim Palsenbarg I have just finished reading this book and believe it should be required reading for all hospital administrators, medical personnel, professional…moreI have just finished reading this book and believe it should be required reading for all hospital administrators, medical personnel, professional communicators and anyone in crisis preparedness or risk management roles.

The best thing about this book is that the reader is not manipulated into 'taking sides'. The questions Ms Fink poses and points of view she outlines are presented clearly, factually and without prejudice. As a result it is an excellent book for a book club as it will open up a vigorous debate about society's values and difficult and challenging moral & ethical issues. However, be warned the subject matter - end of life care / the euthanasia debate / rationing resources - is likely to be highly controversial and will polarise people ... Make sure your book club is ready for a challenge like that! (less)

Community Reviews

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Grace S.
Sep 10, 2013 Grace S. rated it it was ok
*I will be analyzing the content of the book. NOT the events depicted therein.*

I've heard/read a lot of positive reviews for Five Days at Memorial and I'm noticing some commonalities. They tend to praise "the story" of the book. They cite the author's neutrality. They cite (sometimes copiously) the reader's own opinion on the larger ethical questions posed by the book, particularly regarding euthanasia. They use words like "gripping" and "thought-provoking", apparently praising the fact that a b
Sep 21, 2013 Khosch rated it it was amazing
I am from the New Orleans area and was one of the many thousands who evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. I was also one of the large population of locals who were offended and dismayed when then-Attorney General Charles Foti arrested a doctor and two nurses who had been at the flooded Memorial hospital during the disaster. Public opinion at the time was squarely behind the hospital staff, largely because we thought that the opportunistic former sheriff was blaming the very people, who saved so many ...more
Sep 07, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing
This book is a devastating account of what happened at a hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Sheri Fink spent years reporting on this story and her writing is strong, filled with grim details and dreadful scenes, but it needed to be told.

After the storm, Memorial Medical Center was flooded and lost power, stranding a large staff and nearly 200 patients, many of whom needed oxygen and ventilators to help them breathe. Due to communication breakdowns, a lack of emergency p
Stephanie Harris
Nov 02, 2013 Stephanie Harris rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: until recently, I practiced medical malpractice law, and it impossible for me not to view the events recounted in this excellent and, I think, balanced book through that lens. What I'm left with is. Conditions at Memorial were terrible, exacerbated by terrible to non-existent planning and very little support from Tenent, the corporate owner of the hospital. Because of these conditions, staff and doctors were required to make difficult decisions regarding triage and patient care. ...more
Jun 14, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: u2013-text
Like David Simon's The Wire and Dave Cullen's Columbine, this book is about all of the moral dilemmas that surround massive tragedy, and about the ways that interconnected systems succeed and fail and undermine each other when infrastructure breaks down. Fink does a remarkable job of remaining, for the most part, neutral -- and yet there are heroes and villains (often in the same person) and no shortage of drama. Natural disaster, medicine, corporate hierarchies, crime, law, media -- they feed a ...more
Glenn Sumi
Feb 19, 2014 Glenn Sumi rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Five Days At Memorial is a powerful, balanced and clearly written (if slightly dry) account of the lives lost – or irrevocably altered – in a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Sheri Fink, a physician turned journalist, has obviously done lots of research; the book grew out of a series of articles she wrote for The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica that earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Initially it's hard to keep track of the dozens of people involved – patients, doctors, nurses a
Dec 30, 2013 LeAnne rated it it was amazing
I am a New Orleanian who spent four months in this hospital while my newborn was gravely ill. It broke my heart to learn what happened, but this thorough and intoxicating tale of misery put it into perspective.

While drowning and mortal heatstroke killed over a thousand souls in our community, lethal injections stole the lives of others trapped in a dark, fetid hospital. Did these kind, caring women who injected the (supposedly) soon-to-be-dead act as angels of mercy or angels of death? These com
I received an advanced copy of this book and was excited to read it. I've read several other books about Hurricane Katrina and the horrific aftermath and wanted to see what this book could add to the picture.

When I first picked it up, I was very engaged from the beginning and couldn't put it down initially. I just couldn't believe what they were going through in that hospital. Wow!

However, after the first 100 pages or so, it started to drag for me. It felt like I was reading the same thing over
Aug 18, 2013 Kirstin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-reads

This is easily one of the best narrative nonfiction books I have ever read. It tells the story of what happened in one New Orleans hospital during Hurricaine Katrina, where doctors and other medical staff were accused of euthenizing patients. The book is divided into two sections. The first is an account of what happened in the hospital during the storm. The second recounts the legal process in the years afterward. Dr. Anna Pou, a doctor who was working in the h
Oct 01, 2013 Laima rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing!!

Sherry Fink has written a well documented and detailed account of what happened at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

I found this book particularly interesting as I work in healthcare and was horrified by all the problems and ethical decisions faced by staff under extreme circumstances. It is really hard to imagine that for five days, physicians, nurses, patients, visitors, family and even several hundred pets sought refuge in a building tha
Tim The Enchanter
Posted to The Literary

Disturbing and Eye Opening - 3.5 Stars

I generally read fiction but will take a chance on non-fiction when the topic grabs my attention. Five Days at Memorial is certainly thought provoking and deals with issues that many people who do not work in the medical field (and some who do) will find controversial.

The story is set in Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levees. After surviving
Emma Carew
Jul 18, 2013 Emma Carew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a mess, a train wreck kind of mess. In books like this, with topics like this there are loads of details that the author has to pare down and put in an order that the reader can follow. Sheri Fink doesn't do that here, she just dumps all this info into one steaming pile. She skips from person to person, fact to fact, place to place with no semblance of an order.

For example in the ARC I read on pages 382 and 383 (second part) she names and references 12 different people (Pou, Kokemor
Nov 11, 2013 Merrikay rated it it was amazing
What would you do if you were caught in a flood in a hospital and knew your last nine helpless patients would not be evacuated but would in all likelihood drown?  This Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story from multiple perspectives, some perspectives that I would never have even thought of.  And that is my favorite thing about this book.  It challenged my thinking over and over.

Fink introduces the reader to so many participants in this tragedy, helping the reader to understand multiple perspect
Sep 21, 2013 Emily rated it did not like it
To say that Ms. Fink is biased is an understatement. From the first chapter of this book, it is evident that Ms. Fink believes Mrs. Pou and the nurses to be at fault for the deaths that occurred at Memorial in the days following Hurricane Katrina. It's fine, of course, to be biased in writing, but not when one is attempting to pass their book off as a neutral, fair account.
Ms. Fink spends the first half of the book giving endless details and portraying the doctors, who stayed behind for four da
Nov 13, 2013 Barbara rated it it was amazing

Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans did not have the resources to adequately care for patients following the flooding and power loss caused by Hurricane Katrina. In addition, evacuations were slow and difficult and people feared potential violence from looters and desperate citizens. After a few days, the air conditioning failed and temperatures soared, toilet facilities were inadequate and the building reeked, halls and stairways were dark, and the staff was sleep-deprived and exhausted. In
Jun 17, 2015 Kasia rated it really liked it
Significant amount of research was pour into this book. Thank you Ms. Sheri Fink.
Working in medical field I was grossly appalled by the moral and financial support Dr Pou and two of her nurses received from the community after being arrested and during trial.
Three of them killed 9 ppl for "humanitarian reasons". Because of it they should be treated as a criminals they were, not as heroes they were made into.
I'm not completely opposed to euthanasia but I would absolutely let my patients decide
Diane S ☔
Aug 25, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was a horrible disaster, and the pictures haunted our television screens for days. So much went on as it actually became for many, survival of the fittest and a die hard effort to protect, feed, shelter and get water for their families. There were such limited resources available for these poor people and the sight of their faces is one I have not forgotten.

At the hospitals, all services were non existent and Sheri Fink does a wonderful job simply stating the
Martin Coghan
Sep 13, 2013 Martin Coghan rated it did not like it
As someone holds New Orleans close to my heart, I could not believe that Fink would go on the Daily Show and laugh at the deaths of people in those horrific conditions at Memorial. I get that its a comedy show, but one must question the wisdom of Fink's decision to go on Comedy Central to promote the book - unless her ONLY goal is to make as much money as possible off of the tragic events surrounding Katrina. Her flip little behavior enraged me, as I am sure it did others who still suffer the ef ...more
Aug 27, 2013 Wendy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nov-15
Five Days At Memorial, by Sheri Fink, is a spellbinding account of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster which held patients, staff and families of a New Orleans hospital captive and left thousands of others stranded by rising flood waters in the heart of the city.
The first half of the book is the depiction of the horrific events and what led up to them. The second half involves a criminal investigation, the courts, government officials, the medical community, the press and public opinion over how the
Sep 04, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
You'd think that if your hospital were below water level, you might keep your generators somewhere other than the basement. You'd think lessons painfully learned almost 80 years before in your city would cause you to have an emergency plan in place in case of flooding. You'd think. Think again. And if you think you or your loved ones are safe from harm in a hospital, that it is an island of hope, read this book.

This remarkable story is painful to read. It infuriated, depressed, and fascinated me
Sep 05, 2013 Erika rated it liked it
Full disclosure: I got a copy of this book free - thank you!

I know Fink is a journalist and research is her forte, but man, there was a TON of research put into this book. I appreciate how well researched and well written it was. I think the problem was paring it down. I think there could have been about 100 pages cut out of this and it would have been much better and easier to read. There were so many minute details such as where different nurses or CEOs went to school and their childhood stori
Sep 10, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing
Fink takes on a story with moral and ethical overtones- what killed 45 patients at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina, in her incredibly fascinating Five Days at Memorial. Fink interviewed dozens of people who were there- doctors, nurses, aides, family members, patients, hospital administrators, rescuers, police investigators, coroners and more to tell her gripping story.

Fink drops the reader right into the hospital during the hurricane and in the horrific a
Lisa B.
Aug 08, 2013 Lisa B. rated it it was amazing
This deserves more than 5 stars.

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
Feb 18, 2014 Erica rated it did not like it
This is the first time i have been moved to write a review in addition to just selecting how many stars I give a book. Despite suggestions from NYT articles etc. that Fink is impartial and neutral to the various people depicted in this book, her choice of language, (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) shows her true feelings. Thus I do not think this is a fair or neutral assessment of what happened during this tragedy. It is a lot of opinion masquerading as fact. The truth is not always so simple.
Kathleen Kelly
Nov 04, 2013 Kathleen Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished
Where were you Monday 29 August 2005? I was getting ready to enter my fifth and final year of college when I saw the devastating news that Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans, and hit it hard. The days to come were some of the most awful we as a nation had experienced since September 11th. But what many Americans were not aware of was what was happening in hospitals and nursing homes in New Orleans.

Years later, Sheri Fink has exposed details of exactly what occurred in the hospitals in New Orl
Book Concierge
Book on CD read by Kirsten Potter

The subtitle says it all: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. This is the story of the men and women who survived Hurricane Katrina inside New Orleans Memorial Hospital, and of those who died.

Fink divides the book into two sections. In the first section she outlines the events leading up to, during and after the storm hit New Orleans. She gives us backgrounds on the key players – nurses, doctors, and patients. We also learn something of the corporate str
Aug 30, 2013 Caitlin rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I have a hard time reading books or watching film and television about Katrina. I have family on the Gulf Coast who were affected by the storm and the whole event is just a little too personal. The uneven media coverage, focusing almost exclusively on New Orleans while ignoring the rest of the Gulf Coast was (and remains) hard to take. The utter failure of local, state, and federal government resources combined with failures of large corporations to help take care of their people and the spectac ...more
Andrea Larson
Jul 02, 2013 Andrea Larson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
UNPUTDOWNABLE. I know that's not a word, but that's how I felt about this book. (I received an advance reader's copy from the publisher.) This is the gripping story of the doctors, nurses, family members, and patients trapped in New Orleans' Memorial Hospital for five days during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Retelling the story from the points of view of various people involved, author Sheri Fink made me feel as though I was right there amid the chaos and panic. Trapped without power in 110-degree ...more
Rebecca Foster
The sheer scope of this book is both its triumph and its downfall. Fink has, without a doubt, given the definitive account of the Memorial crisis. In her quest for balanced reporting, she scrutinizes every plot thread, every minor player, every tiny moment that may have led to the climactic decisions made over those five days. Yet this means the resulting chronicle is unwieldy: packed full of details, and swarming with an enormous cast of characters (it takes six pages just to list them all). It ...more
Jan 19, 2014 Jimmy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A must read for anyone interested in security concerns. A detailed study of what happened with Hurricane Katrina in one nursing home.

Many of the criticisms have been directed against the US government. Unfair. The owners of Memorial did very little to prepare. It was profit over people. Then when catastrophe strikes, typically they expect the government to cover their ass. Shameful.

The company that owned Memorial was Tenet. Their lawyers later would milk employees for information and then tell
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Dr. Sheri Fink’s reporting has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Magazine Award, and the Overseas Press Club Lowell Thomas Award, among other journalism prizes. Most recently, her coverage of the 2012 hurricane season and its effects on the health care systems of New York City and New Orleans won the Mike Berger Award from Columbia Journalism School and the beat reporting award from the Associa ...more
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“Life and death in the critical first hours of a calamity typically hinged on the preparedness, resources, and abilities of those in the affected community with the power to help themselves and others in their vicinity. Those who did better were those who didn’t wait idly for help to arrive. In the end, with systems crashing and failing, what mattered most and had the greatest immediate effects were the actions and decisions made in the midst of a crisis by individuals.” 8 likes
“But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?” 6 likes
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