Merrikay's Reviews > Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri  Fink
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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 perspectives, telling the story in  part narrative, but supported with facts and sources all the way through.  The first half tells the story of Katrina at Memorial Hospital, the second half tells about the reaction of the community to the choices made by medical personnel.  I didn't expect the second half to be as good of a read, but Fink repeatedly introduced intriguing ideas and concepts that were new to me and I could hardly put the book down till the last page.  When I did put it down, it was to go to google and youtube and see and hear these people.

My initial thoughts before reading the book were that I was in no position to make any judgements about this story and would never know all of the facts.  I still feel the same way, but appreciate the knowledge, emergency procedures and protocols developed due to the information given by the participants and others.  As Margaret Mead was quoted in the book, "It is the duty of society to protect the physician from such requests."  She is speaking of euthanasia and saying that we as a society must take the responsibility for making these decisions rather than putting it on one person.  I don't think anyone has said it better.

So many questions were raised:

Who gets evacuated first?
Who is responsible for evacuation?
Who decides when to evacuate?
Who receives resources when they are limited?
In what situation does a DNR apply?
Is there a loss if we speed up death, a loss of interaction with family and/or God that we often put off until forced to face it?
Is there value in suffering?
What is the relationship between personal responsibility and group or government responsibility?  What about corporations who now own most of our hospitals?
Are medical personnel more qualified to make some of these decisions that the rest of the community?

AND, this is after medical personnel have had to answer the question do I stay and work or go take care of my family.

I have difficulty holding anyone responsible for behavior under extremely traumatic, life-threatening situations simply on the basis of what panic does to the brain.  There's not a lot of frontal lobe involvement happening during panic.  Of course training can help with that, but I don't know how practical that is for civilians.  I especially liked then,  the idea presented by one person that justice  does not necessarily require conviction, it could be achieved through retelling in the court system.  I don't know that it has to be the court, but am reminded of the process of reconciliation used in South Africa.

Another idea presented, "Many ethicists felt that the conditions were so horrible that moral judgements could not be made about what happened there."

All I think for sure is that these medical workers were courageous way beyond what I would have been able to muster up and New Orleans was lucky to have them.  I am also grateful that my parents made end of life arrangements for themselves very clear and taught me to do the same. Whether that makes any difference for me remains to be seen of course.

This was a five star read for me and my head is still spinning.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 11, 2013 – Shelved

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